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Beekeeper Newsletter – April 12, 2010

2010 Season

The 2010 almond crop looks very good, with the exception of the Nonpareil variety which has always been an erratic producer. Nonpareils represent almost 40% of the state acreage, so statewide yields will likely be down. Our growers appear to have a better crop than most. The less than ideal bloom weather this year gave strong colonies a chance to shine.

2011 Almond Pollination

We have decided to keep our 2011 pollination prices the same as this year. Your current agreement with us remains in effect for 2011 unless canceled by you by June 1. If you plan on bringing us bees next year – and I hope that you do – please let us know soon how many colonies you can bring and we will advise you as soon as we can how many we will need.

Getting a fair price for almond bees will not be as difficult for 2011 as it was for 2010. Last year, almond growers were faced with low prices (below the cost of production for some hardshell growers) and water shortages. At this time, almond prices are almost double those of a year ago and the water situation is greatly improved.

We will be sending Eric Mussen’s cost study (referred to in our March 15 Newsletter) to our growers. The study shows that it costs over $200/colony to get 8+ frame colonies for almonds. Consider sending this study to other growers, beekeepers and bee brokers.

2011 Bee Supply

There was a shortage of almond bees this year after beekeepers sorted their winter stockpiles and came up with greater than expected losses. 2009 was a record low year for honey production which meant that bees went into winter with sub-optimal nutrition, setting them up to succumb to the agents of CCD (viruses, et al.). There is usually a strong correlation between an individual beekeeper’s honey crop and the health of his colonies the following February.

The 2010 honey crop should be much better than last year and, as a result, the supply of almond bees should also be greater. Beekeepers that incurred significant losses this past winter will be making up their numbers and, barring unforeseen events, there should be an ample supply of almond bees in 2011. There were $100 and $120 almond bees this year, there will be next year and every year. There will always be cheap bees out there — deal with it.

Based on this year’s experience, growers will be looking to finalize their 2011 bee supply well before November. Beekeepers that played the waiting game this year were rewarded with high prices for substandard colonies. Such a scenario is unlikely for 2011

Are Essential Oils Essential?

Many top-notch beekeepers with top-notch almond bees use and believe in essential oils (see Ross Conrad’s article in the March Bee Culture). EOs are sold under a number of different names: Honey-B-Healthy, Pro-Health (Mann Lake), the LeFore patty, and others. Some beekeepers make up their own EO brew. If, as many believe, viruses are a major contributor to CCD and if EOs combat (neutralize?) viruses (and maybe varroa) the EOs may indeed be essential to beekeepers. David Wick, doing work partly sponsored by Pam, hopes to come up with more answers on this important topic.

Get Culture – BEE CULTURE

Occasionally I’ll ask a beekeeper, “Didja see that article in Bee Culture? Only to be met with “I get the American Bee Journal, but not Bee Culture. I usually respond with “Oh” (sometimes “Oh?”) as I thought all beekeepers subscribed to Bee Culture. The bee industry is blessed with two great magazines and with two great editors of these magazines, Joe Graham and Kim Flottum. Each has regular (and irregular) contributors – Jerry Hayes, Randy Oliver and Kirsten Traynor, et al., for ABJ; Steve Sheppard, Jennifer Berry, Malcolm Sanford, et al. for BC. Advances in graphics in recent years have improved both magazines and their covers are often collector’s items. If you can’t afford $25 for a year’s subscription to BC, you probably shouldn’t be in the bee business. Call (800)289-7668 to subscribe.

Reduce Varroa Treatments by Half

Ross Conrad tells how in the April BC. Note: it may be possible to access some of the Bee Culture articles referred to herein at www.beeculture.com

North vs. South

Steve Sheppard, in the March BC, gives a nice summary of current CCD studies that show CCD is far more prevalent in the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere. He points out that “honey bees in these (Southern Hem.) locations have either not been exposed to Varroa destructor (Australia) or represent strains of African (Africa) or Africanized ((So. America) honey bees that survive the presence of Varroa without chemical treatments.” No mention is made as to whether more neonicotinoid pesticides are applied in the N. Hemisphere or whether there are more Genetically Modified crops in the north.

Bees Need Sleep Too

Tests on humans show that our ability to perform tasks drops when we are deprived of sleep (I don’t think tests are necessary to prove this as any beekeeper that drives all night to deliver bees can attest) and that lack of sleep impairs our immune systems. In the December 2007 BC, Steve Sheppard summarizes work showing that the same is true for honey bees and he makes a case that transporting bees at night is more stressful in this regard than daytime hauling.

I’d Rather Sleep in a Hollow Log

Feral bees prefer large cavities, e.g., a hollowed-out tree, for their homes. Confining bees in boxes is not natural. More space has advantages: groomed mites find it difficult to climb back up to the brood nest; better air circulation reduces the chances of disease transfer in a colony.

Medical Records for Bees?

Marla Spivak makes a good case in the March BC.

Marla and You

Marla Spivak is spearheading a drive to raise $13.9 million to establish a state-of-the-art Bee Research and Discovery Center at the University of Minnesota. For more information check out www.BeeLab.umn.edu With Penn State recognized as the premiere honey bee research facility in the U.S. and with the ascent of Minnesota, UC, Davis is left to ponder the immortal words of Terry Malloy: “I coulda been somebody . . . I coulda been a contendah”.

Funny Honey

A few beekeepers (very few) pour sucrose syrup to their bees prior to the orange flow here. The bees add enzymes and store this syrup as they would nectar, with the final product indistinguishable from honey. At current honey prices, converting a tanker load of syrup to a tanker load of honey is profitable for one who’s lust for money trumps qualms about ethics. A large California beekeeper, who shall remain nameless, has developed a reputation for doing this, but such practices are far from the Norm. Carry them too far though, and you sully the reputation of 99.9% of beekeepers who take pride in producing a quality product.

Help is on the Way

Through the efforts of Christi Heintz, Pam has secured funding and been given a mandate to come up with Best Management Practices (BMPs) for beekeepers. A one-fits-all program is not possible, but the best brains in the U.S. (including beekeepers who have been unscathed by CCD) will be tapped to come up with guidelines.l

More Help

Call (559)591-1995 to get a brochure on how to reduce pesticide damage to bees (sponsored by chemical companies, including Bayer). The brochure isn’t bad, but doesn’t go far enough. Look for a more comprehensive brochure coming out soon from the North American Pollination Protection Campaign (NAPPC). Check out their website at www.nappc.org.

Revive the Beekeeping Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts

See Jerry Hayes’ comments in the April ABJ (p. 345).

New Honey Books

Just out: The Honey Prescription by Nathaniel Altman; order at (800)246-8648. Kirsten Traynor’s book should be out later this year. Cal Orey will continue her The Healing Power of ….. series with a book on honey due in 2011 (previous best-sellers in the series are on vinegar, olive oil and chocolate).

It’s Always Something

Based on 2009 grasshopper counts, USDA is predicting grasshopper outbreaks in the plains states, esp. eastern Montana and western Nebraska. If the prediction holds, there will be lots of spraying with consequent bee kills; and, hungry grasshoppers can munch on alfalfa, clover and canola flowers. Massive grasshopper numbers could constrict the bee supply for 2011 almonds.

From the Bee Nutrition Guru

The following, by Grahm Kleinschmidt, appeared in the Nov. 19867 Australasian Beekeeper and was reprinted in the April 2010 issue:

“Sugar stimulation in pollen deficient conditions could reduce the life span of actively working bees to 10-14 days whereas ample quality pollen promotes long life – 40-50 days. Protein supplements do not substitute for pollen, they merely develop a generation of weak bees that then need good pollen to strengthen them. This is also the situation with poor quality pollens.”

Have “protein supplements” improved since 1986? I don’t know; I’d like to think so.

Words of Wisdom from Kim Flottum (re Varroa)

“Take care of the bees that take care of the bees that go into winter. That’s July (or earlier) not August, and sure as heck not October.”

With high honey prices, it will be awful tempting to leave those honey supers on past July. The $ gained from more honey could be more than offset by the $ lost from almond pollination.

Watch the Weather When Ordering Queens

You want queens that were mated in good weather. Check weather forecasts at your queen breeder’s location before ordering. Hedge your bets, as many do, by not getting all your queens at one time.

Relax – You Won (Actions Speak Louder than Words)

Some beekeepers carry residual animosity towards Paramount Farming for Paramount Citrus’ attempts to ban bees from mandarin areas. By netting their susceptible plantings, Paramount has essentially conceded to beekeepers. Paramount has incurred the wrath of fellow growers by proving that expensive netting is a viable solution to the mandarin-seed problem.

It would be nice, though, to recapture some of the territory seized by mandarin growers during the 60-day war a few years ago, when beekeepers were relocated away from what many considered their homeland. In recent years, additional mandarin settlements have been planted in the occupied territory, making it unlikely that beekeepers will ever reclaim this prime citrus ground.

Killing a Rumor

Those of you that have visited my office during almond time are aware that it’s often in a state of disarray. I admit that I’m not the best of housekeepers, but someone went too far when he said that the government has declared my office a Superfund site. Be assured that there is absolutely no truth to this scurrilous rumor.

The Genius in All of Us – by Richard Shenk

The above book postulates that every one of us, including Pat Heitkam, has the potential to become a genius – that we are not prisoners of our genes, but that how we interact with our environment determines our genius level. Many examples are cited, including Mozart, Michael Jordon, Ted Williams, YoYo Ma, even Einstein. Working hard, esp. at something you love, puts you on the genius track. You may know genius beekeepers and researchers, and, a good case can be made that honey bees have evolved to a greater genius status than their keepers.

Stay in Touch

Let us know how you and your bees are doing in the coming months. Call anytime to see how things are going here. We’ll keep you posted on what’s happening on the almond pollination front.

Joe Traynor (joemtraynor@gmail.com)