Bee lover – Mark Welker says pesticides are harming hives

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 13, 2012

The Clemmons Courier

When Mark Welker decided to become a beekeeper, he was looking for some help with all the fruit bushes and trees in his yard.
“I was putting them in to help us,” said Welker, who lives in Clemmons near West Forsyth High School. “We’ll help them, and they’ll help us by pollinating all the fruit trees and fruit plants we have. That was my motivation to take a class to learn how to do it.”
And Welker said that has proven to be the case with his numerous blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes along with a few peach and cherry trees.
“They’re all over them when they bloom,” he said.
Welker decided last year that he wanted to learn the basics of being a beekeeper. He said there were classes in Forsyth County, but he opted to take a class through the Davidson County Cooperative Extension in downtown Lexington because the Thursday night it was offered fit his schedule better.
And he has really enjoyed the experience.
However, in his second year of keeping bees, he encountered a setback this summer when he returned from a weekend trip to find piles of dead bees in front of two of the four hives in his yard.
Based on his research, Welker, who is a chemistry professor at Wake Forest, said that a kill of this magnitude is most consistent with exposure to a pesticide.
“One common pesticide that gardeners use is Sevin dust, and it is particularly harmful to bees,” he said of the insecticide, which does not kill on contact. “Once the bees have it on them, they return to the hive and spread it to other bees and the queen.”
That’s what Welker speculates happened with the two hives.
“One of them is completely gone now,” he said, adding there were literally thousands of dead bees.
Another theory, according to Welker, is that the kill could have been the result of colony class disorder, which is when the bees from a colony abruptly disappear.
“What happens there is all the workers go away, they don’t come back,” he said. “It sure appears it was more pesticide exposure.”
Welker suggested that those using pesticides in the Clemmons area could do the least harm to honeybees in the area by using liquid sprays instead of dusting and also to spray at sundown instead of in the morning.
He figures that each of his hives has anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 bees. Welker said that he harvested honey in May and again in early July.
“I’m not a big-time honey producer,” he said. “We got a gallon in May and three or four gallons in July. Certainly, that’s enough for our family for a year and our friends. We use it and give it away to people we know.”
It’s a hobby that he expects to continue.
“That unless we come back from a weekend and find bees that died in three days,” Welker said.