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Beekeeper Newsletter – March 15, 2010

2010 Season

In spite of intermittent rains and significantly less bee hours than last year, our beekeepers are reporting record amounts of almond pollen in their hives. Two possible explanations:

  1. More flowers this year
  2. Fewer foragers from weaker colonies in surrounding orchards allowed your bees to steal pollen from these orchards.

Almond set appears excellent. A frost on March 10 did not cause significant damage as temperatures held at around 32 degrees in most areas; last year a March 10 frost hit 26 degrees resulting in significant damage in some orchards. Pollinated nuts will start dropping for several weeks; we need warm, sunny days to retain as many nuts as possible and we won’t be out of the frost woods for another month.

The season started with almond growers sitting in the driver’s seat, dictating pollination prices and ended with a switch of seats as beekeepers took over the steering wheel. As their positions changed it was interesting to observe the demeanor of the passengers in the pollination vehicle change, with the resultant attitude changes reflecting the changes in positions.

Two hobby beekeepers supplied about 20 colonies each to us and got paid for less than half of them after our inspection. These two had supplied us with excellent bees in 2009; hobby beekeepers are like the girl in the poem: their bees can be very, very good, or horrid. This year they were horrid (our two other hobby beekeepers brought us good bees). One commercial beekeeper that delivered good bees last year was cut down after he ran a load of sub-standard bees into one of our orchards; he thought he could get away with it (no way, Jose). With these exceptions, I was very happy with the quality of bees you delivered to our growers.

We turned down all late-season requests for bees except for one former grower- client whom we knew and respected, for whom we were able to scrape up 160 8-frame colonies. Overall, we rented just under 30,000 colonies, about 5,000 less than in 2009.

What CCD?

Yes, CCD struck again this year, but you’d never know it by the bees (your bees) that wound up in our grower’s orchards. Several U.S. bee scientists toured California’s almond country in February, trying to get a handle on CCD and we had to apologize for not being able to show them any collapsing colonies in our clients’ orchards. We did offer some CCD-free colonies for them to sample and compare with their CCD samples.

I realize that many or most of you had to do considerable culling to come up with almond bees that met our standards and we greatly appreciate your efforts in this regard. Some stockpile yards represented bee hive graveyards (except for those beekeepers delivered entire yards to unsuspecting growers). There were a number of such graveyards scattered throughout California in February. Grave-robbers were able to rent some of these colonies at premium prices to desperate growers when bloom started.

2011 Pollination Season

Our current group of almond grower clients will, I believe, stick with us regardless of price. The growers that dropped us this year, faced with low 2009 almond prices, were trying to get the cheapest deal possible for bees and it wasn’t that difficult to find bees cheaper than ours. Many, maybe all of these growers, likely regret leaving us after comparing the bee activity of their 2010 bees with the bees they got from us in 2009. At this time we plan on keeping 2011 prices the same as this year and let everyone else catch up with us. We could likely increase prices with no loss in volume, but I have tried, not always successfully, to stick to the motto, just because you can, don’t. (Apologies to those that detected a whiff of sanctimony in the preceding sentence; a recurring tic I have found difficult to purge).

Almond growers, and beekeepers, base most pricing decisions on what happened the previous year. There were ample bees for 2009 almonds and significant price-cutting by beekeepers who, for a variety of reasons, didn’t have an almond home.

Contributing to the bee shortage this year was the fact that some beekeepers decided not to come back at the prices they were being offered. There were, however, ample colonies committed to almonds in January, but this supply dwindled sharply due to several factors: a poor 2009 honey crop (esp. in North Dakota) left many colonies in poor nutritional shape and unable to fend off CCD. Extreme cold spells in Florida, Texas and other southern states took a toll. This combination is unlikely to occur again, and , in my opinion, the supply of 2011 almond bees will be ample.

Beekeepers that played the waiting game this year were rewarded with good prices for sub-standard colonies. Based on what happened this year, we may see more beekeepers playing the waiting game in 2011. These beekeepers may wind up being rudely ejected from the driver’s seat they temporarily occupied this year.

Too many growers and too many beekeepers wait too long to finalize almond pollination arrangements. To get 8+ frame colonies for almonds requires budgeting and implementing a supplemental feeding program that starts in August or September. Waiting past September to finalize almond commitments is foolhardy for both beekeepers and growers.

Project ApisM

If you haven’t already done so, check out the Project ApisM website at www.projectapism.org There’s lots of good stuff posted there with an amazing number of links to other good stuff. One could easily spend a day looking at all this stuff (consider spending a rainy day doing so).

Several items on the site or worth your immediate attention: click on the almond to get the latest from Dan Cummings on almond prices and bee status (this nook is known to some as The Cummings Report). Click on NEWS to get timely information from two great friends of beekeepers, Eric Mussen and Christi Heintz. Eric’s Newsletter From the UC Apiaries can be accessed at the News section. When you get to Eric’s Newsletters, click on the Jan-Feb 2010 Newsletter and you will get several rewards: first, you will be told how to sign up for electronic delivery of the Newsletter (and why haven’t you done this already?). Eric will also give you a recap of the 2010 almond pollination season and, most importantly, you will find the piece How Much Does it Cost to Keep Commercial Honey Bee Colonies Going in California? (answer: over $200/colony if you want 8+ frame almond bees). We plan to print out this sheet and send it to all our growers. Consider doing the same for your growers (that are not with us). This is a classic and long-needed piece that will stay current for at least a year, maybe more.

Also, on the NEWS section of the Pam site, check out the BEE BOX which takes you to Christi Heintz’ bi-monthly columns in Almond Facts, the Blue Diamond publication that goes to all Blue Diamond growers and to many other growers. Especially, check out Christi’s Nov-Dec 2009 Bee Box, which on one page, tells almond growers all they need to know about getting good almond bees. At the January American Honey Producers Association meeting in Sacramento, Christi was given a plaque reading Friend of the Industry for Years of Dedication and Service to Beekeeping and Pollination, a well-deserved honor.

Christi’s regular Bee Box columns serve to convey to almond growers what it takes to provide strong bee colonies for almonds. Christi’s long and distinguished career with the Almond Board and her current position as Executive Director of Pam, gives her instant credibility with almond growers, far more than anything coming from beekeepers (or bee brokers).

Eric Mussen has always had the beekeeper’s back. The bee industry now has two powerful additional allies, Dan Cummings and Christi Heintz. Input (and output) from these two stalwarts will be beneficial to all beekeepers in the coming years and for years to come.

Donation to Pam

We will again donate $2/colony, $1 from beekeepers and $1 from growers to Pam, as will other beekeepers and growers, with the donations going to fund much-needed honey bee research.

Paramount Farming will match any beekeeper donation to Pam. Some of you rent bees to Paramount so take advantage of this generous offer — and spread the word to other Paramount beekeepers.

Those beekeepers that were low-balled by almond growers this pollination season should not be expected to contribute to Pam, but should ask these low-ball growers (Sandridge and Tony Campos are two) to donate $3 to $5 to Pam.

Truth or Fiction?

There is a rumor going around that, based on the bee situation this year, Paramount Farming will make a substantial price increase for 2011 almond bees, and that from their long list of beekeepers, they will invite back only those that have contributed to Pam. I have found nobody that can confirm this rumor.

Definitely Fiction

There is another rumor that Paramount beekeepers are forming a cartel that will dictate 2011 almond pollination prices to Paramount on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, rather than accept, as they have in the past, Paramount’s take-it-or-leave-it offers. There is definitely no truth to this rumor as this will never happen in 2011 or in our lifetimes.

Mussen Garners (another) Award

Eric Mussen recently won the prestigious statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator Award. Let’s hope Eric stays with us many more years.

Formic is Hot when it’s Hot

Frank Eischen was requested by the manufacturer to test their new formic acid strips (for varroa control) under hot-weather conditions. The result: significant bee and queen losses.

Let’s Hope the CCD Compensation Committee Doesn’t Read This

“When there are no factors such as climate, inadequate nutrition, inadequate control of V. destructor or unsuitable management, causing immunosuppression in the bees, colonies do not collapse.”

Journal of Apicultural Research, Volume 4, No. 1, p. 86, 2008

Frank’s Working on It

Frank Eischen is testing a compound that looks very good for varroa control. No more can be said until it is registered and released (if it is registered and released).

Back to Basics

We all know, but sometimes forget, that populous bee colonies require good ventilation. Now that almond growers are demanding populous bee colonies, California beekeepers that winter bees in the cold, foggy Central Valley should consider drilling holes in the upper hive body for ventilation, as beekeepers in the Northern tier of states do. See pages 645-646 in the Beekeeping Bible The Hive and the Honey Bee (1992 Edition) for more information on the importance of ventilation during cold weather.

The extreme cold spell that hit southern states this past winter could have adversely affected colonies without upper vent holes. A beekeeper recently painted the inside of his hive lids and wishes he hadn’t: the unpainted wood previously absorbed condensation moisture; now, water drips down from the painted lid, freezes during cold nights and the resultant ice adversely affects the colony cluster.

Thanks for Your Efforts

You came through like champs this year, with overall great-looking bees. Our growers appreciated it.

Special thanks to Bill Mathewson and Neil Trent who took growers out to show them your bees. Bill and Neil both have great people skills and are a tremendous asset to both you and me.

JOE TRAYNOR