Colony Collapse Disorder of unknown causes

Elizabeth Helmkamp- Staff Writer

Beehives operate as a unit. Everything a bee does is for the benefit of the hive, said Ron Rynders, local beekeeper and former Director of Career Services at Dordt, as he marveled at the unity of a hive.

“This is a God thing – the whole thing,” Rynders said. “There’s more God in a beehive than there is anything else.”

Honey is the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of beekeeping. However, pollination is actually the primary job of bees in agriculture. Senior Biology major Mariellen Hofland’s father kept bees, and she started a beekeeping club at Dordt a few years ago. Although the club is no longer active, Hofland still has an interest in the role of bees.

“Hundreds of thousands of plant species need bees to pollinate them, and without that you can’t have the fruit of that crop,” Hofland said. “I think it is important as an agricultural community to be able to understand this [process].”

Duane Bajema, an agriculture professor who teaches a beekeeping class at Dordt, compared the process of beekeeping to keeping a puppy or any other pet. A beekeeper must invest money, care for and monitor the bees, but he or she also gets to enjoy them.

When a bee gets sick or old, it leaves the hive to die, according to Rynders. When too many bees get sick, the hive empties. Colony Collapse Disorder happens when hives of bees suddenly start dying off.

“So beekeepers go there, open the lid and see no bees,” Rynders said. “And they all scratch their heads and wonder what in the world happened.”

According to Bajema, people are concerned because we don’t know why the bees are dying. However, many possibilities have been suggested: insecticides, lack of food, Varroa mites, bad beekeeping, genetics, the increased movement of hives or a culmination of several factors. Rynders attributes a large part of the problem to bad beekeeping.

“If you don’t take care of your bees, you are aiding and abetting Colony Collapse Disorder,” Rynders said.

However, he also said that fence-to-fence farming makes it difficult to keep bees outside of town. Farmers who grow grass to bale between fields and roads leave no room for flowers. Around here, fortunately, Rynder’s bees manage to forage from the prairie and personal gardens.

Insecticides are another factor often blamed for Colony Collapse Disorder. Hofland is currently doing a research project looking for a common insecticide, a type of Neonicotinoid, in local honey. Other researchers have done similar tests on bee wax, pollen and even dead bees to help determine the extent that bees are exposed to these insecticides. Whether Hofland finds insecticides or not won’t prove anything yet, but gathering and piecing together evidence is just another step to solving the mystery.

Amidst the enigma of Colony Collapse Disorder, Rynders believes people need to be aware of the importance of bees.

“This is not child’s play and some little obscure hobby, this is life, this is our food source,” Rynders said. “Thank God for pollinators when you’re eating your food. Everyone can do that.”

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