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GET INVOLVED

How You Can Help the Honeybees

What is killing the honeybees? This is a common question I get as a beekeeper. The short answer is: We are.

 

The largest threats to honeybees currently are agricultural chemicals & pesticides, loss of habitat, and an invasive mite called varroa that parasitically feeds on bees and transmits many viruses. The average yearly loss of bees is 40% in the United States (source). Together, we can all do our part to reverse their decline!

Things we can all do:

  • Don't use insecticides or pesticides on your property. Many are lethal to bees. Others by themselves are sub-lethal, but when taken back to the colony and incorporated into the wax, become lethal upon combining with other pesticides, chemicals, and insecticides the bees have been exposed to while foraging. Read more about how bees try to protect their hives from pesticide exposure but fail here

 

  • Hire lawn care companies that use natural, organic or green lawn care practices.

 

  • Read all crop and garden care product labels and avoid any products containing neonicotinoids. These are especially harmful to bees (source).

 

  • Plant trees that provide nectar and pollen for bees. While planting flowers are also great, a flowering tree provides about 1,000 times as many resources to a bee colony as the same space planted in flowers.  Excellent choices for bees include:

Native species: Texas Redbud, Crepe Myrtle, Mesquite, Retama, Plum

Non-native to Central Texas species: Chinese Tallow, Bee-bee Tree, Linden, Black Locust, Citrus

For a complete bee-friendly planting list for Central Texas, check out Texas A&M AgriLife's list, or a more specific list for Austin.

 

  • Lobby your city to not use pesticides and insecticides in their management of city spaces and parks.

 

  • If you live in an area that is regularly sprayed for mosquitoes, lobby to have spraying done at night when the impact will be less lethal due to lower exposure levels. While not ideal, the bees will at least be at home in the hives when the spraying occurs.

Additional ways to help if you are a beekeeper:

 

  • Get bee stock from local bee suppliers who are actively involved in breeding for disease resistance, AND that don’t treat for varroa. If you want bees that are able to survive varroa, you will need to get stock from treatment-free keepers that are breeding for this trait, commonly referred to as survivor stock or VSH (varroa sensitive hygiene). Make sure to ask if your bee supplier is treatment-free; not all VHS lineages are. 

 

  • Become knowledgeable about the symptoms of diseases and pests in your hives.

  • Re-queen with disease and pest resistant lineages that are adapted to your local area when disease symptoms appear in your hive. 

  • Allow your colonies to undergo an annual brood break. This can be accomplished by allowing them to naturally swarm during the reproductive season, by performing a walk-away split, splitting and adding a queen cell instead of a mated queen, or caging your colonies queen for 30 days. Brood breaks can also occur in summer and winter when bees are allowed to forage natural nectar flows instead of being fed year-round. Brood breaks are one of the key ways untreated colonies control varroa mites. 

  • Please stop treating your hives for varroa. I understand this may be considered controversial to some, especially those who rely on thousands of hives to make a living, or the hobbyist who has only 1 or 2 hives and doesn't want any harm to come to their bees. But in treating, you are preventing the bees from undergoing natural selection, a process in which non-resistant genetic lines would be culled from the population and resistant lineages would propagate and dominate. When you treat, you are instead allowing non-resistant bees to survive another year and pass on their genetics via drones produced the following spring. Additionally, treatment is promoting natural selection to occur in varroa, enabling the mites to become stronger, treatment-resistant, and more deadly. This has already been observed in the ineffectiveness of once-used chemical treatments such as apistan (fluvalinate) and check-mite (coumaphos).  Please check out this article for additional information.