Southern Maryland has been abuzz this spring with nature enthusiasts noticing either good bee health or, conversely, a sudden drop in bees.
While bee declines have been well documented in recent years, some Southern Maryland residents have noticed a sharp disappearance of bees and other pollinators this year in particular. Others say business is booming.
Frank Allen, president of the Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust, said last week he and his wife, Christina, had noticed a severe lack of bees on their 10 acres of quasi-farmland in Park Hall.
“I’ve never seen something so profound,” Frank Allen said, having recently come back from a bike ride with his wife at the south end of St. Mary’s, with very few bees or other pollinators in sight. “We didn’t see a bee of any sort.”
He said that while there have been a few bees at home, in 25 years at that location, he has “never seen anything like this.”
After Christina Allen posted online about the situation, several others noted they had not seen many bees, either, including some as far north as Newburg reporting a strange lack of pollinators throughout.
Meanwhile, Leonardtown beekeeper Diane Wellons said she had not had the same experience.
“They’re going gangbusters this year,” Wellons said. She said 15 honeybee hives of hers carried through the winter at her apiary, Deez L’town Beez, and she was able to split them into about 30.
La Plata-based Honeybee Rescue of Southern Maryland, a service which retrieves and relocates honeybees from homes, is not having any problems getting service calls.
“It’s been my experience, this year, that the bee population is better than last year,” Jack Estevez, who runs the bee rescue service, said. All of the service’s hives remained intact through the winter, and calls have almost doubled since last year.
However, Estevez said, calls may have been down last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bee lovers can also look forward to finding out statistics on beekeepers’ colony populations later this month, when the Bee Informed Partnership, a University of Maryland-led nonprofit, reports its annual loss and management survey for the 2020—2021 season.
Most suspect pesticide and herbicide usage is a contributor to sudden, regional losses in bees, as the chemicals are contributing to the ongoing nationwide pollinator decline.
Josh Calo, who runs Sol Nectar Farm, a honeybee product business, and operates hundreds of colonies throughout Southern Maryland, said pollinators are doing better in rural areas, but hives in more developed areas like Waldorf and Prince Frederick have been having a harder time.
“I think it’s a lack of understanding,” Calo said, as many treat the pollinators as pests and go for chemical sprays to eliminate bees. Herbicides also kill plants which provide nutrients to the pollinators.
Less diverse food sources for pollinators has led to the decline in bees over past years, Wellons said.
Calo said that growing perennial shrubs, as well as fruit trees, sustains the pollinator population by giving them food to forage for.
“If I only ate Twinkies every day, I wouldn’t last long,” Wellons said. “It’s the same thing with bees. We start cutting back on their food, they start to die off.”
Less pollinators means less plants for humans to eat, as well. While some crops, such as corn, wheat, rice and soybeans, are able to get by without pollinators through wind or self-pollination, many fruits and vegetables rely on some bee pollination.
“It’s a huge impact if there are less bees,” Wellons said. “Our diet would be significantly less diverse.”
No matter how sharp this year’s bee decline might be, however, Wellons said “people are really starting to notice” when bees go missing.