Agriculture faces sticky situation

Honeybee decline can sting industry

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Kristen Nearhood and her son, Kaden Crawford, 4, both of Hershey, look at an observation bee hive on display by the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association at the 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. According to the Pennsyl­vania State Beekeepers Asso­ciation, the honeybee population has been declining.

HARRISBURG — Honeybees may be small, but they are big in importance.

According to the Pennsyl­vania State Beekeepers Asso­ciation, the honeybee population has been declining, and researchers are working to understand why.

Some of the reasons include poor nutrition, pesticides, pests and pathogens.

However, Charlie Vorisek, past president of the beekeepers association, remains optimistic about the future of the honeybees.

“I wouldn’t say they are endangered; they are threatened. In Pennsylvania, we have added beekeepers over the last six years. We have grown from 2,500 to over 5,000. We have grown from 40,000 hives to over 60,000 hives. We are not out of the woods, but we have more players in the game. I think we are still holding our own,” Vorisek said at the beekeepers association display at the 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Cathy Vorisek of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association encourages children to take part in the annual thumbprint banner as a bit of “bee-graffiti” at the 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

Honeybees play a major role in nature.

Pollination is necessary before many plants can produce their fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Nearly 75 percent of major food crops benefit from pollinators.

Honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of insect pollination value, according to the beekeepers association.

Apples, blueberries, pump­kins and watermelons are just a few of the more than 100 crops pollinated by honeybees.

Beth Ann Harris, who owns Harris Apiary in Halifax with her husband, Jay, became a beekeeper six years ago to help stop the declining population.

“My husband noticed in our garden that our pumpkins were not doing very well. He researched online; he wanted to know how to help our pumpkins grow better,” Harris said. “He learned the honeybees help with pollination of pumpkins. He thought he would get a hive; now we have 14.”

Vorisek became a beekeeper to help his daughter, Carleen.

“I started 26 years ago with my daughter’s FFA project. Neither one of us knew anything about this; we learned together. Her sister, Shanna, then took it over. It was a nine-year project between the two of them. I could see the potential of it growing,”said Vorisek, who owns Vorisek’s Backyard Bee Farm in Linesville. “I was in the tool trade until 2009, then went full-time into beekeeping.”

Vorisek and Harris find beekeeping fascinating.

“It is a constant learning experience. You are constantly learning new, better and challenging things; there are always more things to learn,” Harris said.

People can learn a lot from honeybees.

“With their communication and behavior, we could learn a lot from each other. They take care of each other and work together. They work in harmony with each other,” Harris said.

The loss of the honeybee would be devastating.

“Honeybees pollinate apple and other fruit trees. Without them, there would be less apples and peaches; the apple and peach crops would fail, and that would drive prices up at the store,” Harris said.

Vorisek said mites and local ordinances are the biggest challenges facing beekeepers.

“Mites are the biggest issue for honeybees; that is the No. 1 problem. You are treating a bug on a bug. Mites reproduce and become resistant; they become resistant to the synthetics,” Vorisek said. “Not all municipalities are open to beekeeping. Philadelphia has no restrictions. There are 350 hives within the city, and there are no regulations. They do a good job of policing themselves and working with local government.”

Both Vorisek and Harris have advice for those interested in becoming beekeepers.

“I would highly recommend becoming associated with a local association. We have 31 in Pennsylvania that offer beginners classes, which cover the basic management skills and how to get a solid start. It is easy to lose your investment if it is not managed well,” Vorisek said.

“You have to take care of your bees. They are hard work. You need to dedicate time to your bees,” Harris said.

The farm show continues through Saturday. Show hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Saturday when it opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m.

Admission is free, and parking is $15.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.