October 13, 2020 – It’s been a tough year for bees.
Untimely weather events and not enough ground moisture has led to the decline of this year’s local honey crop, as much as one-third of the 2019 harvest, say local beekeepers.
“At this point I am still trying to figure out what to do with the small crop. I do not have enough honey to supply bulk and provide honey in jars at my retail outlets. I am not alone in this predicament, all other beekeepers that keep bees in the county, from North to South and East to West are experiencing the same,” said local beekeeper Spencer Wingfield of Wingfield Honey and the Vice President of Nevada County Beekeepers Association.
Honey customers should expect a dip in local honey supplies this year, Wingfield said.
In November, Wingfield will be a panelist on a group discussion about this important topic during an online streaming event presented by BriarPatch Food Co-op featuring the documentary film, The Pollinators. Director Peter Wilson will join the panel from New York.
The three-day fundraiser will raise money for Nevada County Beekeepers Association. The group promotes education and the well-being of honeybees and their habitat. Wingfield takes great pride in his honey and keeps his bees healthy without the use of synthetic chemicals or antibiotics.
“We planned to screen this in March at the Nevada Theatre then the pandemic hit. We’re excited to find a new way to bring this to local audiences, especially in light of the current climate change impacts to pollinators. We want to help however we can,” said BriarPatch Community Engagement Coordinator Jason Patton.
Statewide, California beekeepers have been hit hard this summer by hot dry conditions compounded by unprecedented wildfires ravaging the West.
“There have been hundreds, if not thousands of beehives destroyed in California fires to date,” said one beekeeper, according to the National Honey Report issued in September by the USDA. California crops that depend on bee pollination include fruit trees like apple and plum and nuts like almonds.
Local beekeeper and biologist Randy Oliver has witnessed similar challenges for his bees this year. He’s been studying bee health for 50 years and documents his findings on his website, ScientificBeekeeping.com.
“With climate change we’re seeing bigger changes. More extremes,” said Oliver. Like other farmers, beekeepers are at the mercy of weather conditions. This year, a dry, warm February was followed by late rains but not enough to recharge the ground going into a hot summer.
It was the perfect storm to shut down most plants, except star thistle, from making nectar.
“It’s like the bees got kneecapped time after time,” said Oliver. Many beekeepers didn’t think their bees would produce enough honey to even pay “yard rent” this year, a centuries old exchange beekeepers make with property owners trading jars of golden honey for the use of land for their bee hives.
This year’s conditions are part of a trend that Oliver has documented over time. With his bees found in 60 yards throughout Nevada County, he has witnessed hotter conditions are causing foothill plant communities to slowly edge uphill in elevation.
“We’re slowly shifting upward 200 feet,” he said. When species like Black oak and Ponderosa pine forests die in their lower reaches, they will be replaced by chaparral, forever altering the landscape. Higher levels of CO2 in the air is changing the nutritional composition of plants – resulting in more carbohydrates and less protein. Scientists like Oliver warn of an impending insect apocalypse.
“From a biological perspective, we’re really screwing the Earth and it’s not going to be the same,” Oliver said.
Oliver says backyard gardeners can help by planting pollinator-friendly plants. He recommends considering perennials that bloom in the hot summer months to help bees later in the season.
Buying local honey, also supports local bees and beekeepers.