Lawlor: Fairfield could lead the way in saving the bees, and he world
About 10 years ago, Heather Carey, a local nutritionist, was extolling the health benefits of eating local honey to her husband, Mark, an employment lawyer, when Mark decided to get into the beekeeping business. Around that same time, 3,000 miles from Fairfield County, some professional beekeepers noticed a die-off of a larger percentage of their bees than normal.
Back in Fairfield, Mark jumped into the hobby, and after a few years, started actively recruiting his good friends, Steve Smith and Jim Funk. Around the time Funk and Smith joined Carey, the bee die-off got a name: colony collapse disorder. After early successes, the friends started seeing a die-off of their own. “Sometimes, it’s marked by dead bees and sometimes it seems the colony just disappears,” Smith said.
Carey said, “I had 15 hives in 2015; two lived. I had 11 hives in 2016; one lived.” For the last few years, every spring they rebuild their hives. The three friends have become more committed over the last few years. As Funk explained, “Without bees, you have no food.”
The men started to look at why this was happening to their bees. After a lot of research, they joined the long list of people who believe it’s a combination of a few factors — the biggest being pesticides and mites.
The pesticides called neonicotinoids have been in use for about 20 years, and have been linked to bee damage. Europe has banned three neonicotinoids, and is considering banning the rest. The problem is they are so widely used in agriculture.
Connecticut has made a step to ban them, but Carey feels it doesn’t go far enough. “Essentially, Connecticut bans big-box stores from selling them for home use, but it allows the current supply chain to run out before the ban takes effect. Also, the ban does not apply to registered landscapers,” Carey said. Carey, Funk and Smith want to see a more robust ban.
As the bees do their work, they are exposed to many pesticides, all of which can weaken their immune systems, which makes them more susceptible to diseases and parasites carried by mites. The main culprit, it seems, is a name out of a cartoon, “Varroa destructor,” or the Varroa mite. It attaches to the body of the bee and sucks the bee equivalent of blood and then introduces diseases.
The three beekeepers realize it is easier to ban the pesticides than to ban the mites, as the mites don’t read laws. For the people, Carey said, “I’m going to get lawn placards made up which say, ‘No Bees No Food,’ with an X on lawn care, or something catchy like that. I am also thinking about getting bumper stickers made.”
It’s not all serious work for the beekeepers. They really love the work, and they feel what they are doing is worthwhile. They tell stories of the multiple times they got stung or stories about how Funk is actually allergic to bee stings and carries an EpiPen with him when he does hive work.
They tell of the time they picked up the equivalent of 15 hives worth of bees and placed them in the car with them. There were a lot of straggler bees on the outside of the boxes.
“We drove most of the way down from around Hartford with our bee hoods on,” Smith said.
While Fairfield’s state representatives have been receptive to the issue, and some were cosponsors of the pesticide bill, the men think a lot more needs to be done.
Carey said, “Contact your representatives and be really, really, careful what you put on your lawns. It can end up in your food.”
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications