Joseph Villers, staff writer
The annual Buncombe County Bee Conference began last weekend at Warren Wilson in Canon Lounge and will conclude this weekend, Feb. 14-15.
“I’m here because I love the honey bee.” Sister J. Spiritvoice, wearing wings and antennae, addressed the assembled beekeepers and prospective students. Sister J referred to the conference as “a labor of love” and read a poem which ended, “I don’t keep the bees; they keep me.”
The convention is held annually, though this year a noticeably smaller crowd turned up. “Last year we had 419 people sign up; this year is a very small group!” said president of the Buncombe County Bee Chapter, Calvin Robertson.
“Maybe we can save the honey bee. If you love honey bees, you’ll find yourself welcome at the BCBC.”
Reasons for attending varied. “I don’t keep bees, but my family does. That’s why I’m here; so I don’t kill them all,” said one attendee.
The elephant in the room was what is called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. In the last year this unexplained event has wiped out 60% of the West Coast hives and 70% on the east coast. The disorder involves bees leaving their hives and never returning. The only consistent factors are that the bees are highly stressed when this happens, and for reasons unknown, natural predators will not eat the honey of these abandoned hives. The disorder has been reported in at least 25 other countries, but likely began in California, and most greatly affects the United States. Much of our agriculture is dependent on pollinating bees, and without them farmers would be forced to use much more fertilizer, hard pressed to find more efficient pollinators.
A similar collapse occurred with the British black bee in 1898 in England, when 30 of 46 hives were wiped out by a disease called Acarine. Sister J. and Brother Adam Kehrle led a visualization exercise to take the conference back to Buckfast Abbey, 1898 when a German monk arrived and soon after experienced the partial colony collapse. By applying the gene theories of Gregor Mendel, the monk was able to slowly rebuild a population of “Buckfast bees” which were resistant to acarine like the Italian bees and hardy like the English black bee.
“Everybody right now is combating a continuing problem: weather,” said attendee Lee Banks. “We’re coming off a very dry year last year. We didn’t have enough water to put up enough honey to get them through the winter. On top of that we have the colony collapse, where bees are dying and no one knows why.”
Possible reasons for CCD are various; some blame the rise in cell phone use.
“Genetic modified corn maybe? Cell phone towers? The timeline works – it was the year 2000 when cell phones flowered” said attendee John Daniels. More likely is that the collapse is a result of the commercialization of honey bees. In the Spring, hives are shipped across the country to pollinate crops treated with insecticide or genetically modified to produce their own. To maximize honey production, bees are kept from feeding on their own honey, and instead are given sugar water, most commonly a combination of cheap high fructose corn syrup and soy protein, an ingredient high in phytoestrogens. The result seems to be that the bees are becoming mentally impaired, and in their little brain fogs forget how to find home.
“Maybe the solution is Bee School, and more hives, more diversity in breeding between types. We’d like to see a bee developed, bred in this area as opposed to the deep south; a bee designed for Western N.C,” said Banks.
Next Saturday the conference will be held in Kittredge, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Vendors will be assembled to sell bees and beekeeping equipment. Fifteen Warren Wilson students were in attendance as well as two students from the Bee Crew.
“At first I thought bee keeping was real strange, but now I get what the buzz is all about,” junior Michael Silverman said.
More information can be found at wncbees.org.