BEES IN PERIL
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 33
A beekeeper opening a brood
comb for signs of Varroa mites.
those same symptoms, and yet bee-
keepers are losing ;; percent of their
hives every year. If you had ;;;, in that year
you will get down to ;; and have to rebuild.
“The single worst thing that has tipped those
losses so much higher is the Varroa mite. The
Varroa mite arrived from Asia; it jumped from
one species to another, and it kills our bees if we
don’t do anything about it,” she continues.
These tiny pests lay eggs that develop within
the honeybee brood and grow up to pierce an adult
honeybee’s exoskeleton and feed off its internal
fluid and fat. As if that’s not enough, the Varroa
mite can also infect bees with deadly viruses.
PAm, with the help of Costco (see “Bee students”), is helping to fund research to combat the
problem, including researching honeybees that
are resistant to the Varroa mite.
Addressing the issues
Unfortunately, the Varroa mite (pests) is just
one of the “four P’s” facing honeybees; the other
three are pathogens, pesticides and poor nutrition.
While research is ongoing into pathogens
and pesticides, when it comes to poor nutrition,
almond growers are taking an active role by
planting bee-friendly flowers among their rows
of almond trees to help facilitate a diverse diet
Martin Pohl, a founder of Costco supplier
Hughson Nuts of Hughson, California, compares
a honeybee’s diet during pollination to that of a
human who is given only steak for every meal for
weeks on end. It’s boring and lacks nutrition.
“Almond trees don’t have a lot of nectar,” says
Pohl, who explains that he and his fellow farmers
have been planting more flowers and letting
weeds and grass grow between their trees. “You
have to feed the bees if you want good bees.”
It’s not just the practice of planting only one
crop that limits a honeybee’s diet. “Now peo-
ple spray their yards to get rid of clover, but
clover is something that bees love, so it’s not
only the agricultural side, but it’s also on the
everyday side that we’ve eliminated what bees
are eating,” says Downey.
Planting wildflowers that all bees enjoy is one
action that nonexperts can undertake to help
honeybees. But what else can be done to help?
First, it’s important to know that buying and
consuming honey is good for bees.
It used to be that beekeepers made their
money from the sale of honey. These days, beekeepers travel with their bees, following the pollination seasons—including those of almonds,
blueberries and cranberries—before getting
honey from the bees in the fall.
“Beekeepers need your support,” says
Downey. “Beekeepers have it harder than ever,
trying to keep bees healthy in this country, and
A TINY PARASITE, the Varroa
mite is the single most harmful
stressor contributing to bee
colony losses. Varroa mites can
only reproduce in a honeybee
hive, where they feed on the
bees and brood while
WHAT IS A
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here for a video of Varroa-resistant bees
removing bee pupae that are infested with a
Varroa mite. (See page 8 for details.)
and when she—all pollinating honeybees are
female—visits the next flower, some of the pollen
rubs off, allowing for the fertilization of the plant.
Robert Huckaby, vice president, farm ser-
vices, for Costco supplier Wonderful Orchards of
Shafter, California, tells The Connection that back
in ;;;; the company was having “a difficult time
meeting the number of bees that [we] needed in
As almond farmers struggled to
source the necessary quantity of
bees, they also started talking to
beekeepers, who reported a signifi-
cant loss of bees during the year and
didn’t have enough for the pollina-
tion season, which meant a crop loss.
“That was kind of the [indica-tor] that there was an issue. It wasn’t
just something that was a short
trend or an anomaly,” Huckaby says.
At the same time that almond
growers saw a problem, they found
an ally in the nonprofit organization Project Apis m. (PAm; project
apism.org), whose name was
inspired by the scientific name for the European
honeybee, Apis mellifera. PAm’s mission is to
fund and direct research to enhance the health
and vitality of honeybee colonies while improving
When PAm joined forces with almond growers in ;;;;, the biggest issue facing honeybees
was colony collapse disorder (CCD), which happens when the worker bees leave the hive, abandoning the queen, young bees and plenty of food.
A decade ago no one was really thinking
about bees, and there was little awareness
about bees’ place in the food chain. But as
CCD spread, the plight of bees made
headlines across the country.
Danielle Downey, PAm’s executive direc-
tor, says there were also few funds for research
in ;;;;, and there was certainly no real clear-
inghouse for information. So the almond growers
and beekeepers said they’d put up money and
support research projects to happen right now,
instead of putting out a proposal that might take
over a year waiting for funds. Says Downey, “It was
really kind of a guerrilla tactic to get some answers,
so we’ve always been working closely with bee-
keepers, researchers and almond growers.”
As for the current research, Downey explains
that CCD isn’t something they’re seeing these
days. But bees are still in trouble. “We don’t see