YERINGTON, Nev. (KOLO) -- Yerington beekeeper and co-owner of Hall's Honey Debbie Gilmore knows the battles her bees face every day to survive. She watched 42 percent of them die in 2017 alone.
She launched her business 10 years ago in 2008 with three bee colonies. They produced 200 pounds of honey that year.
"Now we have about 70 colonies of bees," Gilmore said as she talked about the 4,000 pounds she harvested in 2017.
Her bees are facing a relatively new problem. It was first discovered in 1987. "The varroa mite is a parasitic mite that attaches itself mostly to the under-part of the honey bee," Gilmore said.
Only 10 years after their entrance in the United States in 1987 from southeast Asia, they killed off nearly 100 percent of the wild honey bee population. The varroa mite is associated with 12 viruses and can spit them into bees while they're feeding.
Research from University of Maryland entomology doctoral student Samuel Ramsey reveals the mite also releases digestive enzymes into the bee to break down its fat body, which acts as its kidney and liver. The mite feeds on the liquefied organ while it remains attached on the outside of the insect.
The mites are in Debbie's bee colony, infecting her hive with viruses. When colonies die, other bees rob the honey left behind and spread the mites to healthy bees.
Beekeepers kill the mites on their bees with miticide. Debbie sprays her bees twice a year when they're not producing honey to keep the chemical away from her buyers.
Researchers are working to find a way to disrupt the mites' reproduction cycle, but so far there is no solid solution. Another major problem her bees are battling is the chemicals homeowners use to kill plants and other living organisms.
"A lot of people want to spray weeds or they want to spray for insects or whatever without reading the label, and there's a lot of pesticides out there toxic to honey bees," Gilmore said.
At one time companies had to print a bee icon on a bottle to warn if the chemical inside would kill a bee. Not anymore. Now you have to read the fine print under the heading, "Environmental Hazards" and it's behind a label that must be peeled off the back of the bottle.
Another big problem bees face is a lack of flowers and plants like lavender to pollinate. "So one of the things people can do to help with the honey bees is to plant more pollinator habitat," said Gilmore.
Three things her bees are battling in Yerington. Three things that threaten Debbie's business. She says she hopes they can each be solved so that her family business can thrive for another 100 years.
Debbie is proud of her son Ryan and his wife Carrie Gilmore because they plan on keeping Hall's Honey going for years.
To buy Hall's Honey or to learn about a conference in Yerington addressing the varroa mite, click on one of the attached links. Doctoral student Samuel Ramsey will share his researching findings there.