COUDERSPORT, Pa. — Beekeeping expert and author Michael Bush will offer a program Oct. 26 at Gunzburger Auditorium, 1 North Main St.

Recent data from the Bee Informed Partnership shows honey bee populations continue to decline. Just this past winter, statistics showed a 37.7% decline in managed honey bee populations — bee colonies kept by beekeepers. This is the greatest reported winter hive loss in 13 years.

Honey bees are an essential part of the environment and critical in maintaining the livelihood of plants.

“Many plants cannot reproduce without pollinators,” said Bush, author of “The Practical Beekeeper, Beekeeping Naturally. “Some are dependent entirely on honey bees, but even if there are other pollinators for that plant, those are suffering from the same problems of insecticides and lack of food. Many plants will become extinct without pollinators.”

The loss of the honey bee would be a critical hit to our food supply.

“There are lots of produce that depend on the pollination of the honey bees and others. Almonds and apples are just a few among many,” said Joan Bradley, secretary and treasurer of the North Central PA Beekeepers Association, which is sponsoring Bush’s program in Coudersport.

What is putting our bees in danger?

“They are poisoned directly or indirectly at every turn,” Bush said. Insecticides are one of the major culprits, killing them outright, while herbicides kill their food supply and fungicides kill the fungus they need to ferment the pollen. Some fungicides have also been known to alter the foraging behavior of bees.

“Then there are new parasites every few years,” noted Bush.

One mite particularly deadly to the honey bee is the varroa mite, an external parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on the honey bees, causing the disease varroosis.The varroa mite can only reproduce in a honey bee colony, with significant infestations leading to the death of an entire colony. To combat the destruction caused by the varroa mite, Bush recommends beekeepers use foundationless hives.

While the situation for honey bees is critical, Bush offered several suggestions the average citizen can do to help. “When bees see a yard with nothing but grass they see a desert. Plant white clover. Don’t kill dandelions. Plant flowering trees. Don’t spray insecticides. Don’t spray herbicides.”

He also recommends planting a pollinator garden, which is a group of nectar and pollen producing plants arranged in a way that attracts pollinators, such as bees. Seed mixes for pollinator gardens can be purchased through seed companies.

Local groups, such as the North Central PA Beekeepers Association, which covers Potter, McKean, Tioga, Cameron and Elk counties, work to raise awareness by offering educational sessions, hosting guest speakers, advocating for research and running educational booths at events.

Bush will speak and answer questions 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the Oct. 26 program. Lunch will be provided.

The cost to attend is $15 per club member and $20 per non-club member. Reservations must be received by Oct. 11 for the cheaper rate. Those received Oct. 12-18 will cost $25 per person. No reservations will be accepted after Oct.19. Seats are limited.

Checks can be made payable to North Central PA Beekeepers Association. Include your telephone number or email address on the check.

Mail all checks to Joan Bradley, P.O. Box 635, Shinglehouse, PA 16748. For questions, email northcentralpabeekeepersassoc@gmail.com or call (814) 697-7586.

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)

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