Geneva Miller and her husband, Dennis, have run Miller Bee Supply from their home in Chase for 17 years. She said they have been getting 20 to 30 calls every day from distraught keepers, looking for replacements. The run on bees has been so serious that supply hasn't kept up with demand.
"A lot of people from all across the state have lost their bees this year," she said. "It's scary."
Since 2006-2007, millions of bees across the country have succumbed to colony collapse disorder, in which the colony's worker bees disappear, leaving the queen and young bees that cannot sustain themselves to die. Scientists still are looking for a cause, but signs point to the Varroa mite that sucks the blood from bees.
But Fischer said Maryland has never had a case of colony collapse disorder, "and we don't have one this year, either."
VanEngelsdorp agreed, saying he hasn't found colony collapse in two years of looking for it.
Instead, he cited "a host of other causes" for the bee deaths. Fields that used to be blanketed with clover and goldenrod that make good bee forage have been plowed under for soybeans and corn. Drought has altered long-term growing patterns. And, he added, the EPA needs to take a closer look at pesticide and fungicide use and exposure.
"Our level of mortality has been pretty constant. Are these bees telling us there's something wrong with the environment?" asked vanEngelsdorp.
Christianson said he and his wife delighted in making up 30 to 40 honey gift jars for friends and neighbors and putting up a half-dozen quart jars for family.
"It was a very rewarding experience, and our neighbors were tickled to death," he said. "I'd get back to doing it in a New York minute if I thought we could get things back the way they were. Obviously something is going on, and I don't think the experts are close to putting their finger on it."
But scientists say there's a growing body of research aimed at uncovering the root cause of the higher rate of bee deaths that, when shared with the agriculture industry and beekeepers, could help stem the losses.
"The problem is urgent and needs urgent answers. Can we get this information together fast enough to help the beekeepers and the farmers?" asked vanEnglesdorp. "I hope so."