Bee Hopeful

Last year my honeybee colony didn't make it through the winter. Bees face considerable challenges even with the best of care, and as a novice I didn't do as much as I could have. Nationwide the mortality rate in recent years is about one hive in three. Apart from losing an entire hive, many beekeepers report less honey production. The causes of pollinator declines are complex and include parasites (notably the varroa mite), viruses, pesticides, and a shallow gene pool. Honeybee genetics have long been manipulated for honey production and to provide a gentle disposition, but only recently has the breeding focus shifted to survivability.

Hopefully I've learned enough over the winter to give this year's bees a better chance. I've read my share of research on honeybee health in the trade journals and online. Just as a variety of factors are leading to bee decline, many solutions will be needed. Some of these I have control over, like monitoring and treating for mites and diseases. The pesticides are more worrisome because I can't control who sprays what. The honeybees forage over a range of several miles and that's a lot of suburban yards, so I hope that nearby residents aren't using chemicals on their lawns and gardens.  In terms of genetics, my new colonies are Italian and Carnolian strains that are widely used, but some beekeepers are turning to Russian or hygienic strains that resist the mites better.

The bees are fun to watch, and maybe there'll be honey but I'm not counting on that. Mostly I'm rooting for the colonies to thrive and make it through to see another spring. If they do, I'll feel a little better about our local environment and the unseen chemicals we're all exposed to on a daily basis.