Honey Bees Prove H.L. Menken Correct

July 1, 2013

Editor’s Note:  There are countless articles about the importance of honeybees.  Unfortunately, few reporters take the honeybee health seriously enough to get the facts right.  For example, in the story below, the author correctly acknowledges the harm to bees from varrora mites, but then makes the incorrect statement that pesticides as well as mites are “decimating the bee population.” As the USDA explained, bee health decline is the result of “a complex set of stressors and pathogens” and that “researchers are increasingly using multi-factorial approaches to studying causes” of bee health problems.


Legendary journalist H.L. Menken said that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Mr. Menken perfectly described most reporting on bees and pesticides.


From: By Rebecca Forand/South Jersey Times


New Jersey’s most popular crops could be in jeopardy because one of the smallest but most important parts of the growing process is in danger.

Honey bees pollinate crops across New Jersey, including blueberries, cantaloupes, cranberries, cucumbers and pumpkins, but  parasites and pesticides are decimating the bee population.


About 32 percent of the state’s honey bees died last winter, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture citing a trend occurring across the country. On a national level, almost a third of the honey bees also died according to preliminary results of the 2012-2013 winter loss survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership.


“Honey bees are responsible for pollinating about a third of the food  humans use. It can severely impact the fruits and vegetables people  consume,” said Tim Schuler, New Jersey’s state apiarist and chief of the state’s bee inspection operation.


A previously undiagnosed condition called colony decline first affected the bee population about 10 years ago. Since, bees were widely thought to have recovered.


“We still have a lot of problems when we talk about colony decline,” Shuler said.


One major problem is a parasite called Varroa mites, according to Schuler.


Varroa mites feed off the bodily fluids of honey bees and their larvae, weakening them and making them susceptible to diseases including viral infections that damage individual bees and whole colonies.


“If these mites are not controlled well, the bees will have a very difficult way making it through the winter,” Schuler said. “It can cause a tremendous amount of problems.”


Nearly microscopic to the human eye, the mites need to be treated with medication or natural remedies as soon as they are detected.


“The hardest thing … is to get people to treat Varroa in a timely manner,” said Ned Morgan, president of the South Jersey chapter of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association. “The bees have to go into winter fat and healthy so they can make it through.”


Morgan has about 15 honey bee hives on his Deerfield Township property. He began raising the buzzing insects about eight years ago and rents them to local farmers for pollinating services. With a declining population, however, he and his counterparts have not been able to pollinate their usual acreage.


“If you think about it, it’s like losing 34 percent of your inventory with no compensation,” the beekeeper said.


Pesticides are also contributing to the decline of the honey bee population in New Jersey, according to Schuler.  The chemicals can cause problems in the beehive and contribute to the difficulty of producing strong, productive colonies.


“The new types of pesticides may have some kind of impact on the colonies that cause them to be more susceptible to other kinds of problems,” he said.


When colonies have been decimated by disease and winter death, beekeepers often split their colonies to create more. The split can result in less production, however, as bees are separated from their original hives.


“You kind of take their energy away if you take their colony,” Schuler said.


With about 1,000 beekeepers in New Jersey — about 190 of them in the South Jersey region — honey bees are a viable business, necessary for the pollination and continuation of a multitude of fruit and vegetable crops in the Garden State.


About 15,000 colonies are brought into the state each year to pollinate the blueberry crop. In addition, bees raised here travel across the country to pollinate other crops, such as California’s almonds.


One positive development in the plight of New Jersey’s honey bees is an increase in the number of people now interested in becoming beekeepers. A course for beginner apiarists is offered at Rutgers’ Agricultural Experiment Station to helping New Jersey’s apiculture community grow.


That’s important to keep the necessary insects thriving.


“The good news is we have a lot more people keeping bees in New Jersey,” Schuler said. “Over 2,000 have taken that class over the past five years.”





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