Don’t look now, it’s already time to harvest honey! Whether you keep bees or not, as you consider this year’s fresh honey crop, think about this: bees visit about 2 million flowers to make a single pound of honey. And of course, they have to make honey for their own winter stores before the beekeeper can harvest surplus, that takes a lot of flowers! The national average for honey production is about 5 gallons of honey per hive, which is also about what the bees need to store for the colony to get through a winter- a pound for you and a pound for the bees, if you’re lucky with an average harvest! Project Apis m. is planting a lot of forage these days, and honey is one very good reason why. Beekeepers need to make a honey crop to stay in business. Without solvent commercial beekeeping, there is no alternative service which could supply pollination: crop production relies on managed honey bees. Besides being a measure of the business model for beekeeping, a honey crop also is indicative of the health of the hive. A colony with no honey crop is probably suffering in other ways, and may be much less fit to survive winter and make the grade to pollinate California almonds. If we liken bees work to running a successful marathon, it isn’t about what you have for breakfast that day- it starts far upstream of that. Pollination events for bees also depend on colony health right now, heading into fall fat and happy, without mites and diseases, and with a full healthy pantry.
Danielle Downey and Dr. Bob Danka weigh honey at Browning's Honey Co. as they gather data for a field trial in August, 2017
PAm’s forage programs include Seeds for Bees in California and the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund in the Upper Midwest. Seeds for Bees is enrolling growers right now, providing free cover crop seed and the guidance to grow it successfully to benefit bees and the orchard. Contact Billy Synk to learn more. The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund is in glorious bloom right now where it’s been planted, providing some of the best available nutrition for many kinds of bees in agricultural landscapes. Having seen them last week, working with PAm’s new BBHF Coordinator Pete Berthelsen, we saw that those plantings are actually giving beekeepers pause to harvest their honey, because there is still more coming in! HOWEVER, the other critical Fall management event is Varroa sampling and control in time to allow all colonies the time they need to produce a healthy cohort of bees to get through winter. Its hard to overstate the importance of Fall Varroa management. To raise awareness about that, PAm is a proud sponsor of the new Mite-A-Thon initiative. Read Billy and Karen’s articles to learn more about this effort, and how you can participate in this nationwide Varroa event during September.
No matter what stressors bees encounter as they pollinate, having good nutrition is necessary for the colony to produce more brood, so new bees can renew and revitalize a stressed colony. As our research programs aim to understand myriad stressors of honey bees including parasites, pathogens, and pesticide concerns, good nutrition can work from the other side of the equation to mitigate those other problems.
First Annual Mite-A-Thon:
September 9 - September 16, 2017
Varroa mites are arguably the most heinous scourge of honey bees. They are ubiquitous, can easily migrate from colony to colony, and vector viruses that lead to elevated colony mortality. Yet, despite their destructive capacity, many beekeepers still do not monitor for these infestations nor have a Varroa mite management in place. At the Bee Informed Partnership, we work hard to get the word out to anyone who will listen – Varroa mites are in every colony. Accept that fact and understand that if youwant to keep your colonies alive, you MUST monitor frequently and be pro-active in your management. Fall is perhaps the most important season in the beekeeping calendar. This is the time of year when colony reproduction slows, forage becomes scarce yet Varroa mites are at their peak population in untreated colonies. If a colony is to survive the winter, adequate stores or feeding must take place and Varroa mites must be reduced to a level that will not harm the winter bees being produced by the colony at this time. What level does that mean? For those states which experience a true winter, we suggest that Varroa mites be reduced to <2-3% during the Fall months. Left untreated, Varroa mites will kill your colony. If a few colonies are above threshold during this time, treat the entire yard. Crashing colonies due to high mite loads will affect the other colonies in the yard.
80x magnification of Varroa mite gnathosoma (mouth). Photo courtesy of Samuel Ramsey (University of Maryland), Ron Ochoa (USDA-ARS), Gary Buchanan (USDA-ARS)
How do you monitor? When do you monitor? For those who have never done so and for those who regularly do (good for you!), there is a national citizen science event occurring for the first time this year. Please join us in the FIRST EVER NATIONAL MITE-A-THON! During September 9-September 16, 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. Please note: The published information will not identify individual participants. Data will be entered at www.MiteCheck.com. This is an exciting opportunity to raise awareness, participate in a national (including Mexico and Canada) citizen science project, and gain some vital information on all your colonies as well as see the levels in regions near you!
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
A Moment In Time Introducing Peter Berthelsen,
Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund Partnership Coordinator
The issue of “pollinators” represents what I believe is the single, greatest conservation movement of my lifetime. That’s a strong statement, but one that is built and backed by my 35 years of experience working on a wide range of wildlife, agricultural and conservation issues. I believe so strongly in this message and cause that after 26+ years with an organization that I was deeply connected and committed to, I made a change to bring more support and answers to the issue of pollinator health and habitat. The last 3 years have convinced me that pollinator health and habitat is the issue that can galvanize the concern and support of the general public. My career path led to my moment in time several years ago, with partners developing a shared vision of this innovative solution.
In June 2014, a group representing Project Apis m., Browning 's Honey Company and Pheasants Forever, Inc. met to discuss opportunities to impact pollinator health and habitat in a new and innovative way. There was a growing sense of frustration over the type and quality of pollinator habitat that was being delivered on the landscape through existing conservation programs. It seemed that too often, those ‘pollinator’ conservation programs were too expensive, didn’t compete well with weeds, they were complicated for landowners to participate in and produced low pollinator values. More of the same will not solve this problem, using innovative techniques we can, and we will, do better.
From that initial gathering, the development of a more effective way of delivering high quality pollinator habitat was born: The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund (BBHF). The BBHF is a unique partnership that brings innovation and technology to pollinator habitat. Some of the advancements in BBHF projects include:
Using high diversity seed mixtures that are cost-effective.
Establishing each project with 50% of the area planted to a honey bee mixture and 50% of area to a monarch butterfly mixture.
Designing seed mixtures to provide superior early weed competition outcomes.
Planting seed mixtures using techniques that encourage establishment and discourage weed competition.
Program participants receive both pollinator habitat seed mixtures free of charge.
Landowner may enroll projects for 3 to 6 years and receive annual rental payments and a planting incentive payment.
While that may sound like a simple, straight-forward approach to pollinator habitat, no other conservation program in the country brought those elements of cost-effectiveness, high pollinator value, weed competition strength, ease of enrollment and incentives.
Coneflowers and a longhorn bee in a Bee and Butterfly Habitat Planting
The BBHF comes at a critical time. This is a critical moment for the beekeeping industry and honey bee health, the population of monarch butterflies and other important pollinator species coupled with broad understanding and concern about these issues from the general public. I believe that this is our ‘moment in time’ to make a difference and offer the public a vehicle by which to improve pollinator health. ‘Moments in Time’ come to us with two important factors: 1) They don’t last very long and 2) You had better capture the momentum while you have it. Those factors make the role of the BBHF a unique opportunity in the beekeeping world right now. With three years of proven pollinator habitat success and research to prove the value of our projects, this partnership is uniquely positioned to make a difference.
With a strategic and clear message, pollinator health and habitat can touch the topic that motivates and moves to action a significant portion of the public. We just need to provide that strategic and clear message to them. Pollinators and their habitat needs are a unique ‘glue’ that allows the habitat we want and need for them to provide an important connection and solution to issues related to water quality, soil health, food sustainability, grassland songbirds, precision agriculture, right-of-way habitat, solar energy fields and other wildlife habitat……. it’s the glue that brings these issues and the people that care about them together.
Please consider how you can make a difference by financially supporting our efforts today. Your contribution will establish high quality pollinator habitat that is bringing new technology and innovation to the cause. For more detailed information about the BBHF, check out our Facebook page or go to www.BeeAndButterflyFund.org
Each month, I’ll be bringing you updates on the success of the BBHF: new partners joining our effort, pollinator habitat results and how you can make a difference. I look forward to sharing with the successes of how we are capturing this moment in time to benefit pollinator health and habitat.
Pete Berthelsen currently serves as the BBHF Partnership Coordinator and is a wildlife biologist with 35 year’s experience in building and administering partnerships, designing and managing high quality habitat, and working with a wide range of partners to deliver conservation benefits.
Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund Partnership Coordinator
Dr. Gordon Wardell, is the Director of Pollination Operations, Wonderful Orchards, and President of the South Valley Bee Club. Gordon has been a professional apiculturist for over 30 years and has woked with bees on three continents. Previously he was the extension apiculturist for the State of Maryland and he owned and directed S.A.F.E. Research and Development in Tucson, Arizona, a company dedicated to developing products for the bee industry. Gordon’s accomplishments include Mega-Bee, the honey bee nutritional supplement and years of research in the area of Varroa mite control, honey bee nutrition, fire ant monitoring, small hive beetle, Africanized Honey Bees, and many other topics. In addition, he has authored numerous scientific publications on honey bees.
Usually blissful and quiet the California almond orchards are abuzz today, not with bees but with the shakers and sweepers readying this year’s almond harvest. Most growers I have spoken with are optimistic about this year’s harvest. Early rains, more plentiful water and fair growing conditions have boosted this year’s harvest. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is forecasting a harvest of 2.25 billion pounds; this is up 5.1% from last year’s crop. The forecast is based on a record one million bearing acres. While the total harvest is up, the average yield per tree is down. This is likely due to the young trees cycling into the program. Also some growers are reporting a slight delay in harvest as the crop seems to be maturing slower than normal this year. Harvest was pushed back by as much as two weeks in some areas on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
It has certainly been an unusual year. When the California almond bloom began in February, early rains made it difficult and nearly impossible for beekeepers to get colonies into the orchards and in some unfortunate instances those who did get their colonies into the orchards early had to watch their colonies float away in the floods in the northern parts of the production area. The 2017 bloom started rapidly but was soon slowed and extended due to cold temperatures that set in during the middle of the bloom. These cooler temperatures gave growers concern about the number of bee flight hours during the critical period of bloom. Some days only had one hour or less of potential flight weather. As the yields are reported, we will see if the premium price paid by some growers for larger colonies has paid off this year. Premiums for colonies larger than an eight frame average netted beekeepers as much as an additional $25 per colony. Growers bet that those larger colonies would field more bees during those marginal flight days. To say that 2017 was an unusual almond bloom is an understatement. ...Click here to continue reading
Project Apis m. Board of Directors
Developing a Rapid Assessment Technique to Understand the Effect of Forage Quality on Nutritional Status and Honey Bee Health
Principal Investigator: Dr. Matthew Smart, US Geological Survey Northern Prarie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND, 2016
The status of the bee nutritional system may be viewed as the point from which the health trajectory of colonies initiates, ultimately leading to the successes or failures of colonies. Relatively recently, nutritional status has been shown to moderate the impacts of common honey bee parasites and diseases in the lab. Further, the environmental stress of pesticide exposure has been shown to be both chronic in agricultural landscapes, and to impact colony and bee nutritional state. Ultimately, these stressors are known to interact to weaken honey bees and colonies. Add to the known interactions between these factors (nutrition, parasites, and pesticides) the fact that suitable beekeeper habitat and pollen quality have declined over time, and there is much to be concerned about regarding the future availability of abundant and quality forage to sustain and meet the nutritional demands for healthy colonies.
Since 2015 Drs. Smart and Otto have been engaged in a large-scale field study across three critical commercial beekeeping states (ND, SD, MN) to examine the impacts of land use on colony health, productivity and survival. This region, the Northern Great Plains (NGP), of the US hosts a large proportion of commercial honey bee colonies each spring through fall for honey production and colony population growth. Most of these colonies go on to pollinate almonds in early spring. As such, the presence of abundant, diverse, clean, and nutritionally complete forage across the region is absolutely key for setting the nutritional stage for successful overwintering and robust, healthy colonies to meet early spring pollination service demands.
Dr Clint Otto (center) shows a plot of honey bee forage plantings to supporters of the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund at the USGS Northern Prairie Research Center.
In collaborations with some of the largest commercial beekeepers in the US, and likely the world, we have a unique opportunity to thoroughly examine the nutritional status of honey bees given varying land use conditions in this important part of the country. We propose to lay the groundwork for establishing and utilizing a robust diagnostic tool that will aid beekeepers in determining the nutritional status of their colonies. The technique, which involves quantifying the protein, lipids, and stored carbohydrates (glycogen) in samples of adult honey bees, has been previously utilized to examine the impacts of pesticides found in contaminated pollinator forage near agricultural fields. Here, we propose to leverage another research study to collect and analyze the nutritional status of adult honey bees within the context of land use quality. Specific Objectives: 1) Determine the ‘complete’ nutritional profiles (lipids, proteins, stored carbohydrates) of adult honey bees from a large sample set of apiaries, 2) Analyze the data in the context of land use surrounding the sampled bees to determine the differential impact of land use quality on honey bee nutrition, and 3) Determine final outcomes of sampled colonies in relation to fall nutritional state (honey production, survival, population size for almond pollination).
Have questions about the 2017 Bee Nutrition Challenge: An Innovation Award? The Coalition will hold a Q&A conference call (866-315-1575) from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Central Time on September 7, 2017, to answer potential applicants’ questions.