Bad year for bees

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Bad year for bees

Pollinator populations plummet
SMALLER CELLS to keep out mites are one local idea for protecting hives.
Slim McWilliams prepares a frame for a bee hive.
Sue McWilliams lifts a frame filled with honey out of a hive.
Bees swarm inside a hive during the recent cold snap.
Local beekeeper experiments with helping bees solve their own problems

Tiny mites have long been the enemy of beekeepers. The parasites enter the bee hive and attach themselves to bees, feeding on them and weakening them until they die. Mites can also infect the bees with viruses.

Sue McWilliams, a beekeeper north of Cortez, thinks the bees may be able to solve the problem themselves. McWilliams and three other beekeepers in Montezuma County received a two-year $25,000 grant to examine whether letting bees build their own brood cells, where bee larvae develop, may solve the mite problem. The grant is from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

Traditionally, beekeepers buy pre-made foundation that serves as a starting structure for bees to build honeycomb and brood comb. The pre-made cells are a uniform size even though those cells vary in size when the bees themselves build them from scratch. McWilliams' theory is that sometimes the pre-made cells are too big and leave extra room for mites to migrate in and kill the bees inside.

She will test a method that provides bees only a small strip of foundation and lets the queen bee direct workers to build the rest of the cells. The idea is that the worker bees will build brood cells that are a perfect fit their needs and no bigger, leaving less space for potential mite intrusions.

McWilliams emphasized that her method allows the bees to create their own solution.

'Improved health through natural methods will create stronger bees that are able to fight off diseases more readily,' she wrote in the grant application.

Bad year for bees

SMALLER CELLS to keep out mites are one local idea for protecting hives.
Slim McWilliams prepares a frame for a bee hive.
Sue McWilliams lifts a frame filled with honey out of a hive.
Bees swarm inside a hive during the recent cold snap.