2008 Bee Needs

We hope to increase the number of colonies you can bring for 2008 almond pollination as we sign up more growers in the coming weeks. Before committing any surplus bees elsewhere, give us a call as things can change here on a daily basis.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

$/pound Almonds

Average rental fee
Almond Bees
2005 $3.00 $70/colony
2006 $2.40 $120
2007 $1.80 $145
2008 - $160?

With another record almond crop, almond prices have dropped to the point where growers are looking to cut costs, and bee rental is a major production cost. Some growers are cutting back on colonies per acre. All growers are thinking inside the box, focusing on how many bees are in a given container (hive). This focus will be more intense in 2008 than it has ever been before.

We have an obligation to our growers to provide them with the best possible product – with the strongest colonies possible. Make a real effort to deliver the best possible product this coming season. Cull out all substandard colonies; don’t salt your outfit with them. Our price will again be above average for the 2008 season. The only way we can maintain price is to continue to supply a quality product.

Supply-Demand for Almond Bees

Domestic bee supply will be up in 2008 as CCD problems decrease and as more and more beekeepers adopt supplemental feeding programs. All beekeepers are attempting to increase colony numbers to meet the anticipated demand for almond bees. Beekeepers whose numbers dropped this year hope to get back to 2005 levels. With colonies per beekeeper higher, the total US bee supply should increase (assuming CCD doesn’t enter the picture).

The decision on banning Aussie bees should be forthcoming soon. Israel Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) has been found in most Aussie bees and has also been closely associated with CCD. An Aussie ban will have a significant depressing effect on bee supply as an estimated 50 to 100 thousand Aussie packages were imported in 2006 and in 2007. Some of these packages were put in equipment and rented to growers; many were used to boost populations of substandard colonies. An argument against banning Aussie bees is the IAPV isn’t causing problems in Australia (yet). The counter argument is that Australia doesn’t have virus-spreading varroa mites yet; but Canada has both IAPV and varroa, as does the US. Aussies could argue that their IAPV resistant bees would improve the gene pool of our bees.

The demand for almond bees will increase due to increased acreage – thousand of acres planted in 2006 will be using ½ colony/acre in 2008. 2007 almond plantings decreased dramatically and it looks like the big planting surge is over. More older orchards will be pulled out this year than in the past due to lower almond prices. One of our growers is replanting an pulled-out orchard with alfalfa, due to high alfalfa prices (a ripple effect from the corn-ethanol boom).

At present it looks like there will be ample bees for almonds but we still have four of the toughest beekeeping months to go before almond bloom. Lots of bad things can happen when you confine organisms with a fragile immune system in a tight container during prolonged cool, damp weather.

Bottom line: we won’t know how things will settle out until January-February.

Nosema Ceranae

You’ve likely heard that there’s a new strain of Nosema in town – Nosema ceranae (see the May 2007 Bee Culture for an excellent article on N. Ceranae; may be available at
www.beeculture.com). Its been here for at least 6 years and has taken over from the less virulent N. apis. N. ceranae is more of a year-round problem than N. apis and has been implicated in CCD (and as a carrier of IAPV). Probably every bee colony in the world contains Nosema spores. They’re present at low levels but can explode to harmful levels when colonies are under stress. Alan Butterfield (661)979-8290 (McFarland, 20 miles north of Bakersfield) tests for tracheal and Nosema. Treatment level both N. species is currently the same – 1 million spores per bee – but as the Bee Culture article points out, spore counts can jump from 30,000 to a.4 million in 4 days, so you’re trying to hit a moving target.

Clean Comb

In this age of weakened immune systems and multiple viruses, comb rotation (at least every 3 years) becomes a more important management tool. Comb rotation is easy to recommend, tough to put into practice. Irradiating comb is effective, but too costly. Ethylene oxide has been used in the past and might be developed to be economical. The bee industry is badly in need of an economical method of sterilizing comb.

Wax Moth – The Beekeeper’s Friend

“The [wax] moths can be considered beneficial insects. In nature they feed on beeswax that is either too old and contaminated to be reused by the bees, or that has been abandoned after the death of the colony.” J. of Apicultural Research (2007) 46(1):57-58.

Disappearing Disease (DD) Explained

“Colonies that didn’t pack the pollen in during late summer often crash the first week of [almond] bloom. The winter bees just don’t have enough protein reserves in their bodies, and give it all up to raise brood. When the bloom finally starts, their desperate foraging is the final straw – they die in the field, and you wonder why the bees suddenly disappeared.” Joe Small, May 2007 ABJ, p. 428.

CCD< Sort of Explained*

IAPV and N. ceranae are the current major suspects in CCD. Numerous viruses can take a toll on bees and IAPV could be analogous to the Asian Flu strains that affect us every few years; the 1918 strain killed many, with the sick and elderly being the most vulnerable.

Frank Eischen has shown that well-fed bees better survive both varroa and (a virus transmitter) and Nosema. It is encouraging that honey bees in Israel are showing resistance to IAPV. I liked Danny Weaver’s comment: “IAPV is unlikely to be acting alone to cause CCD – in fact it may not be causing CCD at all.” (Sept..-Oct.. ABF Newsletter; available at www.ABFnet.org Danny’s analytical article is the most intelligent piece I’ve read yet on CCD.

The best defense against CCD is a good offense. I know of no colonies with clean comb, optimum nutrition and a good varroa-control program that had CCD.

*first determine whether you have DD or CCD (you’re on your own here).

Neonicotinoids – They Won’t Go Away

A number of top-notch beekeepers (includes Dave Hackenberg, Dave Mendes, Clint Walker and Jeff Anderson) are convinced that the neonicotinoid (nn) pesticides are heavily involved in CCD. Nns are said to kill termites by destroying their immune system and nns could be doing the same to honey bees. Certainly topical applications of nns should be avoided, but seed treatments, at least on some crops, should be safe as the nn is felt to diminish to harmless levels by the time plants start blooming. Tests on both canola and melons showed no harmful effects to bees from nn-treated seed. Almost all North Dakota canola seed is treated with nns but I have heard no beekeeper reports that this is a problem for their bees. Beekeepers in France are apparently still having problems with their bees in spite of nns being banned there for several years. Certainly more work needs to be done to prove (or disprove) a nn-CCD connection.

Welfare Bees

Honey bees have been around for thousands of years, as have viruses. Bees had to have been regularly challenged by pests and diseases throughout their long history; they have either developed genetic resistance or learned to live with their enemies. Left on their own, honey bees would have been resistant to varroa by now, as are feral colonies and also the Asian bee (Apis cerana). Significant, unaffordable losses would occur before such resistance was established. By treating for varroa, et al., we have created what Sue Cobey calls “welfare bees” unable to cope in today’s world. You can help by demanding varroa resistant stock from your queen supplier. Also, investigate using small-call foundation.

Feeding Bees

Almost all almond beekeepers have implemented a supplemental feeding program. At today’s almond pollination prices, there’s no excuse not to supplemental feed. Bans on imported pollen (and pollen patties) have put a severe crimp in supplemental feeds available to US beekeepers. Appeals may lift the bans for irradiated pollen although, with different methods of irradiation, it may be difficult to establish proper standards. Some beekeepers have been feeding since July in order to get more young bees going into winter. The days of saying “I can’t afford to feed” are over; now, its you can’t afford not to feed.


Consider collecting your own pollen next year or line up a supply with a US beekeeper. Pollen over a year old can lose much of its effectiveness. (ABJ, Sept. 1961, pp 354-355).

Stuff “Em With Cholesterol

Vitellogenin is a yolk-like substance that increases the life of worker bees. Bees have difficulty processing animal cholesterol (e.g., egg yolk) but can use plant cholesterol such as that found in canola oil – 24 methyl(ene). Eric Mussen). Some beekeepers feed egg products and feel they are beneficial. Contact a food supplier in your area or Michael Foods (MN) at (952)258-4927 or 258-4000.

UC Davis Upgrade

Honey bee work at UC Davis got a shot in the arm when Sue Cobey, world-reknowned bee breeder, joined the team (Eric Mussen is the current designated “team”). Look for a pollination biologist and possibly a molecular biologist to be added later this year or early next. I was privileged to be on an outside (of UC) advisory committee for the pollination biologist and was impressed by both the quantity (25) and quality of the applicants. Whoever UCD chooses will be a top-notch individual.

Someone Has to Do It

Cleaning up and disposing of old equipment is one of the nastier jobs in beekeeping. Kudos to those that volunteered to clean up the Davis bee years for Sue Cobey (including Shannon Wooten, Jackie Park & Ryan Burris, Pat & Bonnie Stayer and Frank Pendell & Family). Numerous others pitched in with donations of $ and equipment. The Park-Wooten clan always seems to be involved in such efforts, carrying on Homer Park’s legacy.

The Future

The mapping of the honey bee genome provides great potential for improving the genetic makeup of bees (the province of molecular geneticists). Virus-resistant genes could be incorporated into honey bees. All such work requires funding.

Research $

We collected a dollar/colony from almond growers and matched that dollar with our own contribution (on about 33,000 colonies). The money was distributed as follows:

Project APISm $32,000
Laidlaw Research Fund $32,000
Labor for F. Eischen $ 3,000

The Farm Bill currently before Congress may provide additional funds for bee research. Pam has raised over $130,000 from growers and beekeepers. In addition, the California Department of Agriculture has provided Pam with a $100,000 grant to monitor bees, due to the efforts of Pam member, Chris Heintz.

If able to, send your contribution to APISm, 1750 Dayton Rd., Chico, CA 95928 or to UC Davis Foundation, c/o Walter Leal, Entomology Dept., UC< Davis, CA 95616 and specify the contribution is for the Laidlaw Fund. Suggested contribution is $1/colony. For those attending the CSBA convention, there’s a space on the registration form for contributions to the CSBA Research Fund. With the multiple problems facing beekeepers, $ for research is a sound investment.

Conventional Wisdom

CSBA, Nov. 13-15, South Lake Tahoe
\ABF & AHPA< Jan. 9-12, Sacramento

See: www.californiastatebeekeepers.com
And www.ABJnet.org and www.amcricanhoneyproducers.org

In today’s world, information is a valuable currency; cash in by attending a convention.

1st International Honey-Health Symposium

Tuesday, January 8 in Sacramento. Ron Fessenden, MD, deserves much credit for putting this long-overdue Symposium together.

Honey Helping in Iraq

Medihoney is the perfect product for the outpatient management of burns in Iraq. It has changed the way burn care is being delivered at Smith Gate [military Burn Clinic].” From North Dakota School of Medicine Newsletter, Spring, 2007. Note: Drug resistant Acinitobacter retards wound healing in Iraq (and elsewhere)

Throw the Book at ‘Em

I finally ran out of the 20,000 copies of Honey – The Gourmet Medicine that were printed in 2002 and now have 10,000 newly printed books. For single copies ($9.95) call BookMasters at (800)247-6553 (buy 2, get 1 free) or stop by our office for a free copy. The books come 88/box and if you can use a box (to hand out with yard rent) you can get them for $2 each, if you order directly from me (BookMasters takes about half of the sales $ they collect). I’ve done minimal advertising the past couple of years yet BookMasters sells a surprising 100 or so books a month, many in lots of 25 and 50 to people I’ve never heard of.

Sherman & Spears, Ltd.

Southern California beekeeper/entrepreneurs, Gavin (Gilly) Sherman and Ron Spears will be selling 4-frame nucs in disposable cardboard boxes in January at prices likely less than Aussie bees (and without the travel stress of Aussis bees). Gilly: (951)805-5945; Ron: (909)754-2555.

Randy Oliver

Like me, many of you have been impressed by the multitude of solid, well-researched articles by Randy Oliver that have appeared this year – a rare combination of quantity and quality.

The Answer Man

Many beekeepers have called for a national Extension Apiculturist. Maybe we already have one in Jerry Hayes who fields a wide spectrum of questions every month in his ABJ Classroom column. You can’t stump the man (I’ve tried).

Weakened Immune Systems

3 totally separate entities can weaken the honey bees’ immune system:

Neonicontinoid pesticides
Varroa mites
Poor Nutrition

Which do you think is most likely to trigger or contribute to CCD?

All in the Family

In today’s world of multiple viruses, virus transmitters and an occasional Typhoid Mary (not in your outfit, but in that one across the street) honey bees are under siege and the question changes from “Why do bees come down with CCD?” to “Why don’t more bees come down with CCD?”

Honey bees are a resilient lot, but to survive today, they need all the help they can get from their keepers. Treat your bees like you would family, providing them with food, shelter and clean sheets – and try to keep them off drugs.

Keep in Touch

We have ample almond bees at this time, but this reserve has dried up in January in recent years. If your colonies dwindle excessively in the coming weeks, please notify us as soon as possible.

Call us anytime for an update on how things are going here.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.
Scientific Ag Co.
P.O. Box 2144
Bakersfield, CA 93303