Things are looking up for honey bees this year, but keepers know only too well that a fine line separates a good year from a disastrous one.
As many as 85 percent of the honey bees across the state survived the winter, experts estimate. That's a big change from this time last year, when beekeepers opened their hives to find that a cold snap and a mysterious disease had killed off 72 percent of Ohio bees.
That translated into about 1 billion bees.
The higher numbers so far this year are good news for Ohio farmers who rely on bees to pollinate more than 70 crops, including apples, strawberries and pumpkins.
But no one is ready to say that colony collapse disorder is gone. The disease, which causes bees to abandon their hives to die, wiped out 400 of commercial beekeeper Joe Blair's 2,000 hives this winter.
Last year, the owner of White Star Farms in Fairfield County lost 1,000 hives. Blair makes his living trucking bees to orchards and farms to pollinate crops. "I can cover my pollination," he said. "That's all that counts."
Bees are as necessary as sunlight and rain to help the nation's farmers produce $14.6 billion in fruit and vegetable crops each year. In Ohio, the crops were worth hundreds of millions of dollars in 2006.
Colony collapse has killed billions of bees in 35 states. It helped wipe out 38 percent of the nation's 2.4 million bee colonies last year, according to an Apiary Inspectors of America study published last year in the American Bee Journal .
The disorder has been active in California and Florida, where many commercial keepers house bees during winter months, said Diana Cox-Foster, a Pennsylvania State University entomologist.
Ohio's huge losses last year were blamed mainly on extended and late cold snaps that killed bees in their hives.
Both the cold and the disorder had keepers scrambling to replace their losses. In 2006, there were 32,827 hives statewide.
John Grafton, apiary-program supervisor for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said there should be enough bees to pollinate crops this year.
Cheryl Wachsmuth, president of the Central Ohio Beekeepers Association, said she lost one of six hives over the winter. Like Tew, she's hoping for warmer temperatures in the coming weeks.
"As long as we're good from here on out, we should be set," she said.