On a relatively warm day in December, Fleming resident Sam Hammett decided to check on his six honeybee hives. The bees were up and moving around, so Hammett fed them a combination of sugar and water, which produces a white paste known as fondant.
"I put it in jar lids, and I put that on my hives, and they were going right after that, then it got cold and I couldn't get into the hives again," said Hammett, president of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers' Association.
When another warm day came, Hammett checked on the hives again, only to discover that the one of them wasn't moving at all.
ASHLEY HILL The Marietta Times
Boaz, W.Va. residents Teresa and Randy Wagoner look over a tray of honeybees Monday. They lost 17 of 40 hives during the winter months, due to starvation.
"I found out that they had starved to death," he said.
But that wasn't the end of it.
Two more of Hammett's hives have died over the last few months, meaning he lost half of his honeybee hives during the winter.
Early European settlers brought them to North America.
80 percent of all insect pollination can be attributed to honeybees.
Mites, disease and urban development pose threats to beekeeping.
Honeybees survive in the winter by clustering for warmth.
They collect nectar from flowering trees and plants to make honey.
"With the wet fall and summer, the bees weren't able to get enough nectar and pollen to feed through the winter," Hammett said. "They keep that in their hives."
Hammett is keeping a close eye on the three hives that remain, and he's been feeding them a combination of sugar, water and a honeybee feeding stimulant made with spearmint oil concentrate and lemongrass.
"So I did this with the three hives I have and I've fed, since February, eight quarts to each of the three hives," he said. "They're making it great now without any problem."
He noted that the honeybees are also gathering pollen from dandelions, autumn olive shrubs and other things that are currently blooming.
"They're taking the pollen to the hive, and they're in the process of building up the hive right now," he said.
Hammett is not alone. Boaz residents Teresa and Randy Wagoner lost 17 of their 40 honeybee hives during the winter months.
"That is above normal," Randy Wagoner said. "Losing 25 percent is about normal in the winter."
The couple have been giving the remaining hives a pollen substitute and sugar water.
"If there isn't as much pollen in the hive, she (the queen) won't lay as many eggs, so we try to use the pollen substitute," Teresa Wagoner said. "And we give them sugar water to get them built back up because they need something to eat, and hopefully that will sustain them until there's a nectar flow."
Wagoner said the problem with their honeybees started last summer, because it was cool and wet, and the bees weren't able to get the nectar they needed.
"They have to store 60 to 80 pounds of honey to get them over the winter, and when we looked at the hives in October and November, we found the bees had 20 to 40 pounds of honey," she said.
So the Wagoners gave the honeybees corn syrup and sugar water to help them build up for the winter, but they had to stop doing this once the temperatures dropped.
"Cold weather and sugar water don't mix," Teresa Wagoner said.
By December, the Wagoners noticed that the bees were dying of starvation.
Teresa Wagoner explained that the honeybees cluster in the winter, keeping the hive at 94 degrees, and they always move up in the hive, never down.
"Even though there may be honey on the next frame over, they can't get to it because they can't break their cluster; then they starve," Teresa Wagoner said.
She noted that honeybees are important when it comes to pollinating plants that provide food to humans. The Wagoners and Hammett raise the bees for their honey, but many farmers order honeybees or have hives of their own to pollinate their crops.
Eric Barrett, agricultural educator with the local Ohio State University Extension office, said many local farmers are proactive when it comes to making sure they have enough honeybees for pollination.
"Strawberries are blooming already, and they need honeybees to pollinate because wild pollinators aren't active yet," Barrett said. "The growers that have the biggest issues have already planned for this; they've ordered bees, and some are working with bumble bees."
Ted Lane, owner of Lane's Farm Market in Marietta, said he started with four hives in the fall, and he still has all of them. He said the honeybees are crucial for fruits and many trees.
"If you've got bees and they're healthy and strong, you'll end up getting better quality fruit and larger fruit," he said.
According to the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation's Web site, www.ourohio.org, about half of North America's honeybee colonies have disappeared over the last 25 years. The die-off has been termed "colony collapse disorder," but a cause for it has not yet been clearly defined.