ELKHART — Early precautions seem to have worked in favor of beekeepers in Elkhart County after aerial sprays of insecticide aimed at killing mosquitoes carrying eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) were conducted at dusk Wednesday.
Jeff Burbrink, an educator with Purdue Extension Elkhart County, said many of the beekeepers in the area were prepared. He said Thursday he had heard no reports of the spray affecting any of the hives.
“The weather seemingly worked out pretty well too because when it rains a lot of times the bees go back in the hives anyway and just that little bit of rain we had prior to the start of spraying probably drove them in a little earlier,” Burbrink said.
Following reports about the detection of the mosquito-borne virus in Elkhart County and human cases, including four deaths, in southwest Michigan, the Elkhart County Commissioners decided to use aerial spraying in targeted areas to help protect residents.
Dibrom is the pesticide used. Aerial spraying kills about 90% of the mosquitoes in an area, but if beekeepers don’t heed the warning, hives can be decimated too.
To help beekeepers prepare for the spray, Burbrink said he sent advice he received from Purdue entomologists to various networks to get the word out.
He particularly noted a software called BeeCheck, which is a voluntary communication tool that enables beekeepers and pesticide applicators to work together to protect apiaries through the use of the BeeCheck mapping program.
Since Monday, Burbrink said 41 new beekeepers in the area have registered with the network.
Kyle Swartz, a beekeeper from Bristol, said the BeeCheck app helped him prepare by giving him 48-hour notice of the spray. Swartz owns three hives and said he used an entrance reducer to protect his bees while the spray was conducted.
“I put a screen that narrows the opening for the hives and then I put a screen over that so they have plenty of ventilation,” he said. “When I checked on them this morning, I could still hear them buzzing around so I don’t anticipate any problems.”
He reported later that “all three hives are doing great.”
“My brother-in-law and neighbors also have hives and they don’t have any issues either that I know of,” Swartz said.
Another beekeeper, Jim Walker, said he has only one hive in Elkhart and the spraying didn’t affect it.
“I knew this was happening so I took some precautions and screened my hive in, and I’ll unscreen it this evening,” he said.
Ethan Mitchell, owner of Mitchell’s Honey Farm, said 84 of his 600 beehives were located under one of the zones that received the aerial spray.
When he got the news about the spray, he said he relocated 64 beehives and left the other 20 as a test.
“If they have to spray in the spring or summer, I can’t move that many hives with honey in them,” he said. “So I want to see what it does to the bees.”
Mitchell said he’ll check to see what spray did to the bees later this week. He owns 400 beehives throughout Elkhart County and also has hives in Kosciusko County and eastern LaGrange County.
“I understand the situation and I do agree with trying to prevent (EEE), but it is important to take the precautions necessary to protect the pollinators,” he said.