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Culver winemaker Doug Maragas can’t help but worry and wonder: Where have all the bees gone this year?

(Update: Adding video, Maragas comments)

CULVER, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Doug Maragas, winemaker and vineyard manager at Maragas Winery in Culver, said Tuesday he's alarmed that for the first time since beginning their agricultural endeavor in Central Oregon, he has yet to see any bees pollinating the many flowering fruit trees at their estate vineyard.  

With about 100 apple, pear and choke cherry trees in bloom for over the past two weeks, Maragas said, "It's shocking that there are no bees buzzing about pollinating the flowers."

"The beauty of the flowers and the perfume like aroma walking by the trees normally attracts so many honey bees that when you pass by, you can hear a collective hum of their beating wings," he said.

This year, it is silent.

And having an organic farm, the many dandelions on their winery lawn is yet another attraction for bees.

Maragas, who started farming in 2005 and planted his first vines the following year, said he wonders if the cause for the absence of bees may be due to the herbicidal spraying of the surrounding farms.  

He noted that last year, to control weeds during the drought, where there was little incentive to work the land because of an absence of water to grow a crop, the government provided a payout to farmers, so they would have an economic stimulus to control weeds.   

Even though Maragas does not use herbicides to control weeds (at Maragas it's all done by manual pulling, hoeing and cutting), Maragas said, "Surrounding farmers farm conventionally and do use chemical herbicides, and herbicides have been shown to harm the bee population."   

Regardless, Maragas goes on to explain that although the fruit trees on their farm require insect pollinators to produce fruit, thankfully, the wine grapes are self-pollinating, coincidentally drought-tolerant, and will produce fruit even with an absence of bees.

Maragas reached out to the OSU Extension Service in Redmond, where professor and horticulturist Amy Jo Detwiler offered these initial thoughts:

"There are many variables that affect the bee/pollinator flight activity index, including temperature range, light, wind, rain,  etc. I suspect the delayed bloom time played a role as there are several trees in bloom at the same time that normally would not be, potentially dispersing the level of activity on any one plant.

"We have bee activity on our trees here in the demonstration garden in Redmond," Detwiler added. "There have been years when some of the trees (e.g. crabapple) are loudly buzzing with activity, but in those years there was not as many options in bloom at the same time." 

She said she would inquire of OSU Extension's bee specialist to find out what other factors could be affecting activity levels.

Maragas Winery is Central Oregon's longest-running winery and vineyard. Their tasting room, which is located inside their winery, opens up to a patio, lawn and vineyard overlooking Smith Rock and the Cascade Mountains.  Maragas Winery is open to the public daily, except Tuesday, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Article Topic Follows: Environment

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