Janesville70°

Honeybees at home in Rock County

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Catherine W. Idzerda
April 24, 2010
— For once, we get lucky.

While beekeepers all over the country are struggling with the loss of hives from colony collapse disorder, Rock County apiculturists have been spared.


"I talked to the state bee inspector, and he really hasn't seen any of that (colony collapse disorder) around here," said John Lima, vice-president of the Rock County Beekeepers Association.


The disorder was first recognized in 2006, when beekeepers began losing between 30 and 90 percent of their hives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Scientists aren't sure what causes the disorder, but studies are considering a variety of factors including:


-- Pesticides.


-- A new ailment caused by a parasite, pathogen or virus.


-- Stress related to being moved from state to state to pollinate massive farms.


"They might go from pollinating almonds in California to peppers in Florida," said David Lowenstein, a UW-Madison graduate student doing research on native bees. "There's no resting period."


Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in crop values, according to the USDA, so the health of honeybees matters.


In Wisconsin, honeybees are responsible for the pollination of the state's apple and vegetable crops.


Stephen Jeter, a beekeeper from Milton and president of the Rock County Beekeepers Association, said he saw some die-off in his hives over the winter, but he doesn't suspect the colony collapse disorder. With a dry fall that included some weather anomalies, the bees simply weren't in good enough shape to make it through the winter.


"Most people in the club lost some bees," Jeter said


Sometime this week he'll get a new box of bees—yes, that's right, bees come in the mail.


"They come in a little box with screen sides, you can hear them in there," Jeter said. "The post office usually calls me and says, 'Your bees are here. Come and get them.'"


Jeter has two hives and was hoping to expand to four, but he's holding off until he sees how this season goes.


The local association hopes its members will continue to avoid colony collapse.


Meanwhile, Lowenstein's research is looking into what might be considered a backup plan for state crops that depend on honeybees.


"I'm focusing on native bees as opposed to honey bees," Lowenstein said.


Honeybees were imported from Europe, but America is home to an abundance of native bees that can act as pollinators, he said.


Although they don't produce honey, some native bees are more efficient pollinators than honeybees. Others have the ability to serve as specialist pollinators.


Bumblebees, for example, are excellent pollinators for squash.



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