- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) — A mysterious ailment has been killing honeybees nationwide, so the General Assembly, Virginia Tech’s Cooperative Extension Service and the state Department of Agriculture are on a campaign to bring bees back to Virginia.

The disease, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, causes bees to seemingly disappear. It began showing up late last year in Virginia, state apiarist Keith Tignor said.

Mr. Tignor said several diseases and insects, such as mites, also threaten honeybees.

“We’re continuing to do research, and we’ve seen at least two new pathogens we hadn’t seen before,” he said. “We’re trying to keep bees alive and active.”

Last year, the state set aside money to sponsor seminars across eastern Virginia to provide bee information and help supply beehive startup kits. In Suffolk recently, nearly 300 people showed up at two such seminars at the National Guard Armory.

“If you’re a farmer, the more bees you have, the better off you are,” Mr. Tignor told the crowd.

At each seminar, the state gives away 25 beekeeping startup kits that provide everything needed for beginners except the insects themselves. At least two of the kits given away at each session go to youngsters.

People also can buy the kits for about $150, Mr. Tignor said. Then, those interested in the sweet hobby must have a queen and several pounds of bees. Although a queen bee can live up to eight years, Mr. Tignor recommended replacing the queen every two years to maintain the hive.

“The queen stays busy,” he said. “She’s laying an egg every 12 to 20 seconds.”

Dennis Martin of Suffolk is a retiree, not a farmer, but he loves to garden and had little luck with his fruit trees or vegetables last year.

“I had almost no fruit,” Mr. Martin said. “I thought, if I had my own bees, it would help.”

Europeans coming to Jamestown, the nation’s first permanent English settlement, first brought honeybees to the region in 1622, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Today, bees pollinate at least 80 crops grown in the state.

But Virginia is losing honeybees at about 30 percent a year, said Rex Cotten, the Virginia Tech extension agent in Suffolk who organized the seminars.

Mr. Cotten said educating the public is meant to help repopulate the bee population east of Interstate 95.

“We must bring them back,” he said. “We will bring them back.”

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