Backyard beekeeping: helping bees do their important job of pollination

Virginia Master Beekeeper Hodgie Holgersen began working with bees nearly 60 years ago after reading a book about bees in elementary school.

“I probably spend more time doing this than doing my day job. Don’t tell my boss, but anyway,” Holgersen said with a laugh.

Today he cares for over 100 beehives and is a member of the Tidewater Beekeepers Association.

“Educating not only beekeepers but also the non-beekeeping public. And educating the non-beekeeping public is a daunting task because most people are afraid of honey bees,” he explained.

Importance of pollination

And while delicious honey is a good reason to keep bees, Holgersen says their main contribution is pollination.

“Virginia’s number one economy is agriculture. Virginia farmers grow 100 different cash crops that they couldn’t grow if it weren’t for a single insect,” he said. “It puts things into perspective.”

Virginia State Beekeeper Keith Tignor echoes this importance, emphasizing the role of bees in producing the quantities of our fruits, vegetables and nuts that we have today.

“It’s estimated that a third of every bite we take at the table is attributed to bee pollination,” he told CBN News. “Without bees, the cost of food is going to keep going up, the availability of food is going to go down, and so maintaining a healthy bee population is extremely critical for that pollination.”

In Massachusetts, sixth-generation beekeeper Ken Warchol has strived to keep bees healthy for nearly 70 years.

“There’s nothing I like doing better than going to a hive. It’s so rewarding, so refreshing, so relaxing,” he shared.

Honey bee losses

However, the odds are stacked against honey bees. Warchol says that on average each year he sees losses of 20-25%, and believe it or not for a beekeeper, that’s a good percentage.

“Here in the United States, it varies between 35 and 60 percent depending on the region,” he told CBN News. “Northern latitudes – a bit more because in the south they can raise brood all year round.”

“Here they cut off their brood in November and start in January,” Warchol continued. “And so there are a lot more losses here than in the south – more like 30, 35% in the south; more like 50 to 60% here.”

“We have an annual loss of about 30%; it’s every winter that we expect to lose a third of our population,” Tignor said. “Virginia isn’t alone in losing bees; some places are having even greater losses than we are; some are doing a bit better, but overall it’s a global problem.”

Beekeepers say a number of factors continue to affect the population, such as pesticides, poor diet, diseases and pests like the Varroa mite.

“Diseases, pests that are introduced almost every year to the United States — it causes problems for our bees and other pollinators,” Tignor said.

Backyard beekeeping

If you want to become a backyard beekeeper, Tignor recommends that you first learn about bee management.

“We need more bees for pollination,” Warchol said. “It’s a good thing; it’s a positive thing, and as I mentioned earlier, as long as they are responsible beekeepers, we call them ‘beekeepers’ and not ‘beekeepers’.

“Make sure they stay alive and continue to thrive instead of just leaving them alone because without your help these bees will not survive with all of these factors against them,” he continued.

The experts we interviewed agree that even with the work of beekeepers, the overall bee population faces an uphill battle in terms of maintaining numbers.