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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a beekeeping friend who has been struggling for about six years with an annual die off "event" happening around the last week of July EVERY year in EVERY hive.
He lives a bit less than a mile from me as the bee flies. I no longer keep bees at the house, but for at least 2-3 of these years I did and did not experience any of the symptoms.

Here's a video I took back in 2016, the symptoms and such remain similar.
Pics from this year also attached below, but they're unlikely to provide much insight. All six colonies this year.

Here's the narrative... at the beginning he had me come over to check there are dead/dying bees everywhere. I was a fairly new beekeeper at the time as well, but it was very strange and sudden. Some of the queens were still laying in basically every empty cell. At the time we didn't really have any idea what to do or what would have caused it. Everything died over winter. He lives on about 2 acres, but it's "in town" - as much as being in a town of 25,000 is in Iowa. The die off isn't always quite as drastic, but it happens every year. A few years into this he happened to see his elderly neighbor (they share a driveway) on his electric wheelchair near his hives, he didn't have anything with him, but the guy wasn't really happy to have bees nearby. But he never had any issues with them. My friend put some trail cameras up and thought maybe that was the end of it having caught the guy nearby. No such luck. The guy died a few years ago and we both thought the die offs would stop then. I've helped him with queens and queen cells. He does a pretty good job of keeping his bees treated for varroa, usually I have extra treatments and he's the closest guy so I tend to share them. Even with increased mite management and a dead neighbor, the die offs continue.
In years past he sent samples to Beltsville lab, no issues noted. The times I have been in the colonies, the brood isn't abnormal other than there is usually a significantly lower number of bees because there's a pile of them dead there. He's spread his colonies out. We've requeened with my queens over the years hoping mine would be resistant to whatever is going on - nope. This year he bought some bees from a supplier and he also bought two nucs from me. These went into all new equipment. Any used equipment he blow torched and replaced combs. Nothing seems to work. Like I said, the die offs vary a bit in intensity. Sometimes they can't make the summer, but occasionally some of them recover and survive the winter.
He located some of his bees out at his father-in-laws about 15 miles outside of town and experienced no die offs, but that arrangement isn't sustainable for him. He is understandably disappointed and I can attest that he's given it a very good go of it.

I just thought that I'd see if anyone here on the brain trust could offer any ideas. At this point we're both kind of assuming that they're being poisoned somehow, but the scope and scale of the die-off is just difficult to wrap your head around.

Thanks for looking.
 

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Since this is a predictable event, I want to think of other predictable events that occur in the area.

For example - harvest of crops is a predictable event that also occurs about the same time each season.

What's with harvest?
Well, certain crops are treated with desiccants - so to make the harvest more manageable because the crop is forced to mature all at once.
Round up is an example of a desiccant; there are surely other chems too.

I would look in that direction.
Someone is readying their crop for the harvest.
On example of crops that are treated with desiccants - buckwheat (the bees will forage buckwheat - but of course forage and harvest separated in time).
Or maybe the crop is near bee forage.

Anyway, this is one logical chain to look at.
What else is happening near this guy at the end of July, year after year?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
There's plenty of crop around, but it's Iowa. It's corn, soy, and some hay. Same mix near his colonies as well as where mine are. When mine were in town at a couple different places, I had no issues with them. In fact, a pretty large swarth of the monocrop (couple hundred acres) near his hives has been reclaimed by wildflowers and whatever other weeds are taking over in the last couple years. Not sure if a farmer died or what, but it's just gone to the wild now.

I'm not dismissing your thought, we've racked our brains about this for years. It IS crop dusting season, but he is at least 1.5 miles or so from any sort of crop that would be remotely dustable. Meaning, he isn't getting overspray. Additionally, for eight years I kept my bees within a rock throw of crop and have not had issue. Including when mine were in town.

One thing that might also be happening is ditch spraying on our "bypass" that runs just outside of town, within range of his colonies. Good forage in the ditches, but typically it's mowed and baled as hay. It's just weeds and grass, I don't know what they'd be spraying for. On the highways farther out they sometimes spray for wild parsnip, but I've not seen that happen nearby (it's very obvious when they do it). Even then, it seems weird that all the bees would die basically in-hive as a result of something being sprayed on forage.
I appreciate the thoughts Greg, I haven't thought much about crop dusting, but you jogged that in my head.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I have only ever seen oats used to shield new alfalfa plantings which is pretty infrequent. And they're just mowed so far as I know, not harvested (I don't think). But even then we're talking about something happening on a really small scale, I've only really seen it 3-4 times locally including the five acres that directly surrounded my bees. No canola here. It really is corn, soy, and hay.
 

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Well... I donno. :)

Often times it is the person who reports the problem is the culprit himself.
You know - watch Dr. House show and such.
All kinds of freaky things.
 

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Where is the nearest water source ? What are temperatures like ? Gotta wonder if you have reached a time of the year where they haul in more water to cool the hive because there is little airflow thru that reduced entrance, and that water is coming from a source that has something toxic to bees.

FYI, if you flip those reducers over so the gap is on the top of the stick instead of the bottom, the opening wont get plugged by dead bees if they are dying inside. farther reducing the entrance. Which leads to another possibility, the hive is simply overheating, and dying bees are blocking the entrance, further reducing airflow.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
He has a tall fountain within 100 feet of all the hives and the bees are all over it. His cameras don't cover the fountain so it's possible that the widow is putting something in it (we have thought of this very possibility). That fountain is alive with bees even when it's cool. His two dogs also drink out of it.
Regarding reduced entrances, I'll respectfully disagree that those are too small. I run that entrance size year round with triple deeps over winter and right now summer those colonies are 4-5 deeps with 3-5 supers - zero issues including this year with wildly abnormal temperatures reaching 90-99 degrees several times already and we're just hitting the hottest time. Temps at kill time this year have only been low-80s.

In years past, there are not enough live bees remaining to need anything cooled. Typically the bees die just outside of the hive, spinning/whirling around like in the video. But there is some hauling going on to get some out from the inside. But it's never like a big massive pile inside that I've seen or that he's really experienced.

Another note would be that while the big kill seems to happen "all at once" it does seem to hit the hives at slightly different times (like a day or two).
 

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you say corn is around, sweet corn? they pesticide spray around tassel time. our sweet corn around here just started becoming available which would be close to his time frame
 
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Look for some one growing vegetables close by and spraying sevin on his stuff. I could not keep colonies alive in one area and chanced upon a guy spraying plants close by, asked him what he was spraying, Sevin was the reply. I removed everything from that little yard and never went back.
I really think johno's got it. Since it is an 'urban' area, someone, quite possibly the city or county, is spraying something at a predictable time of year, in a predictable location. Mosquito control if it is the city. Or a gardener nearby who is spraying their apple trees or putting Sevin on their lawn or garden.

I had a chemical lawn care job one year, many years ago. People asked for things to by hosed down to a ridiculous degree. We were pretty careful how we did it, and which products we used, but even so there was chemical drift visible. I hate to think what less careful/educated people are doing in their back yards. We were bad enough! I have had small bee kills in my back yard that I have to assume are due to neighbors spraying their lawns/gardens. My neighbor to the north occasionally has parties, and he will fog his whole back yard, bushes and lawn, prior to people arriving. I am sure he is not the only one, and far from the worst. At least I have not had a bee-kill from his fogging.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
Sweet corn is plentiful here, but not above backyard scale nearby. But it could be someone's got a big patch somewhere close.

You guys have kind of arrived at the same place that my friend and I have... It is somebody spraying something. Which is, sadly, kind of the worst possibility because there's not a lot to be done about such things. :(
I do appreciate the sounding board and watching basically the same thought process develop with strangers as with my buddy and I. Thank you!
The one thing I've never been able to completely digest is having had bees less than a mile away and not having the issues he did while he was actively dealing with it.
 

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I've seen issues where a high mite load resulted in a few bees that couldn't fly. This doesn't look like that problem to me - there are too many dead bees. It looks like a pesticide issue.
 

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In my area, July is when Mosquito sprays get started. It's quite possible that is the problem for your friend as well. Someone in the close area is spraying for Mosquitoes or some other pesticide spray for something. It could also be close neighbor spraying in the garden or around the house from a pesticide company. Anyway, I'm like most others here, someone close by is spraying something.
 

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Just a guess, but I suspect Josephine homeowner who is growing a pollinator garden to help the bees and butterflies and spraying/ dusting it or other plantings. Good friends of mine did essentially this when they have a guy spray for mosquitoes, which the town does as well. They just didn't think and didn't even know the town sprayed until one got up at 2 am and saw the sprayer blowing a huge cloud of pesticides going down the road. They finally solved the mystery of the staining on their clapboards and dirt clinging to them. This happens all too often. J
 

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The one thing I've never been able to completely digest is having had bees less than a mile away and not having the issues he did while he was actively dealing with it.
So draw a line from your place to his place, then continue on that direction for a mile or three. It may well be a location his bees are finding, but, just a tad to far for yours.
 

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So draw a line from your place to his place, then continue on that direction for a mile or three. It may well be a location his bees are finding, but, just a tad to far for yours.
Exactly.
Look at the places which your bees don't reach, but his bees do reach.
The culprit is someplace there.
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It's poisoning. Your video shows bees stumbling around and, key indicator, on their back wiggling their legs. An even stronger indicator would be if they spin on their backs like a fly hit by a Raid spray - that symptom is unique to poisoning. A weak indicator is tongues protruding, can't see that but all kinds of things cause that.

I have to say how impressed I am by the systematic way you and your friend have investigated and checked multiple causes. So many people grab the first simple explanation they're offered! My guess after going through this thread would be the ditch water containing runoff.

Could you attach the lab report? Obviously they cannot test thousands of possibilities but it would be nice to know if, for example, they didn't check for glyphosphate, which killed loads of hives belonging to one beekeeper I know, who also sent samples to a lab for definitive testing.
 
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