In a good year, California produces more honey than any other state. But the Golden State hasn’t seen a good year in almost four years.
In that time, a drought has parched natural forage lands — and the wild flowers that provide honeybees with nectar. So California beekeepers have started feeding their bees artificial nectar to keep them from starving, according to KQED radio.
The station followed beekeeper David Bradshaw, who says, “You can tell the bees are hungry”:
In a normal year, Bradshaw takes his bees to hills laden with wildflowers. But this year, those hills are bone dry, and they look barren. Plants are mostly dormant, and that means the natural nectar production line is shut down.
When wildflowers do bloom, they make nectar from sugar and water. Bees use the nectar to make honey. But a drought means less water, less nectar, and less honey.
So Bradshaw is keeping his bees on the valley floor. In addition to the syrup, he’s feeding them a doughy protein supplement: soy flour, brewer’s yeast, vitamins, and minerals.
Artificial nectar isn’t cheap, either. Bradshaw will spend $80,000 on the syrup this summer just to keep his colonies from starving, the station reports. His hives usually produce about 250 barrels of honey each year; they have generated about one-tenth of that in the past three years.
In California, a prolonged drought is just one of several unfortunate circumstances affecting the honeybee populations. Increasing rates of habitat loss and pesticide use have also contributed to shrinking bee numbers. This year’s hurricane season is expected to bring heavy rains to the West Coast, but weather experts are unsure whether they will be enough to help quench California’s thirst — and its bees’ hunger.