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State apiarist skeptical of Delaware's numbers from survey showing bee colony decline

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

President Barack Obama announced the first national strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators on Tuesday. It came on the heels of a recently released national study that revealed that beekeepers lost over 40 percent of their honey bee colonies in the past year.

The study, conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, the USDA, among others, showed that Delaware possessed one of the highest rates of colony loss, at 61 percent.

On the contrary, Delaware’s state apiarist, Bob Mitchell, doesn’t think the study has much validity.

“What I question about the Bee Informed Partnership is the way they collect the data. And we have no way of knowing where that data comes from.," said Mitchell.


He noted that participation in the survey was voluntary and that the beekeepers who did submit responses likely don’t represent what Delaware’s 300 total beekeepers are seeing in their colonies.Mitchell, who inspects apiaries, or places where bees are kept, says that colonies in Delaware appear to be in good condition.


However, Mitchell noted that the bees had a rough time this past winter.  


“W had several months that the bees couldn’t get out to forage. Normally we get warm spells when the bees can go out and take cleansing flights. This year we did not have that, so that put a lot of pressure on the bees," said Mitchell.

Bees relieve themselves on these “cleansing flights” in order to keep the hives healthy.


While the specifics of how serious bee colony loss in Delaware may be in question, scientists and environmentalists agree that along with more federal funding and scientific research, there is a strong need for public engagement to make life better for bees.


Bill Leitzinger, head of the New Castle County Beekeepers, says his group tries to reinforce that honey bees pollinate about a third of crops.



Leitzinger says to make sure they are still around to do that work he says limit the use of pesticides. He also suggest paying attention to the type of flowers you plant.


" A lot of people think that all flowers are attractive to honey bees, but actually they prefer the smaller flowers and particular varieties that have more nectar and pollen than others" said Leitzinger, who adds you can find what varieties are best with a simple web search.


Leitzinger notes he lost two of his five hives over the winter, which he says is not unusual and can be recouped by splitting a hive in half and having a swarm create a second new hive with a new queen.

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