The mysterious bee colony collapses have not impacted every beekeeper in the same way.

"We had one of the largest die-offs this winter, but I had one of my best years," said Chris Harp, a beekeeper on Plains Road, who said the plight of the bees has dramatically increased his business, as well as the number of students coming to his farm to learn about beekeeping.

Harp claims to have lost only 10 percent to 15 percent of his colonies, compared with 36 percent or more for beekeepers across the country. He attributes the high survival rate to a smaller, more intimate operation that allows him to tend more closely to his insects' needs, he said.

"We're giving the bees one thing that many commercial places don't think about, love, and that comes back to you," he said.

According to the experts, colony collapses have dissipated somewhat from years past but not enough to ensure the survival of the 4,500 native species of bees in this country. "The losses reported to us were not as high as in past years but not significantly low enough to be sustainable," said Jerry Hayes, the former president of Apiary Inspectors of America and current apiary official with Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The AIA plans to release its report on bee colony survival this week, Hayes said.

Major commercial bee farms in the Northeast have seen colony collapses of 40 percent to 70 percent this winter, Harp said. He, however, lost only three of the 23 colonies he started with before winter, a "fantastic" survival rate.

He attributes his success to an elixir of dandelion roots, chamomile, sugar, water and sea salt that he calls "bee tea." The self-made concoction builds up his insects' immunity to harmful toxins, as well as disease, he said.

Beekeepers speculate that the mysterious colony die-offs that started several years ago result from a buildup of manmade and environmental forces including pesticides, climate change, treating bees with antibiotics and artificial nectar, and infestations of mites and fungi, the most notorious being the Varroa mite.

"It's not one thing or two things," Hayes said, "but it could be four-five things."

The dearth of bees has farmers paying as much as $140 per colony to pollinate their crops. But the future of the industry remains uncertain as the colony collapses continue and as America increasingly imports its food from abroad, beekeepers said.

"Unless consumers care about where their food comes from, this (the survival of the native bees) is all a moot point," Hayes said.