Keeping Bees Among Us
By Verlyn Klinkenborg
Published: February 22, 2007 (New York Times)
Mention honeybees, and most people think two things: stinging and industriousness. A beekeeper thinks: jubilation, harmony, the civilization of insects. Nothing in nature is more vibrant - literally - than a strong hive on the increase in late spring and early summer. And few things are more depressing than opening the lid on a hive and pulling apart the supers, the boxes where bees raise young and store honey, and finding that the colony inside has died.
It is far more than the death of individual bees. It is the death of prosperity itself.
My dad kept bees when I was young, and now I keep them. There were problems in my dad's day: ants, skunks, wax moths and a couple of deadly but well-known bee diseases, like foulbrood and nosema. But my dad's day - the late 1950s and early '60s - looks, in retrospect, like a golden age. No one had heard of tracheal mites or varroa mites - two tiny pests that have decimated hives in the past 15 years and made beekeeping much more complicated than it used to be.
Now there are alarming reports of a new bee problem, called colony collapse disorder. "Disorder" is something of a code word. It means that no one really knows what is causing the sudden death of hives. There were heavy losses last fall, mainly among migratory beekeepers, who move their colonies from crop to crop as fields and orchards come into blossom. The threat of this new disorder isn't merely the loss of bees. It's also the loss of crops - a long list of them, including most tree fruits - that depend on pollination by honeybees.
Scientists are already hard at work searching for the cause of this disorder, which may be fungal. It may even be that transporting hives from crop to crop stresses bees more than we think. But I know from my own experience with bees - as someone who keeps only a couple of hives, never moves them and leaves most of the honey for the colony itself - that we must do everything we can to keep these creatures among us, as much for their sake as for our own.