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Bee population rebounds in Cape Region

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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When news of honey bee colony collapse disorder started spreading in 2007, the Ockels family of Milton decided they wanted to try to raise their own bees.

The family purchased a bee colony four years ago and prepared a home on their property for the new hive. The bees settled in and seemed happy, providing the family with plenty of honey.

"We got bees because we thought it would be fun to have our own honey," Cindy Ockels said. "We also wanted to see if it would help with seasonal allergies."

Daughter Mikayla now says eating the honey daily during allergy season is the only reason her allergies aren't horrible. Mikayla takes a tablespoon of the farm-made honey each day.

According to some nutritionists, local honey can reduce allergies because some of the pollen collected on flowers by the bees makes its way into the honey. By eating the honey, humans become used to the pollen. No scientific research has proved these claims, but many beekeepers believe honey helps those with seasonal allergies develop tolerance, Ockels said. After a couple years, the beehive at the Ockels farm had grown so much that the hive separated; a new queen escorted some of the bees to a new hive. Another year later, the bees separated again. "It was amazing to watch - like something out of the Bible," Ockels said. "This huge swarm lifted up and moved away."

Richard Ockels, whose family farm occupies hundreds of acres outside Milton, said the bees have seemed happy and show no sign of colony collapse.

"The bees plan where they will move; then the swarm leaves and goes to its new home," he said.

Last year, the Ockels harvested 37 pounds of honey. Besides using it at home, they also give it as gifts.

Delaware State Apiarist Robert Mitchell said more and more residents are starting to raise bees. Fifteen people attended a January beginner beekeeper workshop, he said.

While the state supports and educates those interested in raising bees, it also keeps track of farmers who import bees.

"The acreage of vine crops in the state mandates we import pollinators," Mitchell said. "Most of those imported are honey bees."

Since colony collapse disorder was first identified, Delaware received some federal and state funding to study native bee populations, but found that native bees weren't as good for agricultural pollination as honey bees.

Native bees are ground-nesters, while honey bees often nest in boxes and are easier to move. The funding has since ended, and Delaware is no longer doing bee research, Mitchell said.

"It is more cost-effective to transport honey bees," Mitchell said.

"In Delaware, we don't produce a lot of honey per hive. Other places can produce more."

Most farmers bring in commercial beekeepers and hives to pollinate crops like cucumbers and watermelon.

Still, some commercial beekeepers in Delaware take their bees to other states to help.pollinate there.

Just last month, a Delaware hive was in California pollinating the almond crop, Mitchell said.

Beekeepers are very aware of the potential for colony collapse, so they are using different management techniques such as looking at pesticides and disease issues, but also rotating honeycomb more frequently, Mitchell said.

Bees seem to do better when honeycomb is regularly changed because it gives the bees a cleaner surface, which they seem to like, he said.

For more information on beekeeping in Delaware, contact Mitchell at 302-739-4811, or contact the Delaware Beekeepers Association through its website,



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Original Publication Date: March 12, 2013

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