Beekeepers educate colonies about environmental threats

The Essex County Beekeepers Association (ECBA) is expected to open on Beekeeping Road at Topsfield Exhibition Center for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began about 18 months ago. In addition to beekeeping teaching methods, ECBA works to raise awareness of pests that threaten colonies.

“They are definitely one of our biggest issues,” said ECBA Superintendent Christine Delaney, who is the organization’s liaison at the Topsfield Fair. “We are fortunate that the chemicals available to combat them have improved over time, as they are our primary line of defense against this growing problem. “

The ECBA and the fair have worked together since 1926. What grew out of a desire to collaborate and share local information and resources has resulted in a long-standing relationship, Delaney said. She said a key component has been the equal amount of teamwork between the two parties.

Christine Delaney stands outside the Essex County Beekeepers Association building at Topsfield Fairgrounds.

ECBA members teach a hands-on beekeeping course at Topsfield Fairgrounds and sponsor the beekeeping exhibit during the annual 10-day fair.

Some elements of ECBA’s beekeeping methods have evolved over the years. For example, the equipment and methods for transferring bees and extracting honey have become more efficient over time, Delaney said. But pests remain one of the biggest environmental challenges facing beekeepers.

“Varroa mites are one of the biggest problems right now,” Delaney said of one of the parasites the ECBA handles on a regular basis. “Compared to the tracheal mites, which were much easier to control and lived in the bee’s trachea, the [colonies of] Varroa mites can grow to the size of a nine-inch plate.

Delaney stretched his fingers around the outline of a huge plate for reference.

Following:Learn more about Varroa mites from UMass Ag

“The chemicals don’t do much, however, because eventually they come back and the problem starts again,” she said. “It has been going on for almost 30 years now. “

Delaney is optimistic that the level of awareness of environmental issues facing bees and pollinators in general continues to rise to an all-time high.

“We’ve worked hard to get the message out,” Delaney said. “But the fight for awareness continues. “

As the fair’s opening day approaches, Delaney hopes that ECBA’s return this fall will have a strong impact on the community and the fair.

“I believe in workers and I believe in community,” said Delaney. “Next fall is going to be very exciting. “

—Zach Laird is a media and communications specialist at Salem State University.

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