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Beekeeper Newsletter – March, 2008

2008 Season
Perfect pollination weather and, so far, perfect post-bloom weather is giving another record almond crop. Almond prices have dropped 10 to 20 cents/lb as a result. Growers saved money on fungicide applications, some putting on only one, many none. In wet years, as many as 5 applications are used at a cost of $15-$20/acre each.

With only 2 exceptions, all bees delivered to us met or exceeded our 8-frame standard. Statewide, there were many sub-par colonies as there are every year. More beekeepers were penalized for these sub-standard colonies than in the past as more growers hired independent inspectors to check hives.

CCD and the Varroa-Virus Complex
CCD reared its ugly head again this year, causing significant winter dwindling and some colony collapse in January-February. A current theory making the rounds, and gaining acceptance is that a virus or a combination of viruses (IAPV< SWV< KBV< ABPV; take your pick) is the culprit. The virus (or viruses) is rapidly spread by varroa in the summer and by the time the fall varroa treatment is made, the virus is already well established. The bees still look great going into the fall, but clusters dwindle in the winter and finally collapse to a handful of bees and a queen in January.

Pertinent quotes:

“Although large numbers of mites are required to produce an initial virus infection, once established it can apparently persist in the absence of the mite.

When injected into healthy bees in the lab, ABPV takes 5 to 7 days to kill bees, whilst KBV takes only 2 or 3 ………………….. Infestation by Varroa and subsequent infection by ABPV and KBV can lead to many of the symptoms associated with CCD, namely to spectacular and rapid loss of strong colonies, leaving empty hives with jut the queen and a few workers remaining.” From January 2008 Bee Culture, p. 50.

“As few as 2000-3000 mites in autumn could kill a colony” from J. of Applied Ecology, 2001, Vol. 18, pp 1082-1093.

It is noteworthy that the above citations are from UK not US workers and that the last one is from 2001.

All this points towards keeping varroa levels down in the summer. Don’t depend on the fall varroa treatment to solve CCD – the horse may have already left the barn.

The Genetic Solution
Here’s an interesting quote:

“When generations of closely related animals mate, their offspring lack the genetic variability that helps a species evolve disease resistance or adapt to a changing environment” from Gray wolves [in Yellowstone] may face the problem of inbreeding. October 1, 2007 High Country News.

Some feel that inbreeding in honey bees is a major reason for today’s problems. Most agree that the ultimate solution to bee problems is mite and virus resistant bees. Plant and animal breeders introduce resistant stock by carefully controlling both the male gene donor (pollen, in the case of plants, semen in the case of animals) and the female genetic donor (the queen, in the case of honey bees). Mite-resistant bees won’t become a reality until every outfit out there – including yours – is producing drones with mite-resistant genes.

Here’s Malcolm Sanford:

“What other plant or animal breeder has to make an attempt at genetic improvement with only control over ½ of the genetic equation?” January 2008 Bee Culture, p. 17-18.

Artificially inseminated queens give control over genetic contributions from both mother and father, but AI queens are expensive.

Sanford continues:

“The biggest question facing the industry then is not whether superior stock can be produced, but whether or not beekeepers will continue down the same road they have in the past resulting in cheap queens that produce unproductive and disease-susceptible colonies. It seems abundantly clear that ‘you get what you pay for,’ and beekeepers will have to say goodbye to inexpensive queen bees in the future if they wish to be successful in managing healthy, productive colonies of honey bees.”

I like that quote!! Consider enlarging it, framing it, and putting it on the wall in your office (or the cupboard in your kitchen).

Few beekeepers would concede that today’s open-mated queens are “cheap”. Open-mated queens will only become cheap (even at today’s prices) when all the papa bees out there carry mite and virus resistant genes.

A few queen breeders operate in isolated areas and thus have the potential to greatly increase the numbers of drones with “good” genes. Ask your queen supplier how much genetic control he has over his drone congregation areas, and what he is doing to improve the gene pool in those areas.

And consider spending big bucks for AI queens, just as almond growers are spending big bucks for quality bee colonies. O.K., probably too costly on a large scale for any individual beekeeper. Maybe an industry-wide effort to improve the genetic pool in drone congregation areas in queen-breeding areas, e.g., the Sacramento Valley.

Lay off the High-Fructose Corn Syrup
From an American Chemical Society presentation reported in the October 2007 California Farmer magazine:

“Researchers say soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to diabetes, particularly in children. Drinks containing the syrup have reactive compounds shown to trigger cell and tissue damage.”

Insight at the In Site
Randy Oliver has put most of his great ABJ articles on www.scientificbeekeeping.com
Check it out.

Project APISm
Check out www.ProjectApism.org for the latest bee news and links.

Name that Kid (or Grandkid)
From Francis Ratnieks (formerly at UCR, now in UK):

Deborah and Melissa both mean bee in Hebrew and Greek.

Good People
My job allows me to observe both successful farming operations and successful beekeeping ventures, many of them large-scale operations. When I ask the owners of these large operations what the key is, the answer is always the same, and often expressed in the same two words: good people.

Our operation is no different and any success I have enjoyed is due to our good people, primarily our beekeepers (you) and our main field crew, Bill Mathewson and Neil Trent. Bill and Neil are often called “inspectors” but they are much more than that; they are your liaison to growers and when they show your bees to growers they emphasize the time and effort you have put in to meet our quality standards.

I hope I have been able to convey the respect and appreciation I have for the efforts you have put in to supply us with a quality product. Without these efforts, we would have no business.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.