Georgia's wild bee population has been all but wiped out by parasites. A resurgence in hobby beekeeping is helping bees, gardeners and farmers alike, say University of Georgia experts.
Few bees = few veggies
"There's no doubt there's a limit in bee pollination in Georgia," said Keith Delaplane, an Extension Service entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"That's the big problem for home gardeners," he said. "Most gardeners and farmers will tell you they don't see the bees they used to. Many aren't seeing the yields they used to, either."
|F. Peppers, UGA, CAES|
|TAKING A CLOSER LOOK through the safety of an observation hive lets this student see how bees build their honeycombs. 4-H Clubs and UGA-led beekeeping clubs are learning more about bees and their importance to agriculture and home gardening.|
Since the 1980s, Georgia's wild bee population has been under attack by tracheal mites and varroa mites that have decimated the population. New threats are still emerging.
"The future for our wild bee population is pretty grim," Delaplane said. "You always find new colonies because beekeepers' colonies split and swarm. But they can no longer self-sustain."
Once the bees split from the beekeeper, they survive only about a year in the wild before they die from parasites.
"You can argue that bees are no longer wild animals," Delaplane said. "They're domestic, because they require care to stay alive for the long term."
Clubs keep hives alive
North of Atlanta, the Cherokee Beekeepers Club has about 50 active beekeepers. And the number is growing.
"When I came here, people were getting out of beekeeping because their hives were going down," said Marco Fonseca, a county agent with the UGA Extension Service. "Very few knew the mites were the cause of the problems."
Fonseca helped organize the Cherokee Beekeepers Club with a goal of teaching members how to care for the hives.
"Now," he said, "we have an annual training program that spiraled into year-round education and management practices."
Causing a buzz in schools
F. Peppers, UGA
|BUZZING WITH ACTIVITY, both in the hive and the classroom. These Arnold Mill Elementary School 4- H'ers are learning more about honeybees from Marco Fonseca, upper left, an Extension Service agent in Cherokee County. Fonseca explains how bees relate to flowers and food production.|
They also have school bee programs. Local schools can get an observation hive for their library or science class.
"Not only is the school program teaching students about bees and their relationship to flowers and food production, but beekeepers are getting involved in the school," Fonseca said.
"The added reward of working with children kept the beekeepers involved," he said. "They now do a part of the whole program. We assign bees to a school, and the beekeepers keep a check on the bees and work with the teachers."
Results are showing
The beekeeping program seems to be showing results.
"Once people understand the bees' role, and once you tell them the vegetables aren't setting fruit from lack of pollination, they get interested," Fonseca said. "We have increased the number of hives from about 30 to more than 500."
Having more managed bees generally increases wild bee populations. That helps wild fruit and flower production that supports wildlife.
Swarmingÿ to bees
"That's happening in Cherokee County," Fonseca said. "I can tell by the number of swarm calls I get. The callers see swarms as a problem. But I see them as great, because I know we're increasing the wild bee population."
Most of the beekeepers in Georgia's metro areas are hobbyists. But some are tapping into the business of bees.
"When we started, no one in the county had a business based on bees," Fonseca said. "One of our keepers, B.J. Weeks, has gone into full- time business. His honey is sold in every Kroger store in north Georgia. Others are selling small amounts in specialty shops."
Last year more than 100 residents entered honey in the county fair.
"We have a quality control and marketing program on how to make good honey and how to present it," Fonseca said.
Or attend the Beekeepers Institute May 22 at the Biological Science Building on the UGA campus in Athens. To sign up, call your county Extension Service office.>