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Beekeeper Newsletter – March 22, 2007

2007 Season
A crazy season. We appreciate those of you telling us ahead time that your bees wouldn’t make grade. This allowed us to find good makeup bees and there were plenty around in late January right up to bloomtime. During January-February we got over 50 calls from beekeepers wanting to place bees and only two grower calls. The supply of good bees dried up when bloom started and there were a few growers (not ours) that got stuck with poor colonies, some of them rented as “field-run” bees. Growers everywhere are paying more attention to colony strength and the days of renting “field-run” bees are probably over.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)
A multi-million dollar gift was bestowed on the US bee industry this past winter in the form of publicity on CCD. If the bee industry hired a public relations firm to convince almond growers, and others, of the problems beekeepers are facing it would have cost millions.

I’m sure every beekeeper in the United States has been asked about collapsing colonies. A major benefit from all the CCD hullabaloo is that it gives beekeepers with sub-standard almond bees a tailor-made excuse: Its not me, its CCD.

Dave Hackenberg, probably the most respected US beekeeper east of the Mississippi, was the first (to my knowledge) to call attention to collapsing colonies. When Dave talks, people listen and Dave was vocal in his comments that his collapsing problem on thousands of colonies was new and strange. Dave caught the ear of bee researchers at Penn State, and ultimately the media, with one story following another, many carried nationwide (look for a segment on the PBS New Hour later this week or next). Beekeepers throughout the US owe Dave big-time for bringing this story to light.

Many beekeepers believe CCD was triggered by last year’s drought conditions in many US bee areas (see Lyle Johnston’s comments following). In Mr. Hackenberg’s case, many of his late-summer locations are surrounded by corn – not a good pollen source to go into winter with – however this was the first year that Dave experienced large-scale colony collapse.

Penn State has isolated a toxin-producing fungus from some of Dave’s colonies but it is unclear whether this is a significant find. A new, virulent strain of Nosema has been proposed to cause CCD but with no supporting evidence to date. The CCD task force should be issuing a report soon on their findings. They would be very interested in your input: see www.beesurvey.com

Lyle’s Predictions
Last August, Lyle Johnston predicted unprecedented 2007 bee losses due to unprecedented drought conditions. Here’s Lyle: “I would venture to say that 60% of the bees that pollinate almonds spend the summer in the mid-west states. The devastating drought throughout most of the mid-west will cause severe stress on hives going into the fall. This will lead to very high winter losses.” (American Honey Producers Magazine, Fall 2006).

For a $100 donation to Pam, Lyle will e-mail you his August prediction on 2007-8 winter losses. For an additional $100, Lyle will predict the winner + point total of the 2008 Super Bowl.

CCCD
California beekeepers have experienced CCCD (citrus colony collapse disorder) for many years. Colonies make a pile of citrus honey, use up their almond pollen, plug out the brood nest then take a nose-dive in June. Before mites, beekeepers would either slip-super or pull frames from the brood chamber to counteract CCCD. With fear of sending chemically contaminated honey to packers, these practices have stopped (or been made much more difficult) and CCCD has increased.

Corn Syrup (vs. Sucrose)
The Pam group (see p.63 of March Bee Culture) is devoting a significant sum to study corn syrup. Samples from various points along the distribution line will be analyzed for possible harmful substances. Most beekeepers know that sucrose is a superior feed to corn syrup but the higher cost of sucrose has kept them from switching. With rising prices for corn syrup and with almond growers requesting strong colonies we will see more beekeepers switching to sucrose. Some northern California queen breeders have already made the switch and they report larger, healthier-looking queen cells. I ran this by Frank Eischen and he responded (paraphrasing) “Southern queen breeders have known this for years and most feed only sucrose.”

Corn, Corn Everywhere
The ethanol craze has triggered a corn-planting frenzy in the US. Look for increased corn acreage in your area. A number of scientists have pointed out that converting corn to ethanol makes no sense – that the energy spent in fertilizers, pesticides etc. makes it a break-even proposition (energy-wise) at best. Corn in your area could mean bee problems since corn pollen is not a nutritious pollen for bees. Corn, and corn pollen, can also contain toxic materials (see below).

Ids and Oids (and Paranoids)
Imidicloprids and nicotinoids – get used to them as you’ll be living with them, if you’re not already. They are pesticides that are used on a wide variety of crops and carry a wide variety of trade names: Nuprid, Confidor, Merit, Admire, Legend, Provado, Encore, Gaucho, Premise, Actara, Platinum, Helix, Cruiser, Titan, Adage, Meridian, Centric, Flagship, Pristine, Tristar, Assail, Adjust, Poncho, Clutch, Belay, Arean, Calypso, Dinotefuran and Intruder.

These pesticides can be applied in 3 ways: directly, soil application or seed treatment. In the latter two, the material is carried into the plant. These materials have been found in nectar, but at concentrations below that felt to be harmful to bees. They may also find their way into pollen.

A number of respected beekeepers (including Dave Mendes, Lance Sundberg and Jeff Anderson) strongly feel that Ids and Oids are contributing to CCD. If you believe that Ids and Oids are causing problems, why are you feeding corn syrup?

Queen Age
Respected Aussie researcher John Rhodes showed that 21-day-old queens survived much better than 14-day-old queens (2004 Apidologie, pp 383-388; copy supplied on request). Aussie beekeepers are demanding 21-day-old queens from suppliers.

Wayne Morris
The bee industry suffered a major loss when Wayne Morris drowned while on a Holiday vacation. Wayne was a great beekeeper and a great person.

Good Golly, I Miss Molly
After battling breast cancer and writing right up to the end, Molly Ivins passed away recently. Molly was a fearless commentator on the political scene, always speaking truth to power, never vicious or vindictive but always making her points with good, and often outrageous humor – a latter-day Mark Twain. Had Molly been involved with bees, she would have had fun skewering the bullying tactics of Paramount Citrus and their Limousine Liberal owners, the Resnicks.

Joe Traynor, Mgr