Beekeeper Doug Cleveland and I sit by the wood stove of his Idaho wood shop and compare beekeeping in Idaho’s Treasure Valley with that in the Arkansas Delta. Doug is the president of the large and active Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club with commercial operators, sideliners, and backyard beekeepers gathering in Boise. Treasure Valley is protected by surrounding mountains. Although considerably farther north, the valley’s winter conditions are similar to those experienced in the Arkansas Delta. Treasure Valley, a high desert, supports a diverse agriculture through the use of an extensive system of irrigation canals that carry water from melting snow in the mountains. Throughout the valley, I see pallets of bee hives. Honey bees pollinate large fields of peas, beans, and mint. Treasure Valley spearmint is grown for its aromatic oil in 40 acre fields. Blue wooden boxes house alkali bees that pollinate alfalfa fields cultivated for seed production. The assembly points of commercial beekeeping operations today are littered with dead colonies. Recent reports show over-winter bee colony losses of 50 percent or more. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/science/earth/government-study-cites-mix-of-factors-in-death-of-honeybees.html?hpw. Numerous factors seem to lead to the heavy losses of bee colonies, including queen failure, starvation, parasitic mites, winter weather conditions, Colony Collapse Disorder, pesticides, Nosema disease, small hive beetles, and general colony weakness. This US report comes as Europeans ban neonicotinoid insecticides, widely questioned as leading to honey bee colony decline. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/business/global/30iht-eubees30.html. Having the systemic insecticides banned in Europe while extensively used in North America, there is the opportunity to make comparisons and study the effect these insecticides have upon honey bees. Let’s hope that independent researchers can learn from this two-year break in neonicotinoid insecticide usage.
Doug Cleveland and I share many beekeeping techniques. We both rely upon the hygienic behavior of resistant strains of bees to remove parasitic mites from the hives. We avoid harsh chemicals, and we both use thymol, derived from the oil of the thyme plant, to reduce colony mite loads. Today’s photo: Treasure Valley bee hives.