Washington Friends of Farms & Forests

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Honeybee Fall and Rise

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 4:55 PM

by Peter Loring Borst

Honeybees in Decline

By now most people have heard of the “unprecedented losses” of the honey bee; some tabloids have even gone so far as to warn of its impending “extinction.” Are these losses unprecedented? Are these stories even true? It’s pretty hard to make a claim of unprecedented losses, if one hasn’t really delved into the historical background of the art, science and business of keeping bees. Sad to say, a lot of people seem to have the idea that studying history is boring, irrelevant, or just plain old-fashioned. I wonder how many people know that digital electronic codes were used in the 1800s. Samuel Morse patented the Morse Code in 1837, forty years before the Bell telephone was, in 1876. And what was the telegraph used for? Texting.

The further back you look, the more you realize that the history of beekeeping is a tale of falling and getting back up. The thing that characterizes it is the incredible resilience of not only the bees, but the beekeepers and the beekeeping industry. I started beekeeping in 1974, so I have lived through quite a bit of history by now. For example, in the 1970s there were devastating losses due to new and sophisticated pesticides (like Penncap). Brood disease was epidemic in Southern California, where I lived. This was due in part to the many new and inexperienced beekeepers, but also because bee inspection program lost funding and was reduced to next to nothing.

In the 1980s I expanded to nearly 500 colonies, but was beset by one challenge after another. The housing boom drove me off most of my best locations into the backcountry with everybody else, where yields were dependent on rainfall and generally far less than on the coast, which was perpetually in bloom. The price of honey fell further and further, down to about 35 cents a pound. It was obvious that the next catastrophes would be mites and African bees; I gave up in 1990. Many people quit beekeeping in the nineties, as varroa mites took out millions of colonies. I rejoined the fight in 1999, when I went to work at the Dyce Bee Lab at Cornell University. READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE.

Categories: Bee & Pollinator Health

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