Honeybee population dwindling in nationwide epidemic

May 13, 2016 7:04 PM by Rick Carhart

The North State is front and center in what some are calling a nationwide epidemic.
Honeybees are dying at an alarming rate, and that could soon affect the almond crop.

Russell Heitkam is a second generation beekeeper in Capay, east of highway 5 in Glenn County.

"it's something i've been doing since I was a little kid, my father taught me how to do it, we continue to do it, it's a very important part of ag."

It's a good way to make a living. Especially in California, where about one million acres of almond trees require two beehives per acre for the annual pollination event in February.

"that's the goal, get to the almonds, but 50%, that's not sustainable, so we're looking for some help."

Recent studies show that just about half of the honeybees in the United States died in the past year, and Heitkam says there many reasons for that. But he points to one big problem.

"we're lacking forage... too many bees, not enough food for the bees."

Ironically, Heitkam says one of the main contributors to the shortage of food is the proliferation of newly planted almond orchards, and he's looking to the farmers for help.

"he knows he's going to need bees in the long run, and it behooves him to help me, and I appreciate that."

Heitkam is working with neighboring orchard owners to plant "mustard" seeds on the outskirts of their property, just to give his bees a place to work.

"when there's good natural forage, they thrive."
"some beekeepers are very successful at keeping their hives alive, they have good territory, they have good management practices."

Heitkam can count himself in that number as he estimates losing about 15 percent of his hives, but it takes a lot more work to be successful.

"I think the whole country is at a tipping point of how many bees it can hold."

But as long as farmers keep planting almond trees... they're going to need bees.

Right now, Russell Heitkam is getting ready to move many of his hives into the hat creek area near lassen peak - where they will spend a couple months feeding on the local flowers.


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