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Bees, Farm Walk

Posted by | April 30, 2008

WSU, Bee Industry Partner to Study CCD

Washington State University scientists and Pacific Northwest beekeepers are joining forces to find out what is causing the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder that has wiped out thousands of hives throughout the region over the past several years.

Two large beekeepers in the Pacific Northwest–Eric Olson of Yakima and Tom Hamilton of Nampa, Idaho–have made donations as seed money for the research. Noyes Apiaries in New Plymouth, Idaho, the Idaho Honey Association and the Washington State Beekeepers Registration Fund also have made contributions. With those donations and dedicated funds from the WSU Agricultural Research Center, researchers will spend nearly $200,000 over the next two years to look at causes and possible treatments for the disease.

“Hive health is critically important to the bee industry in Washington, and bees are essential to pollinate many of our important crops,” said Ralph Cavalieri, associate dean in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and director of the Agricultural Research Center. “The financial partnership with the beekeepers will bolster our scientists’ work on this urgently important issue. This is a great start.”

The Washington State Beekeepers Association estimates overall statewide losses to the disease at between 35 percent and 50 percent in recent years. With eight of 10 of Washington’s most valuable crops–including apples–being “bee dependent,” Colony Collapse Disorder left unchecked could jeopardize the state’s agricultural economy.

Richard Zack, chair of the WSU department of entomology, said Colony Collapse Disorder is just the latest in a number of factors that have threatened the bee-keeping industry for many years.

“This is a long-term problem that started a number of years ago,” he said. “The people who can provide commercial pollinating services are disappearing, and if we solve this specific problem, another one will come along. The goal of this research is to build a program that can help the industry become sustainable again no matter what happens in terms of disease, nutrition and a thousand other factors.”

Beekeepers Eric Olsen of Yakima, left, and Tom Hamilton, Namapa, Idaho, look over graduate student Mathew Smart’s shoulder at an entomology laboratory at Washington State University. The beekeepers have donated seed money to underwrite research on Colony Collapse Disorder.

Beekeepers Eric Olsen of Yakima, left, and Tom Hamilton, Namapa, Idaho, look over graduate student Mathew Smart’s shoulder at an entomology laboratory at Washington State University. The beekeepers have donated seed money to underwrite research on Colony Collapse Disorder.


Walking the (Farm) Walk

They came to learn about managing fruit trees organically, innovative grafting techniques and running an on-site seasonal fruit stand. Over 30 people heard from seasoned experts and took part in a grafting demonstration at the first Farm Walk of the year at Nicholson Orchards in Peshastin.

“To farm organically you must constantly seek ways to improve your skills,” said third generation orchard owner Dennis Nicholson who discussed marketing strategies along with his organic pest management practices, soil fertility, and pruning. Of the 50 acres at Nicholson Orchards, ten are certified organic, another ten are transitioning from conventional to organic and the rest are under consideration.

“It’s more of a challenge to grow organically. You need to get your sprays on in a much more timely way,” added Nicholson.

Organic pest control practices such as Kaolin clay applications and mating disruption were discussed in detail. Kaolin clay, processed in Georgia and sold under the brand name Surround, is the very same non-toxic clay used in toothpaste and antacids. Pear psylla do not like it, so they lay fewer eggs in it, and other pest eggs are smothered with an early spring application.

In mating disruption, pheromone dispensers placed throughout the orchard effect codling moth mating behavior so that that damage to trees is greatly reduced. “This technique has had a huge impact on the way people manage codling moth in fruit trees, whether conventional or organic,” said Michel Wiman, research associate for the WSU Small Farms Program and Farm Walk Coordinator.

Growers, community members and researchers also watched professional grafters Michael Hampel and Liz Eggers as they explained their method for joining older root stocks with new varieties, and the importance of properly preparing tree surfaces and aftercare. They participated in cutting, taping and painting woody surfaces in order to graft new Gala shoots onto Red Delicious trunks.

“An advantage to grafting is that you can utilize the stored energy held in the roots to grow a new tree quicker than if you were to cut the tree down and plant a new one,” explained Hampel. “Depending on the size of the tree, it will then produce fruit within two to four years.”

– Betsy Fradd, WSU Extension

For more information, please visit: http://smallfarms.wsu.edu/

Professional grafter Liz Eggers explains grafting techniques.

Professional grafter Liz Eggers explains grafting techniques.