Pesticide Stricken Honeybee Hives On a Sustainable Family Farm

Folklore is such that a beekeeper should tell her hives of deaths, weddings or other significant family events.
On the afternoon of Tuesday June 17, 2014, we had to make the decision to have our beloved little chihuahua Bear put to sleep. He'd been diagnosed with abdominal cancer two weeks earlier. Our family went to the vet together, and I stayed in the euthanasia room to hold Bear as he left us.

The author with her beehives. Photo courtesy of the author

The author with her beehives. Photo courtesy of the author

I placed him on his dog bed in a wooden box, put flowers and his favorite toy beside him, draped a brightly woven blanket over his body and tied the box up with a gauzy scarf. We drove home and buried him in the woods behind the remote sustainable Oregon family farm we call home. We marked his grave with sticks, fern fronds and wildflowers. We lit a candle and said poems and remembrances.

In the pouring rain, I took a detour to the eight beehives I care for. Two are the neighbor's and six are mine. I stopped at each hive to tell it Bear was dead. When I got to the pink and brown Warre hive, our healthiest hive of all, I saw thousands of dead bees on the landing board and in the grass around it. Peering inside through the hive's window, I saw thousands more piled up at the bottom. I thought to myself that they were just cold. It had been days without sun. Days of unseasonably cold weather. I closed the board covering the window and went to tell the next hive about Bear. At the next after that, I saw more dead bees piled up at the base in the rain.

I could not investigate further, for one shouldn't open a hive in the rain. It rained the next day too, and so I slept and cared for my son, who was wracked with grief at the loss of his dog.

Today the sun came back, and the heat. I called Matt Reed, Portland, Oregon based beekeeper and the owner of Bee Thinking, a wonderful bee supply store. He came out and looked in all our hives, helping me set little things straight. You see, I only became a beekeeper this summer. I decided to do so in response to the Wilsonville, Oregon bumblebee die-off one year ago today: June 19, 2013. On that day, over 50,000 bumblebees rained on the parking lot outside a Target store. The culprit: neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide. I ruminated over this loss and others that summer, and combined with the rising death toll caused by other issues like colony collapse disorder, I made the decision to become a beekeeper and pollinator conservationist. Two of my greatest champions and inspirations were to be Matt and his wife Jill Reed.

Today, Matt looked inside the two hives I was most concerned with and stated his belief that the bees had come into contact with pesticide. When we took the Warre hive apart, there was a layer of tiny dead honeybees on the bottom board standing perhaps half a foot thick. Tens of thousands of them, all with their little tongues sticking out, a sure sign of pesticide poisoning.

The Warre Hive when it was healthy.

The Warre Hive when it was healthy.

The now-dead Warre Hive

The now-dead Warre Hive
















It had been our healthiest hive.

Another hive, a traditional Langstroth hive, was stricken with a similar issue, though this one had fewer dead bees and more hive activity.

Many things can lead to bee loss, but experienced beekeepers know what signs to look for. In colony collapse disorder, for example, most of the hive's bees have disappeared, leaving only brood, a queen and a few attendants. The hive dies. The bodies of the other bees are nowhere near the hive, but since a bee cannot live away from its queen and colony, death is inevitable.

Other causes can include mites and foul brood; in our hives, no signs of these were present.

Bees forage, and they fly far to do so. Although our farm and forest are unsprayed and use only untreated and organic seed, and despite their being full of flowers, forager bees from two of our hives found a rich nectar or other food source elsewhere, and it was likely recently sprayed with insecticide.

When bees bring nectar, pollen or other plant materials back to their hive, they set the other bees to work. Thousands of bees come into contact with the returning bee and with her pollen & nectar.

In this way, the poison is spread throughout a hive in a safe, clean location on a sustainable family farm, and in this way, all the bees become sick and usually, they die.

Thousands of dead bees for the Warre Hive

Thousands of dead bees for the Warre Hive

The piles of bees we dumped out of the hives onto the grass were a horrible sight. They were thriving just a few days before.

After Matt left, I jumped to action and started writing to different state offices, calling media and of course, posting on Facebook. There are many beekeeper forums there; I had to talk to them.

That's when I found out several other beekeepers in my county, a county well-known for its nurseries, had suffered similar losses in recent days.

Sadly, I had company.

In Eugene today, an entire apartment complex was covered with dead bees after trees around it were sprayed. The state is investigating.

The state is always investigating. The bees are always dying.

I will know for certain what killed my bees in coming days; the state and media arrive here tomorrow. I wanted to leave any Oregonians who might need help should they find themselves in front of a pile of dead bees with a list of people to call. If you see dead bees or are a beekeeper facing hive loss, I suggest calling or emailing the following people immediately. Please note help will vary from state to state, and these numbers are for Oregon. Feel free to contact me at with helpful numbers in other states, or leave comments with that information below. We must report these things to our states and demand action and attention. Our futures could depend on it.

(Note: the asterisks below denote immediate response times to me today. I am still waiting to hear back from others on the list.)

* Matt Reed and Jill Reed, Bee Thinking, Portland -- (877) 325-2221*

* Isaak Stapleton, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture Pesticides Program-- (503)986-4650*

*Tracy Loew, The Statesman Journal --*

Oregon Dept. Agriculture Pest Analytical and Response -- (503)986-6470

Oregon State University Bee Lab -- (541)-737-5460

The Xerces Society --(855) 232-6639

Oregon State Beekeepers Association - contact list

The Oregonian - contact list




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6 comments on “Pesticide Stricken Honeybee Hives On a Sustainable Family Farm
  1. sara says:

    I’m so sorry about the loss of your bees. We are unable to keep hives but we plant as many bee friendly plants as we can and enjoy our busy little sisters. It alarms me greatly that there just isn’t the awareness of how much bees contribute to our existing food systems. It will truly be a terrible loss if we do not take steps to preserve the bees that are still with us.

  2. Charlotte Ross says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of your Bear, your beloved hives and bees. I have a cousin who is a bee keeper. It’s funny that a book read long ago, The Secret a Life of Bees, helped me lose my fear of bees and gave me a profound respect for them and what they do. The little factoid about bees at the start of each chapter was one of my favorite things about the novel. You are doing a good thing here. If the bees go, our planet goes and we go. Why can’t common sense come before profit for once?

  3. Carla Oldenkamp says:

    My deepest sympathy. I can feel your pain through your words and my heart aches with you over the loss of your beloved Bear & Bees.
    I too am a new beekeeper for the same reasons you sought to become one. I can only believe that to help our land we must make our prayers become active. My daily prayer cries that our next generation will be more compassionate and kind to the earth and all her inhabitants. You are a part of the solution. Thank you for teaching your children well.

  4. Dena says:

    Thank you all for your kind words.

  5. Bee Dude says:

    Dena: I just read a follow up article which states you starved your new beehives to death by not feeding them at all. It was not pesticides. It was in fact your ignorance as a hobby bee keeper.

    Commercial keeper Harry Vanderpool, who was consulted during the investigation, was more blunt about it. He said the hobbyists didn’t know what they were doing and “raised the red flag of pesticides” when their bees died. Each newly established hive should have been fed a gallon per week of sugar-syrup mix for the first month, he said. Instead, “There was not one drop of food in any of them,” he said. “Don’t go throw a (hive) box in the backyard and run to the Pesticide Division when they all die,” Vanderpool said. “That is beekeeper error, that’s what it is, 100 percent.” Feed the bees!”

  6. Dena Rash Guzman says:

    Bee Dude, Harry Vanderpool is incorrect, and in fact, so are you. I did feed my bees. I have records: sugar purchases, honey b healthy purchases, witnesses, records and photographic evidence that I fed my bees for as long as they would take food, and then again after Dewey Caron suggested feeding as a remedial measure (that was the half dead colony; it died anyway, further reducing evidence of starvation.) Vanderpool never came to my property or the property of any other local beekeepers who lost hives or partial hives during that week. He was merely consulted with by Dewey Caron who wrote his final report on the collapses today. You can contact him for further details, but he refutes Vanderpool’s statement that willful neglect or starvation caused by failure to feed was the cause of death. In plain English, in no way does the state or any expert who came to this property made any official statement that beekeeper error was the cause of death. The Oregon Department of Agriculture knows I and other keepers who lost bees on this day fed our bees, and it did not find starvation to be the cause of death of ANY of the several hives that died the same day my hives died. Feel free to see their website and further, to read this article at Capital Press in which an actual hands-on investigator in my case (Dewey Caron) discusses Vanderpool’s statement and in fact, so do I. It was none of the pesticides the state tested for, you are correct, but neither was it my fault that those bees died. The fact is no one knows what happened to my bees or the other bees, least of all Vanderpool.

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