For years, honeybees have been dying by the millions without much explanation. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the losses for Tennessee beekeepers have been far greater than the national average.
"We lost over 60 percent of all the colonies here in Tennessee this past winter," said beekeeper Danny Scott.
That puts not only honey, but also lots of other foods at risk.
Scott has had bees for more than 30 years. Over the past few, he's gone from 14 down to only nine hives, and that equates to about 500 jars of honey gone.
"Every time you sit down to eat, every third bite you take, a honeybee is responsible for that. They pollinate approximately 30 percent of everything we eat," Scott said.
Chris Robbins with the Tennessee State University agriculture extension says attempts to fight off mites, combined with the brutally cold winter, may have just been too much.
"By breeding in some of the traits to keep the pests away, we've also bred away the genetic hardiness of the bee," Robbins said. "And that may be causing some of the decline, is the fact that the queen is not laying late enough into the fall to have enough young brood going into the winter to keep the hive warm."
This had led to some colonies swarming.
Spraying pesticides on blooms during the day, when they are active, could also be harmful to the bees.
"And so we are working on breeding some bees, some more hardy bees that will last naturally without a lot of interference by us," Robbins said.
TSU is testing other pollinators for crops, too, like the carpenter bees. And the good news so far this year is new hives are forming quicker.
"They need conditions generally like we have this year. It's been a good spring. We've had good rainfall. We've got good blooms," Scott said.
Keep in mind, even if you are just planting a small garden for the family this year, you'll need at least one hive to pollinate that. So one way you can help out is by planting some nectar-producing flowers in with those vegetables this year.
Groups like the Tennessee Beekeepers Association are also using the benefits of local honey to recruit more beekeepers in an effort to increase the honeybee population.
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