WILLIAMSTOWN – A local beekeeper says she doesn’t expect honeybees to ever go extinct despite reports of the insects dying off in large numbers.
Sheri Englert owns and operates Vermont Beekeeping Supply with her husband, Marke, in Williamstown. Englert gave a presentation Saturday at the North Branch Nature Center about keeping bees for those who may be interested in starting their own hives.
Her father had kept bees for years, but Englert had no interest in the hobby and knew nothing about it. After her father died she had cleaned up his equipment and had one of his now-clean hives set up outside because she liked to look at it.
She said she came home one day to find bees flying in and out of the box. She said after a few days she checked on the box and a feral swarm of honeybees had made the box their home. Englert said her and her mother then scrambled to get the box in proper shape for the bees.
“I was a beekeeper,” she said. “My father sent me that swarm. I thank him every day.”
Englert has now been keeping bees for over 20 years.
She talked about the life cycles and the jobs the different roles the bees play, from queen to worker to drone. Englert also talked about the dances the bees do to let their comrades know where food is located. She said they use the sun as a compass so they can fly miles away looking for food and always know how to get back home.
She brought up the challenges a beekeeper can face from outside forces, from bears and skunks that eat the bees and their larvae to mites, bacterial diseases and chemicals that can wipe out a hive. If a hive gets the bacterial disease American foulbrood, Englert said the only solution is to dig a hole, push the hive in and set it on fire. She said the disease is quite contagious and the spores can sit dormant for 70 years so people need to be careful when using used or old equipment.
Englert sells bee packages containing bees and a queen that works like an artificial swarm for those looking to start their own hive. She said others sell a bee nuc which is essentially a small working hive. She said bigger commercial enterprises have started selling nucs that can contain mites or other infestations because the attention to detail isn’t there at those big operations.
For chemicals, neonicotinoides are a common insecticide used on farms and urban areas. Studies have shown when honeybees are exposed to the chemicals they had a harder time reproducing and surviving the winter. Englert said the chemicals can weaken the bees’ immune systems and confuse them so they can’t find their way home.
“If enough of them do that and they aren’t bringing food back to the hive, that’s potentially going to kill the whole hive,” she said.
Over the past several years bees have been making headlines because large amounts of them have been dying off. The reasons given for the collapsing hives range from climate change to mites to pesticides.
While Englert was making everyone in attendance for Saturday’s presentation aware of those threats, she wasn’t concerned about the future of the honeybee.
“Personally I don’t think they’ll ever become extinct,” she said.
Englert said those raising the alarm about dying bees are usually large commercial enterprises which she compared to insect “puppy mills.” She said those companies aren’t paying attention to the genetics of their bees and just want to make as many bees as possible.
She said those companies truck their bees across the country and they don’t have to abide by regular trucking rules, such as taking a break every eight hours or so. Englert said sometimes these truckers don’t take proper care of the bees in transit and they arrive with a truck full of dead bees.