Our speaker was Steve Finke who is the President of the Lehigh Valley Beekeepers Association. He has been beekeeping for 13 years and now maintains 60-80 hives in the Lehigh Valley and an additional 30 in Florida. What began as a hobby has also turned into a profession as he opened a store that sells hives, bees, honey, and beeswax.
There are many pollinators in the area but honeybees are by far the most prolific due to their sheer numbers. Nests of wasps, hornets, and bumble bees contain 300-2,000 inhabitants. Honeybee colonies can have between 20,000 and 60,000 members. Honeybees pollinate because they need to feed their young. Nectar is a source of sugar and the pollen provides protein. An electrostatic charge allows the pollen to cling to the bee. Some of the pollen drops off as they travel from plant to plant and the rest is carried back to the hive. Honeybees can cover a radius of up to 2 miles. There is a great need for food as the queen bee lays 1,500 eggs every day. The eggs hatch in three weeks. One third of the colony is foraging at any time. The constant pollenating wears the worker bees down and they have a life span of 6-7 weeks.
Colony numbers have been on the decline for many years. Economics makes it hard to sell honey for more than a slim profit. It is hard to keep colonies alive. The average Pennsylvania colony loses 35-45% of its members every winter. Replacing those members will take time and there is a great deal of lost production. The number one reason for colony failure is the introduction of varroa mites to North America. The mites invade the hive and feed on the bees that are in the pupa stage. Beekeepers need to learn how to treat the hives, but it is difficult to selectively kill only the mites.
Another contributor to colony failures is the use of herbicides in communities. The herbicide helps control mosquitoes and other pests but also wipes out foliage and wildflowers that are a major source of food for bees. Agricultural practices have also wiped out large areas of wild flower growth. It is of vital importance to support the pollinators. 30-50% of the food on our tables is thanks to pollinators. Honeybees pollinate a wide variety of crops including carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, lemons, soybeans, and avocados. Communities are urged to plant pollinator gardens to provide food for the local bees.