Plight of the Honeybee

Ohioans have a love/hate relationship with bees. We love the delicious honey that they produce, but we’re also quick to grab a can of pesticide when they come buzzing around our backyard barbecues. However, to Ohio’s farmers, bees are an essential component to successfully growing many of the state’s crops that require or benefit from bee pollination; including apples, grapes and pumpkins.

Unfortunately, bees aren’t what they used to be. According to the article "Where are all the bees?" posted at ourohio’s website, nearly half of North America’s honeybee colonies have vanished in the past 25 years, a phenomenon referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), when all the adult bees in a hive suddenly die.

There are several theories as to why CCD happens — stress on the hive resulting from beekeepers transporting bees long distances for pollination purposes, inbreeding and external parasites — but there is no conclusive evidence.

“Today’s bees are not as vibrant and resilient as they once were,” said James Tew, an associate professor of apiculture at The Ohio State University and the coordinator of the university’s Wooster Bee laboratory, in a recent Edible Columbus article. “Bees could have a hive behind your barn and the hive lived for years, and you never had to do anything with them. Today, bees need us. They have become more like tomato plants, having to be replaced every year.”

In addition to CCD, there’s speculation that Ohio’s erratic weather could be playing a role in the state’s declining bee population and with meteorologists predicting a particularly cold winter ahead, the outlook for bees could be bleak.

During the winter, bees cluster together around their queen to stay warm within their hive. They also consume up to 30 pounds of honey during the winter months to help produce body heat, which is why Tew says a productive nectar and pollen season in the fall is crucial to bee longevity.

“They can recover their strength and regain their stamina before we go through another winter,” said Tew.

Want to help bees and crops thrive in Ohio? Here are a few recommendations from bee expert James Tew:

  • Be tolerant of bees and try to live with them.
  • Don’t spray more pesticides than necessary.
  • Plant flowering plants and trees so bees have something to eat. Clover and dandelions are popular with bees in the summertime.
  • Provide a home for leafcutter bees, which pollinate but rarely sting. You can make a nest box by drilling about 50 2-to-3-inch deep holes in a hardwood block and hang it in a tree or from a garden shed.
  • Consider keeping bees. There are numerous beekeeping organizations throughout the state that offer classes about beekeeping, including the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. Take a class this winter to have your hive up and buzzing for springtime pollination!

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