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Beekeeper Newsletter – March 6, 2002

Bee Meeting, March 13
See accompanying flyer for details.

Recap of 2002 Almond Pollination
In early January there were ample bee numbers to cover California’s almond acreage. In late January, this bee supply shrunk as beekeepers discovered significant deterioration in colony strength. Many of these sub-standard colonies were delivered to almond orchards – most stayed in the orchards, some were removed at the request of the grower (some growers saying, in effect “get out, and don’t come back”).

Colony decline in January has occurred in past years (and will occur again) but was especially prevalent this year (probably aggravated by a prolonged cold spell in January). This decline can be attributed to a number of factors, the main ones being nutrition (“as the bee colony enters the fall, so then, shall it be in February”), old queens, tracheal mites and nosema.

These latter 2 maladies are discussed below.

The Silent Killers – Tracheal and Nosema
What you can’t see will hurt you. Beekeepers have a pretty good (although temporary) handle on varroa mites, in good part because varroa are visible to the naked eye. Neither tracheal nor nosema can be seen and as a result these silent killers are often overlooked; both can cause significant damage, particularly during the months of December and January.

Bee colony decline in December and January hurts the almond grower far more than the beekeeper. As colony populations decline in December-January, colonies consume far less honey (considered beneficial from a beekeeping standpoint). Colonies rebound as almond pollen enters the hive in February but the almond grower suffers from reduced bee populations at a critical time (for him).

As bees go to another flower source after almonds, colony strength increases dramatically and by May the colonies are healthy and prosperous and beekeepers forget about January problems.

The silent killers, tracheal and nosema, lie dormant (or at low populations) waiting to repeat their mischief again in December.

Many beekeepers have seen this cycle over the years and have learned to live with it – the severity of the damage this year should serve as a wake-up call to some: solve your December-January decline problems or get out of the almond pollination business.

We sent a number of bee samples up to Jan Dormeier (509) 639-2577 in Washington this year for tracheal and nosema analysis. Out of 25 samples sent, 6 had tracheal infestations greater than 14%; 5 had nosema spore counts in excess of 1 million spores per bee (considered the treatment level) and 3 had spore counts between 400,000 and 1 million.

We purposely selected weaker colonies for these tests (most colonies had excellent populations). Most of the affected colonies were from Southern California, an area supposedly not friendly to tracheal or nosema. These samples were taken in February; if they had been taken in early January, both the tracheal and nosema counts could well have been higher (most of the severely affected bees likely died before samples were taken).

Regarding nosema, dead bees in feeders (or in outdoor water-barrels) serve as a significant breeding ground for nosema spores.

Glen Stanley (retired Iowa Apiary Inspector) feels there is a connection between tracheal, nosema and colony decline:

It has been found that bee colonies that have a high infection of Nosema Disease and also are infected with the tracheal mite will dwindle rapidly and be weakened within days to the point of extinction.

Those who have had colonies with bad cases of the tracheal mite should, as a first line of defense, make sure that no nosema disease is present.

FREE YOUR BEES OF NOSEMA with Fumidil-B and chances are that the tracheal mite will do very little damage.

American Bee Journal
January 1995, pp. 42,43

Fumidil-B is expensive and this has likely discouraged beekeepers from using it. Losing income from almond pollination could be even more expensive. Several of our beekeepers that treated with Fumadil-B in recent years are convinced it more than pays its way.

Maybe You Should Get One
Mike Wells has one and consistently has superior bees for almonds. Bruce Wilmer is getting one and figures it will provide considerable savings by allowing him to treat only when necessary. Steve Grigg is buying one for Josie as a Birthday present. After weeks of lengthy and sometimes contentious negotiations, Reuben Hofshi is finalizing arrangements to purchase two of them.

The item these “ahead of the curve” beekeepers are getting: microscopes (check our next newsletter on a source for 2nd hand ones).

As one noted bee expert put it: “In the 21st century, a microscope will be just as necessary a piece of equipment for beekeepers as a hive tool. I don’t see how today’s beekeeper can survive without one.”

Many people suffer from “microscope phobia”; with practice and patience, this affliction can be overcome. Patience and a good pair of eyes are the main prerequisites; those that graft queen cells should have no problem with microscopes.

Both tracheal and nosema require microscopes for detection (nosema requires a higher-powered scope than tracheal). Jan Dormeier in WA is the only commercial tracheal-nosema analyzer I know of, but in lieu of purchasing a scope, it is possible that beekeepers in a geographic area could set up someone in the tracheal-nosema detection business.

Be prepared, when we ask you next December: “What are your tracheal and nosema counts?”

It ain’t that bad (for most)
The preceding ranting could lead some to believe that we had severe problems this year. Most of you that were having problems notified us far enough in advance that we could line up replacement bees, and for this we thank you. The overall quality of the bees you delivered to almond orchards this year was excellent. I’m aware of the problems facing you and your efforts at providing strong colonies for almond growers are greatly appreciated.

Bee Removal
Most bees will be released next week. Call to see if yours are.

- Joe Traynor

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