FORT WAYNE, INDIANA - Megan Ryan wants to do everything she can for honeybees. So earlier this year she started an apiary at the Southwest Conservation Club in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
She and fellow beekeeper Alex Cornwell chose Italian honeybees for their hives. Italian bees are among the most popular stocks because they’re gentler and reproduce faster than other types of domesticated honeybees. In just four months, the club’s apiary has grown from 10,000 to 70,000 bees per hive.
Cornwell said that’s good news, noting that over the last decade both American and European hives have lost more than a quarter of their population because of a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder.
"It’s unknown what colony collapse disorder is caused by specifically," he explained, "but it could be a combination of anywhere from pesticides from mites to pathogens."
It could also be stress. If too many bees die off at once, it prompts immature bees to leave the nest too early. They can’t collect the needed honey quickly enough, make fatal mistakes and die off early, continuing the downward spiral. Researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, suggested that theory in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While the search for the cause of colony collapse continues, the Southwest Conservation Club's apiary is adding to the bee population. It also provides information. Every time they visit, Ryan and Cornwell document everything from the bees’ temperament to the condition of the hive to the way the queens are laying their eggs.
Cornwell said, "We share it with the [Department of Natural Resources], ... other beekeepers, any conservation effort, any organization that would like those records, we freely share."
And Ryan and Cornwell are sharing their knowledge and passion, along with their data. They have set up an educational component, teaching the public about beekeeping in the hope of encouraging more people to start their own hives.
"You don’t have to be a scientist that has a degree in order to teach people and help people learn about bees," Ryan observed. "That’s the awesome part about beekeeping. Anybody can do it."
So far about 100 people have expressed an interest. Ryan and Cornwell also plan to start a program to teach migrant workers about beekeeping so they can take that skill with them wherever they go.
In the meantime, at the Southwest Conservation Club, the bees are doing fine, there has already been an early honey harvest and more people have offered to donate land to expand the apiary.