GALLIPOLIS — As a licensed bee inspector Chris Blank is currently working with 50 bee keepers in Gallia County to ensure honey bee hives are healthy. County inspectors are part of the Ohio Department of Agriculture program to identify bee issues and promote the long-term health of the hive.
Blank and his counterparts in each of Ohio’s 88 counties are appointed and paid by the county, but their inspection reports go directly to the ODA. The inspectors look for signs of diseases and pests, the presence of Africanized honey bees, and educate bee keepers on best practices.
“It is important to inspect the hives before any transfers are made,” Blank said. “It is the best way of preventing the spread of disease and Africanized bees to other hives and to other parts of the country.”
This hands-on interaction with beekeepers has been successful in keeping healthy aperies. Blank said there are approximately 1,200 hives in the county, but they are only inspected if the owners call.
“We don’t inspect aperies unless someone asks,” he said. “So, we depend on beekeepers to do the right thing. They are also encouraged to call if they have questions and concerns.”
Blank himself has 50 hives, most of them spread across the county. He keeps just enough bees in his backyard garden to pollinate his crops, and for breeding and observation.
Sometimes he is called for a “bee rescue”, and said he has removed bees from barns, attics, trees, anywhere a hive has formed in an unwanted location. After relocating them to a proper hives, Blank tends them to remain in the box instead of swarming to a new location.
“I became interested in bees as pollinators for my garden, at that time gardening was my main interest. The more I learned about bees the more involved I became. I specialize by collecting swarms and feral bees. I catch seven to eight colonies every year.”
He said after removal the bees may have difficulty settling in the hive box, but most successfully transition to their new home.
Blank has been very successful in raising healthy bees, and breeds the strongest to encourage resilience to whatever might come along. He said his years of research and spending time with bees has taught him that they are very healthy on their own if raised in their preferred environment.
Among the problems plaguing bees today are invasion by Africanized bees, pesticides and mites. It can be difficult to measure the effect pesticides have on bees, but it does put stress on the hive, as the chemical reduces a bee’s live span from 40 to 25 days, and causes bees to develop dementia, making them unable to find their hive. This causes stress on the hive in many ways, and lowers the hives overall health.
Africanized Honey Bees are often referred to as “killer bees” due to their aggressive behavior in response to activity near their colony. This aggression endangers both humans and European bees. AHBs are quick to swarm, and can force domesticated bees out of their hives. They are also are less likely to store honey and quick to abandon a hive.
Mites weaken the immune system and cause deformed wings and chronic paralysis. Many theories have been put forward for mite infestation, but Blank believes it began with managed colonies. Many of these colonies are migratory, and are driven across the county to pollinate crops.
These hives winter in the South, and are driven to California in the Spring, where they stay for two months pollinating almond crops. Next, they travel to New York to pollinate apples, or Massachusetts to pollinate blueberries. Their final stop is the Dakotas, where they spend time in the clover fields before going back South.
“Bees are not designed to travel,” Blank said. “This introduces stress, which lowers their ability to fight disease and pests. Then we intervein to correct their weakened immune system, which can cause other issues.”
He said left on their own, bees have the capacity to fight the mites, but stress from multiple sources has made them loose the ability to do so. He has chosen an all-natural approach to the mite issue, and said currently migratory colonies have an average 40 percent loss due to mites-his bees are at 18 percent.
He cited one of his favorite quotes: “Bees need bee keepers like fish need bicycles.”
“We have to keep in mind that bees have been around for millions of years, and pests and diseases come and go, and bees have always found a way to deal with them. We humans think we have to intervein when perhaps we are the problem. Let bees be bees.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on bees in the Ohio Valley. Next week, the topic is the native Mason Bee, their role in pollination, and how they differ from Honey Bees.
Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. She can be reached at [email protected]