About Karen Rennich

As the Project Manager of the Bee Informed Partnership and the APHIS National Survey, I am based out of the University of Maryland’s Entomology Department but also have the pleasure of working with the USDA Bee Research Lab. I am fortunate to work closely with all members of our team and other organizations throughout the U.S. and I get to tackle everything from data analysis to field work and all jobs in between to keep our goals in sight and moving toward our milestones. I have a B.S. in ocean engineering from Purdue University and an M.S. in ocean engineering from the Johns Hopkins University. I designed and worked on large, underwater Navy sensor systems when I was employed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for 14 years. I have been a beekeeper for 6 years and manage 10 colonies at home. Seeing the Bee Informed Partnership evolve from paper to reality is exciting and inspiring.

Joe Traynor’s Post-Pollination Letter

Colonies Stationed for Almond Bloom, CA 2103

Colonies Stationed for Almond Bloom, CA 2103

To many beekeepers who keep a few colonies in their backyard or even for some who have 50 or 100 colonies, moving bees to pollination is not something they would ever consider.  Just like reading the Travel section in the paper or travelogues by seasoned globetrotters, arm chair beekeepers can read what happened in almonds this year. Joe Traynor, owner of Scientific Ag. Co. (a pollination service and consulting company) was kind enough to allow us to blog his latest post-pollination letter here (click on link below).  The newsletter is like reading a letter from a family member with some back-fence news included. It is always interesting and full of information that just doesn’t make the mainstream news.  Enjoy.


Regional Reports – Hot off the Press!

The regional management reports from the 2012-2013 Winter Loss and Management surveys are posted here: http://beeinformed.org/state-and-regional-survey-reports-2013/

Click on the map in your area of interest and you will be taken to all significant results for that region in pdf format.  Because we are only posting those results that showed significant differences, report content may vary from region to region.  Please feel free to explore all regions and see the differences!  We are excited about some of the results and the Bee Informed Partnership hopes this fosters discussion among beekeepers and bee clubs and powers hypothesis driven research among scientists.

There are two states that earned their own data set due to their large number of participants; Virginia and Pennsylvania!  If you live in either of those states, you will be able to see results just from your state.  Virginia and Pennsylvania are also included in other regions so you have the choice to also choose to view reports for either the state or the inclusive region.

Due to how the regions were partitioned, Washington and Idaho are included in two different regions and again, you can choose which region you would like to view when clicking on Washington or Idaho.

We hope to provide these reports each year and to be faster and better each year.  Take a look – we think you’ll be excited too!

Solar wax melter made even easier…

Raw wax in cooler

Raw wax in cooler

It is hot, oppressively hot.  At this time of year in Maryland, no one wants to work in the colonies and the bees don’t really want you in there either – they make that perfectly clear.  Most beekeepers have extracted some honey by now and may have a stockpile of wax lying about.  It is on these hot sunny days that solar wax melting season begins at our home.  My background and training is in engineering so I’m not likely to go out and buy a solar wax melter – I’d rather reuse something I have and make it work with very little work from me.

Melted wax in pot

Melted wax in pot under glass cover

Engineers learn from experience that the best design is often the simplest and the most elegant.  Over the years, and after trying all kinds of melting and filtering methods, I think I’ve developed the easiest way to melt and clean wax.  You only need 3 things to melt the wax and they are all something that you likely have around the house:  an old cooler, a sheet of glass (or plexiglass) and an a stock pot.

Melted Wax in Styrofoam cups -still hot

Melted Wax in Styrofoam cups -still hot

I use an old soup pot that I bought for cheap at a thrift store.  It wobbles but that doesn’t matter as long as it is dark and fits inside the cooler with the glass on top.  I put my wax cappings in the pot, put the pot in the cooler and put the glass on top.  In a matter of hours outside in direct sun on a hot, summer day, the wax is melted and ready for the next step.

Cooled wax/slumgum out of cup

Cooled wax/slumgum out of cup

I have tried several different containers to pour the hot mixture into, but large Styrofoam cups (we wash out the ones given to us after dining at carryout restaurants) are undoubtedly the best.  It is also essential to have some oven pads on hand – the soup pot will be hot.  I would finally recommend putting some newspaper down under the cups where you are pouring.  Once your wax is melted, carefully remove the very hot pot, using those oven pads, and slowly pour the melted combination of wax, honey, propolis, bee parts, etc. into the Styrofoam cups.

clean wax

Clean wax, ready for use

Wait a few hours, and the wax will cool, shrink and rise above all the other remaining honey and slumgum.

Once completely cooled, everything will slide out of the cup and you can cut the slumgum part off and are then left with beautiful golden, clean wax – no messy filtering required!

I save these chunks of clean wax throughout the summer and fall and use them for candles, re-waxing some foundation and other great uses.

Coming soon – BIP Hive Scales

collageWe have been working for over a year to develop a BIP hive scale that will enable beekeepers and beekeeping clubs to gather and use data from their own hives to follow nectar flows, honey production, swarm alerts, theft alerts and other valuable data about what is happening within their own colony.  Having these data are helpful in making timely and educated management decisions.  Owning a BIP scale will also enable beekeepers to become plugged into a national network of hive scales and receive live feedback about what is happening in their region as well as around the country.  Being part of this project makes the data doubly productive as researchers and scientists who tap into this data stream may learn more about the linkages between nectar flows, nosema disease, varroa populations and other colony health issues. This is the first step in merging what has already been started by NASA at www.honeybeenet.org in tracking the climate, vegetation and nectar flow, to the Bee Informed Partnership larger database.  Our colleagues in this venture include Jonathan Engelsma and Anne Marie Fauvel at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.  Anne Marie recently wrote a humorous account of their hive scale efforts and what we have planned for BIP in a Walter Kelley newsletter that we’d like to share with you:


More information will be available soon with orders being taken in September 2013 with delivery of the scales in early 2014.  The estimated price range is between $500-$700.  Stay tuned for the launch of this exciting effort in the fall and if you are interested, email us at askbeeinformed@gmail.com.  We invite you to join our team!

Survey Time: An Appeal to Our Greater Good

For a great many of us, it is as easy to slip into apathy as it is to succumb to eating our children’s Easter candy – especially the chocolate peanut butter cups.  We sometime remove ourselves from involvement and responsibility of the larger social structure because, well, we think someone else will take care of what needs doing; however, this cannot be the case now.  It is survey time at the Bee Informed Partnership and that means involvement FROM EACH AND EVERY BEEKEEPER.  Whether you manage 1 hive or 10,000 hives, we want to hear from you.  I’m making it easy on you.  Here is the link:


There are no right or wrong answers.  We don’t keep your email so it is safe and secure.  And here’s something you might not know.  We really do care…each and every one of us on this small team is very passionate about what we are doing and why we are doing it.  You CAN make a difference but only if you join us.  We’re not asking you to march about in cold, wet weather with placards or forgo your next meal.  We just want you to click on the link above and take 20 minutes.  Have a cup of coffee and put on some music while you take the survey.  Get someone to give you a foot rub while you take it…make it enjoyable! Tell us what you think and how you manage your colonies.


What is in it for you?  If you could directly query about how colonies are managed in your area and what is working for your neighbor beekeepers and what overwintering strategies are most helpful in your region, wouldn’t you want to know? These are the results we are producing.  See our Results page on this website or watch the webinar below that Dennis just gave at the end of March about last year’s results.


Say “NO” to apathy.  Let’s make a difference together and I won’t tell anyone about you eating that chocolate bunny.


Basement BRL 476 Lab

The six most important words: I admit I made a mistake. The five most important words: You did a good job. The four most important words: What is YOUR opinion? The three most important words: If you please. The two most important words: Thank You. The one most important word: We. The least important word: I. –Unknown

Heather filtering for Varroa mites

Our team works in a previously unoccupied basement room. In a previous life, it used to be filled with boxes holding old alcohol sample bottles. Various insects had taken up residence with the absence of people, the flooring tiles were coming up and the sink drain had rusted through. Today, it is a room painted a soothing blue, the insects are gone (mostly), the sink is fixed, we have a microscope and a cobbled together computer, work hums along and there is often the sound of laughter.

This is the east coast arm of the Bee Informed Partnership’s sample analysis lab and we are fortunate to have four great employees as part of that team. Heather joined us in September and took to logging, analyzing, tracking shipments and a myriad of other jobs like a duck takes to water. She was joined soon after by Anna, another fantastic lady who also has an eye toward details, and together they make a formidable team that can crank through honey bee samples for Nosema and Varroa at a breathtaking pace. They both smile often and that makes us smile. Jennie, also at the lab, coordinates all of the thousands of samples coming in from both the Bee Informed Partnership and the National Survey but she also picks up the slack on so many other tasks for our team that I could not list them here. She is unflappable and is quickly learning the world of honey bees. Our team is filled out by Karen, who still resides in Pennsylvania, but distance does not keep this team apart. Karen does, well, just about anything and she does it well and quietly so that you are continually in awe of her organizational skills.

Jennie logging data

Our CA team is equally impressive and they have provided a great presence on this blog. You have met them by their array of skills and knowledge –Katie, Mike and Rob. They are the kick-butt Crop Protection Agents that work closely with the CA queen breeders to facilitate all manner of testing, sampling and reporting. They put in the grueling hours in the hot sun and cold rain, driving many hundreds of miles and sometimes work out of their kitchen to get a quick turnaround analysis on various aspects of the samples. We have been working closely as a unified team now for several weeks. Samples are taken in CA and Fed Ex’d to us on the east coast for a 1 week turnaround on the analysis reports. Samples (hundreds of them in a box) are tracked across country, arrive and are immediately logged in to our system. Heather and Anna split the work in a flurry of weighing, mashing, shaking, and counting. You’ll hear from them over the next few weeks to get their unique point of view.

Honestly, it has been a lot of hard work with numerous growing pains but we think we have it mostly figured out. Back to the quote at the top of this blog…during the weeks that this process was taking shape, I think I have heard every underlined sentence except for that least important word “I”. Teamwork is hard but we all have each other’s back, we all respect these beekeepers and want the best for them, we all care about the bees and knowing that we are making a difference more than makes up for all the hard work.

The team at work

2010/2011 US Honey Bee Pest and Disease Survey Results


APHIS Honey Bee Survey Live Bee Kit

Several of us on the Bee Informed Partnership team also work on the USDA/APHIS US Honey Bee and Pest Disease survey and have been part of this work since it started in 2009 with 3 states (HI, CA and FL). It grew to 13 states last year and we have welcomed 33 states this year.  The results of our 2010/2011 Survey have just been released (2010/2011 US Honey Bee Pest and Disease Report). We are proud of the most comprehensive honey bee health survey to date and thank all the beekeepers in the 13 states who participated. Over 2,700 hives from the 13 states were sampled. Although the primary goal of the disease survey is to monitor US honey bee colonies for invasive pests, namely the Asian parasitic mites Tropilaelaps spp., Asian honey bees, A. cerana, and viruses not known to be in the US (Slow Paralysis Virus), we also realize that collecting current honey bee health data is also critical.  These data include common viral data (DWV, IAPV, ABPV and KBV) and other pest data (Nosema spore counts, Varroa and tracheal mite loads) across the geographic range of the US, including Hawaii.

2011/2012 Survey Map of Participating States

The US Honey Bee Survey Team

Now, being part of the Bee Informed Partnership, all of us know the value of these data above and beyond the pest and pathogen baseline we’re generating. All data collected from the APHIS US Honey Bee Pest and Disease surveys will be included in our BIP database and mined for any epidemiological trends; historical, geographical, cultural and temporal. We are very excited about this collaboration and look forward to showing you what we find.  But for now, please do read the report –you’ll find it interesting, I promise.

Oh, and the good looking folks in the photo include the following.  Back row: Jeff Pettis, Karen Roccasecca, Rob Snyder, Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Nishit Patel, Nathan Rice, Linda Wertz, Karen Rennich, Middle row: Robyn Rose, Dawn Lopez, Margaret Smith, Vic Levi, Jennie Stitzinger, Front row (kneeling): Mike Andree and Jay Evans.

Beekeeping and The Way of the Ninja

I love books.  I love the way they feel in your hands and the way they smell, but more importantly, I love them for the places that they take us, how they bring people together and all that we learn along the way.  As a mother, I make it a priority to pass on this sense of wonder and excitement to my children.  On a recent trip the library, my youngest son and I came upon a vibrantly illustrated book titled “Ninja Cowboy Bear presents The Way of the Ninja” written by David Bruins and illustrated by Hilary Leung.  We were both taken with the idea of combining those three characters into a single book and it got even better once we read the story.  I won’t give away the plot –  you’ll have to read it yourself –  but the Ninja character loves danger and excitement while his other two friends don’t.  As we turned the pages, we saw Ninja involved in extreme sports ranging from bungee jumping from a blimp to parachuting over shark infested waters to…..beekeeping??!!

Extreme beekeeping

I contacted Hilary Leung, the creator of the fabulous illustrations in the book, and asked him why beekeeping was included as an extreme sport.  He replied, “Well both David and I were brainstorming a whole list of ‘extreme activities’ that we’d like to try one day and not surprisingly bee-keeping made that list.  We also thought it’d be a bit of foreshadowing with the ‘bee trouble’ we see later in the book.”

So for those beekeepers out there, there is even more reason to hold your head up high with pride – you are now an extreme sports warrior.

Ninja beekeeper


Thanks to Hilary for providing these images from the book and if you want to see the YouTube trailer, click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PGbzHytUrs.

Bee Informed Partnership Press Release!

Today began much like any other day; a cup of coffee while answering emails before settling into the real tasks of the day.  Many of us have been working on this project as a small team for over 3 months. In anticipation of NIFA announcing our 5 year grant, our work has been infused with a sense of urgency and enthusiasm.  After much waiting (and to be honest, wagers on the side as to when the announcement would take place), the press release was made at 1 p.m. EST today.  We can finally unite all the team members as a whole and forge on as one big happy family.  We are excited.  We are thrilled.  We have much to show you and we have a lot of work to do but the work is always lighter when it is shared.  Here we go…!

30,000 Attend White House Honey Bee Outreach (oh, and participate in the Easter Egg roll)

Al Roker, the Power Rangers and Elmo fought for attention but the word was out on the streets that the “Buzzing about Bees” honey bee tent was the place to be for the 2011 Easter Egg Roll.  I was lucky to work the honey bee tent Monday at the White House during the Easter Egg Roll and the crowds were just as enthusiastic and interested in honey bees as last year.  I’d like to think that they braved the long lines, hot weather and tight security

just to see us, but perhaps President Obama, the First Family and other celebrities may have been a slight draw as well.  Many children asked compelling and educated questions.  Were we engaging, passionate and entertaining to inspire a young entomologist or future beekeeper?  Only time will tell, but what a fun atmosphere to talk about pollination, honey and the life cycles of honey bees.  Thanks to Charlie Brandts, the White House beekeeper, Bill Yosses, the Executive White House pastry chef, and Susie Morrison, the assistant pastry chef, we were able to do just that in the midst of giant bunnies, hoola hoop demonstrations, larger-than-life PBS characters and a bandstand in the background.

Charlie had 4 honey supers on the hive on Monday and we just heard that he has added a 5th one to give them more room.  Spring has come to D.C. and we are happy that the honey bees are getting the attention they deserve.