This season often provides time for reflection on the year we are leaving behind and visions of what we hope to see and accomplish in the year ahead. The Bee Informed Partnership continues to grow, and we are slowly but methodically checking off items that have been on our “to do” list for a long time. We are hiring a Technical Transfer Team (TTT) coordinator soon to manage and bring increased value to our TTT services, products and help reach more beekeepers, we have a new team in Michigan and our current teams, especially in Texas, are growing. One of our larger goals this year is to sit down this fall with each and every one of our commercial beekeepers in an operational review. These reviews are a one on one chat about what is going right, what isn’t, what goals that operation has and how BIP can help him or her get there. We are excited to do this, and early indications are that the beekeepers are finding this valuable too. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to gather a few team members in early fall to work through different revenue models and are delighted to unveil a new model for 2018 that will allow more beekeepers to join our TTTs, optimize the number of samples in the field for beekeepers, and best utilize our TTTs and lab staff.
As we sit around tables with family and friends this holiday season, we are grateful to work with so many wonderful beekeepers, organizations, and industry groups. We are making a difference each and every day.
Thank you from all of us.
Varroa Averages -- looking back and worried about the new year
The fall is a critical time for bees and this is when we keep our eyes glued to the results coming from our lab for the APHIS National Survey. Below you can see that 2017-2018 is shaping up to be a challenging year for bees across the US. Pay attention to the vertical axis. Yes, samples in October were nearing an average of 8 mites/100 bees in October. Anything above 5 mites/100 bees in September we consider damaged (possibly irreparably) even if you treat.
Karen Rennich, Executive Director
The Bee Informed Partnership
The second most asked question our research lab and the Bee Informed Partnership hears from the public, after, “What is killing the bees?”, is, “What can I do?”.
Both are usually asked in earnest, with a sincere hope that things are getting better for the first and with humbleness in the asking of the second. The world is a big place and for most of us, we have a difficult time fathoming that the actions of a single person can make a difference. But they can.
When we get this question, we respond with the following 5 simple steps. And we try to reassure them that they can, in fact, set in motion the opportunity for discussion, for movement and for change.
Get to know a local beekeeper. Support her (or him). Buy local honey. Go to a local beekeeping meeting (hint: these are not “closed” or private meetings and they will welcome you with open arms and likely talk your ear off and answer all of your questions). Even if you don’t feel inclined to keep bees yourself, join the club and get educated on what challenges beekeepers are facing. Once you become educated, you can spread that knowledge to coworkers, family, and friends.
Pay attention to what is blooming in your area and what insects you see visiting those blooms. We are located in Maryland and the public here is often shocked to learn that our two most prolific nectar sources come from trees (the Tulip Poplar and the Black Locust). If flowers are not blooming in your area, and you think they should be, find out why. Talk to your local extension office or Master Gardening group. Is there something you can do to promote honey bee (and native bee) forage?
Reduce pesticides on your yard and lawn. Homeowners generally use up to 10 times more pesticides to combat rodents, insects, weeds, etc. than farmers do on a per acre basis. Do you really need to use pesticides on ornamental plants? Think about fostering clover and dandelions in your lawn instead of spraying them. Talk to your neighbors and homeowners’ association about not spraying or reducing their use of pesticides. There are often other methods of controlling pests.
Reduce (or eliminate) your lawn. Lawns are green deserts. Wouldn’t a meadow filled with blooming, native plants that attract all kinds of pollinators be much more interesting to look at and cultivate? If you don’t know what pollinator plants will grow well in your area, consult your local nursery or some online maps such as this one: http://xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center/.
If you have the resources, make a financial contribution to your favorite pollinator or honey bee research organization. Even small amounts make a difference. Your contributions to any of three below are a step towards helping us solve the “why are bees dying” question. And, in light of the recent tragedies in Puerto Rico, you will truly be saving bees who currently have no forage. They are starving. No pollen, no nectar, means no bees.
Project Apis m.
The Bee Informed Partnership
GoFundMe Puerto Rico honey bees
So, maybe the second question shouldn’t be, “What can I do”.
But, instead, “Why aren’t you?”
Karen Rennich, Executive Director
The Bee Informed Partnership
The Bee Informed Partnership Inc. (BIP), a 501.c.3, is looking for outgoing and well organized applicants for the new position of Tech Transfer Team Coordinator.
The full time TTT Coordinator will be based out of the University of Maryland; however, the person can be based anywhere in the US provided it is close to a major airport. The successful applicant will direct the day to day management and coordination of all our TTTs and work directly with the teams and the BIP organizational staff on increasing value of our services to the commercial beekeepers. The coordinator will help ensure the financial viability of the BIP organization by promoting BIP activities, coordinate research projects, assist with grant preparation, and other leadership activities.
For the full description and application requirements, visit the Bee Informed Partnership website at https://beeinformed.org/programs/tech-teams/ttt-coordinator/. Applications received before November 17, 2017 will receive priority.
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.
You can also visit: https://www.gofundme.com/a4kcvp-assist-family-of-robert-snyder
Rob Snyder (left) in the field with Pat Heitkam (right). Photo courtesy of the Bee Informed Partnership, Inc.
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 you want 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.
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!
You can easily build your own kits, but if you’d rather purchase a kit that has everything you need, see these kits from Brushy Mountain
or at Mann Lake
(https://www.mannlakeltd.com/bee-squad-varroa-mite-testing-kit). Purchase them now so that you are ready by September 9th and be prepared with a Varroa management strategy (treat or IPM) for that week. If you have a preferred treatment, please have enough treatment on hand immediately after you monitor in case your levels are above threshold.
For more information about Mite-A-Thon, please visit
For more information about Varroa mites, monitoring and treating, the Honey Bee Health Coalition has done a great job in providing current, vetted materials here:
At the Bee Informed Partnership, we hold an annual Tech Team summit in the middle of the summer when there are few days when the teams are not busy. We began this tradition last year and hope to continue working this into our culture as our organization grows and matures. We use this time to focus on a specific project or a training objective, to spend quality time talking about our mission, and cover issues that crop up over the course of the year. Since most of us do not get to be in the same location for 6 months, it is also a valuable and fun time to spend 2 to 3 days in team building. No one enjoys conference calls and that is our main path of direct communication, but it is extremely difficult to keep a cohesive and happy staff over long distances so these gatherings are rare opportunities to compare war stories and revel in each other’s unique training. If we are fortunate, some of our board members attend and we enjoy their input and I think they enjoy hearing what our field crews are seeing.
Last year’s summit was held at the University of Maryland and we were lucky to get a behind the scenes tour of the Smithsonian’s insect collection.
This year’s summit was held at the University of Minnesota’s stunning new bee lab courtesy of Marla Spivak. We focused on adding some critical detail to our BIP Commercial field guide (coming in 2018!), learn from the experts at Purina about sales training who graciously gathered our team of talented folks (admittedly we are mostly introverts who would rather just talk bees all day so this was a stretch for some of us) to provide us some much-needed tools, and to hang out with the Project Apis m. board at a BBQ held behind the bee lab adjacent to some honey bee training yards. Lastly, we took a long bike ride around Minneapolis to enjoy the sites and tastes of this wonderful city. My notes went on for pages of all the ideas discussed and I think we all left with a feeling of great optimism and with much more defined goals to move BIP forward toward providing additional value to our participants.
Each year, Burt’s Bees holds a Culture Day and this year, for their 11th annual event, they chose the Bee Informed Partnership to team with in their recommitment to their brand values and to reinforce the goals of working towards economically and environmentally sustainable products. This year’s event found over 400 Burt’s Bees and Clorox (Clorox purchased Burt’s Bees in 2007) employees building sampling kits and MiteCheck kits for BIP’s use over the next year. Although it took months of planning, the amount of work that 400 enthusiastic and energized folks can do in 1 day was remarkable. It usually takes our team about 4 months to sporadically build the sampling kits and these intensely choreographed (efficiency engineers were involved) groups were able to do it all in 1 day.
The event was held at the North Carolina Museum of Art, a beautiful venue with incredibly patient and cooperative staff. Because weather did not cooperate, much of the kit building took place inside but there was an enormous tent to hold all 400+ employees plus or BIP lab team to listen to the kickoff speakers (Jim Geikie, Burt’s Bees VP and General Manager, Dennis vanEngelsdorp, and Peter Nelson, a beekeeper and documentary filmmaker) and to construct the MiteCheck kits. We supplied a live colony (thanks to James Wilkes our IT lead at Appalachian State University and his Faith Mountain Farm). It was an exhausting but fulfilling day and everyone left with a greater appreciation of the commercial beekeeping industry and the challenges that lie ahead as we work towards BIP’s goal of reducing colony losses. We cannot thank everyone at Burt’s Bees enough. Their generosity and hospitality was extraordinary.
April is a busy time for us at the Bee Informed Partnership. Many of our tech teams are sampling for the first time in some regions and it is also the month where we put much of our focus toward the launch and analysis of our Annual Loss and Management Survey. The preliminary loss results are in and, as usual, they are interesting.
For the 2016-2017 winter season, 4,963 beekeepers in the United States provided validated survey responses. Collectively, these beekeepers managed 363,987 colonies in October 2016, representing about 13% of the country’s estimated 2.78 million managed honey producing colonies. An estimated 21.1% of colonies managed in the United States were lost over the 2016-2017 winter. This represents an improvement of 5.8 percentage points compared to the previous 2015-2016 winter, and is below the 10-year average total winter loss rate of 28.4% (Figure 1). These winter losses were the lowest recorded since the survey began in 2006-07.
Beekeepers not only lose colonies in winter (October – March) but also throughout summer (April – September). The 2016 summer colony loss rate was 18.1%. When all the survey results were combined, beekeepers lost 33.2% of their colonies between April 2016 and March 2017. This is the second lowest rate of annual colony loss recorded over the last 7 years.
Figure 1: Summary of total overwintering colony losses in the United States across eleven years of conducting the winter loss survey (yellow bars; October 1 – April 1) and across six years of conducting the summer (April 1 – October 1) and annual loss survey. Total annual loss values (orange bars) include total winter and total summer losses. The acceptable winter loss rate (grey bars) is the average percentage of acceptable yearly colony losses declared by the survey participants in each year of the survey.
We did see, on average, lower Varroa mite levels last fall than in previous years and this may attribute to the lower recorded losses this year. You can read the full report at our website but we want to take this opportunity to explain the survey and the results. Before BIP started recording losses, there were no other numbers to compare what “normal” losses are for beekeepers and what is excessive. We are also trying to make the results more accessible every year by improving our website.
The Bee Informed Partnership reports total loss, or a weighted loss rate. Total loss treats each colony the same or more simply stated, “One colony one vote.” This means that the total loss rate is more representative of commercial beekeeper loss as they manage a large majority of the colonies in the survey. The average loss rate, which we no longer report in our preliminary summary, is an unweighted rate where we calculate the loss rate for each responding beekeeper and average these rates. So average loss, more simply stated is, “One beekeeper, one vote.” As there are many more backyard beekeepers than commercial beekeepers, average loss rates are more influenced by these smaller beekeepers.
Because the BIP winter loss results are presented as one number (21.1% total winter loss), it does not show the huge variability in what commercial beekeepers (and other operational sizes) report as their losses. Consistently across all BIP survey years, commercial beekeepers reported having fewer winter and annual losses compared to backyard beekeepers. For this year, Figure 2 illustrates the variation of losses across operation types from the BIP survey.
The Bee Informed Partnership is proud to announce the start of a new technical transfer team in Michigan beginning May 2017. This will be the 6th regional team and will service migratory and honey producing commercial beekeepers in that area. Some of these commercial operations travel to CA for almond pollination and many include Florida in their route for overwintering, requeening and creating splits in addition to honey production in Michigan. It is a sister team to our already existing Florida team since the migratory routes greatly overlap. This is true also, of our Midwest (MN/ND) and Texas team. Many beekeepers travel the same paths to move to safe overwintering yards that enable them to get a jump start on the season in the winter where it would be far too cold to requeen or make splits in Michigan or North Dakota in March. Florida and Texas are warmer and allow the bees to build up for other early pollination events before honey production kicks in later in the summer.
Our Michigan team will be hosted at Michigan State University and will be part of Dr. Meghan Milbrath’s lab. Meghan is the coordinator of the Michigan Pollinator Initiative at Michigan State University and wrote one of our most widely read and recirculated blogs last year. We are proud and excited to move into that part of the country and work with the Michigan beekeepers. The commercial operations in Michigan have already been very receptive to BIP and we had the opportunity to sample a few of their operations in Florida in November of 2016 to give them a feel for what BIP does and the type of services we can provide.
April 2, 2017
April 1st is usually regarded as a time to play jokes and pranks on fellow family members, neighbors, and coworkers and it is not restricted to the US – it is a day recognized by many other countries and cultures dating back to at least the 14th century. For those of us at the Bee Informed Partnership, we begin preparing at least a month ahead of time, not for playing pranks, but to get ready for our annual loss and management survey.
In just 1 week, our annual online survey will go live to record losses from beekeepers all over the country independent of operation size. Whether you manage 1 colony or tens of thousands of colonies, this is your opportunity to record what your summer, winter and annual losses were for the past year! If you continue past the loss survey and spend some time to take our management survey, and we hope that you do, you will provide valuable information that allows us to track those practices associated with reduced or increased colony losses. We’ve matured as an organization and instead of static reports, we now offer a dynamic management tool to help you improve your beekeeper practices that is publically available to everyone. You can find it here: https://bip2.beeinformed.org/survey
Our dynamic reporting tool puts the power of interacting with our large database in your hands! Select the operation size, state, survey year and walk through your management practices to see how they correlate with losses. No joke! Please go to our website at www.beeinformed.org on April 1st and take the survey!
Winter colony loss in all survey years based on formic acid use across all operational sizes. Beekeepers who used formic acid to control for varroa mites lost >21% fewer colonies (8.4 percentage points) than beekeepers who did not use formic acid. (Courtesy of the Bee Informed Partnership, Inc.
By Karen Rennich