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Stung By Bee Colony Collapse, A BeeKeeper Fights To Retain 60-Year-Old Business

February 14th, 2008

So far this winter, Ellingson is surviving, but…he’s also still waiting.

“We’ve seen about 10-20 percent loss this year, which is more normal nowadays. … But you can go for two weeks, and they can go completely to hell on you,” he says, adding that he’ll arrive in East Texas soon. “I’ll know by next week if we’ve survived the crisis this year.”

Apiculturists are also holding their breath about the proposed Farm Bill, which hasn’t even gotten to conference yet. That’s the next step for Congress if the new Farm Bill is to make it to the floor (Ellingson notes that the last Ag bill was in 2001), and even if this one survives a vote with the apicultural aid in tact, the appropriations for $75 million (over a five year period) have to be officially approved before any money changes hands.

In the meantime, Ellingson reflects on the horrible process of watching CCD decimate his bees last spring/summer – following that devastating winter.

In a typical honey bee cycle, in winter the colonies are semi-dormant and dependent on honey produced during the summer honey-making season (the colony consists of the queen, her brood and the “nursemaid” female worker bees, who also go out and collect pollen for making the honey). In spring, some of Ellingson’s hives are sent to pollinate crops outside of Minnesota, while others fatten up in Texas. In summer, the queen flies off to mate, then returns to lay eggs and start “incubating” another brood, expecting a large supply of the worker nursemaids to hang around and take care of the brood. In fall/winter, the process begins anew.

That’s how it should happen, Ellingson says. But with CCD, the worker bees simply fly off, die-off or simply vanish, leaving the rest of the colony to essentially starve to death.

Last spring, that’s what happened.


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