I recently traveled back to my home state of Ohio for a family wedding. On the first leg of my trip from Sacramento to Phoenix I sat next to a newly retired gentleman named Dan. As we chatted, he was pleased to learn I work with bees. He wanted to get back into beekeeping and had a lot of questions for me. He reminisced about his childhood when he and his father had a handful of colonies that helped pollinate the family garden. Before last spring, the last time Dan was in a hive was 50 years ago. Keeping bees for him was “something easy and fun to do, and the free honey was a nice addition.”
When Dan decided to get back into bees he didn’t realize a significant event in the history of U.S. beekeeping happened between his child hood and the spring of 2016. Varroa destructor (varroa) arrived! Ever since its introduction into the U.S. in 1987 the parasitic mite has devastated colonies across the country. It has changed the very nature of beekeeping. Keeping hives alive and healthy year-round requires more inputs and skill than ever before. Dan himself can attest to the increased difficulty of keeping bees. “They are like a completely different animal than what I remember. They are hard to keep alive. I can’t take the devastation of opening another cover only to find dead bees!”
Granted, Dan lacks experience with modern beekeeping. I admit this is an anecdotal story. But his sentiment is pertinent to the nature of 21st century beekeeping in the U.S. His message echos what any commercial beekeeper can tell you: varroa mites are having a profound effect on the health and vitality of honey bees. Project Apis m. has heard the concerns of beekeepers and has responded by prioritizing varroa-related research. We have also endorsed and sponsored other organizations’ efforts to combat varroa. For example, we assisted in the creation of the Tools for Varroa Management Guide. Please refer to this downloadable guide for all your questions on monitoring, sampling, and treatment options.
We are also proud to be a part of Pollinator Partnership’s Mite-A-Thon. This event is a national effort to collect mite infestation data and to visualize varroa infestations in honey bee colonies across North America within a one-week window. All beekeepers in Canada, United States and Mexico are encouraged to participate. The Mite-A-Thon is happening during the week of September 9th and is free to participate. Participants will monitor the level of mites (number of mites per 100 bees) using a standardized protocol utilizing two common methods of assessment (powdered sugar roll or alcohol wash) and then enter data, including location, total number of hives, number of hives tested, local habitat, and the number of varroa mites counted from each hive. The published information will not identify individual participants.
Varroa, and the viruses it vectors, is a significant driver of honey bee colony mortality. Yet, indicators suggest that some beekeepers are not correctly monitoring varroa infestations and therefore are not able to connect infestation to colony loss. Please join Project Apis m. and Pollinator Partnership in helping spread the world about proper varroa management by participating in the Mite-a-Thon. The varroa monitoring data will be anonymously uploaded to www.mitecheck.com. For the first time ever there will be publicly available data about varroa mite levels of colonies at the same time of year throughout three major countries. I look forward to analyzing the varroa infestation map. Will your hives be represented on it?
Director of Pollination Programs
Project Apis m
Reach Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org or (614) 330-6932
As this year’s accomplishments end, we look towards next season and the joys and headaches it will bring. Our minds linger on questions about successes and failures and how they relate to management decisions. Right now, beekeepers throughout the country are deciding how to treat for mites and pathogens. As the summer continues into fall, forage becomes scarce. Hives will need to find an adequate amount of late blooming flowers or get expensive protein supplement patties fed to them. With habitat and forage disappearing across the country (see The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund) the latter is the new normal for most beekeeping operations. The choices made this Fall will determine the health and vigor of the bees needed to pollinate almonds in the Spring. Few people realize the amount of bee forage present in a North Dakota grassland in the Fall significantly affects an $11 billion-dollar industry in California in the Spring.
As growers are watching almond hulls split and dry, they are making important decisions. Harvest is a busy time of year. As the rainy season draws nearer the risk of exposing the nuts to moisture increases. Growers are also making choices in the Fall that will impact spring pollination. There is a small window of time after harvest and before the first winter rains that is ideal for planting PAm bee forage cover crops. Growers who want the strongest bees possible are making choices this Fall that will affect the pollination of their crops come spring. To ensure an early bloom, cover crops should be planted by October 5th. However, some orchards with late harvesting varieties might not be ready by then. Cover crops will still germinate and help the soil if planted after October 5, but the hive-strengthening aspects are diminished. Every year hungry bee hives get placed in orchards before the almonds bloom. Growers are now realizing hives that can forage on cover crops early are stronger come the second week of February when almond bloom usually occurs. Synchronizing cover crop bloom with the bees’ arrival is the best way to take full advantage of all the benefits of the Seeds for Bees program. As a grower once told me, “The bees show up before almonds, so my cover crop might as well be blooming so they have something eat!”
I am now taking orders for Seeds for Bees seed mixes. The requirements and details of the program can be found here. Feel free to call or email me with questions. Cover crops increase the health and vitality of bees while improving crop production. Get involved today!
Director of Pollination Programs
Project Apis m.
Reach Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org or (614) 330-6932
California agriculture is extremely diverse. Over 400 commodities are produced in a wide variety of growing conditions. Irrigation and fertilization are critical to an efficient and productive crop yield. Water discharges from agricultural operations in California include runoff which can affect water quality by transporting pollutants, including pesticides, sediment, nutrients, salts, pathogens, and heavy metals, from cultivated fields into surface waters. While groundwater quality can be impaired by nitrogen and salts when they leach below the rootzone. Cover crops can play a role in protecting surface water quality by slowing down run off during rain events and by supplementing nitrogen without the use of fertilizers.
All the land used to grow almonds in California is regulated by The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (CVWB). It is one of nine Regional Water Boards in California. Stretching from the Oregon border to Los Angeles County, the Central Valley is about 60,000 square miles or nearly 40 percent of the state. It includes about 75 percent of the state’s irrigated agricultural land. In 2003, the CVWB created a specific program designed to address water quality activities associated with irrigated lands. This program is referred to as the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program. Growers must join and pay into regional water quality coalitions which do the monitoring and outreach necessary to ensure water quality standards are met. Please refer to the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program for more details.
As part of the Irrigated Regulatory Program, starting in 2015, all growers are required to have a nitrogen management plan. This plan will indicate how much nitrogen is needed and identify the sources where it is coming from. Accurately determining the amount of nitrogen being applied to an agricultural system can be challenging. Fertilizers, manures, composts, cover crops, and sometimes irrigation water all add nitrogen to soil, and figuring out how much is needed can be complicated. Fortunately, the Almond Board of California and SureHarvest have created an online assessment tool to make this process easier and more streamlined. The online assessment tools needed to create a nitrogen management plan are available at the California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP) website. Here almond growers can create a private account, and information entered is kept confidential.
One very useful tool provided is a Nitrogen Calculator. Based on the nitrogen budget model developed by Dr. Patrick Brown of UC Davis, this calculator simplifies the process of budgeting nitrogen for almond growers. The calculator takes into consideration yield estimates, leaf sampling results and nitrogen that comes from other sources, like bee forage cover crops. It stores data by orchard block, making updates easy as information changes. Budget components can be cloned and applied to other orchards or used in subsequent years. All almond growers can use the online model to create budgets but must be participants in CASP for the data storage aspect, which eliminates the need to re-enter all the data when revising budgets during the growing season. Data can be printed, displayed as a PDF file, or exported into a database.
Almond growers who plant cover crops are helping bees while simultaneously amending their soil with a free source of nitrogen. However, without knowing how much nitrogen is being fixed into the soil by legume cover crops like PAm Clover Mix, growers won’t know how much to reduce their fertilizer application rate. Using the Nitrogen Calculator will give growers clarity about how to manage their operation. Depending on the strength of the stand (poor, good, or great) and the incorporation method (mow only or discing in), almond growers are getting 15-84 lbs. N/acre from the cover crop alone.(1) Once the nitrogen from the cover crop is factored in, the calculator will then give detailed recommendations about how much additional fertilizer is needed and when to apply it.
Almond trees need nitrogen every year for two reasons: 1) to assist perennial growth, and 2) to replace the nitrogen lost by the annual harvesting of almonds. The nitrogen in the roots, trunk and branches increases annually by 25-30 lbs./acre.(2) The hulls, shells, leaves, debris, and kernels collected each year during harvest are responsible for depleting nitrogen from the tree. The average amount of nitrogen lost each year from harvested crop pruning, and leaf fall is 68 lbs./acre of nitrogen for every 1000 kernel lbs./acre harvested. (3) Higher kernel yields are positively correlated with higher nitrogen demand. Growers can use a previous year’s yield data to estimate how much nitrogen will be needed during the current growing year, but ideally update during the season the calculation as the grower gets a better idea of what the yield is likely to be.
After the amount of required nitrogen is determined, growers can make a choice about what source(s) the nitrogen will come from. For example, if an orchard yielded 1000 lbs./acre of kernels the nitrogen required for a successful crop the next year will be 95 lbs. nitrogen/acre. Take note that the required nitrogen is greater than the nitrogen demand because nitrogen use is not 100% efficient. Applying only 68 pounds of nitrogen for every 1000 kernel pounds will not meet the tree’s need, because the application efficiency of nitrogen is not 100%. (4) If a cover crops is providing 84 lbs. nitrogen/acre, then the amount of additional nitrogen that needs to be applied with fertilizer is only 11 lbs./acre. If this orchard didn’t have a cover crop, the grower would have to apply all the recommended 95 lbs. nitrogen/acre with fertilizer alone.
In summary, cover crops can add a significant amount of nitrogen to orchards. Having accurate data about the necessary amount is the key to wise fertilizer use. Please refer to the following links for more information:
1.Brown, P.H., & Zhang, Q.(2008). Nitrogen fertilization recommendation model for almond [Microsoft Excel spreadsheet model]. Retrieved from http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/grants/reports/brown/nmodel.html
2.Brown, P., 2012. Presentation held at the 40th Almond Conference in Sacramento. December 12, 2012.
3.Saa Silva, S., Muhammad, S., Sanden, B., Laca, E., Brown, P., 2012. Almond early-season sampling and in-season nitrogen maximizes productivity, minimizes loss.
4.Doll, D., (2012 May 19). Estimating Nitrogen Needs = Estimating Your Crop. http://thealmonddoctor.com/2012/05/19/estimating-nitrogen-needs-estimating-your-crop/
Please contact Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org for questions or comments.
Director of Pollination Programs
What would happen if we put all the known best practices in action for our bees? This project implements all our best tools- Varroa management, pesticide pollinator protections, supplemental forage and beekeeper/grower communications- exciting right? Tune in for this webinar about a really important project funded by our Healthy Hives 2020 initiative!
Click Here to Register for “The Keys to Colony Success”
Wed, Jun 21, 2017 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EDT
With Julie Shapiro, Coalition Facilitator, Keystone Policy Center, Keystone, CO, and Mike Smith, Project Director, Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), West Lafayette, IN
Visit the HH2020 web page for additional information and register for other upcoming HH2020 webinars below:
Click Here to Register for “Tracking the Changing Deformed Wing Virus”
Mon, Jun 19, 2017 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EDT
With Stephen Martin, Ph.D., Professor, School of Environment & Life Sciences, University of Salford, Manchester, UK
Click Here to Register for “Smarter Hives, Healthier Bees”
Fri, Jun 23, 2017 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EDT
With Joseph Cazier, Ph.D. and Ed Hassler, Ph.D. of the Center for Analytics Research and Education, Appalachian State University, and James Wilkes, Ph.D., Computer Science Department, Appalachian State University, and Founder, HiveTracks.com
The work we do at Project Apis m. enhances the health and vitality of honey bees while improving crop production. Farms and orchards depend on bee pollination, and bees need the nutritional resources these spaces provide. Setting up meetings and events that facilitate an exchange of knowledge is the best way to engage with the growing community in a collaborative way. It’s important to remember the honey bee is a creature native to Europe. Here in the United States, the managed row crops, trees, and weeds of the countryside are its natural habitat.
In an effort to inform growers about the beneficial aspects of planting bee forage, Project Apis m. is hosting a Cover Crop Workshop on June 28th. Participants will be educated on the details of managing cover crops that will benefit pollination, bee vitality and soil health. Dr. Emily Symmes, Area IPM Advisor with University of California Cooperative Extension, will start by explaining the role of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in orchard systems. Orchard systems advisor, Dr. Dani Lightle, will be speaking about how some cover crops affect and suppress nematodes. Tom Johnson, Agronomist at Kamprath Seeds, will explain the timing and techniques associated with good cover crop management. I will be speaking about cover crop effects on water use, pollination, and bee health. I will also address how cover cropping fits under the umbrella of sustainable farming and how that might translate to increased business opportunities. Taking place in Glenn County, California, the event is free to anyone who would like to attend. Free lunch will be provided to all those that RSVP to Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org.
April 4, 2017
As the world’s largest pollination event, the California almond bloom, comes to a close, beekeepers everywhere are asking themselves one question: Where do I take my bees now? As spring turns to summer here in California the foraging opportunities become more scarce. Surely there are pollination-for-hire jobs that beekeepers can try to fill. But the number of these contracts is limited and can’t support our nation’s 2.5 million colonies. Even if it were easy to find, the nutrition provided by some of these crops is of poor quality (e.g., blueberry 13%-14% protein). Historically, middle America has served as a summer vacation spot for many hives. Bees that have worked hard pollinating almonds get shipped to America’s heartland to get fat and happy. In fact, 75% of the nation’s honey bee colonies are found in just 8 states in the summer.
Places like North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Missouri used to have far more bee supportive flowers than they do now. Bees are under enough stress as it is. Year round, they are getting fed on by varroa mites that transfer disease. Interestingly, research indicates access to diverse, nutritious forage actually helps bees’ natural immune systems and has a direct impact on pollinator health (Alaux et al. 2010). This is why it’s alarming when vast amounts of forage in the upper Midwest and great plains regions disappear. From 2008-2011 alone, 23 million acres of grasslands have been destroyed and converted into cropland. This means there is now less land to support bee health, honey production, monarch butterflies, songbirds, pheasants, quail and wildlife, in general. The need for more forage is urgent!
By Billy Synk
At Project Apis m. we do more than fund research and hand out free seed. We package up our knowledge and expertise in a way that is useful to beekeepers and growers. For example, Dr. Reed Johnson’s pesticide research is complicated. Growers and their advisors may have a hard time navigating the results when trying to determine the best way to protect their crops without harming bees. This is why we partnered with the Almond Board to create a list of Best Management Practices. Now growers have an easy-to-read, practical guide for what to do when applying pesticides. My point is, providing raw data and information without applying it to practical solutions isn’t very useful.
Seeds for Bees free seed is only half the program. The technical advice and onsite assistance I provide is how the program truly becomes useful. A significant amount of 2016/2017 Seeds for Bees enrollees had never grown cover crops in their orchard before. Simply sending them seed isn’t good enough. In an effort to educate, Project Apis m. and Kamprath Seeds have teamed up to host three Bee Forage Cover Crop Field Days in March. Taking place in three different growing regions of California, these field days will demonstrate how cover crops can improve soil and bee health. Join us on March 7th, 9th, and 15th to learn more about how cover crops can benefit your operation. This will be an outdoor event where attendees can view cover crops in almond orchards and hear presentations from growers and industry experts. Please RSVP to Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org or 614-330-6932.
Billy Synk, Bee Health and Pollination Workshops coming in January, 26 Dec 2016
This time of year we often get together with friends and family to enjoy each other’s company. Despite a few differences that might cause conflict, families and communities support each other based on their shared values. I have seen enough dead hives, sick bees, and destroyed habitat to give me pause about the future health of our nation’s pollinators. However, the concerted effort, passion, and team work of everyone I collaborate with gives me hope that we can change bee health for the better. Beekeepers, growers, landowners, pheasant hunters, bird watchers, conservationists, monarch butterfly advocates, native bee advocates, universities, non-profits, government organizations, land trusts, trade associations, seed companies, PCA’s, and all the industries that support agriculture believe bee health is an issue everyone needs to be responsible for. All these groups are working towards the same goal. How awesome!
This January, the Almond Board of California, Sure Harvest, and Project Apis m. are teaming up to bring you three Bee Health and Pollination workshops. Almond growers that have planted Seeds for Bees cover crops will be hosting three workshops in different regions of California. The events will have presentations on Best Management Practices, the California Almond Sustainability Program, and methods for improving bee forage and habitat. Honey bees and almonds are dependent on each other. Almond trees need their blooms pollinated while the bees benefit from a bounty of high protein pollen the flowers provide. Come to the Almond Board’s Bee Health and Pollination workshops on January 16th, 17th, and 18th to learn more about how planting cover crops and hedgerows help two essential industries; honey bees and almonds. There will also be information on tools to help growers calculate irrigation and nitrogen needs. Please RSVP to Jenny Nicolau at email@example.com or 209-343-3243. If you have a question about which Seeds for Bees mixes will be demonstrated, please call me at 614-330-6932
This month I attended the Delta Bee Club monthly meeting in Modesto. I spoke about Seeds for Bees, hedgerows, Varroa-sensitive hygiene stock improvement, and the Honey Bee & Monarch Partnership. Before I spoke I had the privilege of listening to a presentation by the Hickman Brickmen. They are a homeschooled group–part of the Hickman Charter School in Hickman, California. These students, grades 5-8, decided to focus their latest project on investigating the issues surrounding the decline in honey bee health. They concluded a feasible way they can help improve bee health is through education and planting more bee forage. It’s like they are doing my job for me!
During this past year, they have presented their work to kindergarteners at the Hickman Charter School, Delta Bee Club members, and local almond farmers. They informed the young students about the alarming statistics that display the loss of hives beekeepers are experiencing each year. They also shared how essential bees are to our agricultural food system. The team returned 2 weeks later and planted wild flowers in the garden on campus. To date, the Hickman Brickmen have spoken to growers that represent over 300 acres of farmland in the Central Valley. This research project was done in preparation for a FIRST Lego League competition. The Hickman Brickmen received two trophies for their achievements at the qualifier and have advanced to the championship which is scheduled for January 2017. Good luck to the Hickman Brickmen and thanks for all your hard work in supporting honey bees!
The Honey Bee Health Coalition (HBHC) Oct 17-18, University of MD
Focus began with completing a fundable proposal for the HBHC project, “Bee Integrated”. This project aims to practice the main recommendations of each of HBHC’s four working groups (Crop Pest Management, Forage and Nutrition, Hive Management and Outreach/Communications) simultaneously at apiary locations to demonstrate benefits to hive health. Pending funding of proposals, 2-3 pilot sites will commence in 2017.
Progress and discussion from the individual working groups included:
Forage/Nutrition- Discussing Farm Bill Conservation priorities to improve USDA pollinator habitat programs. Defining and communicating the co-benefits of pollinator forage programs. Developing an interview tool for use at Galveston, to understand the success/failure/gaps of supplemental nutrition applications.
Crop Pest Management- How to improve incident reporting and provide a non-regulatory pathway for beekeepers to submit data due to pesticide exposure incidents. Also develop and improve crop pest advisor education and training.
Hive Management- Updating the Varroa Management Tools Guide and completing a series of ‘go with’ videos to demonstrate methods and application of Varroa controls.
16th Annual NAPPC Oct 19-20, hosted at USDA APHIS, Riverdale MD.
After 20 years, Laurie Davies-Adams announced that she will be seeking a successor in 2017. Speakers included USDA APHIS administrator Kevin Shea; Dr. Bruce Rodan from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Rick Keigwin from US EPA. Many of the talks and discussions centered around habitat for pollinators, especially monarch butterflies which are being considered for listing as an endangered species. NAPPC Farmer Rancher Award was bestowed on Lakhy Sran, owner of Sran Family Orchards in Kerman, CA. He manages 1500 acres each of organic conventional almonds, and has invested over $200K putting bee forage on his farm. Last year, he worked with Project Apis m. to install 6.5 linear miles of hedgerows for pollinators and will continue to install more. Lakhy will also work with the Xerces Society on a new program to certify farms and with Pollinator Partnership as a Bee Friendly Farm.