When a honey bee colony swarmed a pine tree at Kim McCoy’s farm last week, the beekeeper took action: she grabbed a cardboard box, poked holes in it and put the box over top the swarm. The swarm dropped into the box with a gentle shake of the pine tree’s branch. From there the honey bees were off to a new home.
Bees swarm when the queen leaves the hive, taking with her thousands of worker bees, in anticipation of a new queen emerging in the colony.
In her sixth year of beekeeping, McCoy said she has “a lot of bees.” There are 11 hives at her Turkey Run Heritage Farm in Fayette County. McCoy said her work with bees is for study and education purposes only because it’s important for people to understand what is causing the bees to die off.
Bees are dying from disappearing disorder, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The disappearing disorder is called Colony Collapse Disorder and is responsible for the disappearance of 44 percent of beekeepers’ hives across more than 30 states nationwide in one year between April 2015 and April 2016.
Scientists have found more than one reason for the collapse of the colonies, including the widespread use of neonic pesticides, disease and climate change.
The first bumble bee was listed on the endangered species list in March. Ninety percent of the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) has disappeared. More than 40 species of bees belong to the Bombus genus across the North American continent.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera), though not native to North America, are a bee that is disappearing too, and their place in the ecosystem is important.
“Our ancestors brought them,” said McCoy. “So we have native bees, but we need the honey bees as pollinators.”
Albert Einstein is quoted as having once said in France, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” A complete die-off of the bees could cause starvation on a massive scale.
Now with her 11 hives, McCoy participates in a bee study each year with the Ohio State University. Her hives are checked and studied for varroa mites, another reason the bees are in trouble. Bee inspector Bill Huhman comes to periodically check McCoy’s hives for mites and other diseases.
Huhman is a Fayette County apiary inspector for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Beekeepers in Ohio are required to register their hives and pay a $5 apiary fee but the beekeepers can choose whether or not to have their hives inspected by an apiary inspector. For McCoy the inspection helps her to better understand what is going on with the bees. She hasn’t lost a hive to winter kill in four years.
“I don’t collect the honey from the hives,” said McCoy. “It’s more of a research project for me.”
She leaves all of the honey inside the hives for the bees to eat. It’s their main food source for surviving the winter and without it the bees would have to be fed.
The swarm McCoy moved from the pine tree was relocated to a new apiary in Washington Court House at the home of Sue Sunderhaus. Sunderhaus has always had an interest in bees and said this is her first time beekeeping. She plans to work together with other beekeepers in Fayette County to learn as much as she can about bees.
“I just know the bees are in trouble and I want to help out. I’m doing this for education. When the bees are gone, the food supply will go out, and then we can’t feed animals, the hogs, cows or chickens,” said Sunderhaus.
Becoming a beekeeper is one way to help the bees, as is designing environments with flowers native to Ohio and not using neonic pesticides, experts say. Online petitions have been started to ask the federal government to ban the distribution and use of neonic pesticides that cause Colony Collapse Disorder.
Ashley may be reached by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton