Plight of the Honeybees—Part Three

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Habitat loss has depleted bee foraging areas, impacting bee nutrition. “Acreage of corn and soybeans have high dollar value, and the acreage is expanding either into conservation areas or prairies or places good for pollinator habitats,” Mendes says.

Richard beehive
Richard Campbell examines a beehive.

In mid-summer at the Fairchild Farm, Campbell’s six bee colonies would starve if they weren’t fed honey in a landscape altered by nurseries, farms and houses. “That’s the biggest limitation here at the farm,” he says. “About a month ago (May), when everything finished blooming, they started to starve. Hungry bees get weakened and you get [problems with] hive beetles and varroa mites.”

Campbell fed his Farm bees honey to counter the lack of natural flowers. The bees at the Garden feed on palm and mangrove flowers in the summer.  Mendes also relies on palms and mangrove flowers, followed in September and October by melaleuca blooms and Brazilian pepper. When he has to supplement food for his bees, he mixes brewer’s yeast, sugar, dried eggs, and some oils to give them protein, “which seems to make a difference” in keeping his bees healthy.

At the Tucson Bee Lab of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, team leader Dr. Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman spent four years analyzing nutrients in pollen and developed a protein supplement with lipids, minerals and carbohydrates called Megabee. It now is in commercial production. Her next long-term research will focus on how microbes in bees affect pollen that is mixed with honey to become beebread, or food for the hive.

Hoffman also has worked with a team of researchers to come up with a natural miticide made from the byproducts of hops used in processing beer (now sold as Hopguard). While doing that work on varroa mites, she said she found that mite population in a beehive is dynamic—mites are highly migratory and move into hives all the time, "so you can lose control of the population quickly. So I'd say beekeepers need constant vigilance. Check the populations monthly and rotate controls."

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