Virginia program aims to increase number of bee colonies

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Bring on the bees.

Virginia has a new program that distributes beehives in an effort to increase the number of actively managed bee colonies around the state.

The program provides beehive equipment directly to new and established beekeepers.

It goes along with a grant program established by the General Assembly in 2012 to help new beekeepers start operations. Under that program, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued 730 grants that helped establish 2,244 bee colonies.

Funding for the program was discontinued in 2017 to determine if the program was helping restore beehives. VDACS surveyed grant recipients and more than half reported they had increased the number of beehives. Sixty percent planned to increase the number of beehives in the future.

Based on those results, the General Assembly restored $125,000 a year to the program in 2018, letting any individual meeting the plan's qualifications receive a standard beekeeping kit.

In addition, due to a large loss in Virginia's hives over the winter, a new program was established to help provide beehives directly to those interested in becoming beekeepers.

Virginia residents who are 18 or older can receive up to three beehive units per year. People who receive a beehive unit will be registered as beekeepers with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, allowing for periodic inspection by the agency.

“The study showed that the program is working and people are utilizing the grant program as one important piece in the puzzle of replenishing our bee population,” noted Martha Moore, vice president of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

State Apiarist Keith Tignor said Virginia lost 59.5 percent of its hives last winter. He said the distribution program will help counteract those losses by helping beekeepers establish new hives.

If you don’t want to become a beekeeper, there are other ways to help protect honeybees. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services encourages people to create a pollinator window box.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers tips on creating a pollinator window box here.