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Beekeeper Newsletter – Oct 10, 2008

2009 Almond Pollination
The number of colonies we will need from you as of this date is given at the top of this page. We hope to increase this number as we sign up additional growers in the coming weeks. With above average winter losses, in recent years, I realize that no beekeeper knows how many 8-frame colonies he will have in February. Keep us posted on your count since every year for the past 5 years we have had to scramble for bees in Jan.-Feb. Reports from beekeepers throughout the US are that bees are in excellent shape, but again, we won’t know what they will look like in February.

You have likely heard that the 2008 almond crop will be record one, in spite of bee problems during bloom (the excellent weather bailed out some growers and beekeepers). You have also likely heard of California’s water problems – 2 consecutive dry years have led to reservoir depletion throughout the state; westside growers are especially hard hit because most westside well water is unsuitable for almonds. Some growers are finding it more profitable to sell water than to farm their land. Westside water (from surface canals and reservoirs) usually costs $150/acre foot (almonds require 3+ acre feet/acre/year). Some growers are paying up to $900/acre foot for water on the market (growers with suitable well water can transfer it to canals for a price). Almond production is not profitable at $900/ac. ft. water. If the coming winter isn’t a wet one, almond growers throughout the state will have serious problems. Long-range, the picture won’t likely improve, as water-short Southern California can outbid agriculture for limited water supplies (the canal system that services westside growers extends to Los Angeles).

Counter-intuitively a few beekeepers that kept their bees on the Westside this summer report that their bees have never looked better. The reason: much acreage previously planted to tomatoes and cotton was planted to safflower due to soaring safflower prices and because safflower (an excellent pollen-nectar source) uses significantly less water than the crops it replaced.

Except for spot areas, most almond orchards are not stressed for water at this time. A post-harvest irrigation in September-October is very important in getting a good flower set in the spring and growers are making every effort to get the water for this irrigation. Because almonds are a major exported crop, and vital to the overall health of California’s ag economy, I like to think that politicians will come to the aid of growers (Sen. Dianne Feinstein is helping in this regard) but I’m not optimistic. Much water in California is flushed out into the Pacific ocean each year to provide suitable environment for certain fish species. City folk and environmentalists have historically had more political clout than ag in California’s water issues.

25-50-25
Many beekeepers subscribe to Master beekeeper Wade Taylor’s thesis: no matter what you do, 50% of the colonies in an apiary will be of good or average strength, 25% will be well below average and 25% well above average. And if you move that top 25% to another location, it will soon revert to 25-50-25 again.

Leave ‘em room
In his pollen-trap work in almonds, Frank Eischen has found that a main determinant of how much pollen a colony collects is the readily available storage space in the hive. If returning bees (or their receivers) have to spend a lot of time looking for a place to unload, the colony will collect significantly less pollen. Less pollen collected translates to less brood reared down the road; thus a top-25 colony (see above) at the start of almond bloom could become a bottom-25 colony several weeks after almond bloom.

Viruses
Bees have battled viruses for eons but only recently have they had to contend with 2 virus vectors: varroa and nosema ceranae. Some believe the a virus is causing CCD, but is it a new super virus or one or more of the “old” viruses (Kashmir, DWV, APV, et al)? Controlling Nosema and varroa can go along way towards suppressing the spread of a virus. Optimum nutrition is a major line of virus defense.

San Francisco Rules
Ask a beekeeper where much of the good research on CCD is being conducted and few would mention San Francisco. In early 2007, Joe DeRisi, UC, San Francisco, stunned US beekeepers when he isolated Nosema ceranae from honey bee colonies. Most agree that N. ceranae has been with us for a number of years and has likely replaced N. apis; its timeline may mirror the timeline of CCD. Dr. DeRisi has also made significant contributions towards malaria and SAR virus research and has received the McArthur genius award – quite a guy! Michelle Flennikan, also from UCSF, is now a post-doc Fellow at UC Davis (but remains based in SF). Drs. DeRisi and Flennikan are well versed in microbiology, virology and related fields. The bee industry is fortunate to have the expertise of these individuals at such a critical time.

LTPB or APB (not PPB)
Insinuate to a beekeeper that has been blindsided by CCD that he might be suffering from PPB (Possibly Poor Beekeeping) and the furies will descend on you. LTPB (Less Than Perfect Beekeeping) is a better term, since there’s not a beekeeper out there that does a perfect job. APB (Almost Perfect Beekeeping) should be the goal. Beekeeping practices that worked 20 years ago are no longer viable.

Queen Problems
Problems with queens have been rampant in recent years – mainly supersedure a few weeks after being introduced. The literature overflows with reports of queen supersedure from bees infected with Nosema apis. Stress from confinement is a major contributor to the rapid spread of Nosema in colonies, in packages, in queen cages and queen banks. In one case no nosema apis was detected when queens and attendants were caged, but high N. levels were found 2 days later. When ordering queens make sure your supplier has a good handle on Nosema; and get the queens into your hives with minimal storage delay. Some beekeepers are having better luck with cells than with mated queens; less nosema may be the reason.

Genetics
Improved stock may be the ultimate solution to current bee problems. Some beekeepers are experimenting with survivor queens – from breeders that do not apply chemical treatments. Sue Cobey (UC, Davis) traveled to Europe and Asia this summer and is bringing back semen from promising stock. Sue and Steve Sheppard (WA) will be testing some of this “new” genetic material. Manipulating genes and RNA in bees and viruses (and maybe in varroa and nosema) holds promise.

Apivar and Hivestan
Canadian beekeepers recently got clearance to use Amitraz-treated strips (Apivar, from France) for varroa control. Many US beekeepers are and have been using the amitraz product, Taktic; Apivar strips may not be effective on colonies that have had multiple Taktic treatments. There is talk that Taktic may be pulled off the market and that honey buyers may implement a zero tolerance for amitraz. Another chemical, Hivestan, was supposed to have been available to US beekeepers by now but possible adverse effects on bees at above-label rates (and possibly at label rates) is holding up its release. Beekeepers may have to sign a release that the manufacturer is not responsible for any bee loss from Hivestan (if it is ever released). A few beekeepers are experimenting with the active ingredient in Hivestan.

Don’t Forget Tracheal
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.

Glenn Stanley, January 1995 ABJ, p. 43

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup a Poison?
A recent study by Diana Sammataro and co-workers (Tucson) showed the following:

% Survival (caged feeding)
HFCS 50% after 17 days, 18% after 21 days
Sucrose 82% after 17 days, 72% after 21 day

Adverse effects from CS are much less, or minimal, when the product contains significant sugar (e.g., Type 50 syrup). See also Sept. Bee Culture, pp 21,22,for an informed chemical discussion of HFCS.

Keep ‘em Young
Just like people, old bees are much more likely to succumb to viruses and diseases than young bees.

Global Patties – Back in Business
Regulations preventing shipment of pollen from Canada to the US prevented Global Patties from selling their pollen patties to US beekeepers. Global now makes their patties in Montana. Standard patties are 4% pollen ($1.07/1# patty); higher pollen % is available. Contact Global at (866)948-6084. Distributors in 3 western states are: CA: (209)606-1941, MT: (406)494-4488, WA: (360)652-8967.

Neonicotinoids
Many beekeepers are convinced that the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides in recent years is a major contributor to CCD if not the sole cause. Project ApisM (see www.projectapism.org) is funding a 2009 study that will analyze nectar and pollen from un-treated blueberries and cranberries; this study should shed some much-needed light on the subject (pollen from almonds and other crops may also be included). Question: Why isn’t the EPA funding such studies before pesticides come on-line?

Honey-B-Healthy
Many beekeepers are convinced that Honey-B-Healthy results in healthier bee colonies (material cost is about 50 cents/colony). Call (866)542-0879 or see www.honeybhealthy.com for more information. Bees love the ingredients in H-B-H (esp. lemongrass) and some beekeepers are putting the material in patties laced with fumagillin with the idea that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down (some beekeepers mix fumagillin with powdered sugar to get the “spoonful” effect). Look for copy-cat materials and check out www.beeologics.com (thanks, Eric).

Healthy Be Honey
In addition to the National Honey Board website, there is a new website devoted to the health benefits of honey: www.benefits-of-honey.com And look for a honey-health book by Kirsten Traynor (no relation) that should be out next year.

Resting Equipment
CCD investigations note that when supers from collapsed hives are put on good colonies, the good colonies come down with CCD. To avoid disease buildup in the soil, farmers will fallow fields or rotate crops. Nosema spores can last for months in empty hives. Putting equipment from dead colonies onto good colonies may be counter-productive; an economical sterilization method is needed. Sunlight can be effective (if it doesn’t melt the comb).

California Cotton Acreage
1995: 1.3 million
2006: 600,00
2008: 280,000

Dept. of Clarification
Rotating comb does NOT mean poking a hole through the dead center of a frame and spinning it around your middle finger.

Words of Wisdom
Read the label.

Catch the Buzz
Kim Flottum provides a tremendous service for the bee industry with his on-line Catch the Buzz news alert. See www.beeculture.com, then click on Catch the Buzz to sign up.

California Bee Convention
Nov. 11-13, Lake Tahoe. See www.californiastatebeekeepers.com or call (209)667-4590 for more info.