By Rachel Pawlowicz

Writing last summer in the Washington Post column “Wonkblog,” Christopher Ingraham announced the end of the “Beepocalypse.  The story, which was written in response to the concern caused by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), focused on the situation from an economic viewpoint. Unfortunately, that perspective glosses over many of the nuances of CCD, even if it was meant to mitigate some of the growing anxiety about the situation.

But why was there so much worry? One reason is that CCD led to a steep increase in colony die-offs beginning in 2006. In response to those die-offs, annual colony loss surveys have been conducted to keep track of loss rates.  Earlier surveys tracked only winter losses; in recent years, summer and overall annual losses have been tracked as well.  While it’s true that winter die-offs are down from their 2007-2008 season peak, summer die-off rates have remained high. The Bee Informed Collaboration is an effort from different agricultural-science research labs across the nation with support from various universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. These organizations have been publishing the results of the surveys (see below) in addition to researching methods for better beekeeping.  Because their longitudinal study is still in its early days, much of what’s available on the Bee Informed site is their survey data.

This graph from Bee Informed shows recent total annual losses remaining high, even as the number of hives has increased. Beekeepers have taken to splitting their hives in half, increasing the number of active colonies. Note that the graph indicates winter loss percentages, From 2010-2011 forward it also includes data on total annual losses, which includes summer loss rates.

If die-off levels are still high, why would the Post’s writer declare “Beemageddon” over, or rather, averted? That’s because the total number of colonies has increased from 2.4 million in 2006 to 2.7 in 2014. They cite beekeepers adjusting their methods to counteract the effects of CCD as the main reason for the resurgence. Beekeepers have taken to splitting their hives in half, increasing the number of active colonies. The piece also cites the relatively low price to purchase a ‘starter’ pack for a colony as a factor for the increased number of hives. But, again, it doesn’t address potential factors causing the die-offs, such as parasitic infections or harmful agricultural practices.

Where can people go to learn more about the myriad factors playing into this issue and ways to help improve it? The internet is a likely first stop. But there are other resources available that can provide hands-on experience.

Check your local community college, extension service, or county or city education offerings. Many of these offer beekeeping classes or workshops that cover the various issues and challenges beekeepers encounter. We’re fortunate at Matthaei-Nichols to have a top-notch beekeeping program in the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers (A2B2). This local group of dedicated beekeeper offers its “Bee School” for beginning and for intermediate students. Classes run from February through October and meet both indoors and outside in the apiaries at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The course covers topics such as fall and winter colony management, issues with pests and pathogens, and proper honey removal practices. A2B2 also offers a free monthly beekeeping program at the botanical gardens. Visit the Arb and Gardens website for more information.

During bee school season, the botanical gardens makes use of the colonies for class demonstrations, particularly those hives that are located near the Campus Farm and across from the Project Grow plots. If you take the class, you’ll be able to see the bees in action and work with them in a setting quite a bit larger than most backyards.

These colonies are located across from the Project Grow
gardens at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

If you’d like to find out more or explore Michigan’s rules and regulations about beekeeping, head over to A2B2, the Michigan Beekeeper’s Association, and check out Starting and Keeping Bees in Michigan: Rules and Regulations by Meghan Milbrath who also runs the Bee School through A2B2.

Rachel Pawlowicz, from Sylvania, Ohio, just completed her first year in the Master of Science in Information program, focusing on archives and records management. Rachel has been busy so far this summer digitizing the Matthaei-Nichols’ records and helping with the membership program as well.

Rachel Pawlowicz