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Beekeeper Newsletter – April 29, 2002

2002 & 2003 Season
The 2002 almond crop could (again) be a record one in spite of some frost damage in Northern California. Almond prices are likely to remain depressed due to the large crop. The cherry crop is also good (early cherries bloom with almonds) and is nearing harvest in our area. As this is being written (4/26) rains have started; if rains continue, cherries can incur cracking damage.

We plan on making a modest price increase for the 2003 almond pollination season (we will know our ’03 price in July). Your current agreement with us remains in effect for 2003 unless cancelled by June 1st. We hope to continue to work with you next year, but if you wish to cancel, please let us know by June 1.

Late-season bee losses in almonds
Every year we have some almond bees that suffer spray damage and/or decline at the tail-end of almond bloom. In many cases, these losses occur after the bees are released, and almost all occur after pollination is over (after there is no more pollen in the orchard). Because most growers apply a petal-fall spray, fungicides are often blamed for such late-season losses (with the combination of good weather + low almond prices this year, many growers skipped the petal-fall fungicide spray).

In my opinion, the reason for late-season bee losses are twofold:
1. insecticide sprays on crops in the area (these sprays can be well over a mile from the bees; over 2 miles, if they are on an attractive crop)
2. Starvation conditions at the end of bloom. As bees go from feast to famine, they expel drones and pull brood. Dead drones near the hive entrance are a tip-off.

Traynor goofs (again)
Shortly after the first bees (288 colonies) were delivered to an orchard that had been dormant sprayed (with Supracide) 3 days earlier, the bees started dying and continued to die for a couple of days. In previous years, we’ve had no problems placing bees 2 days after Supracide but this year conditions were such that the bees suffered. It was a good learning experience for me (and an expensive one – I paid for 100 additional make-up colonies).

Small cells – The idea that won’t die
Ed and Dee Lusby (Tucson, AZ) have pushed small-cell beekeeping for years and have slowly gathered a following. A foreign manufacturer will be making small-cell foundation and Dadants will be selling small-cell foundation this year.

Small cells are 4.9 mm diameter vs. the standard 5.2 to 5.5 mm. Small cells give shorter bee development time, thus imparting some varroa resistance. The Lusbys haven’t used mite-control chemicals for years. See http://www.beesource.com/pov/lusby/index.htm for more information. And look for articles on the subject in upcoming issues of Bee Culture and the American Bee Journal.

Euc-Nosema connection?
Frank Eischen relayed some 1979 information from the S. African (or Australian) researcher Kleinschmidt: “Heavy Nosema infestations without physical symptoms occur if hives are managed on cool-cold flows. This appears to further reduce longevity and is disastrous if in association with nutritional decrease of longevity.” Eucalyptus honey is a “cool-cold flow”. This could explain high nosema counts in “warm” areas like San Diego county.

Mandarin Madness
Mandarin oranges command a premium price (at least at present) in the citrus market and there have been a number of recent plantings in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. Most mandarin varieties need bees to set a maximum crop, but most will also set a good crop without pollination (by bees).

Fruits that set without pollination are called “parthenocarpic” fruit; parthenocarpic fruit have no seeds. Mandarins are sold as “seedless” if they have less than about 3 seeds per fruit and “seedless” Mandarins command a premium price in the market. If the seed count goes above 3/fruit, the fruit is down-graded and the grower gets less money. As a result, most Mandarin growers don’t want bees near their groves.

One large Mandarin grower in southwest Kern county sent a letter to his neighbors requesting that they not allow bees to be placed within 2 miles of his Mandarins. Mandarins only set seed if they receive pollen from another variety (esp. Valencia). U.C. recommends planting a buffer of 4 rows (or trees) of Navel oranges (Navels produce no pollen) around a Mandarin planting. This should reduce or eliminate the possibility of “contamination” with foreign pollen.

Great News!! (at least for us)
Our staple gun was found! By Jim Rodenberg and his crew. Jim refused to accept our reward (after learning what it would be – something about “dignity”).

Marketing 101 (short course)
Beekeepers shake their heads when strolling the aisles of a supermarket and seeing the small amount of shelf space devoted to honey. A major reason (as Sioux Bee has told its members over the years) is “slotting fees”. In a cover story on Kraft Foods, the April 15 issue of Forbes discusses the subject:

For a new product the standard price of admission to the shelves is a slotting fee – up to $25,000 per item for a regional cluster of stores. (A California food producer says he met with a buyer at a chain grocer who demanded $250,000 for ten stores and wouldn’t even take a meeting until he received a $100,000 check.)

Obviously, a giant retailer can pummel a tiny supplier with greater impunity than it can a big one. “Wal-Mart isn’t able to put the squeeze on suppliers who are dominant in their market,” says University of North Carolina professor Paul Bloom.

Retailers have another way to extract money from food manufacturers: Make them pay for the advertising circulars that jam your Sunday paper… – up to $3000 for a one-inch square color photo.

Over the years we have given Sioux Bee BBQ sauce to clients who then complain they can’t find it in stores. The reason? “Slotting fees”. One answer: a buyout, by Kraft, of Honey (fill in the blank) which would result in a dramatic increase in shelf space for honey -and greater honey sales. In the category of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” a large food company in the honey business could also wind up dictating price to beekeepers (just as some large almond growers dictate pollination rental fees to beekeepers)

How about all U.S. beekeepers selling under one honey label, with entire shelves devoted to different kinds of U.S. honey? Nah, it would never work.

Upon Further Review
I’ll take back that statement in our March 6 newsletter (“Be prepared when we ask you next December: ‘What are your tracheal and nosema counts?”) for a couple of reasons: first, no one likes to be told how to run his business; second, sampling methods can give widely varying results. Also, the 2 beekeepers that supplied us the best bees this year didn’t sample. The best incentive to taking measures (including testing) to reduce tracheal-nosema damage is knowing substandard colonies won’t be paid for in almonds.

Late fall to early spring is the best time to sample for tracheal-nosema (populations are low at other times but build when bees are confined). Eric Mussen recommends sampling older bees at hive entrances, a few from a number of colonies with emphasis on weaker colonies. Put the bees (about 100) in a plastic bottle, and add drug-store alcohol (we use Priority Mail cartons for shipping; free from Post Office).

We’ll pick up the tab for 1 free analysis (worth $35) from Jan Dormaier (see enclosed coupon).

Thanks!
We would have no business without your efforts.

- Joe Traynor

SCIENTIFIC AG CO.
OFFICE: 1734 D STREET, SUITE #2
MAILING: P.0. BOX 2144
BAKERSFIELD, CA 93303
(661) 327-2631