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When Pam Burton first joined Colonial Beekeepers Association in 2000, she estimates each meeting had about 13 members in attendance.
Today the meetings regularly pull in well over a hundred people.
Colonial Beekeepers Association was started in the 1970s by two engineers working at the NASA Langley research center. Membership and participation was modest but steady for several decades, until around 2007.
Burton said the reason for the huge increase in membership and attendance can be attributed to one factor: the spike in awareness of colony collapse disorder that took place shortly after this phenomenon was officially given a name in 2006.
Colony collapse disorder refers to the abrupt disappearance of worker bees from a colony. Once the phenomenon was given its new official name in 2006, the general public became more aware of and concerned about the rapidly decreasing bee population, which Burton says accounts for the club’s skyrocketing numbers around 2007 and 2008.
The club leads classes for both adults and children interested in learning about bees. The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is hosting one such offering Saturday morning, a children’s program called “The Life of Bees.”
Kids participating in the program will be split into two groups: an under-7 group and a 7-and-older group.
The younger group will take part in a guided craft activity in which they will make models of bees and learn the parts of a bee’s anatomy in the process. They will also learn about the life cycle of a bee and how they raise their young, feed and pollinate plants.
Older kids will learn more advanced bee-related terminology and the basics of beekeeping. They will also get a chance to find out what one should do when confronted with bee-related problems, such as being stung or finding a nest in the house.
“We want people to know, if you have a colony or swarm don’t call an exterminator; call a beekeeper,” Burton said.
In fact, many members of the club will come and remove a hive from a home for a modest price. Though the time and equipment necessary to remove bees does necessitate a small fee, many beekeepers are happy to add more bees to their hives and fields.
Saturday’s “Life of Bee’s” is the third time Colonial Beekeepers Association has held a children’s program at the Williamsburg Botanical Gardens, and Burton anticipates holding more in that location in the future.
Colonial Beekeepers Association has also offered one adult bee class at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in the past. The adult class is geared toward people in the community who are interested in learning about becoming a beekeeper themselves, and covers such basic information as the cost of equipment and the necessary time investment to have successful hives.
Burton is happy to see more people taking an interest in beekeeping because the wild bee population is in dire straights.
“If you see a honey bee in your yard, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a managed hive within a three mile radius,” Burton said. “Wild honey bees basically don’t exist any more, or if they do pop up somewhere the colony doesn’t survive beyond the first year.”
The reasons behind the disappearance of bees are manifold, and include factors like pesticides, insecticides and development that destroys the wildflowers that bees normally feed on.
That’s why Burton and the other members of the club are happy to get the word out about bees in the community and welcome newcomers to their hobby.
“Gardeners want to know what they can do to help bees,” Burton said. “Beekeeping really happens everywhere.”
Saturday’s presentation will take place at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. Registration is free but required. Contact Sherry Patterson at email@example.com for more information.