Southwind Farms is an extraordinary place with rows of tall sunflowers, golden chickens rooming the vegetable fields, and light buzzing sound around every corner. This has been William Winchester's remarkable life for almost 40 years.
My recent visit to his farm gave me a glimpse of what is happening to our honeybees. The U.S. National Agricultural Statistics show a honey bee decline from about 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million hives in 2008, a 60 percent reduction. What is happening to our most valuable insect? According to Winchester, it is a combination of drought, mites, and viruses.
When there is drought, there are not enough young bees for winter. The hive needs to have enough young bees to survive the winter because the old ones die off. As it gets colder outside, the worker bees form a thermoregulating cluster. The cluster is a tight circle that the bees create inside their hive to stay warm. In the cluster, worker bees vibrate their flight muscles to make enough heat, helping the workers and queen bee to survive the cold.
Before winter, beekeepers need to medicate for the Varroa mite. The mite pierces the exterior of the bee to feed. The bite allows viruses to get inside the bee. In honeybees, 18 viruses have been identified. Five types of viruses are linked to honeybee colony collapses, with the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) being the main suspect in the recent honeybee deaths. DWV causes wing deformity resulting in emerging bees not being able to fly.
As far as Neonicotinoids harming his bees, Mr. Winchester stays away from all chemical insecticides as he prefers to use his chickens as a pest control. His 20-acre farm has just enough space for his beehives. The surrounding neighbors do not use large amounts of chemicals on their properties neither.
Mr. Winchester has a tremendous amount of respect for the earth. He is someone we should all aspire to be like, which is kind, humble, and appreciative. William Winchester is the author of "A Very Small Farm," a book about living a simple and fulfilling life off the land.