Archive for Monday, December 9, 2013

Kansas Rural Center working to increase number of bees

December 9, 2013

The Lawrence area needs more bees.

More butterflies, flies and birds, too.

So the Kansas Rural Center, with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Douglas County Community Foundation, is going to train more beekeepers, increase the amount and quality of habitat for bees and other "pollinators," and increase access to locally produced honey.

Pollinators help plants reproduce by moving pollen from the male flower parts to the female. Because of factors including habitat loss and pesticide use, the U.S. population of pollinators is in decline.

According to a joint study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, bee colonies have been dying at a rate of about 30 percent per year for the last several years. Chip Taylor, a professor of insect ecology at Kansas University, said about 70 percent of vegetation requires pollination by insects.

“If we eliminate those insects, then we diminish that vegetation and we’re going to be losing plants,” Taylor said in an interview earlier this year. “There’s a fabric of life out there that’s mediated by pollinators and that’s why we really have to support those populations.”

Taylor said Colony Collapse Disorder, the sudden and widespread disappearance of adult honeybees from hives, is mostly affecting beekeepers who move their bees from place to place to pollinate crops grown commercially, such as those in large orchards.

With this in mind, Julie Mettenburg, the executive director of the Kansas Rural Center, a farmer-led, private nonprofit, saw the need for more individual beekeepers who would keep their colonies local — and keep them alive.

With the grant from the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund, which supports local efforts to preserve and understand nature, the KRC will hold a series of workshops, each focused on one of the following topics: training additional beekeepers, increasing the amount and quality of the pollinator habitat, and increasing access to locally produced honey.

Mettenburg said that the nature of agriculture in Kansas is to grow a single crop over a wide area for a number of years at a time. This monoculture system is harming pollinators because they require diversity in their sources of nectar, she said.

Douglas County was chosen for this project because of its resources and because and because residents are interested in the issue. For example, the master gardeners with Douglas County Research and Extension were recently recognized for their work in establishing a pollinator habitat on Kansas University’s west campus.

Planners are working on workshop details, Mettenburg said. During the next few months, she and other staff with the KRC will organize the content, speakers, and goals. The first workshop will be held after the new year.

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