Vt. beekeepers hope for a better season - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. beekeepers hope for a better season

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There are about 2,000 beekeepers in Vermont. Most are like Bill Mares, small producers who keep bees mostly as a hobby. He has a dozen hives, and has just begun to open them for the season.

"Well, it is very early in the spring and a number of beekeepers have not gone into their hives, but the anecdotal evidence I get is there is probably a normal loss," Mares said.

A normal loss is about 10 percent-15 percent of the hive.

Chaz Mraz of Champlain Valley Apiary, a commercial honey producer, says they have just finished unpacking their bees and have seen a 13 percent loss. He also says the cold spring temperatures are making it difficult for the bees to fly, just one of the many stresses facing honey bees.

"We still have our greatest enemy are verola mites, which is a parasitic mite of the Asian honey bee that came to this continent 30 years ago and afflict our bees, everybody. If we would solve the verola problem, we would have really healthy bees again," Mares said.

Out West, beekeepers are reporting big hive losses-- some up to 50 percent. This is due to added stresses on the hives, like colony collapse disorder and pesticides. Those are not big problems here in Vermont. But we could feel the effects in higher food prices, because bees are used to pollinate many crops across the country.

"And that is about a $30 billion industry for the crops that bees pollinate, as opposed to half a billion dollars in honey that is produced in this country. So, that is why in January and February 60 percent of the bees in the U.S. are in California pollination almonds," Mares said.

Steve Parise, an agriculture production specialist with the Vermont Agriculture Agency, says bees here are in pretty good shape overall, due in part to the fact that there is always something in bloom from spring to fall, so they get a good balance of food. Even so, honey producers-- professionals and hobbyist alike-- say honey crops have been smaller over the past several years. And at least one honey producer has this advice for consumers.

"Hug your local beekeeper," Mares said.

Perfect weather for the bees would be temperatures in the 60s and 70s during the day, and if it could rain only at night, that would be good, too.

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