September was National Honey Month! To celebrate, the National Honey Board held a “Hive-to-Table” dinner event for food writers. I was invited to address the topic of bee health and efforts to solve the crisis. The event featured a honey tasting; a chef guiding us through her menu of pollinated foods prepared with varietal honey; and a virtual reality experience of being a bee - both in the hive and flying through habitat. We used a special headset but you can watch the video without that here. Not only was it a privilege and pleasure to be part of such a well-designed experience, but I was very glad that the problems bees are facing, and their connection to our own lives, was a key part of the message for these food writers. Appreciating the nuance and terroir of honey varietals is unforgettable, and the NHB did an amazing job with the honey tasting. The honey bee’s connection to our food supply and to our own favorite healthy foods, is what makes every reader a critical stakeholder in honey bee health. There is no substitute for honey bees when it comes to providing the pollination services that growers rely on to produce crops. I was very glad to deliver that message!
The Hive to Table Dinner celebrated fruits of the bee's labor - honey and foods that are reliant on pollinators. It was a testament to how PAm, the National Honey Board, and all of our supporters, partners, and researchers are working together like a healthy hive to produce healthy honey bees (with delicious results).
Margaret Lombard, CEO of the National Honey Board, Danielle Downey, Executive Director of Project Apis m., and Catherine Barry, Marketing Director of the National Honey Board, pose for a photo op highlighting the tagline #HiveToTable
Project Apis m. is proud to partner with the National Honey Board, administering their Production Research funds. Together we will invest an estimated $10 million into programs to improve honey bee health by the year 2020. The first step is coming soon! This month PAm will publish the 2018 Request for Proposals. Watch for it on our website. The application process is straightforward and the review process is quick (proposals will be due in October and selected by January). Funding begins immediately for the 2018 year. This is an excellent example of the collaborations in our industry which create efficient opportunities for projects to improve honey bee health!
Bee Informed Partnership Technical Transfer Teams... and Family
In 2011 when the first Bee Informed Partnership technical transfer team was formed in northern California (really, even before that, but we won’t confuse a good story), no one could have ever guessed where it would take us. We had long range plans but most were vague and foggy. There was so much to do right now. So many things to learn. So many details to iron out. So many miles to put on trucks and so many samples to collect and process. But here we are…6 years later. Older. Wiser. And now those long range plans are much clearer and the pesky details are getting crossed off a little faster than new ones replace them.
It is when something happens to someone you care about that you pause and reflect. Our BIP Team is close, like family. Our lab, our IT team, our beekeepers, and our tech teams are, as we like to say, a large, happy, dysfunctional family. When something happens to this family, we close ranks and help. Rob Snyder, one of our first tech team members was severely injured in a mountain biking accident less than 2 weeks ago in California. He severed his vertebrae and broke several ribs. Doctors aren’t sure if he will walk again (we know that he will). He is in a rehabilitation unit now and they are working him hard. What really hit home was how our family responded; every tech team member offered help. The California bee breeders Rob has been serving for 6 years, jumped in and are helping Rob and his family in the 100 ways one would need help when something like this happens. Rob was inundated with visitors, flowers, cards and well wishes. He was surrounded by his immediate and extended family.
Rob Snyder (center) in the field doing what he loves best. Photo courtesy of the Bee Informed Partnership, Inc.
If you are a visitor to our website and have read any of Rob’s blogs (he’s written >60), you know what passion he has for this industry. One of my favorites is: https://beeinformed.org/2012/11/01/whats-wrong-with-my-hive/. His photos are legendary and he is one of the best teacher/trainers we have.
We plan on having Rob back soon and he is looking forward to being back. But right now, we’re counting our blessings and are so thankful to be reminded we are all part of one big family. We may not have the same politics, world view or religion, but we are family bound not by blood but by bees and their keeping.
If you want to help Rob and his family by contributing, please mail donations to the California State Beekeepers Association (1521 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814) and mark “For Rob Snyder” on the check.
New Research Answers Questions About Cover Crop Competition with Almond Bloom
Some growers have questions when it comes to the decision to plant cover crops. Almond growers, in particular, may be concerned that planting forage for honey bees, while a huge benefit for their hired pollinators, their soil quality and maintenance, may offer unwanted competition to their main concern: almond blossoms.
In the spring of this year, important work addressing this concern was published. I am pleased to present the work of collaborating scientists from University of California Davis and Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences. The paper is titled “Wildflower Plantings Do Not Compete with Neighboring Almond Orchards for Pollinator Visits” and can be accessed here.
The idea of cover crop bloom competition is not new. I have often heard a hesitation to plant cover crops due to a fear that bees may be distracted by the flowers the cover crops provide, thus being less efficient at the job they were hired to do to pollinate almond blossoms. The Seeds for Bees program at Project Apis m. works with growers to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Pollination is a very crucial step in getting the best almond crop possible and hiring beekeepers to carry out pollination is no small cost. Most growers spend 10%-20% of their annual operating costs on pollination services. Apprehension to plant other attractive flowers was understandable.
Our Seeds for Bees growers can attest, to date, no grower has experienced a lowered net set or yield after they started planting Seeds for Bees seed mixes for cover crops. In fact, many are now noticing what beekeepers have noticed: As the diversity of a bee’s diet increases so does it's health and vitality.
PAm Mustard Mix in a California orchard during the almond bloom
Almonds are California’s number one agricultural export, and they contribute more than $11 billion to the state economy.1 The success of this important crop must be protected as organizations like Project Apis m. implement projects dedicated to improving bee health. Thankfully, funders have invested in research and researchers have dedicated their expertise to studying whether or not bees are enticed by alternate sources of food during almond bloom. The team found the number of honey bee visits to almond blossoms was not affected by the presence of a wildflower strip just outside the orchard.2 They concluded, “Alternative flowering resources can be added to almond orchards, even during blooms, without jeopardizing crop pollination.”
I am an advocate for cover crops because I have seen the practice have a significant positive impact on bee and soil health. I am glad work on the issue of cover crop competition has been done. I get excited when new research comes out related to cover crops in orchards. Cover crops are a powerful tool. Let’s make sure they are used in a way that supports both beekeeper and grower. This is what legendary beekeeper John Miller calls “smart farming!” You can count on PAm to continually improve our value to you as a resource for beekeepers and growers alike and share relevant research as it develops in the future.
Director of Pollination Programs
Project Apis m
University of California Agricultural Issues Center. The Economic Impacts of the California Almond Industry. Dec. 2014
Lundin, O., Ward, K.L., Artz, D.R., Boyle, N.K., Pitts Singer, T., Williams, N.M. 2017. Wildflower plantings do not compete with neighboring almond orchards for pollinator visits. Environmental Entomology. doi:10.1093/ee/nvx052.
Painted Ladies Abound
This summer we have been watching our Bee & Butterfly Habitat plantings in their second year. For those of you preparing bees for winter we are pleased to report that BBHF plots look great! Even this late in the year, beekeepers know how much value late season forage adds for overwintering success!
A feast for honey bees and other pollinators! Specially formulated seed mixes maximize nutrition, especially important in late season. Photo taken Sept 2, 2017 in Jamestown, ND Courtesy of Dr. Clint Otto
When I walk a plot of flowers, it never fails to amaze me how many insects only become visible when I stand still and rest my eyes on a blooming plant. Hundreds of insects can appear in the moments I become still and the only motion is these small creatures! One species amongst the flowers that is not easily missed this year is the Painted Lady Butterfly. Often mistaken for a monarch butterfly, this species has booming populations this year. We don’t know why, and our friends at the Prairie Ecologist provide some good informationhere, but events like this will blow your mind if you let them! Perhaps you have considered how amazing it is that a honey bee can fly 5-10 miles if she has to, and still return to the right hole in the wall! But Monarch Butterflies cover 3,000 miles, and it takes them 4 generations to complete their migration process to the mountains in Mexico. Painted Ladies are also migratory. The ones we see are reliant on habitats in Central and South America. Amazingly, the ones in the UK make a journey over 9,000 miles!
Painted lady butterflies and bumble bees create a beautiful scene as they forage on a BBHF Planting.
Video by Pete Berthelsen, Patrnership Coordinator,
The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund
It is with great pleasure that I marvel at these creatures, and with great enthusiasm that we work to replace their lost habitat. It’s not just for honey bees, but for the painted ladies, the monarchs, the bumble bees and myriad pollinators who need these blooming meadows! Feast your eyes on a few seconds of video of Painted Ladies and others on Anise Hyssop in a BBHF planting. It’s like a massage for your eyes. Now that’s good habitat!
Executive Director, Project Apis m.
John Miller is Past-President of the California State Beekeepers Association (CSBA). John is a fourth-generation beekeeper. He has kept bees for over 40 years. John owns Miller’s Honey Farms, Inc. based in Blackfoot, ID with branches in Gackle, ND and Newcastle, CA. He also owns Miller Honey Mandarins of Newcastle, CA where he grows seedless Owari-Satsuma Mandarins. John is a partner in En-R-G Foods, Inc. of Steamboat Springs, CO, manufacturers of honey-based energy bars, gels, protein bars and energy chews. John is a former 2-term chair of the National Honey Board. As the subject of The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus, John epitomizes the American migratory beekeeper and ‘how one man and a half a billion honey bees help feed’ a nation. John is married to Professor Jan H. Miller, Microbiology, American River College. They have four children and 10 grandchildren.
Honey bees have been trying to train humans to keep them indoors over winter for thousands of years. The early examples bees used were trees, hollow trees selected by the super-organism, the hive. Trees provided cavities ideal for indoor wintering: well-insulated, controlled atmosphere, safely above ground.
Along came humans with their logs and skeps and rectangles. Then came the moveable frame. And then, keeping hives outdoors, shrouded in straw, tar paper, and chicken wire, slightly downward sloped, inner-cover for ventilation, southward facing, on the ground.
Science now confirms the validity of what the bee was attempting to train humans to do. We now listen, applying our new understanding to what the honey bee knew all along.
In America, over 100,000 hives now winter indoors, mostly in Idaho. Canadians have wintered most of their bees indoors for decades; and the knowledge accumulated is available for a new generation of bee buildings.
A clean floor surface is vital. Hives continually shed debris. In a tree, the detritus falls to bottom of the cavity to be scavenged by others. In the new buildings, vacuum systems keep the floors clean, the perished husks of dead bees and debris removed, to keep the environment clean.
Temperature regulation can be accomplished with a combination of refrigeration and fresh air handlers. Importantly, science confirms that further regulation of Carbon Dioxide levels in the building can reduce Varroa destructor populations by up to 75% over a 60-day storage time.
Storage building designs have evolved since 1926 when George Krause, among other early innovators, wintered his bees near Riverton, Wyoming, in a bee-storage designed cellar. Properly designed, modern steel buildings allow large numbers of hives to be safely stored. Hive well-being can be sampled from floor debris to confirm the presence or absence of unwanted species such as fire-ants, hive beetles, and weeds.
It is possible, after reliable sampling and documenting results, for loads of bees from clean, safe indoor wintering sites to clear needless delays at inspection stations. Similarly to certified weed-free hay shipments, or One Pass exemptions for certified loads bypassing weigh stations, opportunities for simpler, safer beehive transport are possible.
This initiative requires collaboration between beekeepers, the Apiary Inspectors of America, state departments of agriculture; and pest detection personnel. Rules are being developed. But this initiative is in early development.
New-generation building designs have grown from 6,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet just in the past two years. Within ten years, it is possible that 750,000 to 1,000,000 hives will be wintering in safe, climate-controlled buildings, monitored by sophisticated systems – reporting near real-time data to our phones. Healthier hives are in our future.
Project Apis m. Board of Directors, CFO
Selecting and Improving Varroa-Reisitant Honey Bee Stocks for Commercial Beekeeping
Partners with Project Apis m in the breeding project are:
Arista Bee Research Foundation, Hawaii Island Honey Company, USDA-ARS
This research would not be possible without generous support from:
Browning Honey Company, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Costco USA, Hawaii Island Honey Company, Kona Queen Hawaii, North Dakota Department of Agriculture, USDA-APHIS, USDA-ARS
Danielle Downey (Project Apis m.) and Bob Danka (USDA) evaluate colonies during an early field trial of this project in Jamestown North Dakota in August, 2017
Since the arrival of the Varroa mite, the most devastating honey bee health concern worldwide, numerous pest management approaches have been developed. One approach has been to select Varroa-resistant bees. The Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) trait was discovered and selected at the USDA-ARS honey bee laboratory in Baton Rouge, LA. VSH bees detect reproductive Varroa mites inside a capped bee cell, open the cell, and remove the contents. At high levels, this behavior successfully interrupts and suppresses Varroa mite population growth. VSH-based resistance is an elegant alternative to using chemicals in the hive to control Varroa populations. Research has been published and presented on the VSH bees for almost 20 years, however the adoption rate of these bees has been less than expected. There are beekeepers using VSH bees who have positive experiences with them. The lines available, however, may be expressing high levels of mite resistance but are not yet optimized for other desirable traits for commercial beekeeping. This project will use both single drone and multi drone insemination (SDI/MDI) of breeder lines to verify a high level of Varroa resistance and also allow further stabilization of desirable traits for commercial beekeeping such as large colony populations, solid brood patterns, rapid Spring growth, good honey production and gentleness.