By Lauren Dantella, Point Park News Service:
With the arrival of spring, some of the area’s smallest inhabitants could be facing big losses that consumers may notice on their farmer’s market shelves.
Some local beekeepers said they are expecting higher-than-average honeybee population losses following the severe cold this winter. These losses can affect the price of local honey and possibly the output of local produce.
“When you lose lots of bees from the weather, diseases, pests, et cetera, you certainly have an impact on consumers and that’s shown in the honey that’s produced,” said Stephen Repasky, president of Burgh Bees. “Less colonies means less honey. so that’s less honey that’s available to your local consumers.”
Honeybee conservation has been gaining attention from the scientific community since the gradual, but sharp, decrease in population in 2006. Nationally, there is a 33 percent drop every winter due to colony collapse disorder, pesticides and other diseases, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The winter of 2011-12 was exceptionally warm and resulted in a lower decline.
“Recovering any bee population, whether it’s managed bees or wild bees, certainly having a cold spell like we did or a bad winter throws back our recovery period by a year or two,” Repasky said.
Repasky’s organization is a Pittsburgh nonprofit promoting bee keeping and bee conservation with its partner Penn State University. The organization has constructed apiaries, or beekeeping communities, throughout the city, including the Homewood Community Apiary. He said some of the problems the Homewood Community Apiary faced this winter were caused by the weather.
“These last couple cold spells that we’ve had where it went down to the negative teens at night or the single digits during the day, sometimes the smaller and weaker didn’t make it, and we actually have a colony here that had too small a cluster during the wintertime, and they perished,” Repasky said.
He said some of the two dozen hives are wrapped in insulation to provide warmth and a windbreaker. The gated area is designed to allow as much sunlight to hit the hives as possible. The beekeepers also provide food, such as honey and fondant when needed. Despite these precautions, Repasky said he expects a 10-15 percent loss of bees.
What separates the hives that live and perish is usually the size, he said. The colonies cluster into a tight ball about the size of a cantaloupe to maintain a 90-98 degree temperature inside. Colonies too small to maintain this vital heat are more vulnerable.
Randy Holmes is a second-year beekeeper who also had concerns about the two hives he keeps on his alpaca farm in Butler.
“Luckily, last week I went down, and I could hear buzzing in both hives, so we’re very fortunate,” Holmes said. “I’ve heard stories from other beekeepers in the area that haven’t been so fortunate, that they have lost their hives, either part of their hives or the whole hives.”
While Holmes only had a small amount of honey to sell last year, he plans on expanding the enterprise to keep up with demand. Holmes, like Repasky, believes this year’s exceptional cold will affect availability and prices of local honey.
“Certainly that’s not going to mean dollars,” Repasky said. “We sell honey for roughly $8 a pound, so you might see a quarter or a 50 cent increase and that’s still enough, that’s a lot.”