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Harsh winter killed many of Michigan's honeybees

Zachary Huang
Honeybee gathering nectar and pollen from honeysuckle

Humans got off easy this harsh winter, compared to honeybees.

The severe cold killed off many hives.

Zachary Huang is a honeybee expert at Michigan State University.

He says, in a normal winter, a hive needs about 60 pounds of honey.  "And  they just eat the food and then shiver their muscles (to create heat) and huddle together so they are warm enough, and they don't get frozen."

But, this was no normal winter.  And it also followed a very poor goldenrod season, a plant many honeybees use to make honey.

"If they run out of food - which most likely is what happened this winter just because it's cooler than usual, they would use more food," says Huang.  "And when they run out of food, they're dead."

Huang says probably only one in ten of his hives survived the cold.

Some help, for next year, is coming.

Michigan farmers who farm near commercial beekeepers can apply for new federal grants that provide technical assistance to grow plants that support honeybees, set up windbreaks, and other steps.

Beekeepers can also apply for some of the $3 million in grants, which will be divided among five states, including Michigan.

Huang says individual homeowners can do something to help honeybees, too, by planting their yards in wildflowers instead of grass.

Honeybees are not native to the Americas - but many of the crops modern Americans eat depend on pollination by honeybees.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.