Bee population dwindling
UD maintains apiary, sells honey at UDairy
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 05:10
Despite declining numbers in bee populations across the country, the university's apiary is still buzzing.
The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources recently introduced honey harvested and bottled on campus at the UDairy Creamery. It will be sold until late November to benefit the university's 25-year-old teaching apiary on South Campus.
Bill Leitzinger, president of the Delaware Beekeepers Association, said that bee keepers and honey bee populations have been in decline since 2007, when the insects began to mysteriously disappear due to what's now called colony collapse disorder. Worker bees disappear from the colony and leave behind the queen bee with younger offspring, stagnating the bee population.
"They couldn't trace it," Leitzinger said. "Something was happening where the bees were just gone."
This problem has wide-ranging impacts, Leitzinger said. Roughly $14 million in agricultural wholesale products depend on honey bees, and produce such as apples and melons would cost 10 times as much without them, he said.
The university is helping to combat the problem by operating a second apiary in Georgetown, which pollinates locally grown vegetables.
Deborah Delaney, director of the apiculture program at the university, thinks a different factor has contributed more significantly to the recent decline of honey bees.
"Every decade there is some kind of disappearing disorder," Delaney said. "So this isn't out of the ordinary—except now, we have Varroa mites."
Native to Asia, Varroa mites are parasites that feed on honey bees. They are steadily decreasing the honey bee population across the nation.
"They are really horrible things," Leitzinger said. "We as bee keepers have to help the bees fight Varroas every year."
Despite disorders and parasites, both Leitzinger and Delaney said keeping bees in Delaware is easy. There is no license required, and start-up apiary equipment can be bought online for $300 to $400.
Senior Bonnie McDevitt said she researches native bees under the apiculture program and harvested honey last summer at the apiary. The process involves pulling honey-coated frames from the boxes and dumping the honey into a large cylinder, she said.
"All the honey splats into the cylinder and then drips into the bucket," McDevitt said. "It's a really fun, sticky process."
Delaney teaches a class for interested bee keepers in the spring semester, where students manage their own bee hive.
"Almost anyone can be a bee keeper. You just have to be a little brave," Leitzinger said.