Fewer bees may be buzzing this spring

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By Stephen Lega

William Hagan is worried about bees.
He's been keeping bees as a hobby since the 1990s, and what he's seen this past winter has him concerned. He lost a few of his hives, and on warmer days, he hasn't seen any wild bees in places where he normally finds them.
“People are going to wonder why there aren’t any bees around,” Hagan said.
Thomas Webster agreed with Hagan that bees will likely be less common this spring.
Webster is an associate professor in the College of Agriculture, Food Science, and Sustainable Systems at Kentucky State University and the state Apiculture Extension Specialist. Apiculture is the keeping of bees.
“This winter has been so bad that all over the Midwest, South and Northeast, a lot of hives have been lost,” Webster said.
Many beekeepers lost 50 percent or more of their hives this past winter, and that likely indicates widespread problems for bees, according to Webster.
“Wild bees have definitely suffered more than the ones cared for a by a beekeeper,” he said.
Throughout the year, bees gather pollen and honey to eat and to feed their larva. During the winter, they live on the honey and pollen they have stored, Webster said.
To keep warm in the winter, bees will cluster together inside the hive.
"That ball of bees is over 80 degrees,” he said. “They’ll move through the hive eating stored honey.”
This winter, Hagan said he noticed that his honeycombs were "sugared over" and bees had died in the hive. Marshall Ruley, another local beekeeper, noticed similar problems with his hives.
Because of the cold conditions, bees were less likely to leave the hive to find water, they said.
And because the honey had hardened, their bees had trouble processing it in order to eat it or the pollen stored inside it, according to Ruley.
“They’re literally starving to death,” he said.
After doing some research, Hagan and Ruley said they believe canola, a crop planted in Marion County for the first time last year, may have been a factor. Ruley said canola is one of the first crops that attracts bees.
“They take pollen and nectar back from the first things that bloom,” he said.
Webster said that the cold weather and parasitic mites are likely the main cause of the problem for bees, but he agreed that canola could have added to the other issues. Webster explained that canola is relatively high in glucose, which can cause honey to crystallize faster.
That said, he also wants people to know that there is nothing wrong with crystallized honey from a consumption standpoint.
“There’s nothing unhealthy about it. It just doesn’t look very good,” Webster said.
Crystallized honey can be reheated and consumed, according to Webster. He suggested placing honey in a glass container and then heating it in warm water, although he did advise against overheating it.
Webster said beekeepers probably won't have any issues from canola if they are close to a small crop, such as an acre or two. However, he did recommend moving hives if they are close to large fields of canola.
At the same time, he said the canola is less likely to cause problems in the warmer months.
“In summer, bees can easily find water to dilute the canola,” Webster said.
For hives that remain close to large canola fields, Webster said he would start feeding the bees a 50-50 mix of table sugar and water in late September and early October
“The real task is getting the bees ready for winter,” Webster said.