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Bee expert: Colonies down, but bees, keepers resilient
 
By DOUG GRAVES
Ohio Correspondent

LOVELAND, Ohio — While the common honeybee in Ohio and other states is becoming more scarce with each passing year, just the opposite can be said of the keepers of these same colonies. Those numbers are on the rise.

“It truly amazes me the number in attendance at this year’s school,” said James Tew, retired bee specialist from The Ohio State University. “Beekeeping is doing better than it’s ever done before, but it’s doing better in a different way.“

A record 425 people attended the 36th annual Southwestern Ohio Beekeeper School in Loveland last month. According to Tew, 75 percent of attendees have worked hives for five or fewer years.
“And that’s good, because these new beekeepers haven’t lived in the past and don’t know of these struggles keepers of the past have been through,” Tew said. “New beekeepers have a wholesome outlook on beekeeping. And beekeepers these days are physicians, farmers, lawyers, teachers … they’re a diversified group.”

In years past, Tew was the keynote speaker at each gathering. Though not speaking this time, he did hold classes in “Parasitic Mites and Bees” and “The Behavior and Biology of Laying Workers.”
The one-day event offered breakout sessions for attendees. And despite burdens on hives these days such as varroa mites, tracheal mites and colony collapse disorder, this year saw a record attendance at this year’s school.

“Within beekeeping we are adapting,” Tew said. “Beekeepers and bees are adapting and are accepting our situation. And our situation is that bees don’t thrive like they used to decades ago.”
He was hesitant to place blame for the decline in bee colonies on factors such as tracheal mites, varroa mites or even colony collapse disorder. “The commercial bees are working their tails off for us and perhaps too much is expected from those bees,” he said, “but in general, bees are not as hardy as they once used to be.

“In years past local beekeepers could expect between 15 to 30 percent loss in their hives. And that 30 percent was high. Nowadays, that 30 percent is a good number. But these new beekeepers are fine with that, and they deal with it.”

According to Tew, reports show beekeepers in Ohio have lost between 40 percent to entire hives over the past year. “There is a lot involved with the loss of hives. Things like climate change or the advancement and use of insecticides have frustrated keepers,” he said. “And we’re learning more about viruses than we ever knew.”
Tew noted today’s keepers are persistent and resilient.

“There was a time when beekeepers and the public was terrified of these varroa mites, then along came the killer bees and everyone thought the end was here. But we got over it and we moved on from there. Today’s keeper is going with the flow of things, and they’re willing to do all they can with what they have to work with.”
4/4/2013