At the end of a quiet road just a few miles off U.S. 211, there is no sign of trouble on Bob Duxbury's property. And surrounded by trees and dotted with farm and garden equipment, one might easily overlook the innocuous wooden boxes standing away from the house.

But the silence and serenity belie a serious problem. A local beekeeper, Duxbury said he's experienced the unexplained deaths of thousands of the beneficial insects.

"They are a fascinating little insect and they're in trouble - they're in big trouble," said Duxbury. "We could lose them all."

The buzz about bees across America is not good. Coast to coast, commercial farmers, hobbyists and small time, sideline beekeepers like Duxbury are experiencing colony collapse disorder.

The problem occurs when worker bees from a colony leave in search of food, but never return. Another group is sent out, then another. Eventually when no more worker bees are left, the colony becomes unable to sustain itself and dies.

Scientists so far haven't been able to pinpoint the cause of the disorder. Some studies have indicated residual pesticides are to blame, while other researchers are looking at a possible virus. Whatever the source, the crisis is reaching a crescendo for large-scale commercial farmers who transport hundreds of hives thousands of miles to pollinate commercial crop operations.

"It's a controlled crisis right now," said Duxbury. "Without our help it would go into crisis very quickly." Duxbury, in the bee and honey business for about 10 years, has about 11 hives and says he's already lost six of them this season. On average, a thriving hive will have about 60,000 bees at one time.

Marie Fox, a member of the Northern Piedmont Beekeepers Association, said she also recently began beekeeping.

"I have so far been fortunate," Fox said of her experiences with colony collapse disorder. Fox said she has about five hives right now and more are probably in the works.

In the meantime, Duxbury's bees are kept alive and happy with a perpetual supply of sugar syrup to carry them through the winter. And Duxbury said that right now, hungry black bears in search of tasty, protein-rich bee larvae are more of a threat to the hives than the mysterious colony collapses.

"These bees here are European bees," said Duxbury as he lifted the lid on one of the boxes.

"They were brought over to the U.S. If you go over and rap on my hive right now," he continued, "only about 10 to 12 bees will come out."

The European honeybee's behavior is a sharp contrast to that of the Africanized or so-called killer bee. Doing the same thing to one of those hives would likely send nearly all of the bees out of their hive and after the perceived threat.

As a second side gig, Duxbury also removes bees that have found homes in undesirable places like attics. And sometimes, the formerly nuisance bees thrive, producing valuable honey. But Duxbury was quick to acknowledge that calm or not, the stings still hurt.

"I've had bees in my ears before and it's not fun," he said.

During the a presentation to students at a Virginia Cooperative Extension office, Duxbury said Virginia is not an ideal climate for honey production, although he added that most sideline and hobbyist farmers produce enough honey to make a profit and sustain their hives.

As an example he said a Virginia bee farmer might expect about 150 pounds of honey from each hive annually. In contrast, he said, hives in northern states may easily produce about 230 pounds of honey each year.