The cries across the internet to save the bees have not fallen on deaf ears in Hillsdale county as local beekeepers are serious about preserving the trade and preventing honey bee decline in the area.
A local Hudson-based Beekeeping association, Hidden Lake Beekeepers, partnered with the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) to bring a honeybee workshop to Hillsdale county in order to better educate local and aspiring beekeepers on the entomology of honeybees, the function of the hive, diseases, and the basics of local and commercial beekeeping.
Walter Pett, assistant professor of entomology at Michigan State University, who has over 30 years of beekeeping experience spoke about the varieties of bees and their unique functions, the dangers to bees, and the steps to prevent colony loss.
“What I love about bees is once you open up a hive you see thousands of little tiny eyes staring right back at you. It’s amazing,” Pett said.
Jamie Walters, 2017 Ohio State beekeeper of the year and Northwest Ohio Beekeeper Association vice president, who is also an Ohio State University pollinator specialist addressed the group and spoke about the process of becoming a great beekeeper by assessing one’s resources, goals, and how to acquire the knowledge.
“Go to the colleges for information,” Walters said. “Read books and talk to experts about events. If you know where to look you’ll find events everywhere.”
The event was held at the Perennial Park community center on Feb. 23 with 21 beekeepers in attendance. Rollin Lauber, the founder of the Hidden Lake Beekeepers club, said that last year’s event hosted by Lost Nations Beekeepers Association had over 63 in attendance.
“We had minimal advertising this year, people can’t go to something if they don’t know about it,” Lauber said. “But next year, that won’t happen again. I’d expect much more people.”
According to Lauber, the Hidden Lake Beekeepers club is just six months old.
“The club was founded for the purpose of teaching the art of beekeeping,” he said. “The club specifies that we go back to the basics of beekeeping.”
Lauber partnered with the MAEAP in order to grow the program.
He said he wanted “to help draw attention and focus to the local pollinator program and basically increase the local habitat of the honey bee.”
According to Pett and other similar, extensive research, bee populations are in decline not just in the midwest but globally.
“I myself like many other beekeepers, lost a lot of bees this winter,” said Pett.
This comes as a great alarm, as according to Pett, “one-third of our diet is dependent on insect pollination and bees are the primary pollinator. They are critical in providing pollination services.”
This is especially hitting hardest among rural communities and farmers, much like Hillsdale county, as the decline is not only affecting crop yields and farmers markets but also wildlife, as like us, they are dependent on the honey bee for creating food sources according to Pett and Lauber.
Jan Lawson, an attendant of the event and a beekeeper from Battle Creek Michigan with over 53 years of beekeeping experience said the decline in bees could pose real problems.
“Without bees, our food supply is in very serious trouble,” Lawson said.
Some good news amidst the decline of the honey bee is that, according to Pett, colony collapse disorder hasn’t been very prevalent in Michigan and much of North America in recent years.
This is good news as no one had a definitive answer for what was causing “the majority of bees to just leave the colony, resulting in the colony to just dwindle down and completely disappear,” Pett said.
Yet, there are many steps that must be taken to prevent the loss of the species as the speakers provided suggestions.
The first step is through education.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of bees. Unless you squoosh them, they aren’t going to do anything to you,” Pett said. “People have a common misconception that anything that stings you is a bee, but it’s not. You most likely got stung by a yellow jacket or a hornet, not a honeybee.”
Pett also pointed out how bees can communicate with humans through something called the “waggle dance.”
“Bees are incredibly intelligent. They are one of the only few species who have the capacity outside of humans to communicate symbolically,” Pett said. “The Waggle Dance is how bees tell each other where a source of pollen is located. It accounts for the movement of the sun over time.”
This allows bees to adapt to being transported to other hemispheres, like Australia.
Supporting honeybees survival will also help prevent the loss of the species, according to Pett.
“I want beekeepers to be beekeepers,” Pett said.
Walters also said that a great way to support beekeeping is getting involved locally.
“Support your own bee clubs. Become active and support your local communities,” Walters said.
According to Lawson, clubs are a great way to extend knowledge and care of bees.
“The best way to become a beekeeper is to join a club, because the clubs are going to support you, and give you a mentor,” Lawson said. “There is so much knowledge, learning about bees is not just enough, you have to learn how to manage bees. That’s the part where a mentor can really help you.”
Getting the younger generations involved is also a current challenge of local beekeeping organizations.
“The average age of a beekeeper is around 60,” Lawson said. “We need young beekeepers desperately, otherwise, the profession of beekeeping is in trouble.”
With around 21 beekeeping clubs in Michigan, Lawson said there are numerous opportunities to get involved.
“We want you to become the next generation of mentors. We need more beekeepers,” said Walters.
The local clubs in the Hillsdale area are Hidden Lake Beekeepers Club and the Lost Nations Beekeepers Association.