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Beekeeper
Honeybees are in trouble. And because they are, says Holly Hubbard Preston, so are we.

By Holly Hubbard Preston

I was in the middle of a swim workout when I saw a honeybee struggling on the water's surface. Barehanded, I lifted it out of the water and carried it to the side of the pool deck.  In my younger years, I would have ignored the bee or even swamped it. Honeybees were so numerous then.

Not anymore. Honeybees are dying across the country in huge numbers. Last winter alone the population reportedly took a 30 percent hit.

I live in the Napa Valley. Colonies are collapsing here for the same reasons they are elsewhere: Pesticides, contaminated water supplies, over crowded apiaries, nutrient deficient or modified crops.

Bees are high production pollinators responsible for some $15 billion of crop output. Every one mouthful in three my family takes is the direct result of a honeybee. So when our local nursery recently sponsored a bee-keeping seminar, I signed up. In one morning, I learned more about the bees than I had known in a lifetime. I found out why bees end up in pools-bees need water for hydration and larval development. Because they can't discern depth, they go for drink and drown. Provide them with an alternative source of shallow water-say a bowl-or place a bee float directly in the pool, and the problem is solved.

Though I don't have a pool, I do have a lot of flowering bushes, some of which I recently ripped out without ready replacements. Big mistake. Bees need a reliable place to forage or they can't make honey, which means they have no insulation for themselves and their offspring come winter. By tearing out those plants, I left my bees out in the cold.

The best part of the class came at the end when we could peer into a hive calmed by smoke. For 10 minutes I stood there, my unprotected face inches above the hive.  The only sting I ever felt was the regret of my ignorance.

With a Perspective, I'm Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is a local writer and journalist. She lives in St. Helena.

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