We had several honeybee hives on the property and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them busily flying from their home and returning laden with pollen. Unfortunately, none of them lived through the harsh winter.
Our loss wasn’t unique. Some apiaries reported that 50 percent to 80 percent of their hives didn’t survive.
But was it the winter that extinguished the colonies or one of the multitude of perils they face?
Honeybee populations can be damaged by parasitic mites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and pesticides. In the 1920s, Ohio beekeepers kept nearly 120,000 colonies as crop pollinators and for honey production. Today, that number is just 30,000, due primarily to survival rates.
This dramatic loss of bee production is quickly affecting the world as well as Ohio. Fewer natural pollinators can reduce crop and fruit production and impact wild plants.
“How low should these numbers go before it’s a crisis?” asked James Tew, Ohio State University’s honeybee specialist. “Do you wait until you can’t get vegetables? The public should be concerned.”
Research shows that pesticides are among the most serious threats. A study in the Public Library of Science found systemic pesticides, chemicals designed to spread throughout all parts of a plant, in about three out of five pollen and beeswax samples taken from 23 states.
While the chemical levels weren’t at high enough levels to kill bees, their combination and variety is worrisome. The study found 121 different types of pesticides within 887 wax, pollen, bee and hive samples.
“It’s just gotten so much worse in the past four years,” said Jeff Pettis, research leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the issue.
Many have learned that adding beekeeping to their list of hobbies can be a fun learning experience which can reconnect them to the basic needs of wildlife.
“No longer are beekeepers just country folk with hives in the back 40 acres. Many professional people have adopted beekeeping as a way to disengage from their hectic, stressful, and technology-oriented lifestyle,” said Terry Smith, who teaches classes for the Greene County Beekeepers Association.
Ohio has 4,390 registered beekeepers and 7,199 apiaries. To learn about beekeeping, visit www.ohiostatebeekeepers.org.
Along the Way
The loss of Ohio’s bees has caused researchers to examine the entire ecosystem in which they live. While insecticides, mites and weather are certainly factors, there’s concern that diminishing flowering plants have hurt their nutrition, weakening the insects and making them more susceptible to other stress factors.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agency responsible for helping landowners protect their farms and forests, now has a program to increase honeybee habitat.
The Honeybee Pollinator Environmental Quality Incentives Program allows the service to design honeybee-friendly habitat with landowners, plus help them cover some of the cost of creating it.
Landowners with cropland, pastureland, forestland, and farmsteads in 24 Ohio counties can apply for the program: Allen, Ashtabula, Auglaize, Cuyahoga, Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Lake, Lorain, Lucas, Mercer, Ottawa, Paulding, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, Van Wert, Williams, Wood, and Wyandot.
Farmers can create flowering habitat without taking a whole field out of crop production by planting borders around fields or along streams, planting flowering trees, or mixing flowering plants into pastures.
Call or visit a Natural Resources Conservation Service office to fill out a program application by July 18. They are located at 7868 Hancock County 140, Suite E, Findlay, 419-422-5438.
Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov for information on pollinators and how you can improve your honeybee habitat while beautifying your property.
Also, learn about beekeeping at www.ohio-beekeeping.com/beekeepers/classes.cfm.
•Thursday-Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public at 5 p.m. UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com.
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