Pollinators At Risk

Keeping the Buzz Alive

Bee colony collapse.  Almost overnight hundreds of thousands of bees in a very close area are dead.  Reports keep coming in from all over the US, Canada, and Europe.  Eerily, it is the same report.  Massive bee death.  Whole colonies, dead!  Commercial beekeepers are devastated.  There are not enough bees for efficient crop pollination in the Central Valley.  Bee rental fees go up.  As the price of production goes up, the price in the grocery store goes up.

Orin Johnson, of Johnson Apiaries, a commercial beekeeper and honey producer, was the guest speaker at the Ceres Garden Club monthly meeting on Thursday, December 17.  (Meetings held on the third Thursday, are open to the public.)  Having first-hand knowledge, and having just attended the California Beekeepers Association Convention, Mr Johnson educated members and guests on the latest reports, as well as fascinating, yet little know facts about honey bees and native pollinating bees.

Referred to as “Colony Collapse Disorder”,  this syndrome is defined as a dead colony with no adult bees, or dead bee bodies but with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees still present. No scientific cause for colony collapse disease (CCD) has been proven.

In October 2006, beekeepers began reporting losses of up to 30-90% of their hives. Some loss is expected, especially over winter.  But this magnitude was unusually high, according to Mr Johnson and the United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service (USDA, ARS). 

This is not the first time that beekeepers experienced high unexplained losses.  Scientific literature mentions honey bee disappearance in the 1880’s, the 1920’s and 1960’s.  In 1903, Utah saw the loss of 2000 colonies to an unknown “disappearing disease”.  In 1995-1996, Pennsylvania lost 53% of their colonies without a specific identifiable cause.    From 2006-2011, losses averaged 33% each year in the United States, well over normal.

Honey bees are not native to the United States.  They came from Europe with the first settlers. They multiply quickly and are easy to manage commercially.  Native bees to the United States are superior pollinators, however they are difficult to raise commercially.

Researchers have concluded that no ONE factor is the cause of Colony Collapse Disease (CCD).  Most likely, it is caused by multiple factors, which scientists divide into four general categories.  1) Pathogens – fungus, virus, and bacteria;  2) Parasites – mites;  3) Management – poor nutrition due to overcrowding and migratory stress from being transported across the country;  4) Environmental – lack of diet diversity, limited water supply or access only to contaminated water, and exposure to pesticides.

The backyard gardener can help.  Be responsible in the use of pesticides (never apply mid-day when bees are out).  Better yet, use weed control methods other than chemicals.  Additionally, in your garden select plant pollinator-friendly plants that provide nectar and pollen (bee protein) such as clover, foxglove, bee balm, joe-pye weed and other native plants.  For more information visit: www.nappc.org .

Johnson Apiary produces liquid honey and comb honey.  Honey varieties include: Alfalfa, Mixed flower, Mixed Sage, Orange Blossom, and Wildflower, all produced from California crops.  Contact Orin Johnson for superior tasting California honey by calling 209-667-0830 or email at: pljhoney@msn.com


Orin Johnson, of Johnson Apiary,  Commercial Beekeeper and Honey Producer