YAKIMA, Wash. — Growers who want to help honey bees fight Colony Collapse Disorder should plant flowers around the crops they are using bees to pollinate, a bee expert told Northwest cherry growers at their annual meeting.
The disorder, in which bees die or disappear, has plagued the industry for years. It is caused by many things including a lack of diversity among the flowers bees visit, said Timothy Lawrence, director of Washington State University Extension for Island County. He spoke at Northwest Cherry Growers’ Cherry Institute in Yakima, Jan. 10.
“Bees don’t do well when there is only one crop out there. It’s all about stimulus. They need more than one crop. Plant flowers,” Lawrence said. Increasing forage and nutrition will make them less dependent on supplemental feed, he said.
Growers also should avoid spraying insecticides when bees are pollinating, but CCD is caused by so many things that it is the new norm beekeepers and growers will have to get use to, he said.
Lawrence has a doctorate in environmental science, a master’s degree in agricultural economics and rural sociology from Ohio State University and was a research associate in WSU’s Honey Bee Health Program in Pullman before becoming Extension director in Island County in Coupeville in 2010. He was a commercial beekeeper for 20 years and has been involved with bees for 50 years.
“We have up to 21 viruses that in the past were not a problem,” he said. “We live in a toxic world that will have a negative impact on honey bees and will for a long time. It’s the new normal. I don’t see a silver bullet. There are too many variables associated with it.”
Varroa mite, lack of genetic diversity, the neonicotinoid class of insecticides and lack of diversity of flowers all contribute to CCD, he said.
While Northwest tree fruit depends on bees to help pollination, California almonds depend on them more, Lawrence said. The almond industry needs 1.6 million to 2 million hives per year with pollination starting in February, he said.
There will be a shortage of bees this year and “bees are responsible for a third of the food you eat,” he said.