Honeybees are under attack by the deadly varroa mite. With 40 percent of what we eat pollinated by insects, primarily honeybees, our food supply is in question.

Todd Hardie of Honey Gardens Apiaries is dedicated to his honeybees. In December he and a group of volunteers scooped up 600 hives out of the snow, packed them onto a tractor trailer and drove them south to South Carolina. The bees, threatened by the deadly varroa mite, had a better chance of surviving the winter and thriving down south, he said.

On Thursday morning a tractor trailer wrapped and bound with netting pulled into a farm pasture: the bees had come home.

“This is a community effort and labor of love,” Hardie said in as he unloaded wooden boxes of bee hives. “We’re so happy that the bees have come back to Vermont and are healthy and strong.”

The trip took two days of straight driving. “You can’t stop during the day or they’ll get away,” Hardie said. A quick stop for diesel gas and a bite to eat can leave behind 20 bees.

But when the second truckload of bees arrived in Vermont Thursday, few of the bees in the 420 hives ventured out in the cold and fierce wind. Some clung to Hardie’s white bee suit, most clustered together in their hives.

Moving the bees to the Blue Savannah Swamp in South Carolina gave them 60 more days of spring, Hardie said. The nectar from the Tupelo trees and honeysuckle plants is an elixir to the bees, he said.

Hardie also is breeding his bees with what he describes as a mite resistant Russian stock of bee that he gets from an organic bee farm in the High Laurentian Mountains of Northern Quebec, from California and from collaborators in New York.

The goal is to make the bees strong enough to withstand the mites and the Vermont winter.

“With our organic procedures and Russian queen bees we hope that we don’t have to move them in the fall again. Our goal is to keep them here in Vermont,” he said.

Winter has always been tough on bee colonies in northern parts of the country, said Nicholas Calderone, head of Cornell University’s Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies.

“When the mite came along, that made it more difficult,” he said.

The Asian parasite, which arrived in this country in 1987, has decimated wild bee colonies and taken a toll on collectors’ bees. The brown colored insect feeds on honeybees and their larvae.

“With 40 percent of what we eat pollinated by insects, primarily honeybees, our food supply is in (question),” Hardie said.

In recent years the pest has grown resistant to two pesticides.

During some winters, 50 to 100 percent of bees have died, said Calderone. “It’s a tremendous problem,” he said.

“If people don’t treat, don’t do some kind of intervention, their bees will die of varroa mites,” said Stephen Parise, state bee inspector.

Hardie expects to continue to lose bees. He plans to build up the population from 925 to 1,200 colonies this summer.

In a few days the bees will soon feed on dandelion and apple blossoms.

“There’s a benefit to the cold and now there’s a benefit to the warm,” Hardie said. “We work with all these forces much greater than us so we just appreciate each moment.”

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