A look at what’s being done to boost Kentucky’s honeybee population

Bees are essential to our food. They provide $15 billion in pollinated crops — like apples, almonds, berries, cantaloupes and cucumbers — a year.

There’s a concern about their population, though. Kentucky lost 30 percent of its honeybees last year.

Most states nationwide are creating a pollinator plan, including Kentucky. The state had its first public forum on the plan last month. The plan is part of an unfunded mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency. The plan is due by 2017.

Kentucky State Apiarist Tammy Horn says Kentucky’s pollinator plan is aimed to reduce hive deaths and establish better communication between beekeepers and agriculture chemical users. 

“We have put a lot of time into this plan. We want something that will help in Kentucky’s diverse agriculture to succeed where we don’t hinder any one sector,” Horn said.

Horn says the No. 1 enemy of bees in Kentucky are varroa mites. It’s an external parasitic mite that attacks honeybees. Horn hopes to see the impact of the mites decrease now that oxalic acid, used to kill varroa mites, was legalized last year for beekeepers’ use.

Horn says in the past year federal policies encouraging pollinator habitats, public awareness of irresponsible pesticide use, and a way to fight varroa mites are helping steadily increase the bee population.

Horn said last year she heard less about pesticide kills and didn’t hear anything about colony collapse disorder.

“I’m beginning to see that we are moving forward. I don’t want to say ‘good’ yet, but I’m a lot more optimistic that we are moving into the average range," Horn said.

While Kentucky experienced what Horn calls a large loss last year, other reports say last year the honeybee population was at a 20-year high nationwide.

The discrepancy is explained by a low population and catch-up efforts of beekeepers like Chuck Collins, who tends up to 200 colonies in the summer. He helped start his late father-in-law’s dream four years ago at the Bee Barn on Clinton Rd., in Lone Oak.

Collins credits an increase in awareness and education to the increase in population. “Better education to homeowners and the general public, on how we can best accomplish their recovery and their return, certainly how to better take care of them,” Collins said.

We went from 5 million bees in the 1940s to 2.4 million in 2006, when honey started doubling in price. Now it’s around 2.7 million.

Horn adds that reports can also vary numbers because of when they’re taken. She says the numbers can be lower in February or March, when losses are higher, versus numbers taken in July, when beekeepers have made splits in hives or replenished losses.

So, the bee population is steadily increasing, but we are still seeing too many bee losses every year.

If you want to learn more about bees, Kent Williams, EAS Certified Master Beekeeper, will be hosting his annual Bee School  on March 30 and 31, and April 1 and 2 at his farm in Wingo, Kentucky.

The bee school is free, and lunch is provided by the Lake Barkley Beekeepers Association for donations.

The Bee School will run for four days, and each day will include beekeeping classes such as:

  1. Basic Hive Inspection
  2. Equipment Choices & Assembly Basics
  3. Disease and Pest Recognition & Treatment Options
  4. Queen Rearing 101
  5. Advanced Queen Rearing/Grafting
  6. Master Beekeeper Preparation

If you have any questions or suggestions on the pollinator plan, you can email Horn at Tammy.horn@ky.gov.

Horn wanted to include that any homeowner who wants to be on the do not spray list for mosquito spraying this year can call 502-573-0282.

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