Loss of hives sting state beekeepers

It’s still big business in W.Va., but a destructive mite has hurt nationwide honey production

The varroa destructor does exactly what its name describes. It destroys honey bees. The mites are threatening bee colonies nationwide. The tiny mites showed up in West Virginia in the 1980s. They attach themselves to the insect to suck the blood out of it, weakening the bee and leaving miniscule holes that invite viruses.

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Beekeeper Robert White inspects a hive of honey bees at Eversweet Apiaries in Kearneysville. White said a typical hive can house as many as 50,000 to 60,000 bees. Each hive contains 174 components, about 95 percent of which are manufactured on site, said beekeeper Ed Burwell. The Varroa destructor mite is blamed in the destruction of honey bee colonies in the United States. The East Coast has endured the loss of 50 to 60 percent of its honey bee population. Nationwide, there are fewer than 2 million hives still in operation.

Beekeeper Robert White inspects a hive of honey bees at Eversweet Apiaries in Kearneysville. White said a typical hive can house as many as 50,000 to 60,000 bees. Each hive contains 174 components,
about 95 percent of which are manufactured on site, said beekeeper Ed Burwell. The Varroa destructor mite is blamed in the destruction of honey bee colonies in the United States. The East Coast has endured the loss of 50 to 60 percent of its honey bee population. Nationwide, there are fewer than 2 million hives still in operation.

Area beekeepers are being vigilant and regularly treating their bee population against the mites.

For the past 12 years Herb Everhart has owned and operated Eversweet Apiaries in Kearneysville. Everhart said he lost 40 percent of his bees this past winter.

“Normally I lose only 10 percent,” Everhart said.

He said it is imperative that beehives are treated for mites.

Eversweet Apiaries operates 100 hives located around Jefferson County. He sells honey by the pound and by the bucket.

“We sell about 100 pounds a week,” he said.

The apiary also sells bees shipped in from California that are received every Wednesday.

“We have a full scale bee store from supplies to bees,” said Everhart, who is a member of the Eastern Panhandle Beekeepers Association.

The association’s president, Bob Speelman said he lost two of his 10 hives last year because of mites.

“We have 116 members in the association. Three members have anywhere between 100 and 300 hives. A couple of us have two to three hives or a little more,” said Speelman who has one hive in his yard in Martinsburg. The rest he has in Kearneysville. He said he shared some space with Everhart.

“West Virginia has around 2,000 members in 26 bee clubs,” Speelman said. “Last winter the total club lost 30 percent of our hives.”

West Virginia Department of Agriculture state apiarist Paul Poling said beekeeping is big business. The overall annual income in West Virginia is $941,000, he said adding that figure doesn’t include “renting” bee hives by the tractor-trailer load for pollinating plants on the West Coast.

A nurse bee clings to a queen bee cage held by Eversweet Apiaries owner Herb Everhart. Everhart said he marks the thorax of each queen bee with a shield of paint that helps date them.

A nurse bee clings to a queen bee cage held by Eversweet Apiaries
owner Herb Everhart. Everhart said he marks the thorax of each
queen bee with a shield of paint that helps date them.

In 1989, the state had 1.5 million honey bee colonies producing an average of 32 pounds of honey per colony at 77 cents a pound. The value was over $1 million.

In 2012, state statistics show 7,000 colonies producing 336,000 pounds of honey.

Poling said most bees don’t have resistance to parasitic mites.

“If hives are not treated mites will pretty much destroy 100 percent of the colony,” Poling said. “We hope beekeepers will begin propagating to increase the number of honey bees.”

Without the honey bees, crops that need pollination such as fruit trees, cucumber and melon would be at risk.

Poling said many commercial beekeepers have gone out of business.

“We haven’t had replacement companies. They have just disappeared because of the mites,” Poling said.

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