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Colony Collapse Disorder is the all-encompassing title given to the myriad problems facing honeybees and their keepers, such as viruses, varroa mites (virus spreaders as well as blood suckers), tracheal mites, a new strain of fungus, Nosema ceranae, in addition to a number of pests and diseases that have plagued bees for years.

Bees are also being affected by a lack of bee pasture, due to recent droughts, urbanization, and the planting of corn, a poor plant for bees, in what were formerly clover and alfalfa fields.

Many beekeepers believe that the new neonicotinyl ­insecticide imidacloprid is a major factor in CCD.

With this new material, you don’t see the dead bees in front of hive entrances as happens with the organophosphates, but beekeepers suspect that nectar and pollen are being contaminated, leading to a slow but steady decline in bee populations. France banned imidacloprid several years ago after vociferous complaints from beekeepers, yet honeybees in France have not made a comeback, leading some to believe that imidacloprid should be exonerated, at least for now, from playing a part in CCD.

A consensus is forming that a virus, or a combination of viruses, is behind CCD. Bees (and humans) have been challenged by viruses for eons. Slow spread of a virus allows a community to build up a resistance to the virus du jour. Varroa mites have short-circuited this natural process by rapidly transmitting viruses through a population. The mixing of bee colonies from many different areas in California almond orchards has undoubtedly contributed to the spread of viruses. One beekeeper refers to almond orchards as "brothels".

Nutrition is also involved in CCD. Just as a healthy regimen prevents us from succumbing to viruses, bee colonies that are supplied with supplemental, fortified feeds better withstand the ravages of CCD. There are still a lot of strong bee colonies out there. They are strong because their keepers have invested considerable time, money, and effort to keep them that way. If you enjoy a good relationship with your bee supplier, value it during these difficult times for all beekeepers.

Funding bee research

A fledgling, nonprofit organization devoted to bee research, called Project Apis M., is being supported by beekeepers and almond growers via donations of $1 per colony of bees rented. The organization’s goal is to fund and direct research to improve the health and vitality of honeybee colonies while improving crop production. For more information, or to make a ­donation, go to the Web site at