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Beekeeper Newsletter – November 25, 2002

THE NEW THING

Sometimes a change comes along that is immediately recognized as an innovation that will change an industry – the moveable frame might be an example in the bee industry. Sometimes the change is so gradual that it is imperceptible until one day, or one year, you suddenly realize that things are different – that they will never be the same. (the change from boom trucks to forklifts could be an example).

I recently became aware of one of these gradual changes – a change that affects my business and yours: in recent years, beekeepers have steadily improved the product they are delivering to almond growers (“beekeepers” here, refers to beekeepers that don’t bring bees through us; our product – your bees – has maintained a consistently high level over the years, however we handle only a very small percentage of the total almond acreage).

Some of you have peeked in other beekeepers’ almond colonies over the years and have asked me ”How can any almond grower accept such ‘junk’?” [2, 3 or 4 frame colonies]. They can, and have, but the number of “junk” colonies has steadily decreased over the years. There will always be some out there, but not nearly as many as in past years.

The main reason for the improvement in overall colony strength is rising almond pollination prices. As bee rentals become an increased part of the budget, almond growers are paying closer attention to the product they are getting and hiring county or independent inspectors to check colony strength. Higher pollination prices are also allowing beekeepers to spend the necessary time and money to build strong colonies for almonds.

Some beekeepers, who a few years ago ridiculed those that spent $10 a colony on supplemental fall and winter feeding are now undertaking a feeding program themselves. At the recent California bee convention, one of the most highly attended sessions was the 3 beekeeper panel (Dave Bradshaw, Norm Gary and Russell Heitkam – good beekeepers all) that outlined their feeding programs for getting strong almond colonies.

So, our competition is improving their product. My first reaction upon becoming aware of this new reality, or to use a fancier term, ”new paradigm”*, was “Its about time!” After sleeping on it, this changed to “Uh, oh, they’re catching up to us.”

Statewide, most almond growers will be paying more for bees in 2003. Some almond growers in our area are paying $48 for 8-frame average bees; some have a 6-frame minimum, some an 8-frame minimum. One is paying a $4 bonus ($52) for 10-frame colonies.

Some of our growers have complained about our price increase for 2003. The term “ridiculous” was used by more than one. Others are aware that the product they are receiving warrents the price and have not complained.

The only way we can maintain pollination prices is to maintain the gap between ourselves and the competition. To do this, we need your help under the conditions of our current agreements with you.

If we lose growers due to price for the 2004 season, we will be cutting back on those beekeepers that delivered the poorest bees. Many beekeepers have delivered us 10-frame colonies year in and year out; these beekeepers will always have a place with us. For 2 beekeepers, we have never found a colony less than 8 frames over a 10 year period. These 2 beekeepers tell us how many colonies they want to deliver each year and we accommodate them. For those beekeepers that bring excessive numbers of sub-standard bees in 2003, don’t be surprised if we reduce your count in 2004. If you wish to cut back on your 2003 count, please advise us by the first of the year.

*Most beekeepers are familiar with the term ‘raining paradigm’ (yoi. make more honey in a wet year)

Bee Supply for Almonds
With high honey prices, there is talk that some beekeepers will not be back for almonds. I have heard of 2 such cases that involve around 5,000 colonies (the bees are going to Texas). The total number of such colonies may exceed 10,000. The beekeepers that are not returning have had problems with no-pay, slow-pay, or low-pay growers (or brokers). Beekeepers that have established a good working relationship with growers (or brokers) will be back – they don’t want to burn their bridges.

High and Dry
You can have the best colonies in the world for almonds but if they are not delivered to orchards on time they are of little value to the grower. With the El Nino winter predicted, make sure your bees will be accessible when they are needed (this applies mainly to So. Calif. beekeepers). If you need January stockpile locations up here, let us know. Many growers will have completed their dormant sprays by Jan. 15 and it is possible we can stockpile some bees in the orchards (most growers don’t want bees distributed early because of the nuisance problem.)

Good Work at Tucson Bee Lab
At the CA bee convention, director Gloria deGrandi-Hoffman outlined projects in 3 important areas: bee nutrition, mite control and Africanized bees.

Living with Varroa
Good varroa control was achieved at Tucson with no chemical treatment for 3 years by removing drone brood (apiaries need drones for ample mating, but drone brood is candy to varroa). Colonies can sustain low levels of varroa but must be treated before varroa reach the point where they explode exponentially.

Getting Good Queens
A drone layer in your apiary will attract varroa and could become a “typhoid Mary”, infecting other colonies. Improperly mated queens (that didn’t get enough sperm) become drone layers.

Tom Glenn outlines a simple test to determine if a queen has sufficient sperm in her spermatheca; see

http://members.aol.com/queenb95/sperm.html

(you can access Tom’s home page from here where he has a lot of other good stuff) The spermatheca is removed and checked.*

Consider asking your queen supplier to use Tom’s test on a small sample of the queens that are being shipped to you. It would be worthwhile to pay a premium price for queens with a full spermatheca.

Poor weather during mating can reduce the amount of sperm in the spermatheca. Weather is beyond the control of the queen breeder, but if you’re buying queens, look up the long-range forecasts for your suppliers area; buy queens mated during good weather.

Data at the CA convention showed that most queen breeders supply an excellent product – mite-free, fully mated queens. There can be exceptions, so ask your queen supplier about his mite control and quality control procedures.

* Alan Mikolich advises us that once the spermatheca is removed and replaced, the queen is “broke” and “won’t work”, even when prodded after being re-introduced into the colony. (thanks, Alan).

Correction and Clarification (last n. letter)
Eric Mussen’s e-mail is:
ecmussen@ucdavis.edu (we omitted the “c” on some newsletters).

The Honey Board does not promote foreign honey (as such). It promotes all honey (some of which could be foreign). The Honey Board is currently testing a number of U.S. honeys for their medicinal value.

Happy Holidays
The recent rains should make the Holiday Season more enjoyable. Enjoy them.

Call us anytime for an update on things up (or out) here.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.

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

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