By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Angelia Clayton of Corinth was on a fact-finding mission at the Mississippi Beekeepers Association meeting at Summit Center on Friday.
She’d noticed a decrease in the honeybee population at her family farm, and that’s affected her blackberry crop.
“In the spring, there was one bee. I watched it,” Clayton said. “You can’t say for sure it was the same bee, but it’s usually a lot of them buzzing all around. It was a lot of work for one bee.”
She was among some 125 hobbyists and professionals who gathered to learn more about honeybees at MBA’s annual convention, which continues today.
John Raymond Tullos, association president, is a lawyer from Raleigh who’s kept bees and collected honey for the past 15 years.
“Trying to keep our bees alive is our main goal,” he said. “Research is being done all the time to discover some of the causes for the reduced population. So far, they haven’t come up with one particular thing. It’s a combination of factors.”
The Varroa mite is a prime concern. In addition to those selling honey, hive boxes and beekeeping manuals at Summit Center, people were selling ways to fight the mite.
“It’s a parasite in honeybees. It’s a big problem,” Tullos said. “Every beekeeper here has lost colonies to Varroa mites.”
Another topic was the effect pesticides have on honeybees. The research surprised Jan Watson, who grew up in Tupelo and lives in Crenshaw.
“There’s been concern the bees are picking up the chemicals from the plants,” Watson said. “Researchers at Mississippi State are looking into it. Actually, it’s not showing that the bees are picking it up and bringing it back to the hives.”
Watson began beekeeping a year and a half ago for something to do after her kids left the nest. She has four hives, one of which she collected from the wild by shaking a tree limb to cause the hive to fall in the box she’d placed beneath it.
“It was just me. It was kind of scary,” she said, “but I was totally covered in a bee suit.”
Richard Adee is a professional beekeeper from Bruce, S.D., who spends part of the year in Woodville.
His father and four uncles started selling honey during the Depression, and three of the brothers eventually went into commercial beekeeping.
Adee bought his first colony in Woodville, and it remains one of his three breeding operations.
He used to make his living by selling honey from pollen collected from Midwestern farms. Now, about 60 percent of his income is from pollinating almond trees in California and apple trees in Washington.
“We sent 60,000 colonies to the West Coast this year,” he said. “That’s 152 semi loads.”
By the way, almond honey might sound tasty in theory, but Adee shook his head and made a face.
“I tell the bees, ‘You collect it, you eat it,’” he said.