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Keeping bees close to home

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO |  Traffic backed up at one of Mike Loriz’s hives at Sylvester Manor.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Traffic backed up at one of Mike Loriz’s hives at Sylvester Manor.

The smell of honey flows through Mike Loriz’s garage.

Which stands to reason, since Mr. Loriz looks after four colonies of buzzing honeybees at Sylvester Manor. In his garage, he houses bee feeders left with the syrupy nectar that keeps hives humming.

One morning last week, Mr. Loriz packed up his gear and followed a dusty road to attend to hundreds of tiny striped apis, the scientific name for honey bees, kept in hives of tall boxes filled with rows of bee feeders. As the bees were busily pollinating the fields of Sylvester Manor, Mr. Loriz spoke about the strange phenomenon affecting beekeepers everywhere that was once a mystery but now seems to have been solved.

In the past beekeeping was fairly easy, Mr. Loriz said. But that was then. Lately it’s been more difficult to pursue the hobby and business of beekeeping due to the onslaught of what’s known as “colony collapse disorder,” or CCD.

CCD has claimed 33 percent of U.S. hives in the five-year period, 2006-2011 (the last year records were released), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fifteen billion dollars worth of American agricultural products are at risk due to CCD.

Long Island harvests about $250 million from agricultural products, according to the Long Island Farm Bureau. Crops pollinated by bees here include fruits, vegetables and flowers. And Suffolk County has been recognized as New York State’s “most productive county” agriculturally, according to Comptroller Thomas D. Napoli.

Harvard University has found that exposure to two insecticides, imidacloprid and clothianidin, are responsible for the deaths of half the colonies of bees the university studied. Harvard’s research was conducted this year, based on a previous study conducted in 2012 on CCD.

If losses continue at that 33 percent level, it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry. Honeybees would not disappear entirely, but the cost of pollination services would rise, and those increased costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food costs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.

Mr. Loriz’s hives have suffered from the effects insecticides have had on his colonies, he said. He noticed that some hives were dying off due to tick spraying  on many Shelter Island lawns.

Laura Klahre, beekeeper and owner of Blossom Meadow in Cutchogue, said that the active ingredients in the tick spray, permethrin, is one of the main actors in causing the bees to suffer dementia, meaning the bees are unable find their hives after returning from work, resulting in the death of their colonies.

“The number one cause of CCD,” Ms. Klahre said, “is pesticides, used for tick spraying and grub killing.”

Right behind insecticides on the killing list are varroa mites, little critters who spread a deadly virus among bees, she said.

“What people don’t understand,” Ms. Klahre said, “is that the chemicals people spray in their yards stay in the ground for a long time, and not only kill the desired insect but other organisms that interact with the environment, such as bees.”

Protecting beehives is more than a hobby for Mike Loriz, and their loss would be a break with the past. Kneeling between two active hives in the open field, admiring his buzzing companions, he said, “My father taught me how to take care of them as a kid. Having bees is a family tradition for me.”