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Italian mix may may save the honeybees

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 8:06 p.m. MDT

Bees start bearding their hive in the backyard of Susan Sharp's home in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug.  17, 2012.  (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Bees start bearding their hive in the backyard of Susan Sharp's home in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY  — Colony Collapse Disorder is mysteriously causing drastic and epidemic declines in honeybee colonies worldwide, threatening a vast array of crops dependent on honeybees for pollination.

Scientists have been stumped trying to pinpoint the cause, but many are pointing a finger at pesticides which contain nicotine-related chemicals that paralyze the honeybees' central nervous system.

Next month, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to reach out for an independent review of the pesticides' impact on honeybees after denying an emergency suspension of the chemicals' use.

Globally and across the United States, researchers, farmers and corporations have been scrambling to come up with their own way to bolster colony populations and stave off the effects of CCD.

Bee Day (, ) Bee Day (, )

An Italian couple believes they have come up with the solution after they saw the effects of CCD play out first hand on their 16-acre farm in Tuscany.

Francesca del Vecchio is a biochemist specializing in DNA sequencing techniques, while her husband, Andrea Festuccia, is a chemical engineer.

They developed an all-organic solution called BeesVita Plus that is mixed with water and put in a special feeder. It was field tested in Italy for three years and underwent a second testing in Argentina. A third field-deployment by their company, BeesFree, is anticipated in the near future in the United States — and Utah, one of 22 states characterized as having severe CCD by U.S. agricultural officials — may be another testing ground. The company has not yet reached a firm decision.

Bee Day (, ) Bee Day (, )

Festuccia said it was tragic to see the colonies' decline, and his wife soon began looking at hives — and the surrounding vegetation — that were not experiencing the effects of CCD.

On that basis, she came up with a list of ingredients, developed the organic mix, and they conducted trial tests on their own farm — feeding some bees a placebo and the other their own organic mix developed in the lab.

"We saw a 50 percent increase in newborns" from hives that were fed the solution, Festuccia said. The placebo-fed group saw a 40 percent decrease.

"We were very surprised and happy when we saw the results," he said. "The beehives fed the product — we were left with a beautiful picture."

Bee Day (, ) Bee Day (, )

One gallon of the concentrated formula can feed up to 10 hives — or a million bees — during a 30-day period.

The formula is fed into a special dispenser with feeding pans. Vapor-emitting fans spread the formula's scent in a wide area to attract the bees, which return the scent to the hive — causing a massive swarm of feeding.

Because the solution is all-organic, Festuccia said they believe they have come up with a way to help the waning honeybee population and possibly counter the effects man has introduced into the natural order of things.

"That is the hope," he said.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

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