To Bee Or Not To Bee … There’s Really No Question

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by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

After years of alarmingly bad news, New Jersey’s honeybees may finally have something to buzz about!

Although not native to New Jersey, European honeybees have become integral to the Garden State’s farms.  The N.J. Department of Agriculture estimates the state’s 9,000 bee colonies enable production of $200 million worth of fruits and vegetables annually … not mention 360,000 pounds of honey (or $569,000 worth) in 2008.

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That’s a big responsibility for little wings.  It’s no wonder, then, that biologists and beekeepers were stunned when huge numbers of bees began to die mysteriously in a global trend that was eventually labeled Colony Collapse Disorder here in the United States.

The numbers have been simply staggering.  According to State Apairist (beekeeper) Tim Schuler, about 10 percent of the honeybees normally die off in winter months. But in 2007, the death rate was 40 percent.  The losses were so large and precipitous that experts feared a collapse of the food crops that rely on pollination by honeybees.  In this state we’re in, we’re talking about apples, cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and much, much more.

The root cause (or causes) of Colony Collapse Disorder haven’t yet been identified, although experts are investigating everything from parasites to fungus to viruses.

This year, however, there are signs of hope.  Schuler estimates this past winter’s death rate at around 15 percent, on the heels of a 17 percent decline in 2008.   Nationally, a survey conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found honeybee colony losses were approximately 29 percent from all causes from September 2008 to April 2009, down from about 36 percent in 2007-08.
While those numbers are nowhere near positive enough to declare the crisis over, the declining loss rate has led some experts to speculate that bees have turned a crucial corner.

Whatever the reason, let’s be thankful our honeybees are getting a break.  Here are some ways to show your thanks.  First, if you find a colony of honeybees in your yard or home, don’t spray them with insecticide.  If you want them removed, call a qualified beekeeper to safely relocate them.

Or, if you want to take a more proactive role in the honeybees’ recovery, become a beekeeper! Try the “Bee-ginner’s Beekeeping” course offered through a cooperative effort of Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s Office of Continuing Professional Education, New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.  The program offers up to $300 worth of beekeeping equipment and bees to the first 50 participants who meet state requirements.  The next beekeeping course is planned for Oct. 22, 23 and 24. Classes filled up quickly in 2008 and again this spring, so don’t wait!  You can find out more at 732-932-9271 or http://njaes.rutgers.edu/spotlight/beekeeping.asp.

Get your children involved. The 4-H Beekeeping Club of Bridgewater encourages kids to start beekeeping at age nine! Check out their website at www.freewebs.com/4hbeekeeping. Another helpful website is www.beenative.org.

Finally, why not create your own “bee-friendly” landscape? You’ll have lots of beautiful flowering trees and flowers to enjoy, and encourage the bees at the same time!

I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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