KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — Honey bees are beneficial to the environment, pollinating plants and producing honey, but Colony Collapse Disorder could lead to a reduced honey bee population in the future.
Colony Collapse Disorder is a name given to the phenomenon of declining honey bee populations in recent decades. There are many factors associated with CCD, but none have been established as a primary or direct cause of the disorder.
According to the Agriculture Research Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's internal research agency, the main symptom of CCD is few or no adult honey bees inhabiting the hive, leaving only the queen and immature bees inside.
Some factors that could be related to CCD are viruses and fungi, parasites such as the Varroa mite and improper care of bees.
According to the Agriculture Research Service's data on CCD, the total number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million now. In a five-year period between 2006 and 2011, beekeepers reported annual losses of hives averaging 33 percent each year.
Herbert Everhart, who co-owns Eversweet Apiaries in Kearneysville with Ed Burwell, has experienced hive loss — although not necessarily CCD — in the past.
Everhart said he began keeping bees 12 years ago after a neighbor who was keeping bees as a hobby could no longer care for his hive.
Everhart bought a second hive when he was starting out, and lost both before he realized there was more to beekeeping than he had first thought. He took a class, and now spends much of his time giving advice to new beekeepers.
"More hives are lost by the backyard beekeeper or the beekeepers that run maybe 100 hives or so, and it's because of poor management," Everhart said. "Looking back to the very beginning, when I lost my hives, I didn't want to see other people lose theirs. That's where I got my passion for teaching beekeeping. I wanted to save those people the same heartache. Even now, when we find a hive that died over the winter, it still hurts just as much as if we had only two hives."
In addition to raising bees and producing honey, Eversweet Apiaries sells beekeeping supplies, and Everhart offers advice for free.
"I've heard people call him 'The Bee Whisperer,' 'The Bee Wizard' or 'The Bee Master,'" said Jennifer King, Everhart's daughter who has now taken over much of the field work at Eversweet Apiaries. "He can spend hours talking to customers about bees and giving them advice."
Everhart said one of the most important things he tells aspiring beekeepers is how to properly care for their hives during the winter. Some honey, at bare minimum 30 pounds, must be left in the hive for the bees to consume during the winter months. Everhart and his employees recommend supplemental feedings during the winter to ensure the bees are nourished.
In addition to educating beginner beekeepers about bee care, Eversweet Apiaries combats risk factors for CCD by using pest management techniques.
"CCD is a broad spectrum that covers all of the problems that bees have, which is Varroa mites, bucema, tracheal mites and other problems," King said. "You can't point to one thing and say that it's CCD."
"In the early 1990s, a parasitic mite showed up, the Varroa mite. It wiped out all of the feral bees, the wild bees. There are no more honey bees in trees and buildings anymore; they've all been wiped out. If you do find a honey bee hive in a tree or in a building, it's probably a hive that swarmed from somebody's colony," Everhart said.
Everhart uses and sells mite screens, which may catch Varroa mites and other parasites before they enter the hive. Another pest management technique is the application of formic acid, a naturally-occurring chemical produced by bees and other social insects, in low-concentration solutions.
"There's a number of ways to deal with the mites, but we basically treat them with formic acid, which is now classified as an organic treatment. What you're doing is killing a bug on a bug. The mite, in relation to the bee, is 100 times smaller, so the concentration of the formic acid is enough to dehydrate and kill the mite, but it doesn't kill the honey bee," he said.
Everhart said formic acid treatments are not applied to hives until after the honey has been harvested in order to keep the honey as clean and pure as possible for consumption.
Everhart was recently awarded the 2014 Bayer Bee Care Community Leadership Award, presented by Bayer Crop Science, a research division of the Bayer chemical company.
King said that contrary to popular belief, companies like Bayer and Monsanto are concerned with the environment, especially keeping bee populations high.
"Bayer gets a really bad rap for their pesticides, but they are truly committed to bee education and bee care. They donated and spent millions of dollars on educating beekeepers and farmers and the general public about bee care. Of course (chemical companies) care about the bees. Without bees, there'd be no agriculture, and then they'd have no products to sell," she said.
Everhart said he was chosen for the award primarily for his work with the West Virginia Eastern Panhandle Beekeepers Association, a local beekeeping club.
One of the programs the WVEPBA conducts is a mentoring program, when an experienced beekeeper is paired with a beginner beekeeper to help them through their first season.
The 2014 Bayer Bee Care Community Leadership Award came with a $5,000 cash award, which Everhart plans to use to hold a winter program with the beekeepers club that will help beekeepers prepare colonies for winter.
The club meets on the second Tuesday of each month at the WVU Fruit Research facility in Kearneysville.
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/