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Buzzing along: Mountain View Apiary weathers the winter

  • Kevin Foster of New Ipswich tends his hives.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kevin Foster of New Ipswich tends his hives.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kevin Foster of New Ipswich tends his hives.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kevin Foster of New Ipswich tends his hives.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kevin Foster of New Ipswich tends his hives.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, June 08, 2017

As Kevin Foster walks across his backyard, they come into view: tall, white boxes, with bees buzzing in and out industriously. His hives.

Foster, owner of Mountain View Apiary, has been producing his own honey and pollen for the past six years, ever since he got into beekeeping. Usually, he gets plenty enough to sell his excess at the New Ipswich Farmers Market. But last fall, he wasn’t able to take any honey from his bees. In fact, he was trying to supplement their stores. But in the end, he said, he still lost a hive plus a nucleus colony he was trying to build up. 

“There just wasn’t as much honey last year, probably because of the drought,” said Foster. “Particularly smaller colonies weren’t able to build up enough food resources to get through the winter.”

Foster keeps Carniolan honey bees in hives at his home in New Ipswich, as well as at a Wilton location. The Carniolan is a subspecies of the western honey bee and one of the most commonly kept by beekeepers, after the Italian bee, because of its gentle demeanor and heartiness. 

The hive he lost was one of his smaller ones, and the nucleus colony was made of a wild swarm he captured that summer, said Foster, and the drought impacted their ability to build up sufficient food sources for the colonies to grow.

Foster isn’t the only beekeeper to see losses this year. According to a national survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership of about 5,000 beekeepers, keepers lost 33 percent of their colonies last year. And it’s a persistent issue — last year was the second lowest rate of colony losses that the Bee Informed Partnership has recorded in the last seven years. 

It’s particularly concerning, said Foster, because pollinators rely on beekeepers to help keep their numbers up. 

“I view beekeeping as a type of animal husbandry,” said Foster. “Bees aren’t thriving in the wild anymore. It takes us intervening.”

Indeed, globally, there has been a marked decline in bee species. The Bee Lab at the University of New Hampshire recently found, in a concentrated survey of wild bee populations in the state that several historically widespread bumble bee species, that the range of their population had shrunk considerably — one species by nearly 90 percent. 

That’s important, because wild bees are critical for pollination of both flowers and — more significantly — food.

Honeybees pollinate about 90 crops, everything from nuts, fruits, berries and vegetables, increasing yield and quality and accounting for about $15 billion a year in revenue. They’re such a significant piece of the health of the world’s agriculture industry, that Second Lady Karen Pence and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue even installed a beehive on the grounds of the vice president’s residence to draw attention to their declining numbers. Perdue has also declared the week of June 19 “National Pollinator Week.”

There are a number of reasons that bees are in trouble. Sometimes, it is a lack of food source, as was the case with Foster’s hives this winter. But more commonly, mites or other parasites can infest hives, and pesticides have also been attributed as a factor. And, too, beekeepers have to deal with a phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder,” where a swarm of bees will leave their hive, abandoning their queen, for no known reason — an issue that has been on the rise. 

These factors are part of the reason for the decline in number of honeybee hives in the United States — which were as numerous as 6 million in the 1940s, and only number about 2.5 million today.

Mites — generally varroa mites — in particular, are a factor that Foster tries to monitor with his colonies. He regularly tries to keep track of the amounts of mites which can become a colony killer. 

Foster said he’s been able to rebound this spring, bringing his total number of hives back up to eight, the same number he had prior to his loss this winter. 

For him, he said, his beekeeping is mostly a hobby he picked up — along with keeping some chickens for fresh eggs — to keep himself busy now that his children are grown. And, he said, because he recognizes the importance of the impact of the bee population.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.