The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) was able to draw in 5,543 U.S. beekeepers to our latest 2011/2012 winter loss survey. This number of respondents represents an estimated 20% of beekeepers in the U.S. who manage over 14.6% of the country’s estimated 2.49 million colonies. We’re hoping to get even more next year and to do so, we’re open to suggestions for drawing in our larger beekeeping operations. This year, we raffled off a day with our CA Tech Team. The survey, conducted in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been performed every year now for 6 years and the results of the survey are available at http://beeinformed.org. What is shown on the website is a preliminary analysis, and a more detailed final report is being prepared for publication at a later date.
Conducting such surveys is always a challenge for a number of reasons and surveyors are constantly looking for ways to increase participation. Because beekeepers who manage >500 colonies were grossly under-represented in our management survey, architects of the survey and BIP stakeholders got together at the American Beekeeping Federation conference in Las Vegas to talk about ways to boost participation. Standard incentives like t-shirts and hats were offered up but quickly dismissed because they lacked the ability to draw in larger beekeepers for our survey. BIP stakeholders who were involved in the discussion are made up of commercial beekeepers and suggested raffling off a fork-lift to one management survey participant. No doubt the prospect of winning a fork-lift would have drawn in more commercial beekeepers but it was not a practical incentive for our program. Instead, the group decided on raffling off a day with the Bee Informed Partnerships’ Tech Team.
A day with the Tech Team meant that the winner of the lottery would receive a visit from members of the team who would collect Varroa, Nosema, virus, and pesticide samples from colonies kept by the lottery winner. This year’s winner was veteran commercial beekeeper Bob Miller from Watsonville, CA. Millers Honeybees is a family owned and operated commercial beekeeping outfit specializing in honey production and pollination services. Bob and his son Kevin run a tight ship managing approximately 1500 honey bee colonies in various locations in and around central California. Bob and Kevin purchase queens from some of the breeders participating in our program and was open to our Tech Team visit. More information on Millers Honeybees can be found at:
On August 14th Rob and I made our way down to Watsonville and spent the day collecting samples and conversing with Bob and Kevin about the successes and struggles of running a commercial beekeeping operation which included things like re-queening techniques, chasing the nectar flow, and who he buys his queens from and why? Varroa and Nosema samples collected that day were shipped to the University of Maryland where the BIP east coast lab has already processed them and generated a report which Bob received last week. Virus and pesticide analysis is underway and will be completed by the USDA Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD as part of APHIS’s National Honey Bee Survey. More information on the National Honey Bee Survey can be found at:
One of the great things about working with bees and beekeepers is that there is always the opportunity to learn something new from both the beekeeper and the bees. The landscape and climate in Santa Cruz County is much different than what we see here in the upper Sacramento Valley, so spending the day with Bob and Kevin provided an excellent opportunity to expand our knowledge of the industry. Management techniques and strategies vary from region to region, operation to operation, and year to year. I talked to Bob last week about the results of the report we sent containing his Varroa and Nosema levels. Bob had some questions about threshold levels for pests and pathogens. Those are hard questions to answer…
Generally, we tell beekeepers that when their mite levels are upwards of 3 mites per 100 bees (3% mite infestation) they need to make a management/treatment decision. The same would be said about Nosema spore levels exceeding 1 million spores per bee although this threshold level is more accurate for Nosema apis than N. ceranae. I remember hearing Judy Chen give a presentation at the USDA Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD a few years back where I believe she made the statement that 97% of the Nosema we now see in the United States is N. ceranae.
Because honey bees are subjected to so many different biotic and abiotic factors it is often difficult to understand their complex interactions. Nosema seems to affect different beekeepers differently at different times throughout the year. From what I have seen Nosema levels will rise and fall on their own but can also rise and fall depending on various stressors such as moving them, nutrition, mites, pesticide exposure, etc. Whatever is going on with Nosema ceranae, we still aren’t sure of but we do know that it is a detriment to the hive and needs to be dealt with.
Fumidil-B is the go-to medicine for the treatment of Nosema in the commercial beekeeping industry. Some beekeepers subscribe to its use and attribute increased hive quality to its ability to effectively lower spore counts. Others think the cost of using it outweighs the benefits. Instead, those that don’t use Fumidil-B have mentioned that there are pollen patties on the market that when coupled with good beekeeping can effectively help control Nosema levels. Nutrition plays a big role in an organisms ability to fight off pests and pathogens. A good quality pollen patty will do several things; they provide extra energy the bees need to fight off things like Varroa and Nosema and they increase the amount of brood being reared in the hive, which will eventually replace older bees that are more likely to carry heavier loads of Nosema. I believe keeping a balanced proportion of younger bees to older bees in the hive is key to controlling stress and Nosema levels. Look for a pollen patty that keeps young larvae floating high in the cells. Keith Jarret makes a good one.
By continuously monitoring levels of Varroa and Nosema, beekeepers can identify times of year when levels rise and fall picking and choosing the best time to deliver a treatment and manage the condition effectively. Timing is everything when it comes to medicating honey bees. Without proper timing the treatment may not be as effective in lowering mite and spore levels which in turn means that the beekeeper is not getting their money’s worth out of whatever treatment they decide to go with. Beekeepers always say it’s easier to keep a good hive going then it is to nurse a weak one back to strength.
With so much to do, it’s hard for a lot of commercial beekeepers to sample and monitor Varroa and Nosema on a regular basis. That’s where a program like ours can help. Beekeepers participating in our program receive reports throughout the year with their Varroa and Nosema levels. Pest and pathogen reports throughout the year combined with management surveys and hive scale data would give beekeepers a more comprehensive record of conditions within a beekeeping operation. We at BIP are already pumping out reports that include Varroa, Nosema, virus, pesticide, and hygienic data. This summer we set up two hive scales in two separate locations to start recording environmental data. We try to capture whatever information is most useful and beneficial to the beekeepers participating in our program.
For more information on the hive scales we are using please visit: