May 3, 2015


We have tenants in many of our new birdhouses. Unfortunately they are all tree swallows. This is not bad news as these birds will prevent invasive species from taking over the neighboring nest box. They are also very fun to watch "dive bombing" our staff to catch insects that are disturbed by the mowers.
Here is a link to a fact sheet that I am using as a guide for our monitoring efforts. Hopefully we will get a few families of bluebirds this season, but they say it may take up to a year to attract a mating pair to a new box. I will keep you posted as to any new arrivals, or when the swallows begin laying eggs.

April 24, 2015

Winter Injury Update 4/24/15

By now many of you have heard about, and possibly seen the damage to the golf course caused by the extreme winter weather.  Over the last few weeks we have been cautiously promoting recovery through seeding and fertilizing affected areas.  These efforts combined with some favorable weather conditions have helped some areas recover, and have revealed the areas that suffered complete loss of turf.
April 14, 2015
Now that we have identified the areas that will require additional attention we are taking a more aggressive approach.  In the fairways we have begun seeding a modern variety of bentgrass into the dead areas.  This will result in a more durable, reliable stand of turf that will be able to tolerate extreme weather in all four seasons.  The areas that showed the most severe damage on greens are found on holes 4, 5, 7, and 9.  Yesterday we aerified, seeded, and fertilized the damaged areas (including the entire 5th green).  The idea is that the seed/fertilizer combination will either fill in the voids with new bentgrass plants, or the fertilizer will push the remaining turf to fill in the voids. 
The damage to the 5th green was rather extensive, and therefore we have decided to close the green and cover it to increase the soil temperatures.  Elevated soil temperatures will promote germination of the seed and help any plants that survived resume growth.  The plan is to leave the cover on for one week and assess the recovery before the spring Member/Member. 
April 23, 2015
I can assure you that I am the last one who wants to close any greens, but I also don’t want to be dealing with winter a minute longer than I have to.  The good news is that the rest of the course is emerging from the winter beautifully.  The fairways are glowing and the bentgrass on the greens looks as good as I have ever seen.  Hopefully it won’t be long before we are able to resume our normal greens maintenance programs that provide the firm, smooth, fast greens that we all enjoy at Pine Orchard. 

April 11, 2015

New Tick Borne Illness Discovered in Connecticut

There is a new tick borne illness that has been found on the Connecticut shoreline. According to the alerts I have read it is more severe and more readily transmitted than Lyme Disease.
There are a number of insecticides that can be used to control ticks in turf, but they are generally broad spectrum products that are not consistent with my management programs. They are more toxic than the reduced risk products I use on the golf course which are more selective and present minimal risk to mammals and birds.
I will be consulting state extension specialists to learn more about reduced risk tick control options. In the meantime I have included a link to a state publication on ticks, and what we can do to control ticks at Pine Orchard and protect our families from the diseases they spread. 

April 7, 2015

Course opens for 2015

The course opened today for the 2015 season.  Last week we were able to roll the greens twice and begin cleaning tees, fairways, and rough areas.  We verticut the greens yesterday to remove some of the winter topdressing and begin smoothing the surfaces.  The surfaces are far from being in mid-season form, but I feel comfortable that they are firm enough to receive approach shots and tolerate foot traffic.  As the turf breaks dormancy and resumes growth we will watch the weather to determine when to mow the greens and gradually increase the frequency and intensity of our maintenance schedules. 
The harsh winter and unseasonably cool spring has significantly impacted our ability to transition from one season to the next.  The extreme cold and persistent snow cover has left some of the turf struggling to break dormancy.  Some of the damage to the leaves is superficial, and is consistent with previous winters.  There are a few other areas where the damage seems to be a bit more severe and is found on turf that I would expect to be more resilient.  Damage can be expected in shaded areas that are dominated by weaker turf species and experience extended periods of snow and ice cover.  Typically this damage occurs in late spring when the daytime snow melt is followed by extremely cold nights, causing the saturated soil and turf to freeze.  Each species of grass exhibits a different degree of cold hardiness and susceptibility to ice damage.  Traditionally bentgrass is the most resilient grass species, with Poa annua and perennial ryegrass being more susceptible to ice and cold temperature damage.  The areas of the course that were damaged by the extreme weather this winter include low areas on greens dominated by Poa annua and fairway areas comprised primarily of perennial rye. 
The areas that concern me the most are the front of the 9th green and the depression at the front of the 7th.  These were the first green surfaces exposed to the elements as the snow melted, and may have suffered ice damage.  The bleached areas of the fairways may have been affected by the extreme cold weather in January.  At this point there is no point in worrying what caused the damage.  Our focus will be on watching for signs of recovery and developing strategies for establishing more durable turf species so that the situation can be avoided in the future.
As the day time highs and overnight lows rise over the next couple of weeks we will have a better idea of the extent of the damage.  I have been in contact with area superintendents to learn more about what they are experiencing and discussing recovery strategies. As we monitor the recovery process and begin seeding the damaged areas, our normal spring maintenance programs may need to be modified opting for a less aggressive approach to preparing the course.  Flexibility and patience are critical to ensure the course will be healthy enough to stand up to the wear and tear and environmental stress of the summer. 
Once we are comfortable that the turf has recovered, we will resume our normal cultural and maintenance practices.  These include routine mowing and rolling, as well as topdressing, verticutting and aerating.  The plan for 2015 is to take a less aggressive approach to our cultural practices, but to complete them more often.  In time this approach will lead to less disruption from individual cultural practices, and will reduce the number of days that the surfaces are in a state of recovery. 

In the coming weeks I will be sharing updates on the blog, in the newsletter, and through the ForeTees system.  Until then, I hope you will all find time to sneak in an early season round, and I look forward to seeing you back out on the golf course. 

April 5, 2015

Inside the Ropes: The Life of an Augusta greenkeeper

I stumbled across this article on Twitter. It provides a brief description of what goes on behind the scenes at Augusta National, and why it is irrational for most clubs to strive to achieve that level of perfection. 
In spite of the dark side of the "Augusta National Syndrome", the club and its premier tournament do a lot for the game of golf. For decades they have inspired golfers in the northern half of the country to get back out on the course after a long winter, and now they are create opportunities to introduce and engage young players through the Drive, Chip, and Putt competition. 
I for one can't wait to watch the coverage all week. Which reminds me, I have to go set my DVR so that I don't miss a single minute of uninterrupted coverage. Another feat that can only be pulled off at The Masters. 

Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT

March 29, 2015

Tweet from Hart Common G C (@HartCommonGC)

Hart Common G C (@HartCommonGC)
Something to think about before you buy your next golf shoes

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Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT

March 25, 2015

Transition to Spring

I am reluctant to refer to the recent weather as warm as it has been ten to twenty degrees below normal this week, but I am grateful for every degree above freezing at this point.  This week we have experienced a lot of melting and soon we will be able to resume working on the golf course.
Our main concern is obviously the condition of the turf beneath the snow.  As the snow and ice melt, we watch for signs of damage to the turf from disease or ice damage.  Thankfully, I have not seen anything that would be cause for alarm.
Typically after a winter with extended snow cover we would expect to find "snow molds" that grow in cool wet weather, and emerge as matted down patches of turf that sometimes appear to have a pinkish hue to them.  I have seen some signs of this in the rough and on fairways that were not treated with a fungicide in the fall.  We always treat the greens, and last fall we treated the tees and a few wet approaches to use up some product that had been on the shelf for a few years.  As far as I can tell, these areas are free from disease.
Another type of damage that we often see is from voles.  These small, mouse-like rodents burrow under the snow and feed on the grass.  Generally the damage is not severe, and often recovers once the turf resumes growth.  I actually do not mind seeing activity from these varmints, as they are a valuable source of food for foxes and hawks that live near the golf course.
The hot topic among superintendents over the last six weeks has been ice damage.  If you follow golf maintenance on twitter (and I am certain you do) you have likely seen hundreds of tweets regarding ice damage and the mad rush to remove snow and ice from greens.  There are two main schools of thought regarding this issue; clear them off ASAP or leave them alone.  I have been involved with both scenarios, and firmly believe that the best plan is to be very cautious with regard to working on greens in winter.
I have seen some extreme winters (this year doesn't make the top 5) where snow, rain, and ice storms created ice sheets up to 4"-6" thick, and there was a legitimate reason for concern.  One year I remember running our aerifier on the greens to break up the ice that had formed, and another where I used a front end loader to push 20" of snow off the greens.  At the end of these extreme winters we discovered that more damage was done to the turf by removing the ice than was caused by the ice itself, which is why I rarely do anything more than apply a dark topdressing material to help speed the melting of the ice and snow.
5th green - 3-11-2011
In my opinion, a better approach is to address ice damage long before the snow begins to fall.  First, I build my fertility programs to allow the turf to gradually enter dormancy throughout the fall.  Next, I like to make sure the greens are draining well heading into the winter.  My favorite practice is to deep-tine the greens in November at the same time I apply our heavy winter topdressing, which allows any water to drain into the soil during warm spells that occur over the winter.
The absolute best way to prevent winter damage is to maximize the amount of sun that reaches the turf throughout the year.  Any trees that cast a shadow on the green surface will favor weaker turf species throughout the growing season, and will delay the melting of snow and ice in the spring.  This is a recipe for disaster if and when we experience a truly extreme winter.  
Thankfully the weather conditions this fall were ideal for preparing the turf for winter and we did not have snow cover until the end of January.  This scenario leads me to believe that our turf will grow out of any superficial damage from disease or cold temperatures, and will be ready for another golf season if and when the temperatures return to normal.

These trees shade the 13th green throughout the year.
Shadows on 13 green 

March 21, 2015

Tweet from Your Life Tricks (@yourlifetrickss)

Your Life Tricks (@yourlifetrickss)
Put your golf glove in a ziplock bag - it will last significantly longer.

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Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT

March 9, 2015

Tweet from St Andrews Links (@TheHomeofGolf)

St Andrews Links (@TheHomeofGolf)
The greenkeepers were out clearing reeds in the #EdenCourse pond this morning.

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Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT

March 7, 2015

Looking forward to the Masters

Every season the first full week of April inspires a wide range of emotions for golfers, especially those that have been buried in snow. For the PGA fan in me it brings a level of excitement that eight year olds feel at Christmas. As a golfer it inspires a sense of envy similar to the "always a bridesmaid" cliché, since I doubt I will ever experience the joy of playing a course that is as challenging and manicured. 
As I look out my window at the melting snow, I hear my grandmother telling me about the watched pot of water. Thankfully the strengthening sunlight is an indication that spring is right around the corner, and that means the azaleas will soon be blooming in Georgia. 
For me, and many others diagnosed with a debilitating form of cabin fever, The Masters serves as the starting gun for the marathon golf season. 
I found this interesting photo from an article on The APosition written by Anthony Pioppi, author of the book "To the Nines". It shows how the golf course at Augusta National Golf Club has changed over the years. As Mr. Pioppi explains in his article, all of the changes to ANGC are made in the interest of the one week of the year when the best players in the world, professional and amateur alike, are invited to participate in The Masters, rather than for the enjoyment of the members.  Just another example of how the first full week of April is closer to fantasy than reality. 

I will be adding more thoughts and ideas as the tournament approaches, and hopefully the snow will melt and we will be able to watch the coverage after enjoying our first rounds of golf in New England. 

January 26, 2015

A man worth recognizing

As I sat in my living room about to be snowed in by the blizzard of 2015, I stumbled across an interesting article about the architect who designed the original golf course at Pine Orchard.  I knew he had done some other local favorites, such as Race Brook and Wethersfield C.C., but failed to appreciate his contribution to golf in the Greater New Haven community.  A year ago our golf chair asked if we should include a mention of the architect's connection to Pine Orchard on the latest revision of our score card.  I, being almost as ignorant as I was arrogant, dismissed Mr. Pryde as being unworthy of recognition.  In spite of the fact that the course we all enjoy today has very little to do with the original design, and the relic tees that can be found in the woods and fescue stand out more than the original greens, his contributions to golf in Connecticut deserve to be recognized and remembered.  If not for his work developing the Yale golf program, the Course at Yale may never have been commissioned, and many of the undergraduates and alumni that have been fortunate enough to play the Seth Raynor masterpiece might not have pursued the game.  
I would like to offer my humble and sincere apology to Mr. Pryde, and to Mr. Risley.  

Follow the link to an interesting history of a pioneer of golf in New Haven, and perhaps we should find a way to recognize him at the club, whether it be on the scorecard, in the clubhouse, or both.

January 14, 2015

Tweet from Anthony Pioppi (@AnthonyPioppi)

Anthony Pioppi (@AnthonyPioppi)
Ben Hogan's length he hit his clubs from 1949 Time article. How the #golf world has changed. He was long for his day.

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Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT

January 8, 2015

These golf clubs are doing amazing work for bees | Golf Club Management

More stories of golf courses working to improve the ecological benefits they offer their communities; this time across the pond. 

Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT

January 4, 2015

What's the deal with the Bees? - Quora

What's the deal with the Bees? - Quora
An interesting article on the health of honey bees, and the panic over Colony Collapse Disorder from Matan Shelomi, entomologist at UC-Davis. 

Future posts will demonstrate what we have done as well as future plans to help promote native pollinators at Pine Orchard. 

What's the deal with the Bees?

I [and pretty much all entomologists on earth] have been getting a lot of questions about the honey bees. "Are they in trouble?" "Why are they disappearing?" "How can I help?" Questions are fine, but what annoys me is when I get answers. "It's obviously GMO's!" "We must ban neonicotinoids!" "How do we stop the corporations that are killing bees?" Ugh. The problem is that journalism requires sensational issues and simple stories, and most people want to find a single answer for each problem. Biology doesn't work that way, however, and the truth cannot be boiled down into a single headline.

I've just heard a great talk by the venerable Dr. May Berenbaum, a wonderful entomologist and effectively the scientific spokesperson about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the technical term for the phenomenon of vanishing bees. So I present here for you the current state of knowledge on CCD: its history, its causes, and what we can do so stop it.

tl;dr summary: CCD does not have one cause. There is no one chemical to ban or one company to censure or one critter to eradicate. Instead, CCD is the product of several factors whose whole is deadlier than the sum of its parts: a perfect storm of biological and cultural issues that are too much for the already genetically weak honeybees to handle. However, honeybees and bees themselves are not going extinct anytime soon.


The History of Honey Bees
Humans have been collecting honey from Apis mellifera, the Western honey bee, for millennia. Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, the honey bee is a single species of bee that happens to be easily domesticated, not only for honey production at but also to pollinate crops. There is another honey bee, Apis cerana, native to Asia, but A. mellifera is the more common species worldwide. European honey bees were imported to the United States a few centuries ago, where they adapted well to the local plants. Without bees, certain crops (most notably almonds) could not be produced.

Beekeeping is not easy, however. Like all animals, bees get sick, and like all farmers, beekeepers will do whatever is necessary to keep their bees healthy and cure or prevent any problems. The biggest bee problem was foulbrood, a bacterial disease where the larvae (baby bees) turn into a disgusting, brown goop. To keep their baby bees from liquifying, beekeepers began to use antibiotics. There's also a fungus called Nosema that can destroy entire colonies, so beekeepers began using fungicides. The worst is the Varroa mite, Varroa destructor, an arachnid that attaches to the outside of bees and sucks their blood. That's bad enough (hence their name: destructor), but it gets worse. These wounds can become infected by bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) which is actually spread by the Varroa mite. Varroa mites were accidentally brought into the US in 1987 from an Asiatic A. cerana, and have spread to most of the world (except Australia… for now). To control it, beekeepers began spraying the hives with miticides too.

Beekeeping practice also changed remarkably in the past century. Beekeepers realized the market for pollination, and began to transport their hives around the country following the crop seasons, first by rail and then by truck. The demand for bees was higher than the supply, however. In the USA, the Almond Board successfully lobbied Congress to allow the importation of bees from Australia, which was illegal at the time to prevent the importation of foreign bee diseases. As the world changed and more wild land was converted to agricultural land, then agricultural land to urban land, the amount of food for bees decreased. The natural diet of bees is honey and bee bread, which is fermented pollen. Fewer wild flowers meant less natural food for the bees, requiring other sources. To keep their bees alive, beekeepers started feeding sugar solutions to bees, including high fructose corn syrup.

Enter Colony Collapse Disorder
In 2006, many beekeepers across the USA began to report high losses of bees. Not deaths, but losses: the worker bees would just vanish, leaving the queen and brood behind. This is very unusual: honey bees don't leave their home and family behind like that. With the workers gone, the hive soon followed. It soon became evident that this was a nationwide problem, and one that eventually spread to Europe too. Because of the immense importance of bees in agriculture, groups from all over the US worked together, and solving the case of "Colony Collapse Disorder" became a priority.

Almost immediately, people found scapegoats. Organizations that were against genetically modified organisms blamed GMOs. Organizations that were against the government blamed the government. Contrail conspiracy theorists said the government was spraying things. Alien abduction activists said aliens were taking the bees. Some people blamed cell phones. Some blamed Osama bin Laden. One theory was that the US government was using soviet mind control technology against Americans to raise support for the Iraq War, and the American bees were also affected because Russian bees were not affected. All of these accusations came with calls for research to prove their "theories," though I doubt anyone who rushed to judgement like that would accept evidence that proved them wrong. Indeed, every claim mentioned above, from GMOs to cell phones, is wrong. We know for a fact that CCD is not caused by GMOs, cell phones, aliens, vehicle grilles, UV lights, EM radiation, terrorists, communists, capitalists, etc. We have no evidence for those theories (and ample evidence against some of them), and neither do the people who promote them. [Hint: If a website is claiming to show you the "real news" or the "facts they don't want you to know," it is almost certainly unreliable]. So what does the research actually say?

The Research:
Coincidentally, a few months before CCD was described, the honey bee genome was published. So scientists used this new information to try and find a cause. They compared the genes of healthy bees and those left in collapsed hives to see what was different. What they found was not in the honey bee genome itself, but in a hitch-hiker attached to the genome: a virus. Specifically, the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), which was found in collapsed hives more than in healthy ones. Though discovered in Israel (hence the name), the virus was thought to have entered the US via Australian bees: the ones we imported despite laws that were designed for the very purpose of preventing bee disease importation. So, had we done it? Was IAPV the cause of CCD?

No. It's true that Australian bees had IAPV… but they didn't have CCD. Australian hives were not collapsing. The nail in the coffin was when DNA tests on frozen bee specimens from the 1950's showed that American bees also had IAPV, long before we imported bees from Australia. So IAPV is not to blame.

What else did we discover. Some scientists looked at the bee microbiome. Like humans, bees have bacteria and other microbes living in their gut that help them digest food and do other things. There is a lot of research (and even more hype and pseudoscience) about how human microbiomes affect our health. What does the research say about bee microbes? The results found no differences between the microbes in healthy bees and collapsed bees. No link to CCD here. However, this was the first evidence that showed bees use microbes at all… and these microbes have been resistant to the antibiotics first used on bees for a long time. In 2005, however, a new antibiotic against foulbrood and others was introduced, which may have affected the honey bee microbiome. Also recall that bees depend on certain fungi to ferment pollen into bee bread, which they use as food.

Here is perhaps the biggest finding from the honey bee genome research: Honey bees are naturally lacking in immunity and detoxification genes. Compared to other insects, bees lack many natural defenses! Namely, they have fewer glutathione-S-transferases, carboxylesterases, and cytochrome P450's, which are the proteins animals (including humans) use to break down toxins. Bees eat pollen and honey, which are hardly toxic. In the millions of years of their evolution, they have lost many of these genes for defense, which means all honey bees are naturally weakened against diseases and chemicals.

How do bees survive, then? Well, they do still have a few P450's and other detox genes. Plus, they have a secret weapon: their food. Pollen contains several compounds that upregulate detox and immunization genes. That is, when bees eat pollen-containing food like bee bread or honey, they produce more of the proteins that defend against pathogens and metabolize toxic compounds! Since the natural diet of a bee is honey and bee bread, both of which contain pollen, they still have some defenses. [The same applies for humans, by the way: if you eat healthier food, your immunity improves]

You now know everything you need to figure out what is causing CCD.
I'll give you a hint: it's not one thing. No matter what you are reading, if you find any source that names only one cause for CCD— a single chemical, a single pesticide, a single company, a single country— then you should stop trusting that source. On anything. Ever. Science doesn't work that way, and, no, there is no one cause for CCD, nor is there one solution. Anyone who says otherwise is either pushing a certain viewpoint on you or hasn't done their research. Here's the big reveal.

What is causing Colony Collapse Disorder?
Of all the many theories posited, only four seemed likely: the increase in insecticide use since 1895, a pathogen or parasite, immune suppression due to management practices, and a decline in the nutritional adequacy of their diet. So, which one is to blame? All of them.

In 2012 a meta-analysis of the literature and several large scale studies of CCD was done. They could not find a cause of CCD, but did find several indicators that a colony would likely collapse soon. The fungus Nosema was not an indicator: on the contrary, its levels were higher in healthy colonies! Only Varroa and DWV (see above) seemed to be useful indicators, with Varroa being the most important. Recall that there is no Varroa mite in Australia, and no CCD either (though there is Varroa in Asia and New Zealand but no CCD there either). Is the Varroa mite the cause of CCD?

Here's what happens. Imagine a colony is infested with Varroa mites. The beekeeper must use miticides on the hive. Yet mites, unlike bacteria or fungi, are evolutionarily similar to bees. Both are arthropods. The same chemicals that can kill mites can probably kill bees too. While the miticides used today are more toxic to mites than honey bees, no compound that kills mites and is completely harmless to honey bees exists. Nothing in organic or conventional agriculture. There are some non-chemical techniques that can help, but these are more labor intensive and expensive, and beekeepers already work with marginal profits: you don't get into beekeeping for the money! So now the bees are exposed to miticides, often several at once… which overload the P450's. The bee only has a few P450's that can deal with miticides out of the few it can produce at all, so they can't deal with such onslaughts well. A single compound is one thing, but when two or more sprays are used it's too much.

Note that I haven't even brought up pesticides bees might encounter in the field… mostly because those aren't as big a problem. Those neonicotinoids in the news recently, banned in Europe due to public pressure? They are still used in many other countries that do not have CCD. In fact, not a single chemical used on crops— not neonicotinoids, not Bt (in spray or GMO form), not clothianidin— none of them have been linked to CCD, nor would we expect them to. Why would a crop spray affect bees more than a hive spray? It makes no sense and, in fact, is not true. Still, it all adds up. A recent study found that 100% of all wax in American beehives today has high levels of pesticides, among other chemicals: You remember the antibiotics and fungicides I mentioned? The same fungicides that kill Nosema may also kill the fungi that turn pollen to bee bread! Even if that isn't a problem, the end result is that hives are loaded with chemicals: even if you ban insecticides on crops, the hives themselves are treated and/or contaminated.

"But not all bees die when you use miticides," you say. Correct! The miticides may be toxic, but they aren't too terrible! The P450's can still handle most of the pesticides… if the bee is healthy. Remember that pollen stimulates the production of P450's, but bees don't have enough pollen in their diet anymore. The aforementioned habitat destruction I mentioned means there is not enough pollen to feed bees. Instead they are given sugar or corn syrup, which does not boost their immunity the way pollen does. To give you an idea of how bad the situation is, beekeepers in France once were alarmed to see blue honey. It turns out their bees were feeding not on flowers, but on sugary waste from an MnM factory nearby, and picking up the blue dyes with the "nectar." Likewise, a beekeeper in New York whose bees were making red honey discovered they were feeding at a Maraschino cherry factory. Without flowers to feed on, bees have poor nutrition. With poor nutrition, they have poor immunity… and when you factor in the stress of being transported across great distances, most of which don't have good food either, you see why bees are getting sick.

"Wait, what about the bees who are fed honey?" you ask. You're right, many beekeepers choose to feed their bees honey instead of corn syrup… or so they think. A major problem today is that most honey sold is not actually honey. Here's the problem: in 2000, America imposed anti-dumping taxes on Chinese honey, which lead to decreases in honey imports from China… and subsequent increases in imports from nations like Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc. The problem is that those countries have no commercial beehives. How can we import honey from countries that don't produce it? Honey laundering. China was labeling their honey with other nations' stamps to avoid paying taxes! To avoid getting caught, they would use ultrafiltration to remove the pollen from the honey (because we can use the pollen to trace the honey back to its nation of origin) and adulterate the honey with corn syrup. Thus what you see labeled as "honey" may not be honey at all, and even if it was it no longer has pollen, which means it has no health benefits for the bees.

To summarize, CCD happens because bees have a naturally poor immunity to disease and to chemicals, both of which they are exposed to at higher rates and often together, and that immunity is made worse due to poor diet and stressful conditions. There is no one cause, nor is there one solution.

What Can We Do?
First off, let me reassure you that the bees are going to pull through. There is no danger of bees, even just Apis mellifera, going extinct. Wild bees are doing well: only the commercially reared honey bees are vanishing… and the rates of their loss are going down! Different years show different rates of decline, and some have shown upticks in total bee population. For example, the worst year for bees was 2012-2013, with many hives hit by CCD. The reason? That year there was a drought in the midwestern USA, so many flowers the bees otherwise fed on were gone. Poor nutrition and low water combined with a hard lifestyle means the bees are unable to handle the natural and artificial stressors in their environment (the pathogens and pesticides) and more likely to die. In other years the bees do better.

Still, that's no solace for the beekeeper who is losing his/her bees. What can you do to help? Two things. Plant flowers that bees like in your garden, if you have one. Help undo the damage of habitat loss by giving bees a source of food on your property. The second is to support your local beekeeper by buying local honey, if appropriate. Go to a farmers' market or otherwise get the honey from someone raising bees nearby. It will help them out, and you can ensure you are getting real honey and not laundered stuff.

What about the bigger problems? Well, until we find a miticide that's perfectly safe for bees, we will continue using what we have. Varroa mites are part of the problem and must be controlled, even if their solution is yet another part of the problem. As for banning chemicals, that is a terrible idea. Consider neonicotinoids: even if you ban those pesticides as they did in Europe, what then? Farmers will just use the other, older pesticides like pyrethroids, which are more toxic to bees than neonicotinoids! By banning certain pesticides, Europe has likely made their CCD problems much worse. Nice work, hero. If you are looking for public policy angles to pursue, I suggest fighting habitat destruction. That's always a good decision.

Which brings me to the final point. The best thing you can do is stay informed… and that doesn't mean finding one source of information and trusting them blindly. To stay informed means you will always need new information, and are never satisfied. It means always doubting every new news story that pops up, especially if it seems too good to be true or claims to "finally" answer a question. It means don't confuse a conspiracy theory website or an anti-agrotech blog, or even a news report, for actual scientific data. Nor should you trust one scientific paper above all others, especially if it's a single study and not a meta-analysis. Science is ever changing: look at how much our knowledge of bees changed since 2006, how many theories were tested, championed, then abandoned as new evidence came up. Even all I've posted here may one day change (though it's pretty well accepted so far). The story of the honey bees isn't over yet… but I promise it will not have a grand finale or a single climax, but rather will be complex and full of intertwining characters, and the ending, though perhaps not as spectacular, will be much more satisfying.

Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT