NEWS / FEATURES

Keeping Bees Abuzz

Winegrower raises Concern after Colony collapse

By Kerry McDaniel Boenisch

At Cameron Winery in the Dundee Hills, winegrower John Paul is a near-perfect example of welcoming pollinators into his organic vineyard.

“It is said that healthy farms maintain a balance between plants and animals. Plants often provide a direct nutritional source for herbivorous animals and insects,” noted Paul in a March 2013 blog post. “But animals also provide crucial input into the biosphere as well… Our hives of honey pollinate the array of nutrimental plants in the vineyard, allowing them to efficiently reseed themselves.”

Paul’s geese and chickens patrol the rows, providing fertilizer for organic mulch he composts and then re-deposits into the rich Jory soil. Cats provide rodent protection instead of pesticides. Yet despite his exemplary vineyard cultivation practices, he has experienced record bee deaths in April of this year.

Having cultivated winegrapes since 1984 at Cameron Winery’s estate vineyard, Clos Electrique, he has noticed a change, “It is definitely harder to maintain a healthy bee colony for a sustained period of time than it was previously.

“We’ve been in discussion with the ODA (Oregon Department of Agriculture) about all of this, and it is, of course, unclear what is causing the demise of the bees,” Paul said. “They are analyzing the bees for residual pesticides and herbicides, but these are often hard to detect.”

Paul added, “Keep in mind that bees can and do travel at least five miles in search of food. We obviously have no control over what they might get into on their forays outside of our property.

“All I know is that it has been difficult to maintain hives at the winery in spite of our healthy organic vineyard. They are important to the overall ecosystem that comprises the vineyard, so we’re trying to get new hives established.”

There is some promising news for bees and growers like Paul across the state: The ODA’s recent permanent ruling (OAR 6030570388) — went into effect Feb. 27, 2015 — bans the application of neonicotinoids (pesticides toxic to bees), regardless of application method, to linden trees, basswood trees or other Tilia species.

The new rule was written in response to the June 2013 massive die-off discovered in a Wilsonville Target parking lot — conversationalists said the dead bees represented 150 colonies, about 50,000 bees in all. This was one of three incidents where a Portland-area company misapplied pesticides, destroying pollinators.

In addition, ODA has recently launched an online hotline (see inset)for reporting mass bee kills, as well as other suspected pesticide incidents.

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