Another bad year for bees in Alabama

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MADISON, Ala.- Flowering gardens outside mean bees will be paying you a visit. But you may not see as many bees compared to the last ten years.

Auburn researchers say it's been a rough couple of years for beekeepers in northern Alabama.

John Horton isn't just blowing smoke when he talks about his bee colony.

"These are little bitty hives, they're called nucs," Horton said.

Horton has found success raising and selling queen bees from Greenbrier Honey Farm outside Madison.

"There's a joy about it, frankly," Horton said.

Beekeepers like Randy Hodge have had a rougher few years. He once had 30 backyard hives, now it's just three.

"Which is like a five-gallon bucket off one hive in a season, if not, better than that," Hodge said. Hodge and his wife run P.K. Heavenly Local Honey in Huntsville.

Losing bees means losing money. The bee industry in Alabama doesn't have the buzz it did in past years. Auburn researchers say over the last year, American beekeepers lost 40 percent of their honey bee colonies. Some of that is due to invasive bugs, pesticides and harsh winters.

"If we knew that they could easily be sustained, we'd easily replace them," Hodge said.

Horton says it's easy to get doom and gloom about the bee population looking at numbers from the Auburn study. But he says there are many factors that contribute to a bee's success. Temperature, humidity, available flower blooms, even a late frost.

"I lost probably ten percent last year, and five percent of those were preventable," Horton said.

John Horton credits his success with raising a mite-resistant honey bee.

Auburn researchers say the tiny Varroa mite remains the biggest killer of bees. For years, Horton says he's been raising a mite-resistant variety of bees that he credits with some of his success.

"Here's what I love about my bees. They're more or less hands off," Horton said.

"Every year, I'm hoping the hive is getting stronger and are going to be better bees, surviving the last season, but there's no guarantee of that," Hodge said.

Beekeepers are hoping the 2018 winter isn't too harsh. But they won't know how many of their hives survived until next spring.

Bee experts say if you want to help the bees, you can plant bee-friendly flowers such as lavender or goldenrod. You can also avoid spraying chemicals on your lawn or garden and buy local honey.

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