08/23/07 — Beekeepers suffering through rough summer

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Beekeepers suffering through rough summer

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 23, 2007 1:45 PM

Most beekeepers replace their queens every few years, but not Chris Rarick of Goldsboro.

"You learn as you go," says Rarick, who has started grafting into some of his hives new queen bee babies from an artificially inseminated queen. He said he plans to start doing this every year now. Queen bees are hard to get and expensive, so he's growing his own. And it's bred into these new queens' DNA that their babies find mite eggs and pull them out of the hive before they can hatch.

Rarick lost half of his hives to the dry summer heat that followed a killer cold snap in the early part of the season. This has been the worst summer ever for Rarick and fellow members of the Neuse River Beekeepers Association. The group meets each month at the Agriculture Center in Kinston.

Older beekeepers have said this was one of the worst years they remember.

Rarick's honey production is down by 50 percent.

Last year, he was able to pull more off 14 hives than he could get out of 30 this year.

He has lost 32 hives and is down from 64 earlier in the season.

"You go out there and they're dead. One day they're doing great, and the next day, nothing."

The U.S. bee population has suffered severely in recent years. This year, an unknown disease or parasite has killed off thousands of hives. Scientists are trying to discover what has led to the catastrophe.

Rarick said he suspects the heat led to his losses. Heat can stress the bees and wear down the hive population until it's weak and succumbs to mites or hive beetles, he said.

A hive beetle is a little black bug that can smell honey up to 20 miles away and flies to it. They travel by the hundreds.

While the bees in a strong hive can fend them off, a weak hive will not be able to keep the hive beetle from coming in and taking over -- eating up all the pollen, reproducing, defecating on the honey and generally messing up the place. The bees can't stand uncleanness, and they leave.

"With this heat, the hive beetles are having a ball," Rarick said.

The mites are bad, too, he said. They inbreed, and that causes their DNA to adapt to any chemical you use to knock them down. They become immune to it all.

A bee expert from the state Agriculture Department, Leonard Adolphus, told the beekeepers group last week to get start getting ready for winter, check for mites and hope for a better season next year.