Northumberland Today: 'Colony Collapse' disease threaten honey bees

CENTRETON - Given the alarming rates at which honey bees are dying around the world, Centreton-area beekeeper Stu Herod expected some of his 10 hives would not survive the winter. But it still was disappointing, and a bit of a mystery, when the two smaller, experimental hives were empty when he opened them recently during a trip to the field near his home.

"There's honey here," he said.

That meant there was food for them. But, still no bees.

On this sunny day there were some bees buzzing around other hives but Herod decided to wait until warmer weather to unwrap and check the balance.

This recent phenomenon of "colony collapse" is just one of several challenges beekeepers are facing. Others include mites and diseases.

But of key concern is "irresponsible pesticide use" as outlined in correspondence to Northumberland County councillors by bee crusader Clinton Ekdahl, and the council's decision to bring awareness to the honey bee's contribution to the food chain, and its plight, by agreeing with Ekdahl's request to designate May 29 the Day of the Honey Bee.

Ekdahl has been working for the past four years to raise the profile of the problem and get government action at the provincial and federal levels.

"Many people still do not realize how important honey bees are to our way of life," he stated in his March 6 letter to county council. "This is troubling because honey bees are responsible for a third of all the food we eat. Honey bees are responsible for 70% of our food crop pollination. They are a keystone species; the very cornerstone to the sustainability of our agriculture and the primary basis of stability for our fragile environments.

"This issue is even more severe because honey bees continue to die at alarming and catastrophic rates in Canada, and in every country where they are raised."

Although last year was a better than many for Herod when he and his family harvested honey in the fall, "there have been a lot of bad years," he said.

In his 26th year of keeping bees as a hobby, Herod is a member of the Ontario Beekeepers' Association and the Central Ontario Beekeeping Association.

"The Ontario Beekeepers' Association is currently in discussions with Ontario's farm organizations, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture… grain… fruit and vegetable growers, and is actively working with the Canadian Honey Council industry and government to address the Honey Bee poisoning issue," states the March 2013 issue of The Ontario Bee Journal which Herod notes.

Of pesticides and insecticides being targeted as the reason for bee deaths is clothianidin, a neonicotinoid, among the chemicals put on corn seeds to protect them when planted.

And both the pollen of the corn and soil blown to other fields are believed to be responsible for bees mortality, according to an article in Bee Culture.

The Honey Bee Journal reported in its January 2013 issue that last spring "acute pesticide damage" was reported at over 200 locations in Ontario. These signs of damage included "large piles of dead bees in from of the colony, trembling, shaking and atypical behaviour displayed in bees," the article states. Testing by Health Canada found the presence of clothianidin, used on corn seed.

"In the good old days (before these pesticides and other bee dangers) out of six hives I might lose one (over the winter)," Herod said. "Now, I would expect to lose three and have one that was weak."

Every time a hive is lost, a new queen bee is needed and they can cost about $2,500 – and in years where too many bees don't make it over the winter, there is a shortage of these special bees needed to replace lost colonies.

More municipalities than other levels of government have responded to Ekdahl's request to make the public more aware about bees and the increasing number of deaths. As there numbers grow he hopes there will be pressure on the federal and provincial governments to tackle the bee problems head on.

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