Beekeepers in both North America and Europe are experiencing high rates of overwintering losses.The reason for this steep decline in bee population, which has become known as Colony Collapse Disorder, remains the subject of much debate. Some factors being considered are pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, infections caused by Varroa and Acarapis mites, loss of habitat, malnutrition, climate change, genetics and poor beekeeping practices. It’s likely there is no one culprit responsible for CCD but that it is a combination of several or all of these factors that lead to severely weakened hives.
–> Regardless of the cause beekeepers need to replenish their apiaries.The most common method is to buy what’s known as a “package” from a beekeeping supply house. A package is a small wooden box with mesh sides that contains somewhere between 8 and 12 thousand bees along with an inverted can of sugar water and a queen bee in a small wooden cage. The worker bees are not related to the queen so she must be quarantined for a few days until the worker bees accept her, which is not always the case. It is possible the workers will kill her and make their own queen.
Aside from the expense of buying packages, usually around $100 each there is the queen issue. While the worker bees may have been raised locally, packaged queens are raised in the South or in California in order for suppliers to have mated queens ready for shipping in the early Spring. This raises questions about the ability of the queen and her offspring to adapt to cooler climates. There is also the possibility that if you didn’t get your order in earlier enough there may not be enough packages to go around.
The Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild, of which I am a member (full disclosure) decided to take matters into their own hands by establishing The Flat Rock Apiary, named after the Flat Rock Dam located on the nearby Schuylkill river. The apiary is an experimental Nuc rearing program. Nuc, short for nucleus, is a small colony of bees placed in a small hive with a new queen. The hope is that the colonies will grow allowing Guild members to replenish their dead hives with locally raised bees.
On Saturday May 5th several Guild members met at the apiary to install the 15 packages of carniolans. Thanks to Norris, for making the drive to Mann Lake in Wilkes-Barre to pick up the bees. I volunteered to take photographs for use on the Guilds web site and social media while my son Wynn helped to install the bees.
Mid-day light is not ideal for photography especially when your subjects are wearing white beekeeper suits, but if that’s when the action is taking place you have to deal with it. Fortunately there were large fluffy clouds that would occasionally diffuse the harsh sunlight. I used a flash in the hotshoe to fill in faces that were covered my dark veils. High speed sync allowed me to achieve shallower depth of field than if I had to stick with my camera’s maximum sync speed of 1/200 of a second.
The project was made possible by Whole Foods Market Callowhill and the Folks who shopped there on the 5% Day on March 5th.