Oct. 17--Most of the time, bees are gentle little pollinators busy making honey.
But when bee colonies aren't managed properly in cities and towns, they can be dangerous. "Good urban beekeepers are the best defense for bees that end up in the wrong place," said Joran Viers, the agriculture agent with the Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service.
Beekeepers can move the bees before they hurt anyone and keep bees safe from wary people ready to decimate the colony with pesticides.
Viers is one of more than two dozen bee enthusiasts and experts who'll spend the next three days in Santa Fe talking about all things apicultural. Internet beekeeping, bee breeding, hive management, and the hated varroa mite that feeds on colonies are all on the agenda for the Western Apicultural Society meeting at La Fonda through Saturday.
On Saturday, Farmington pediatrician and beekeeper, R. Stephen Rankin, will talk about preliminary results from a research project using local honey to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Rankin, along with his Pinon Family Practice colleague Joseph Pope, the San Juan Medical Center and San Juan College partnered recently on a Federal Drug Administration grant to test the honey on 50 patients, according to the Farmington Daily Times.
Though the colony collapse phenomena that's been decimating bees around the world isn't specifically on the Western Apicultural agenda, it will be the background for many of the talks.
Les Crowder, a long-time Penasco beekeeper, said California's almond growers are the most recent producers to suffer from colony collapse. He said the growers were short 180,000 hives last year because so many commercial bee colonies had died. "They get 50 to 80 pounds of almonds without bees," Crowder said. "They get 3,000 to 5,000 pounds per acre with bees. Without bees, they're done."
Crowder, who has long managed his colony without antibiotics and pesticides, said those treatments have added to the stresses that kill bees. "A lot of people use pesticides in the beehive," he said. "We're advocating that is a mistake."
"In a sense, New Mexico is a cutting edge state. Most of us have not used these treatments and our colonies have survived," he said. New Mexico has about 500 different species of bees native to the state.
Crowder said another problem is the way EPA tests insecticides to determine the amount that can be safely applied near or in hives. "They test for the dose at which bees start to die," Crowder said. "But we found bee behavior is affected at much lower doses. They can't taste the sweetness of nectar. They can't find their way home. They can't distinguish between productive and non-productive flowers."
When the bees can't find food, the colony starves.
Crowder will talk Thursday about managing top bar hives without treatments.
Friday will feature Viers talking about how urban beekeepers can be good neighbors.
"There are wild bees in every city and kept bees in every city and any of them will swarm," said Viers, who also is an amateur beekeeper. "People do tend to freak out when bees swarm."
Bees swarm when the leave one hive to set up shop in a new home. That's when people worried about the bees should call local beekeepers or the county extension agents for help.
When they first swarm, they are "very docile," Viers said. "They have no brood, no honey. You can literally sweep them into a cardboard box and take them home. You can introduce them to a hive and they get to work."
Beekeepers don't want the colonies to conflict with people. Viers gets the calls when things go wrong between people and bees. "As a county extension agent, I kind of sit in the crossroads of all this," Viers said.
He's been called when someone's poorly managed bee colony swarmed and killed the neighbor's dogs. He's been called when bees swarmed a swimming pool and the homeowner couldn't take a dip.
"When bees are in town and they are not managed carefully, the neighbors are going to get worried," he said.
But bees are an important part of healthy landscapes, Viers said. And he loves keeping them. "It is fun. It is an activity that connects me to the natural world."
For more information on the conference, go to the Western Apicultural Society website.
Contact Staci Matlock at 505-986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.
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Original headline: Apiculturalists gather for comprehensive bee conference
Photo: John Sullivan, http://pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?mat=pdef&pg=8202
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