It’s spring on the East End, and while the gorgeous weather had folks running to the beaches, a handful of individuals chose to get a bit more education with their sunshine at the Downs Farm Preserve in Cutchogue on Saturday afternoon, May 18, when master apiarist and Cornell-trained entomologist Christopher Kelly of the East End School of Beekeeping gave a lecture about one of the season’s biggest stars: honeybees.
“Honeybees are the major pollinator throughout the U.S. and the world,” Kelly told the small crowd who traveled from as far away as Central Islip to learn more about maintaining honeybee hives from a master with nearly half a century of beekeeping experience under his belt. “They’re the principal pollinators of 30 to 40 percent of the fruits and veggies you like to eat and we’re losing them.”
Kelly blamed the dwindling honeybee populations that has plagued the world in recent years to three things: the increased use of chemicals and the environment’s exposure to them, pollinator foraging areas becoming increasingly fractured due to land development, and a parasitic mite called Verroa Destructor, which has been wiping out hives of European honeybees around the globe.
Verroa is a vector for a number of diseases and viruses causing bee deformation and death, some of which have latent symptoms, meaning whole colonies can appear to die off before any evidence is noticed. This tiny killer’s history with having European honeybees as their host is only two to three decades old, according to Kelly.
“Verroa was not a factor when I first started,” he explained. “It was on the Asian honeybee — Apis dorsata — a completely different species of bee that lives in a completely different environment . . . so it was very unusual that it cross-hosted to apis mellifera, the honeybee we’re used to here in the States, and it was actually documented that Verroa is now going after bumblebees.”
Kelly’s advice for combating the collapse of honeybee colonies? Start your own hive, of course.
He said if one can’t keep bees due to, say, allergies or time constraints, they can support the local honeybee population by planting native flowers and other inclusive species such as milkweed or witch hazel in their gardens. His hope is people will plant a 10×20-foot garden for pollinators to blow up the foraging footprint for the region’s bees.
“In Flanders, they actually had a pollinator habitat program with funding to plant native and other plant species that were inducive to pollinators,” he said. “Not just honeybees, but native bees, bats, moths, and more.”
New Jersey and Connecticut are already involved in projects seeding land occupied by high tension power lines to feed pollinators, according to Kelly, who said 17,000 of such acreage in New Jersey now supports its area bee populations.
“We could do that out here on the East End for every median, including County Road 48,” he said. “Instead of just saying ‘I need mowed grass,’ we could say, ‘Hey! Can we get that seeded with something that’s actually pollinator-friendly?’”