by Jim Conley – CSU Extension
The next in our series of “Living Off the Land” workshops will focus on the art and craft of beekeeping! Honeybees play a crucial, if often unappreciated, role in food production. It’s estimated that in the U.S., pollination by honeybees adds $15 billion to our agricultural industry. Some plants require pollination from an outside source, like honeybees. Bees are critical to much of the pollination of our high-value fruit and vegetable crops. About one mouthful in three in our diet is due to the pollination of honeybees! And, that’s just the pollination affect. Another important benefit of honeybees is, honey!
However, things in the world of honeybees are in turmoil these days. In the fall of 2006, some beekeepers in the U.S. reported large losses of hives, ranging from 30% to 90% mortality. While colony losses during the winter months are common, the scale of loss that was seen that fall was staggering! This phenomenon has been termed “colony collapse disorder”, or CCD. The underlying cause has not yet been discovered, although it is certainly the subject of much study. The main symptom of CCD is no, or very few adult bees present in the hive, but with a live queen, and no dead honey bees. There is often honey remaining in the hive, and even immature bees. This problem has been noted in many other areas of the world, particularly Europe. As one beekeeper describes it, “It’s like the bees just left.”
Currently, scientists are focusing on three potential causes for CCD. First, they are looking at unexpected negative effects that pesticides may have on honeybees. Second, there could be a new parasite or pathogen responsible. Among those, a known disease, such as nosema, and some viruses are being examined. Finally, scientists are looking at a “perfect storm” of stressors that have unexpectedly weakened bee hives, leading to this colony collapse disorder. Stress, in general, reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and may disrupt their social system, making the colonies more susceptible to other factors.
In the meantime, bee populations continue to drop. Today we have about half as many bee hives in the U.S. as we did in the 1940s. But there is some good news! Beekeeping supply companies report a jump in sales, primarily from hobby beekeepers. It seems that many private citizens, who have never kept bees, are jumping in to this exciting and rewarding hobby in an effort to do their part to “save the bees”!
With that in mind, we’re sponsoring a Hobby Beekeeping workshop on Saturday, March 7th, at the Huerfano County Community Center in Walsenburg, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. One of our more serious beekeepers in Huerfano County, Janet Fink, recently attended the Master Beekeeper course in Lincoln, NE. She’s the driving force behind this workshop. Janet will make a presentation on beekeeping equipment and supplies. We’ll feature an out of town guest speaker, Mr. Bruno Mattedi, President of the Pikes Peak Beekeeper’s Club, and I’ll finish up with a short presentation regarding beekeeping in Iraq. We’ll probably get into a discussion of “natural” or “organic” beekeeping, too.
So, if you’re interested in learning more about the fascinating world of honeybees, please plan on joining us for this workshop! Call our office at 738.2170 for more information. Following this beekeeping workshop, we′ll continue with two more vegetable garden workshops.