Backyard beekeeping helping the plight of the honey bee - KATV - Breaking News, Weather and Razorback Sports

Backyard beekeeping helping the plight of the honey bee

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LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Over the last few years, news reports, documentaries, even magazines, have all featured the plight of the honey bee. 

Unfortunately, most of the buzz is negative, focusing on a die off of massive proportions.

United States Department Agriculture researchers estimate nearly one third of managed colonies in the U.S. during the winter of 2012.

The culprit is called CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder.

"It's a phenomenon where a lot of bees die off suddenly it doesn't have one specific cause," explained Jon Zawislak, the honey bee specialist with University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. "It involves diseases and parasites of diseases but it also relates to nutrition and habitat loss pollution as well as pesticide exposure."

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, bees pollinate over 100 crops worth over $15 billion and produce over $150 million of honey in the United States annually.

In Arkansas, all you have to do to see the importance of the honey bee is visit a local farmer's market. Melons, blueberries, peaches and squash are just a few examples of produce that relies on the bee.

While most of the national attention is on the bee's decline, here in the Natural State, not all of the news is bad.

"It has not affected beekeepers in Arkansas as much as other places because we don't have as many commercial beekeepers here as other states do. It hasn't hit the hobbyist beekeepers quite as hard," Zawislak explained. "All of the extra media attention on the decline of honey bees certainly made people more aware of bees and the necessity of pollinators in food production. It's focused attention on honey bees in particular as something that you can add to your backyard."

More and more Arkansans are adding hives to their backyards and gardens.

Carla Hazelwood lives in West Little Rock and is relatively new to beekeeping. After taking a beginners class a few months ago, she decided to introduce two hives to her other backyard residents.

"I also have chickens and they are so low maintenance and they give me eggs, and the bees are productive and give me honey," Hazelwood said. "Yet I don't have to be on top of them all the time and I don't have to have 10 acres to have a beehive."

The beekeeping craze has even hit the Arkansas Governor's Mansion, as First Lady Ginger Beebe recently added a couple of hives so she could have her own honey.

"We had a group of bees who made their home in the pergola which is in the garden, and we had to get a beekeeper to get them out," Beebe said. "We received so much honey from that one hive that it made us start thinking we could do this here. And in April we got out first bees."

She says the bees have been a welcome addition to the gardens at the mansion and hopes the new bees help raise awareness about beekeeping.

Beebe did have some concerns initially about how the bees might impact tours at the mansion, but says they haven't been an issue.

"They're not in their space, and the bees are busy, they're working," Beebe explained. "We haven't had any negative effects from having the bees. I think it's piqued everyone's interest. They think if we have them here and they can have them in their backyard. And it's just so interesting. I think we can learn a lot from bees if we really study them."

Studying bees and getting children interested in beekeeping was the goal at the Hillary Clinton Library last week. 

The kids got to uncap the honeycomb from the hive's frames, then put the frames of honey into the extractor, and out comes raw honey. Everyone got a taste.

The grassroots approach, combined with the rise in beekeeping popularity, seems destined to keep the bees' future from going up in smoke. 

"I would say the future of beekeeping is looking a little brighter because of all of the interest in it,"  Zawislak said. "I think that once we get over this hump and assist the bees to get out of this slump, we'll be moving in the right direction with them."

For more information about beekeeping, visit:

- the University of Arkansas' beekeeping website

- the Arkansas Beekeeper Association

- Sun Raw Apiaries - sunrawbees@yahoo.com (501) 680-7819