Protecting the pollinators

North Carolina has most beekeepers of any state

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Marshall Dildy no longer uses anything in his yard that is poisonous to any kind of insect.

“That’s because I am highly sensitive to making sure I am protecting my bees,” Dildy said Friday. “I can’t be sure that any of these chemicals wouldn’t be harmful. Most of them out there that are designed to kill insects will also kill a bee, so I just kind of stay away from it.”

Dildy has been keeping honeybees in the backyard of his Wilson home for about five years now. North Carolina has more beekeepers than any other state in the country.

Three years ago, Dildy bought a can of insecticide for larval insects.

“I never opened it. I still have it,” Dildy said. “We’re trying to find a better way.”

Dildy has learned a lesson on hive beetles’ impact by using nematodes.

One of the honeybees’ worst enemies is the varroa mite, a kind of parasite that attaches to the backs of the bee.

Dildy uses a highly concentrated essential oil treatment in the hives.

“It’s not harmful to the bees,” Dildy said. “It’s not poisonous, but the varroa mites can’t stand it.”

Dildy tries to be organic about it when we can.

“In fact, we always are, because there is honey involved,” Dildy said.

Harsh chemicals and poisonous insecticides are often not as effective as an organic approach, he said.

Dildy plants sunflowers, zinnias and other kinds of flowers that the bees are attracted to.

Evergreen trees get small flowers that the bees just love.

“I’ve got a tree on the side of my house that will just get a hum because they like it so much,” Dildy said.

Along the side of the yard is a bank of natural foliage that is full of honeysuckles and other natural flowers that attract the bees.

“There are probably more things in town than there are in the country that bees can thrive on,” said Dildy.

According to Dave Tarpy, North Carolina State University professor of entomology and plant pathology and the N.C. Cooperative Extension’s state honeybee specialist, honeybees are “indispensable to our agricultural economy through their pollination services.”

Tarpy said honeybees are vital to North Carolina’s agriculture industry.

It takes a bee 12 visits to a cucumber plant in order to properly pollinate the plant and produce a healthy cucumber.

If you have inadequate visitation, the fruit can be misshapen, not elongated and can grow on one side and not the other.

“Then it’s not a marketable cucumber, so you need not just pollination, you need sufficient pollination crop by crop,” Tarpy said.

He encourages people to learn how to be beekeepers themselves.

“That is a great way to get involved and to help promote the honeybee population that way,” Tarpy said.

Last week, a bill called the Pollinator Protection Act was introduced in the N.C. House. It aims to regulate the use of neonicotinoid insecticides that have been suspected of having harmful effects on the bee population.

But the beekeeping community is not in agreement on whether this type of insecticide is harmful to the bees.

“The jury is still out,” said beekeeper David Batts, of Wilson. “We have had some people in the bee community say that it really doesn’t affect them at all. We have had other people in the bee community say that it has a devastating affect on them.”

Batts lost 80 percent of his bees last year, but is not sure why.

“It was a big loss. I had the state aviarist come in and look at it. I kept my bees fed. I kept my bees strong. I think it was a combination of things, not one particular thing, that gets them,” Batts said. “They said that some of it was due to starvation. Some of it may have been due to varroa mites. Some people call it colony collapse disorder. They are just weighing the odds right now to see what it is.”

“There are other pollinators, but bees are the No. 1 pollinator for agriculture,” Dildy said.

Where would we be without bees?

“Agriculture would take a hit, no doubt about it. We need them. They are essential to food production in this country,” said Dildy. “Nothing has been designed or invented to do the job that they do. I think it’s one thing that’s not going to be taken over by robots.”

For more information about bees and beekeeping, visit the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association at www.ncbeekeepers.org.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818