Sentinel Apiary Monthly Memo: November Issue

That’s a wrap on the 2019 Sentinel Apiary Program! This year was a real record breaker with 106 Sentinel Apiaries in 29 states. Sentinel beekeepers put in blood, sweat, and stings to send in over 2,500 samples from 564 colonies. The data collected from these samples helps participants make data driven management decisions. Mite loads are also shared on our public interactive Varroa map, so that Sentinel Apiaries can act as regional benchmarks for colony health. If you would like to help support the Sentinel Apiary program and keep this valuable data accessible, please consider donating to our annual fundraising effort!

On average, this year’s Sentinel apiary Varroa loads were similar to the national average each month. They were also significantly higher than last year’s Sentinel mite loads. It will be interesting to see if this is reflected in winter mortality. Check out our interactive Varroa map to see how mite loads differed between states.

Monthly chart of varroa levels for Sentinel program 2019

Sentinel helps take the guesswork out of when to treat, and whether treatments were effective. Since there was higher mite pressure this year, let’s take a look at what beekeepers were using for control methods. August and September were the most popular months to treat for mites. The most popular treatment of the year was Formic Acid with 65 reported uses. Formic Pro gained in popularity significantly, accounting for 39 of these Formic Acid uses (the other 26 of these were MAQS.). Oxalic Acid (28 uses) and Amitraz (27 uses) were the next most commonly used products.

View the graph below to see how often the top 4 reported chemicals, as well as non-chemical methods, were used over the season. Other reported chemicals included Fluvalinate (n = 5), Coumaphos (n = 5), and Hop oils (n = 5). Non-chemical methods included brood breaks (n = 5), drone brood removal (n = 3), and powdered sugar (n = 1).

Chart of treatments used per month for Sentinel participants 2019

As for our superlatives, here’s who’s takes the trophy for the whole year in each category:

This year, the state with the most Sentinel Apiaries and samples was Michigan with a whopping 405 samples from 14 apiaries.

Michigan also sent in the most drones total, with 1,544 drones. But New York had the most drones per sample by a mile, with 11.2 drones per sample.

Minnesota consistently had the lowest Varroa loads, with a yearly average of only 0.9 mites/100 bees. Great job MN!

Finally, if you’ve been following along it’s no surprise that Illinois had the year’s biggest bees, with an average of 0.18 grams per bee.

If you found this blog interesting, we will publish our annual Sentinel End of Year Report in the coming weeks with more information like this, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can view last year’s here.

Finally, our annual fundraiser is in full swing, and your donation will go to helping programs like Sentinel stay affordable for fellow beekeepers. Please consider donating to this valuable data collection effort!


“Peace of Mind” Sampling

by Ben Sallmann, BIP Honey Bee Health Field Specialist, Northwest US

At the end of the day, beekeepers want to know that their bees are healthy, well-fed, and prepared for the next season. Fall is a critical time for beekeepers because the condition of the bees now will determine the winter survival rate and the number of colonies available for almond pollination early next year. The photo above was taken at daybreak on the plateaus of western Idaho, where the bees worked the canola fields earlier in the summer. These bees have been left with good winter stores and sampling showed low varroa mite counts. They will soon be moved into sheds where they will stay until the almond bloom is about to begin.

The Field Specialists from Bee Informed Partnership are busy throughout the fall providing what some like to call “peace of mind” sampling to beekeepers in the program. Knowing that their mite treatments worked and their bees are relatively varroa-free is worth a lot to beekeepers who lose a lot of sleep worrying about their bees’ health. There are times when our sampling shows that mite levels are still stubbornly high and another “mop-up” treatment needs to be squeezed in before winter sets in. At least in these cases, the beekeepers then have the information they need to take action before it’s too late. Ignorance is not bliss for a beekeeper!

Please make a donation today to help us keep and expand these valuable services. Most of these bees are needed to pollinate the wonderfully diverse food that we all enjoy and appreciate. Donate today.


Let’s Hear it from the Board!

The Bee Informed Partnership, like many nonprofits, has a Board vested in our organization’s sustainability, success, and the pursuit of our strategic goals. Also, like many other nonprofits, our volunteer Board is composed of stakeholders who actually use our services. We are fortunate to have some of the best commercial beekeepers in the country on our board as well as some hard working, highly respected researchers. They usually work quietly behind the scenes but for our Fundraising event, I have asked a few of them to step out and speak to YOU, our readers and participants to say what they find compelling and unique about BIP. 

Please donate TODAY to help BIP remain sustainable and successful. We need each and every one of you to give what you can. We can’t do this alone!. Thank you.


Dr. Marla Spivak
Dr. Marla Spivak

“For me, BIP is a vision come true: colony health data, collected over time, from migratory and backyard beekeepers has contributed enormously to our understanding of management practices and the resulting increase or decrease in survivorship. Beekeepers now can make decisions based on data and not anecdotal information. Real information to help a real problem.”  


John Miller with BIP hat smiling
John Miller: Commercial Beekeeper
  • “Since launching in 2011, Bee Informed Project has amassed the largest number of honey bee samples in history.”
  • “Since launching in 2011, BIP has archived the largest honey bee data set in history.”
  • “From this huge data base, insights previously unavailable – are available.”
  • “With the expertise developed over the past nine years; beekeepers can and will make informed decisions.”
  • “Lessons are repeated until they are learned.  BIP changes beekeeper behavior.”


Dr. Ramesh Sagili in the field
Dr. Ramesh Sagili

“BIP has provided invaluable service to the beekeeping community (both commercial and backyard beekeepers) in the USA since its inception. Participant beekeepers that I have interacted with have lauded the timely and critical information provided by the tech-teams to mitigate colony losses. For many beekeepers, BIP and BIP tech-teams have become indispensable. As one of the hosting labs for the BIP tech-transfer teams, my research and extension program at Oregon State University has benefited from the extensive and meticulous colony health information gathered by the tech-team across Oregon and other neighboring states. The general colony health information shared by the tech-teams has been frequently used by my program to formulate research / extension projects to address immediate concerns/problems of the beekeeping industry in a timely manner.”


Dr. Geoff Williams by bee grafiti
Dr. Geoff Williams

“For me, BIP has helped to align the ivory walls of academia with the pine woodenware of the American beekeeping industry. That is because BIP is at the nexus of research and practice, by providing beekeepers with management options backed by science. Whether that’s for backyard beekeepers through our management survey or Sentinel apiary program or for commercial beekeepers through the efforts of our Tech Transfer team, BIP touches the lives of beekeepers across the country. And it plans for so much more in the future!”

Pat Heitkam smiling
Pat Heitkam, Commercial Beekeeper

“The Bee Informed organization has helped move Heitkam’s honey bees from a business that was driven by a passion for beekeeping to passionate people guided by science. The succession of our family business requires more than Passion. Our work becomes more complex by the day and we need new tools that BIP continues to develop for us. Thanks to the village that is BIP!”



The BIP Tech Team Program – We GO where the bees GO!

by Anne Marie Fauvel & Nathalie Steinhauer

The Technical Transfer Team Program offers regular on-site hive inspections and sampling services for large commercial beekeepers and queen breeders throughout the U.S. The team consists of 5 distinct regions, staffed by 6 Honey Bee Health Field Specialists, providing services to over 100 commercial beekeepers, in 17 states, 10 of which are the nation’s top honey producing states. As our honey bees and beekeepers migrate to pollinate our food crops and ensure food security, so do our Field Specialists. They collectively drove over 100,000 miles inspecting close to 20,000 colonies last year alone! Can you imagine the logistical programmatic efforts this represents? Please help us continue to offer these valuable services and DONATE to BIP today!




Be Included, Be Involved, Bee Informed and Be Generous

In today’s world, we are asked to care passionately about so many things. From polar bears to plastic, we are often overwhelmed at how many good causes are asking for aid. There is precious little remaining bandwidth in our mental and emotional reserves for anything more, so I will make this short. 

If you or someone you know is a beekeeper in any part of the world, you know that we are asking more of these magnificent insects under increasingly challenging circumstances. Our wonderfully diverse food supply depends on them and our economy benefits from the fact they are here. However, we are also asking increasingly more from our beekeepers. Managing honey bees has become increasingly difficult. If you were looking for an easy and relaxing retirement hobby, you may want to take up golf instead. We are trying to change that. The BIP team is confident that brighter times are on the horizon and we are asking you to be part of that transformation.

See Our New Website!

BIP is a relatively small, scrappy and diverse team, spread wide across the United States. As a nonprofit, we work tirelessly each and every day to bring you the most reliable and recent data to help you make informed decisions while enjoying your hobby or career. Today, we proudly launch our new website to make it easier for you to access our programs and data. We also welcome and encourage the distribution of this information – as many of you have done – to educate others about the challenges facing honey bees and the ways that we can help solve them.

Today, we also implore you, beekeepers and faithful environmentally conscious friends, to help us continue making  a difference. In the next month or so, you will be hearing from many of us at the Bee Informed Partnership. We will share a short movie or two, acquaint you with what we do and hopefully inspire you with the impact we are having on the industry and the world. We ask that you Donate today. You WILL make a difference.  

Donate to BIP! »

Thank you from our entire team. 

We promise to make every dollar count.


Yellow Star Thistle Produces Green Honey


Yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) was extremely prolific in some areas of California this year.  Many commercial beekeepers commented on it.  One said that he hadn’t seen this much star thistle in over 20 years.  Personally, I saw huge fields of it all over the Sacramento Valley, from Redding down to Davis. Further south, I didn’t see nearly as much as it is considered a noxious weed and invasive species, and the eradication programs may be working well in the southern regions.

Yellow star thistle nectar
Yellow star thistle nectar closeup

Yellow star thistle originates from the Mediterranean. The similar climate of the Central Valley makes it ideal for it to grow.  According to the USDA, yellow star thistle has spread to 15 million acres in the western states.  Yellow star thistle is bad news for grazing animals because it out competes native plants and can also be a physical barrier.  Walking through a patch of star thistle will result in its skinny sharp thorns piercing right through a person’s pants. It is unfortunate that yellow star thistle has some undesirable qualities.  For their part, beekeepers love it because it produces a uniquely colored honey with a complex flavor profile and can sell for a premium.  It can retail for up to $12 in half pint jars.  Wholesale buckets have sold for $3 a pound and barrels for $2.85 a pound.

Star Thistle Nectar

Pure yellow star thistle honey is actually green.  I have never seen it pure enough to be outright green, but I have seen it as a light amber honey with a definite greenish hue to it.  I have seen pure yellow star thistle nectar in the comb and it looks dark green.  That was likely due to the bees back filling the brood nest with it. The comb was dark, which made the nectar appear dark green.  When I poked at it with my hive tool to taste it, it appeared much lighter but still very green.


Dried up yellow star thistle
Dried up yellow star thistle (Warning: do not attempt to walk through this stuff)



(Spo)oktober Blog: Don’t be afraid of State Specific Colony Losses!

Happy Fall y’all!

In normal life, “Fall” means Halloween (and dressing up as fatbody-sucking Varroa mite) and Thanksgiving (we certainly are grateful to be part of the beekeeper community).

In beekeeping life, “Fall” means that nectar flows come to an end, queens lay fewer eggs, winter bees are being reared and we have to (still) deal with Varroa mites. All this is happening for a reason: To get the bees ready for and successfully bring them through winter. (Hard to believe here in Alabama where it is still blazing hot!)

You may remember that we reported the highest honey bee colony winter losses since the beginning of the survey in 2006 (in case you don’t, you can read the abstract here)! Beekeepers across the nation lost 38% of their colonies over winter.

In some states, one would define this season as “ice-cold, snowy, and long”; in others, it’s merely “one month of cooler temperatures”. As variable as climatic conditions are, so are beekeeping practices among the 50 U.S. states. We do acknowledge this by grouping our data spatially and presenting them according to state, federal district, and territory.

Like in previous years, we are providing data for Annual, Summer and Winter colony losses. As usual, we are presenting both Total and Average Loss for each region and season. A little refresher on what the difference is between our Loss calculations:

Total Loss = every colony is treated the same or “every colony gets a vote”. Thus, Total Loss is more representative of commercial beekeepers who are managing most honey bee colonies in the country as the losses are weighted toward those who manage more colonies.

Average Loss = every beekeeper is treated the same no matter how many colonies are managed by this individual. In other words, each operation, no matter how small or large, “gets only 1 vote”. We use operational loss then to calculate average loss. Therefore, Average Loss is more representative of backyard beekeepers since they make up the majority of the U.S. beekeeping community (numerically speaking).

Here, we included summary tables of our data as well as a map showing Total Annual Losses specific to each state (see below Figure 1; tables 1, 2 and 3).
To view even more region-specific data (e.g. Winter and Summer losses), head over to BIP’s Interactive Loss Map. In addition to nicely colored maps from various years, you can also compare the number of respondents. That being said: The more responses we receive, the more representative our data is. So: Spread the word and encourage your beekeeper friends to participate in the survey next Spring!

Some of you may sit there, eyes closed, fingers hovering over the mouse, dreading that their state had among the highest colony losses this year. Well, here we go!

Colony Loss 2019

Figure 1: Annual Total Colony Loss by state and federal district between 1 April 2018 and 1 April 2019.

Quick side note which will help to read the tables: N represents the number of beekeepers that responded from each state/district/territory. If a state had less than 5 participating beekeepers, we note that with a “<5” in the tables below and do not share the losses for privacy reasons. If you are in a state with fewer than 5 participating beekeepers, start talking among your fellow organizations and see if you can set that as a goal next year! We would love to have enough participants next year to have a full map.

Blog by Selina Bruckner Ph.D. Student at Auburn University


Table 1: Annual Total Loss and Average Loss by state, federal district, and territory between 1 April 2018 and 1 April 2019

Season State N Total Loss Average Loss
ANNUAL Alabama 61 33.2 30.3
ANNUAL Alaska <5 NA NA
ANNUAL Arizona <5 NA NA
ANNUAL Arkansas 43 39.9 44.7
ANNUAL California 130 39.8 45.2
ANNUAL Colorado 101 29.0 51.1
ANNUAL Connecticut 20 39.6 47.2
ANNUAL District of Columbia 8 23.9 31.9
ANNUAL Delaware 13 53.6 54.6
ANNUAL Florida 32 40.2 32.6
ANNUAL Georgia 81 49.9 48.1
ANNUAL Hawaii <5 NA NA
ANNUAL Idaho 24 35.8 52.2
ANNUAL Illinois 80 57.7 63.2
ANNUAL Indiana 97 36.3 45.9
ANNUAL Iowa 68 68.9 61.8
ANNUAL Kansas 28 55.1 54.9
ANNUAL Kentucky 85 40.1 45.6
ANNUAL Louisiana 7 69.4 36.1
ANNUAL Maine 49 42.4 48.5
ANNUAL Maryland 162 34.3 44.4
ANNUAL Massachusetts 69 45.9 48.6
ANNUAL Michigan 153 44.0 48.9
ANNUAL Minnesota 76 50.1 64.4
ANNUAL Mississippi <5 NA NA
ANNUAL Missouri 79 35.7 34.0
ANNUAL Montana 19 16.9 39.3
ANNUAL Nebraska 13 23.0 65.3
ANNUAL Nevada 15 71.7 57.9
ANNUAL New Hampshire 29 45.0 51.3
ANNUAL New Jersey 54 40.0 55.3
ANNUAL New Mexico 14 51.9 68.5
ANNUAL New York 103 29.7 48.0
ANNUAL North Carolina 176 32.7 42.1
ANNUAL North Dakota 18 38.3 40.8
ANNUAL Ohio 142 32.6 38.2
ANNUAL Oklahoma 62 30.9 37.6
ANNUAL Oregon 97 40.5 55.6
ANNUAL Pennsylvania 486 46.8 52.1
ANNUAL Puerto Rico 0 NA NA
ANNUAL Rhode Island 13 32.8 27.9
ANNUAL South Carolina 35 34.9 35.9
ANNUAL South Dakota 12 42.6 42.9
ANNUAL Tennessee 60 49.7 42.4
ANNUAL Texas 127 41.9 34.0
ANNUAL Utah 94 49.2 65.3
ANNUAL Vermont 36 29.0 66.6
ANNUAL Virginia 495 41.2 49.7
ANNUAL Washington 114 46.7 66.8
ANNUAL West Virginia 35 40.2 51.3
ANNUAL Wisconsin 90 41.7 56.8
ANNUAL Wyoming <5 NA NA
ANNUAL MultiStateOperation 107 39.6 39.5



Sentinel Apiary Program Monthly Memo: October Issue

Original photo of mite: Julia Stoess

Welcome back to yet another Sentinel Apiaries update. We’re coming to you in the spookiest month of the year with some pretty scary stuff: mites, mites and more mites! I spent an embarrassing amount of time in photoshop to drive this point home (see right). As we always do in September, we saw a pretty significant jump in mite loads last month. Over 50% of states were above treatment threshold. You can see a lot less yellow (below threshold states) on our Varroa heat map below.

Mite loads in Sentinel apiaries were much higher this September than last year (see below). If you have yet to check or treat for mites, now is the critical period before winter sets in. You want your mite loads to be as low as possible before overwintering, because those winter bees have to live until spring and may not make it if they’re sharing their space with these unwelcome guests.

Compare monthly average mite loads between this year’s Sentinel apiaries (red), last year’s Sentinel apiaries (blue), and the National Honey Bee Disease Survey average (gray).

As for this month’s Sentinel Superlatives, a big shout out to the following:

Congratulations to Washington for having the lowest average mite load in September with only 0.77 mites/100 bees. Well done keeping those loads in check Washington!

The state with the biggest bees was Illinois yet again. This is their third month winning the award for bulkiest bees with 0.187 grams per bee. Let’s see if anyone can dethrone them this month!

The state with the most drones total was Michigan with a whopping 595 drones. That number should start to taper off soon as their colonies kick the free loading boys out before winter.

The state with the most drones per sample was New York for the second month running with 18 drones per sample.

That’s it for this month’s update. Check back next month for our final memo of the year where we’ll recap Varroa and Nosema loads, other colony health metrics, and do full year superlatives!


Sentinel Apiary Program Monthly Memo: September Issue

Author (Kelly Kulhanek) presenting the Sentinel Apiary Program at Apimondia.

Hello Beekeepers, we’re back with the September Sentinel Apiary update one day late but hopefully not a dollar short! It’s been a very busy month full of monitoring and treating for mites, plus a trip to Montreal for the Apimondia world beekeeping conference. It was such a blast to see so many Sentinel beekeepers and BIP supporters north of the border and to present the program at the citizen science session.

Of course, while the beekeeper is away, the bees (and mites) will play. Here’s what happened with Sentinel Apiaries in August (September update to come shortly).


Last month, 61 beekeepers submitted 330 samples from 25 states. We were very happy to see that mite loads only increased slightly between July and August. In 2018, we saw a bigger jump over this time period, and you can see that the National Average typically has a substantial increase. This means Sentinel beekeepers are remaining vigilant after that big jump we saw in July. Keep up the good work, and we’ll see how things look in September.

Monthly average Varroa loads for this year’s Sentinel (red), compared to last year’s (blue) and the APHIS national average (gray).

More northern states have started to exceed the suggested treatment threshold of 3 mites/100 bees including Maryland, Maine, New York, Oregon, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Check out Varroa heat map to see if your state is above threshold and get out there and monitor.


As for this month’s Sentinel Superlatives, a big shout out to the following:

Congratulations to Minnesota for having the lowest average mite load in August with only 0.63 mites/100 bees.

The state with the biggest bees was Illinois for the second month running with 0.197 grams per bee. They must be eating their Wheaties over there!

The state with the most drones total was Michigan with 207 drones. Note: this will likely always be Michigan as they have the most Sentinel Apiaries in one state: 10.

The state with the most drones per sample was New York with 12 drones per sample. That’s a lot for this late in the season!


We also had a big jump in reported honey harvest last month, with a total of 5,197 lbs of honey harvested from Sentinel Apiaries. New Jersey reported the most honey harvested with a whopping 1,950 lbs. We’ll be back next month to see if anyone topped that in September! That’s all for this month’s update. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next time.


Are you annotating your hive scale data?

The Bee Informed Partnership’s Electronic Hive Monitoring program gathers data from hundreds of electronic hive monitors located all over the USA.   Much of this data is publicly available to the beekeeping community in a variety of actionable formats.  For example, if you go over to the BIP research portal at and click on Hive Monitors you can see a public gain/loss map that shows the 7 day moving average weight loss/gain of the hive monitors within that state.

screenshot of the hive monitoring public map
Bee Informed Partnership’s Hive Scale Heat Map – shows average loss / gain in weight over last 7 days by state.

We are also doing algorithmic work on the data and attempting to discover more actionable information about colony health from this vast collection of electronically captured data.  If you are a participant in BIP’s hive monitoring program, we would like to share some advise with you on how you can make your data more useful to the research community.   One of the most important things we need you to do is to login to the research portal using the same credentials that you registered your scale with.  Once logged in we need you to actively interesting changes in the data via our annotation interface.  For example, if you’ve added an empty honey super to the hive, you’ll likely see a 20 lb increase in weight on that day.  We need you to find those types of changes in weight and tell us what happened to cause it.  In the future this additional info will be very helpful in helping us improve our machine learning algorithms which we hope will ultimately help the beekeeping community make better colony management decisions.

To help simply this task for you, we’ve already introduced a feature to our research portal to automatically find all the changes in weight that likely require some sort of human annotation. Every night when you’re getting your rest after a long day of beekeeping activities, our algorithms kick in and analyze all the data received over the past 24 hours.  Any changes in weight that likely need annotation will be flagged and reported to you the next time you login to our portal.  To get a better idea of this works, take a look at the YouTube demonstration video below.

We hope this short demonstration of how easy it is for you to annotate your data has motivating you to login to the BIP research portal and get busy marking up your data!  Remember, the more annotations you provide on your data, the more useful your data becomes as we continue to try to build even better machine learning algorithms!


Be Involved. Be Included.Bee Informed.

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