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Beekeeper Newsletter – March 18, 2004

SCIENTIFIC AG CO.
P.O. Box 2144
Bakersfield, CA 93303

Toll-free: (877)356-5846 or 896-5846
Office Located at 1734 D Street, Suite #2
Bakersfield, California
24 Hr. Phone (661) 327-2631

1st Almond Payment
The enclosed check represents the 1st pool payment for almonds. Your colony figures are given at the top of the last page. If you feel any of these figures is incorrect, please let us know. Our next (hopefully final) payment will be in late April or early May.

Bees Released
All bees have been released (except for cherries). On March 22, we will tell the county(s) to remove our locations from their records (for pesticide notification) unless you tell us differently.

2004 Pollination Season
Although intermittent storms interfered with optimum bee activity we believe pollination (at least in the southern San Joquin valley) was good. Sacramento valley weather was not as good and the crop will be off up there as much due to disease (and wet soils that kept ground rigs from applying fungicides) as to pollination. Bee hours, as tracked by a private weather service are given below; bee hours are defined as daylight conditions during bloom where temperatures exceed 55ºF and winds are less than 15 mph, and no rain:

BEE HOURS – 5 YEAR SUMMARY

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004
North of Sacramento

30

25

59

44

21
Madera to Sacramento

34

38

66

54

29
Bakersfield to Madera

36

47

75

58

42
Crop (millions of lbs)

695

825

1073

1015

900 (est.)

There was a spike in almond prices during the inclement bloom weather (which is available to almond buyers around the world). Prices have dropped a bit recently but are still above last year’s prices. The warm, sunny weather we have enjoyed for the past 2 weeks is just as important as bee weather (in my opinion) since it allows the tree to retain the nuts that have been set (nutlet drop is greater when post-bloom weather is inclement).

Most bee colonies are coming out of the orchards in excellent condition, with swarm cells found in a number of colonies. Beekeepers that visited their colonies recently with the intention of providing additional feed were surprised to find that the feed was not needed. Almond flowers secrete the most nectar after they are pollinated (a difficult point to get across to growers) and have put out a lot of nectar during the recent warm spell. Rains that occurred during full bloom, triggered (tricked?) the queens into laying a lot of eggs in anticipation of even more flowers after the rains. The bees were badly fooled as the excellent bloom didn’t last that long but bee populations are very good.

Along with high bee populations, many beekeepers are finding high varroa populations. These varroa populations can take a nasty bite out of profits later in the year (and cause colonies to go into fall and winter in poor shape). Beekeepers are reporting failures with both Apistan (fluvalinate) and Check-Mite (coumaphos) and are looking at alternative treatment methods (see later).

A Bee Shortage?
I inserted the “?” above because I don’t know of any grower that went without bees. There was definitely a lot of last-minute scrambling for bees. Some growers that were used to using 2-1/2 to 3 colonies per acre “settled” for 2 (only one of our growers uses more than 2 cols./acre and we’re trying to talk him out of it; if all almond growers used 2 cols. or less per acre there would be plenty of bees for everyone). Texas beekeepers that hadn’t planned to go to almonds filled some of the last-minute bee demand. Some last-minute bees went for as high as $60/col., some for as low as $43. And yes, some sub-standard colonies were rented for pretty good prices. (not by us; once we set our prices and our standards, we don’t change them).

Maintaining Standards
Colony strength for most of our beekeepers was excellent (and we are well aware of the hard work it took to get such colonies). We had to dock a few loads and 2 of the beekeepers that we docked expressed to us that they could rent all the 4 to 6 frame colonies they had for the same price we are paying.

To those that want to play “the waiting game” next year, Goodbye and Good Luck. I feel that a committment is a committment. We contract with our growers in July each year for 8-frame colonies. Your continuous agreement with us commits you to bring us 8-frame colonies in 2005 unless you cancel your agreement by June 1st. We plan a price increase of several dollars for the 2005 season (we’ll let you know the price as soon as we make a decision). Please give careful thought as to whether you wish to cancel your agreement with us. Based on the stories floating around this year, I can understand why a beekeeper might want to go in a different direction. If so, again, goodbye and good luck, but please let us know by June 1st that you won’t be back.

Many of you have met either Bill Mathewson or Neil Trent, our 2 main quality-control inspectors. Their job is to make sure that both growers and beekeepers get treated fairly. Don’t look at them in a negative light as they can do you a lot of good by acting as your representative with growers. A case in point: 2 years ago, Stanislaus county (which has a reputation for being “tough” on beekeepers) inspected bees on one of our ranches and the report came back at less than 8 frames. Neil had inspected the bees both before and after the county inspection and found them to be in excess of 8 frames. Before the county inspected the bees I asked them if they gave credit for “bees in the field” – bees that could take up anywhere from 2 to 4+ frames if they were in the hive rather than foraging. The county assured me they gave such credit (and were somewhat annoyed at my second query on the subject after I sent the enclosed sheet BEES IN THE FIELD*). After the sub-standard inspection report came back, Neil camped on the doorstep of the Ag Commissioner office in Modesto and when they opened their doors in the morning he sat down with the bee inspection crew and diplomatically asked them if they had accounted for bees in the field. Their answer was “well, uh, no we didn’t”. The county declined my offer to pay for a re-inspection of the hives either before the bees started flying or after they had finished flying for the day and they penciled in another 2+ frames on their report to the grower, which brought the colonies up to 8 frames (they were closer to 10 frames). Neil carried off his discussion with the county people in a courteous and friendly manner (something I would have been incapable of doing). Since Neil’s visit, Stanislaus county no longer does bee colony strength inspections. There may or my not be a cause-effect relationship here, but if there is, the entire beekeeping community is indebted to Neil.

* for those of you that are leaving us, feel free to make copies of this sheet to give to the growers and/or brokers you will be working with.

We don’t take docking a load of bees lightly. We try to inspect each load within a day or 2 of the time it is set down (so we can catch and be ready to make good on any ”surprises”). Before docking any colonies, we re-inspect the bees at least 2 more times during 60º weather when there is some bloom on the trees. If our final inspection shows the bees to be substandard we bring in replacement bees and offer to meet with the beekeeper to look at the bees together. Few beekeepers take us up on this, but in every case where the beekeeper has gone out with us they have agreed with our assessment.

As a representative of your almond pollination bees, if you do a good job for us, we’ll go to bat for you. 2 years ago a beekeeper (not with us) was docked 40% because a grower inspection indicated that 40% of the bees were below standards. The beekeeper had no recourse but to accept the grower’s assessment. There are other similar cases. With rising almond pollination costs, growers are looking more closely at colony strength and for an opportunity to deduct for substandard colonies. We have a standing offer with all our growers to go out and look at the bees with them (and many growers take us up on this). Its time consuming, but it results in happy, satisfied almond customers. (There are few things more satisfying to us than opening a 15-frame bee colony and showing a grower he’s getting more than his money’s worth).

2005 Almond Pollination (and beyond)
The bee supply for the 2005 season won’t be nearly as tight for a number of reasons: growers will pin down their bee supply earlier in the year rather than waiting until December or January; beekeepers that lost bees in the So. Calif. fires will make up their colony numbers; California beekeepers, seeing a ready market for almond pollination will increase their numbers; bearing almond acreage will remain stable.

The bee supply 4 or 5 years down the road will again be tight because a significant acreage of almonds will be planted in the coming years (2005-2007) and when this acreage comes on line (3 or 4 years after planting) total bearing acreage of almonds could exceed 600,000 (its currently holding at 530,000 acres). Many California farmers suffering reduced income from other crops (esp. grapes) will be getting into almonds. There will be a limited acreage planted in 2004 because nurseries are currently out of almond trees (almond trees must be ordered a year in advance; the cut-off date for ordering trees for 2005 is March 31).

Because the U.S. bee supply will likely stay constant (at around 2.2 million colonies) growers will be looking at ways to avoid the coming bee crunch. These ways include using less colonies per acre and developing almond varieties that bloom in March.

Foggy Do
The hot topic in the bee industry is using the Burgess (propane) Fogger to control mites (see the March ABJ for additional information). Norm Cary and Ron Spears have been generous in sharing information and demonstrating the fogger. Some feel that the Burgess Fogger (cost, $62.95) will become: a standard piece of beekeeping equipment, just like the smoker and hive tool. The Fogger is available at petsupplies4less.com (877)813-7387 (they are currently on back order but some beekeepers have picked one up at a local hardware or pet supply store).

The fogger turns any liquid into an extremely fine mist (fog). The ABJ study used Food Grade Mineral Oil (and Thymol); a number of beekeepers are using Taktic (amitraz). It is illegal to use a number of materials in the fogger.

Fog treatments must be repeated every 7 to 10 days. Material cost is less than 10¢/hive; 1 beekeeper treated 1200 hives in 14 hours. Microscopic fog particles can easliy get into lungs therefore a respirator (cost $70+) is necessary when fogging (dust filters don’t work) esp. when using carcinogenic materials.

NEWS BULLETIN! – 2014
June – 2014 – A rash of deaths among beekeepers has been traced back to the introduction of fogging treatments (for mite control) around 10 years ago. The National Institute of Health found a direct correlation between beekeeper mortality and their length of exposure to fogged chemicals. Employees of beekeeping operations have been similarly affected and a law firm has already brought multi-million $ suits against several large bee operations, forcing at least one out of business. If you think you have been affected by chemical fog, call lawyers at 1-800-STING EM. The NIH is also investigating whether bee smokers represent a health hazard.

Queen Cells
Steve and Josie Grigg, Porterville (559) 781-8384 will again be selling queen cells ($2 each) until around April 10th. Cells are made from selected stock – the strongest almond colonies from a number of beekeepers. Cells are of no use in So. California (because of AHB drones) but So Calif. beekeepers can introduce cells up here to mate with area drones. There are a number of good beekeepers that store colonies east of Delano (near Hwy 65); these colonies provide a diverse gene pool. These beekeepers considered charging a toll for entry into their “select drone area” (similar to a stud fee for a prized stallion) but dropped the idea upon advice from their lawyer. If any So. Calif. beekeepers wish to use these areas, I can probably get you temporary locations (provided you go home before the start of the citrus flow here, around April 10).

Refresher Courses
“Infestation by tracheal mites dramatically compounds the impact of Varroa”
Mark Winston, Bee Culture, December 2002, p.22*

“. . the hypopharyngeal glands of the worker bees cannot produce larval food if bees are fed sugar syrup alone for prolanged periods of time.”
C. Peng, et al., J. Econ. Entom. 77:632-636 (1984)

*don’t neglect tracheal mites “the silent killer”. Spring is the best time to treat for tracheal. Beekeepers have had good luck following the guidelines on our 1-sheet TRACHEAL MITES and MAKING MENTHOL WORK – Spring 1996. (copy sent on request).

October – The Critical Month
The health of a colony in October is directly related to the strength of the colony in almonds. Care and feeding of your colonies in October (even if it means postponing that hunting trip) can pay big dividends in January.

Collecting Pollen
Beekeeper Rex Christensen has purchased pollen traps to collect pollen this spring and summer that will be fed back to colonies in October. (pollen used for feed should be sterilized to prevent the spread of chalk brood and AFB).

Runny Honey (channeling Andy Rooney)
Didja ever notice that some honey is thicker than other honey? – that with some honey its difficult to carry a spoonful from the jar to the coffee cup without spilling some, while the thickness of other honey allows the entire contents of the spoon to be deposited in the cup? I noticed the difference last month when I switched from honey straight from the extractor to honey from a commercial packer. The commercial honey ran all over the place (I won’t name the brand – I don’t want to get Sued) In contrast, raw honey is often difficult to squeeze out of honey bears (or cylinders) while commercial honey flows freely.

I go through 12 oz of honey a week just for my morning tea and now use only commercial honey from squeeze-cylinders for my tea and raw honey for my toast. Honey on breakfast toast is a real treat, but one that can’t be enjoyed with runny honey. The % moisture in honey from most western states is 13 to 15% while commercial honey has a moisture content of around 18%. Wouldn’t consumers pay more for 14% moisture honey? – I know I would. And shouldn’t 14% moisture honey never be used in squeeze containers?

Honey Fuels Swimmers
In January I gave the Cal State University, Bakersfield, swim team 25 cases of 12 oz. honey cylinders (from Sioux Bee) most of which they
used during last week’s Division II NCAA Championship Meet (Buffalo, NY). CSUB overpowered the other teams to easily win the championship and set an amazing total of 54 lifetime-best performances during the 4-day meet. Coach Bob Steele feels that honey contributed to his team’s outstanding performance (but he doesn’t want the word to get out to the competition).

Citrus-Mandarin-Bee Meeting
The Kern County Ag Extension (farm advisor) office has scheduled a citrus meeting from 1 to 4:15 PM, Wednesday, March 31st at the farm advisor office located at 1031 S. Mt. Vernon Ave., Bakersfield; office is located at the far south end of Mt. Vernon; take Mt. Vernon exit off Hwy 58, east, go south about 1/2 mile and the office is the last building on the west side of the road (where Mt. Vernon dead-ends).

The first part of the meeting deals with general cultural practices for citrus. The 2 final presentations (scheduled for 3:20 and 3:40 PM) will deal with the seediness problem on Mandarins and discuss whether bees are compatible with mandarin plantings. For further information on the meeting, call the farm advisor’s office at (661) 868-6200.

Thanks
The life of a beekeeper is tough nowadays – tougher than its ever been. Your efforts for us are greatly appreciated and I hope to continue our relationship.