But, as local beekeepers know, they’re sheltered in their hives – shivering around their queen bee to keep her warm – and trying to survive a season in which as many half of them will die.
“I’ve already lost a hive,” Norman Mercier, president of the Worcester Country Beekeepers Association, said Thursday. “Right now, we don’t have control over what happens.”
Honeybees are essential for farmers across the state and the country, and without their pollination, crops like apples, blueberries, onions and cranberries would cease to exist. Just as farmers plow and till the fields, they also count on honeybees to pollinate their crops.
“Massachusetts is a sub-marginal state for beekeepers,” said Al Carl, an inspector with the state’s Agricultural Resources department. In addition to the hard winters, the fauna in the warm seasons doesn’t have as much pollen and nectar as it used to, he said, because of the eradication of the “invasive” purple loosestrife.
Carl is one of a handful of inspectors the state contracts each year on an approximately $80,000 budget to inspect hives for signs of disease. Beekeepers say the service is invaluable to ensuring the health of their hives, and have asked lawmakers to up the allotment for fiscal 2015 to $100,000.
“We are very, very active,” said Mercier. With more than 1,000 members in Worcester County, the association says it’s the oldest beekeeping association in the country.
Mercier said inspections are vital to keeping a particularly dreadful bacterium called American foulbrood from killing their bees.
The bacteria kill larvae and ruin hives. When a hive is weakened, other healthy bees “rob” it of honey, thereby infecting themselves.
Bees can fly up to three miles, Mercier said, so the bacteria could spread long distances if infected hives aren’t detected. An outbreak in Athol affected about 40 hives last year, said Mercier, whose organization last month argued for the increased funding at a hearing of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“They’ve really made their point well,” said State Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “If they get these types of diseases, they can spread very rapidly.”