I like giving money to worthy charities, and my goal is to have an impact on the causes I support.
I also enjoy charitable activities because it’s one of the few areas in our lives where we really do have discretion and can pick and choose. Now, that may sound ridiculous. After all, like many of us, I had my choice of colleges to attend. And it was my option to pursue a Ph.D. in graduate school. My wife didn’t force me to marry her 55 years ago. It was my proposal.
Still, many of our decisions are dictated by our family backgrounds and obligations and the culture and economic atmosphere within which we live. When I first met my wife, we were both graduate students at Stanford, and I told her there were two things I’d never, never do — work in New York City and commute to work. Well, that was the start of a great forecasting career. I promptly took a job in Manhattan, and after two years in a New York apartment, we moved to the suburbs from which I commuted for 25 years.
Sure, I didn’t need to take that job in New York, but it handily beat the offers in the beautiful San Francisco Bay area. Certainly, we could have remained indefinitely in a New York apartment, but we couldn’t afford one big enough to have four children, and where would I have put my woodworking shop?
Nobody forced me at gunpoint to become a beekeeper, but my dwarf fruit trees at our New Jersey residence weren’t getting pollinated properly. So, when our third son did his senior year college thesis on honeybees, it didn’t take much encouragement for Steve and me to put in two hives — especially since he was the beekeeper when he lived at home and worked in New York after graduation. All I had to do was assist.
After he left for a job in Chicago, I didn’t need to accept the instant promotion to head beekeeper, but if I didn’t, what would I do with the 20 hives we’d accumulated by then? No one forced me to expand this ridiculously labor-intensive hobby to 100 hives, but I’ve certainly enjoyed creating new bee colonies and meeting the challenge of keeping alive and thriving these creatures, which are now beset by so many pests and diseases.
So much of life seems preordained or unfolds in ways that offer few truly independent decisions. And most of us, I suspect, really don’t want to make life-altering choices frequently.
But I really enjoy deciding where our charitable dollars go. We don’t look at philanthropy as the route to social advancement, so we can examine each candidate independently to see if it matches our fundamental beliefs. We can ask hard questions and if a particular charity doesn’t have acceptable answers or is evasive, there are plenty of others. Over the years, not surprisingly, our donation list has varied considerably as has the size of contributions to the charities we support continually.
Do the vast majority of donations go to the charity’s purposes or is it chewed up in overhead and gala expenses? Are the people running the charity credible, and do they have logical business plans for running their organization, raising the needed funds and measuring their success? Or is their attitude, give us your money and trust us, we know how to spend it? Do they take seriously our interests and suggestions as to how our donations might be used?
Do the fundraisers do their homework and figure out whether their charity may be of interest to us, or do they use a shotgun approach and contact legions in the hope that somebody out there loves them? Do volunteers who are casual acquaintances act like bosom buddies when they ask us to pay $1,000 per head to attend a dinner supporting a charity we’ve barely heard of? Or do they at least grease the ways by inviting us to be their guests?
Charities can do much to help mankind, and many do so in much more efficient and caring ways than the alternative, government programs. I enjoy supporting these worthy causes, but I also enjoy the freedom of deciding which ones are worthy of that support.
Project Apis m. meets my criteria, so I am delighted to support it.
Board of Directors
There is a shift happening in the bee industry as old guys (like me) begin to pass the reins to the next generation. It is exciting to see young faces at the bee meetings. But what happens to the old guys? Do we put them on ice flow somewhere? Is there something useful for us to do?
In January 2015, I sold my beekeeping company. After almost 40 years as a commercial beekeeper, I wondered what “life after bees” would be like. Over the last few years, I have had several beekeeper friends ask me for advice about selling their companies. A recurring question comes up…“Can you really retire from beekeeping?”
I started with bees in the mid-1970’s. We had issues with low honey prices and pesticides but nothing like the challenges today. We persevered through the 1980’s battling tracheal mites, varroa mites, low honey prices, and various government restrictions on interstate hive movement. I grew up in Massachusetts around family-run dairy farms that worked hard year around and embraced the farming lifestyle even though they never made much money. For a long time, commercial beekeeping was not much better.
In the last 10+ years (post CCD), beekeeping has changed significantly. The market for pollination services and honey is tremendous. Many good beekeepers are making a good living. Beekeeping is more popular and profitable! We are seeing more beekeepers at all levels.
The real challenges today are keeping the bees alive and healthy. There has never been a formal method to learn beekeeping. Most of us have worked with experienced beekeepers to learn our craft. That is still a viable method to learn commercial beekeeping but not enough to keep up with a changing environment. Beekeeping has gotten more difficult.
Where does the research community fit in? In most other forms of agriculture, farmers have benefited from cooperation from universities and industry research. Beekeeping seems to be in the early stages of building better relationships with the research community. But we are not an easy crowd to work with…
I can anticipate laughter from many of you when I tell you that “retirement is not as easy as it looks!” Our jobs provide structure and meaning to us. From an early age, we learn to equate our success with how much money we make or how many hives we run. That paradigm shifts when you leave the workforce. We need to find new ways to measure success, and that is a challenge.
I have spoken to many older commercial beekeepers that are in the process of turning their business over to their sons or employees. I have seen real pain in their faces as they think about giving up control over their companies. Beekeeping is not just a job but more of a lifestyle. It has never been easy in the bee business. Our brains and bodies are constantly challenged to perform. We work hard and take pride in our performance when we make the right decisions and kick ourselves when we don’t. Most of the successful beekeepers I know are very driven people. What happens to that drive when you no longer are in the driver’s seat? It does not go away…
So, once again, can you ever retire from beekeeping? I don’t think so. You may not oversee thousands of hives anymore but that does not mean you don’t notice when local flowers or trees are in bloom or a good spot for a new bee yard. You still go to the bee meetings to hear what is going on. But most importantly, if you are lucky, you still continue to advocate for bees and beekeepers whenever you can.
You are reading this opinion piece in the Project Apis m. newsletter. I have been on the PAm Board for several years. I have been active in honey bee research and advocacy work in other capacities through ABF, BIP, working with University of Florida, US EPA, USDA, and many other groups while I was operating a large company. I don’t use the term retirement to describe the next stage of life. I am calling it “Phase 2” of beekeeping when I can utilize 40 years of experience to advocate for bees and beekeepers.
Please take a look at the accomplishments of the last 10 years from Project Apis m, now posted on our website. PAm has funded many bee research projects that would not have been possible otherwise. Our steady growth and partnerships have enabled us to fund more research and forage projects, we have hired new staff, and I foresee much more progress. I am proud to be involved with Project Apis m.
For those of you thinking about “retirement” from beekeeping, we can visit and talk about “Phase 2” of your career. Hopefully, you will consider sharing your knowledge and experience with the next generation of beekeepers. There are lots of opportunities to give back to the beekeeping community. And it is not so bad to have a few hives in the backyard to play with…
Board of Directors
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
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.
While the almond growers are looking toward their harvest, beekeepers are beginning to think about next year’s almond pollination. Beekeepers must begin their preparations for next year’s almond bloom now. Mite management, culling and feeding have to begin now. Most beekeepers I speak to are cautiously optimistic about the bees after this summer. Most beekeepers report that mite levels are under control, and the bees that I have observed are building well into the fall. Though most commercial beekeepers are treating for mites three and four times a year, the control measures seem to be working adequately. We still desperately need more commercially sound control measures for Varroa mites, since relying largely on one product is certainly a scary proposition. New, effective products and methods for mite control couldn’t happen too soon. For more information on what PAm is doing to support research in mite control, go to the PAm website and review the numerous research reports.
Most regions around the country are reporting moderate honey yields--not great yields but not disastrous results either. Beekeepers in the Dakotas report drought conditions in the western and central part of the states, resulting in spotty production. The eastern sides of the Dakotas had a little more moisture and are reporting better yields.
Floral bloom in the southeastern part of the country was pretty poor this year. The normal crops that support colonies following almond bloom didn’t materialize, forcing beekeepers to move their colonies to better forage. Later, in Central and South Florida, the palmetto and cabbage palm provided nice buildup for the bees and even produced a modest surplus when the colonies were strong enough to take advantage of it. The Brazilian Pepper is just starting to bloom in Florida providing buildup for the late summer splits.
This time of year, beekeepers and almond growers alike try to prognosticate what bee supply will be like during the upcoming almond bloom. While it is far too early to be certain, indications are that beekeepers have made up previous losses; the bees are looking strong; mite levels are low; and the mite treatments that are going on now still seem to be effective. For now, we keep our fingers crossed, watch colony nutrition and continue to monitor Varroa mites at this critical time of year.
You have to admit, beekeeping is not a dull industry in which to be involved.
Board Member, Project Apis m.
Brent Barkman is the Vice Chair of Project Apis m., a third generation beekeeper and honey packer, and has been a part of the industry all his adult life. He oversees the operations of two separate bee operations that own 16,000 colonies of bees producing and pollinating in eight states. Artesian Honey Producers has 8,500 colonies based in South Dakota, wintering in Oklahoma and Texas and pollinating in California. Barkman Apiaries is based in Florida and operates bees in Michigan and New York as well as pollination in California. Barkman Honey is the family owned business that packages honey based out of Kansas supplying millions of pounds of quality honey to consumers all over the world. In addition to serving as the vice chairman of Project Apis m., Barkman has served the industry in many capacities including serving as chairman of the National Honey Board once while it was a producer board and again more recently after it was changed to a packer board. He is also a member of multiple state beekeeper organizations and both the American Honey Producers Association and American Beekeeping Federation. His memberships also include the National Honey Packers and Dealers Association and the Western States Packers and Dealers Association. He was one of the founders of True Source Honey and is a proponent of high quality traceable honey for the enjoyment of the consumer.
As I think about what to address in this article it occurs to me that procrastination is one of my best and worst qualities. I can say this was a hard task in a year that looks quite discouraging to a lot of honey producers across the northern states where a lot of the US honey is produced. I used the procrastination model successfully this time as some much-needed rain is falling in parts of the North and is lifting the spirits of some producers that are in rainfall areas. It is a sad thing as a producer to see all the potential honey sources out there and not enough moisture to let the bees take full advantage of them. Not only is there a shortage of bee pasture as corn and beans take over the landscape that used to be covered with bee friendly plants, but those that are there are thirsting for water that will let them produce nectar for the bees.
The news is not as bad in some other parts of the US as rain has come when most needed for a large crop to be produced in areas that normally do not fare as well. Some areas are even getting too much rain if that is possible. One producer in Wisconsin shared that it rains all the time, and the bees can’t work enough to fill boxes with honey. This spring it rained in California again. It was a welcome change from the drought that had covered the state for such a long time. There are some honey crops being made there that have been missing for a long time. Welcome back California! Reports from Minnesota are good, as well as Michigan. This will be an interesting year for buying domestic honey. The hope is that we can make enough honey to satisfy the need, and that customers are not forced away from the US honey they usually buy. This is an important point for producers to remember as the honey marketing season approaches.
What, you may ask, is a packer doing on the PAm Board? I am going to try to address this and share with you why it is important to me as a packer to be a part. As you read in my Bio, I am not just a packer but also a beekeeper. I rely on research to help keep my bees alive, too.
With that being said, I believe the work of PAm has taken on a needed service to the industry as the best way to screen and select research that will make a material difference sooner than what we have seen in the past. PAm has become the industry leader in selecting the research projects that can make a difference. Just last year for the first time, PAm worked with the National Honey Board to select the projects that will be funded by the 5% of assessments collected by NHB for production research. It is great to see the industry working together to use the strength of different organizations to grow and strengthen the industry as a whole. This is truly an industry-wide effort to do what is best and not protect territory for fear of losing prominence. This is one of the things that attracted me to serve on the PAm Board.
We are a group of bee people and others that are looking for the tools needed to make sure we are good stewards of our bees. We want to provide honey for consumers as well as provide a service to the growers of other products that rely on us for pollination. These are often competing parts of our job as producers. We are doing things with our hives that make bees good pollinators for those that rely on them. Some of the things we do to assure they are healthy pollinator hives can damage their potential to be good honey producing bees. We have had to be educated with a Masters in Bee Husbandry to learn to take care of and be great caretakers of the bee. It should be noted that beekeepers are just that Keepers of the Bees. We must do everything in our power to help the little creatures fight all the battles they fight with pests, pesticides, lack of bee forage, and an overall fear of them by most of the public.
PAm is working hard to correct some of the problems and give tools to those who care about the bee as much as the beekeepers. In addition to Pam's Honey Bee Health Research programs, Seeds for Bees is a great example of giving the almond grower a tool to help take care of the bees that are so valuable to them, and The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund is a program that is just getting a good start in changing the landscape of the farming community that will help create a sustainable environment which benefits nature and farmers alike. These approaches work together to secure what we do as packers, producers, pollinators and Keepers of the Bees.
Project Apis m. Board Member
Zac Browning is a 4th generation commercial beekeeper and honey producer. He is a co-owner of Browning Honey Co. Inc. With his brothers, he operates over 20,000 hives for honey production and pollination in Idaho, North Dakota, and California. He has served the beekeeping industry as Chairman of The Honey Voluntary Quality Assurance Committee, as Trustee for the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, and as a current board member of the National Honey Board, True Source Honey, and the National Pollinator Defense Fund. He also serves on the EPA’s Pesticide Program Dialogue committee pollinator work group and was recently the North American beekeeper representative at SETACs Pellston global pollinator toxicology workshop. Zac actively contributes to pollinator research and habitat conservation work, which is his passion. Zac is the Legislative Committee Co-Chairman and past president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
As a beekeeper, you are likely well aware of a growing list of challenges your bees face. Varroa, Pesticides, Nutrition, etc. You are looking out for their interests so that they might provide you with some form of return, whether that means an income or perhaps just a little home-grown honey and the satisfaction of having stewarded a hive through a season. In either case, it’s clear that it is much more difficult than it used to be. The challenges of making a good honey crop today are often overshadowed by the greater challenge of just keeping them alive! Domestic honey production has fallen 35% over the last 2 decades. Winter losses now averaging near 40% are 4 times higher than 20 years ago. Input costs in commercial operations are as much as 5 times higher than they were in the 90s. These are sobering facts for beekeepers to digest. Are these facts related? If they are, then what are the common denominators?
In my opinion, one of the most important factors is habitat, or “forage” as many beekeepers say. Habitat availability, in the form of clean, safe, diverse natural forage is the most basic and important component in maintaining healthy, productive colonies. A hive that has proper natural nutrition will tolerate much more stress than hives that are nutritionally deficient.
Large scale beekeepers around the country are aware of the sobering reality that their bees are finding less and less nutritional opportunity on our landscapes. This problem is not new. In fact, commercial beekeepers have adapted to changing landscapes quite well over the years, which has led to the mechanization and mobilization of the industry. As consummate opportunists, beekeepers are amazingly resourceful. At the micro level: When farms change their practices, beekeepers scout for a better opportunity and move their bees. At the macro level: When honey production opportunities are scarce, beekeepers seek more opportunities in pollination services.
Unfortunately, this resourceful and innovative strategy will only succeed until there are no more safe, productive alternatives. That situation is becoming a reality in many parts of the country as more and more of the landscape is changing. Honey crops nationwide are on a declining trend. Hives are malnourished and too dependent on supplemental feeding. In major honey production states like California and Florida, beekeepers now have to avoid some of the very best citrus areas completely, because of pesticides used to control citrus greening. In the Dakotas and Minnesota, the Honey basket of the country, the expansion of GMO row crops and the subsequent prolific use of herbicide has been devastating to honey production. North Dakota is still the number one honey producer, but only because the number of hives in the state have doubled recently, as beekeepers fleeing other states, where opportunities are even more scarce, flock into the “last best place.”
Compounding these changes is the loss of tens of millions of acres of conservation acres in federal programs nationwide. These lost acres once served as safe, supplemental habitat, where beekeepers could expect their bees to thrive.
As hive losses have garnered national media attention over the last decade, there has been a swell of new interest in finding solutions to the bee health crisis. Beekeepers, scientists, and politicians have worked to solve the problem from every angle. As more and more stakeholders recognize habitat loss as a major problem, the interest and opportunities to improve habitat are broadening. To date there are over 40 programs aimed at improving habitat for pollinators. They range from ad campaigns that send out packets of seeds to new federal programs. As you might have guessed, while all are probably well intended, most have little impact on bee health on a wide scale.
PAm has been a pioneer in developing habitat for honey bees. In 2013 PAm launched the Seeds for Bees program, which provides free honey bee forage seeds to Almond growers who are willing to plant it around their orchards. The goal is to improve available forage before and after the almonds bloom to give the bees a needed boost and also to raise awareness of the importance of habitat for the bees.
In 2014 PAm upped the ante by partnering with Pheasants Forever and Browning Honey to form the Honey Bee and Monarch Butterfly Partnership, which later became known as the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund. The BBHF has two primary goals. First, to establish high quality habitat in key areas. Secondly, the program aims to influence other pollinator habitat initiatives by serving as a model of the best practices in terms of cost, weed competition, and overall benefits to pollinators. The program solicits funding and pays participating landowners, who are close to beekeepers’ apiaries an annual fee to plant and maintain project acres for pollinators. The seed mixtures are engineered to provide diverse, high density, season long bloom for pollinators and utilize both native and introduced plant species.
To be fair, this is a new concept. Never before have beekeepers needed to invest in habitat. For many beekeepers, it seems impossible to invest in forage on a scale large enough to make a difference. And it would be, if we as beekeepers were alone in this fight. The good news is…we’re not.
As a beekeeper, are you also a conservationist? According to Webster, a conservationist is someone who works to protect animals, plants, and natural resources or to prevent the loss or waste of natural resources: a person who is involved in conservation. If beekeepers are conservationists, which we are, then we join a host of others who are seeking the same things, albeit for different reasons, but, nevertheless, all vying for their own little scraps on the landscape. Our bees utilize the same kinds of habitat that meet the critical needs of hosts of other critters. Deer, upland birds, waterfowl, grassland song birds, native pollinators, monarch butterflies, and countless other creatures all need places to call home on our landscape. That means that those people interested in those animals, whether to protect and conserve them, or to hunt them are also promoting the same kind of habitat that bees need. The list doesn’t end there either. People who are interested in soil health, sustainability, clean water, and even carbon sequestration to offset climate change…all want things that can be consistent with great pollinator habitat!
PAm pollinator habitat programs have been funded by many stakeholders, from beekeepers and honey packers to big ag and from hunting groups to the federal government. Beekeepers who contribute dollars to PAm habitat programs are joining a broad list of other stakeholders who share common interests, making each dollar go further and further.
These programs are still in their infancy but are growing fast. As I talk to beekeepers and growers alike who are participating, it is clear there are more than just dollars changing hands here. There is a growing level of awareness and appreciation for what bees both need and contribute. The relationships formed by working with landowners who are planting habitat for bees is priceless. They become partners, invested in the health of the bees that occupy a spot on their farm. I personally worked with a land owner in my area where I had kept bees for many years. As the farming changed around him I saw less and less honey and eventually quit bringing the bees back. He called and inquired why, and I explained that there was not enough forage around for the bees. Saddened and concerned, he asked what could be done. I mentioned that he could establish habitat for the bees. That fall he planted 8 acres between two rows of trees where it was difficult to combine with a mixture of clovers. The next year I brought the bees back. They did amazingly well. The next fall, he enrolled an additional15 acres into the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund. Now the yard is as good as any in the outfit. The land owner calls to inquire how the bees are doing and remarks about all the birds, deer, and butterflies that have returned to his farm. One more thing…last year the farmer who rents most of his land complained about the bees when he wanted to spray soy beans. This year he has a new renter.
As beekeepers, we are remarkably well adept at overcoming challenges, like the bees! The issue of declining habitat is a real challenge, but it is not one we can’t make progress on if we work together. hope you will consider joining the many stake holders investing in habitat by donating to PAm forage programs.
Project Apis m. Board Member
Project Apis m. (PAm) is dedicated to bee research and forage. We don’t have a lot of money. We work hard to make the most of donations and opportunities from great companies and groups like National Honey Board, who now entrusts their bee research assessment budget to Project Apis m. We are grateful for the trust bestowed upon Project Apis m. and we work hard to keep it.
The past thirty years in beekeeping, globally, have been tumultuous. A number of trends continue – making this a fascinating time to be in beekeeping. Across the planet, people live longer, enjoy better health, have more access to better food than any time in history. As diets improve, demand for insect-pollinated food grows.
Beginning in the 80’s, beekeepers experienced a breathtaking change from honey producers who did a little pollination work to pollination experts who do a little honey production on the side. In 2017; over 700,000 beehives will crowd into North Dakota and produce about 50 pounds of harvestable honey per hive – for a total of about 35 million pounds – keeping North Dakota secure as the #1 honey producing state in the nation. Ask large commercial operators the primary purpose of being in North Dakota…they won’t say honey- they will tell you its to prepare for the rigors of 2018 pollination season. The income earned from 700,000 hives in the almonds dwarfs the income from 35 million pounds of honey.
How does Project Apis m. fit into the well-being of American beekeeping? We fund research to improve hive health. We support the Bee Informed Partnership project and the work they do documenting hive health. PAm makes a difference in cover crop decisions growers make to improve the health of the soil and water penetration in orchards, and of course, also to improve nutrition for the bees pollinating the crops. Big Ag is moving into forage as a productivity tool. PAm has an important role to fill in forage and productivity.
We have a lot more to do. We have great opportunities on the horizon. We are in the prime position to work with other groups promoting hive health and forage efforts. It takes money and collaboration. It would be great to see breakthroughs in Varroa control, to see annual losses reduced, and to see American honey production back above 250 million pounds per year. When these things happen, PAm will be involved.
Board Member, Project Apis m.
Recently I was asked to write about honey used in craft beer brewing for this newsletter. My first thoughts were, “Rats…homework!” Being the dedicated board member I am, I set out to first figure a graceful way out of my assignment, without incurring Danielle’s wrath. Then, it dawned on me there may be some unforeseen benefits to working on this article. No way could I write an informed article without first doing some research! After all, PAm demands excellence in all it touches… So I headed straight to the nearest brew pub. In hindsight that might not have been the best starting place. Oh believe me, in my zeal, I learned a lot about craft beer brewing, and maybe slightly more about craft beer drinking. By the time I left the Pub everything was one big blur, literally. But I did make it back to my writing assignment.
A volumetric study, conducted by the NHB in conjunction with the Arland Group, showed that over 25 million pounds of honey were used in 2016 brewing beer. That’s a lot of honey and a large potential market for beekeepers to capitalize on! One conservative estimate places the number of craft breweries over 5,000 nationwide. These artisanal brewers are springing up Coast to Coast, with a wide variety of interesting craft beers. Everything, ingredient wise, is fair game in craft brewing, with each brewer trying to outdo the other with their oddly concocted libations. As one ‘bearded brewer’ told me, “We sell everything brewed, at least once!” There’s always a line of local craft beer enthusiasts waiting for the next creative brew. They may only buy it once, but no misguided craft beer creation goes to waste. Adding to the excitement, most of these brewers use locally sourced, farm-to-table, high quality ingredients to give the beers a regional flavor. Small batches of regionally produced artisanal beer provide a great local marketing tool for enhanced pricing; customers want to know where their beer is made. That’s where beekeepers come in, with our local honeys. Honey varietals, generally between 2-10%, add a wide range of complex flavors and aromas while smoothing the craft beer. It’s best to use pasteurized honey to avoid adding any undesirable bacteria to the craft brewing equation.
Currently 90% of my honey crop is processed for craft breweries--in pails, drums and totes; my largest brewery order to date has been 80,000 lbs., with a two-week window to prepare the honey for shipment. But most of my orders are in the 5-30,000 lb. range. Being from Wisconsin, it makes sense to sell to breweries, and for any motivated honey producer, seeking out the local craft breweries may provide an additional revenue stream and maybe some discounts on craft beers! If the Brewery or Brew Pub doesn’t use honey, the beekeeper can always direct them to the NHB for startup recipes and technical assistance using honey for their next marketable idea. All the breweries I deal with require the honey to be filtered and pasteurized. The largest brewery to which I sell Wisconsin honey requires my facility be Kosher and FDA inspected, with a batch certificate of analysis for quality control. No honey leaves my plant without being processed. I’ve been turning down smaller brewers, due to their small volume and required prep time. Even as I’m writing I have to process a 30,000 lb., 40,000 lb., 5,000 lb. and two 1200 lb. batches of honey for various breweries…all in a two-week window! Time is always a problem. I’m a beekeeper first and have to move and work bees. I’m living the Dream…at least that’s what I keep telling myself!
So, next time while enjoying your favorite craft beer, whether it’s a Honey Blonde, Honey Weis or my personal favorite--a Triple Honey Hoe with 30% honey and an ABV of over 10%-- remember craft beer honey equals craft beer dollars, and that makes for happy and “relaxed” beekeepers.
Board Member, Project Apis m.
Greetings from Northern California,
Hi there, I’m Pat Heitkam. It was not my first choice to be writing this column, but since you will get a diversity of voices from the PAm’s new Board Report column, I am who you get first. I am many things, though a writer isn’t one of them. But here goes!
Heitkams’ Honey Bees in Orland, California. My son, Russell, and I run about 6,000 hives. We pollinate almonds along with a few minor crops. We also sell package bees, but our primary endeavor is queen production. We ship queens from April through November depending on availability. I often say that it used to be a beekeeper had to fall asleep to fail. But nowadays it seems all you must do is blink, and you’re behind the eight-ball. This year at Heitkams’ Honey Bees started out very challenging. Our winter losses were the highest ever. This included subpar hives not suitable for pollinations (it seems we all get our turn), and we’re still not sure of all the causes. We think mite re-infestations and the accompanying viruses are a major factor. Recent evidence shows that a collapsing colony’s mites are soon found in colonies over two miles away! This means you can do everything right, and still fall victim to somebody else’s mites. Beekeeping businesses are all different, but one of the basic principles of Integrated Pest Management is to time treatments strategically, as in ‘immunize the herd.’ If beekeepers could develop some common treatment windows, it could really help reduce all our mite loads. Obviously, it wouldn’t work for all beekeepers, but if beekeepers could cooperate even just on a regional level, it could make a big difference. Before almond pollination, we predicted a significant shortage of bees, but that did not come to pass. There seemed to be just enough hives to fill the needs of the growers. In coming years, as more acreage becomes available, the availability of bees may be tighter.
Fortunately, our season improved. With the assistance of some good friends, who are conscientious beekeepers, we could do an effective job for our growers. The weather was not ideal in Northern California, but populous hives were able to work in small weather windows and marginal conditions. We think the crop may be OK, we will know for certain when they are in the wind row. We hope to have an early report on the crop from Gordy Wardell, so stay tuned.
This year, flooding has been an issue for many of us. There were significant losses, and the dramatic photos on PAm’s Facebook page had many people asking, who is responsible for the loss of hives? Who is responsible for replacing the hives to get pollination completed? As a beekeeper who does pollination, these are questions that should be dealt with prior to doing the job. For Heitkams’ Honey Bees, we’ve been accustomed to the possibility of flooding since the early 1980’s. We’ve discovered the high parts in the orchards (bee islands), and knowing the risk some orchards provide stands up to four feet above the orchard floor (see photo below). They’re difficult, but nobody has wet feet!
Theft protection, or deterrents, is something else to discuss with your grower. In one vulnerable area up here the beekeepers and growers chipped in .25 per hive to hire a nighttime security officer to drive around the orchards to discourage thefts of all types. It has been successful for three years. When you consider the loss of a hive, the bees, and equipment, the pollination contract, and the honey crop, it is worth protecting!
And now, it’s March Madness for Heitkams’ Honey Bees. No basketball is involved. We are moving hives from almonds to prunes, shaking bees for graft, raising cells, shaking for queen nucs, stocking nucs, putting nucs out in mating yards, producing cells for other keepers, catching and shipping queens, shaking packages, praying for nice weather, etc., etc. We are so thankful that we have great and loyal work crews. When we are finished, we will have an outfit to rebuild. It may or may not return to its previous size. For this job, all of the rainy weather may pay off.
I am very thankful for and proud to be part of Project Apis m. There are so many positive actions being taken by PAm, it’s difficult to single out one. But today I’m going to talk about PAm and habitat.
PAm is taking a two-pronged approach with habitat, Seeds for Bees in California and the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund expanding from the Upper Midwest. These are locations where forage can benefit most the nation’s bees.
Where we live in California, ground is being converted into orchards, primarily almonds and walnuts, at a very high rate. Most orchards are planted fence row to fence row with good weed control. This is taking a toll on beneficial insect populations, as well as pheasants, quail, and virtually all wild life. It’s also removing all the other blooming plants that pollinators are looking for. What can we do? We could use those same farming efficiencies to create habitat in non- or less productive areas. Seeds for Bees offers free seed to growers to create habitat, between tree rows, on bordering open ground, etc. The benefits to bees are obvious, but the benefits to farmers are excellent as well. Jump starting hives so they’re ready early, soil nutrition, and water penetration are a few of these benefits.
Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund is working with Midwest farmers to alleviate problems caused by large increases in corn and soybean acreage. Farm consolidation, fence row to fence row farming, Round-up ready crops, etc., have taken a toll on beneficials and critters as a whole. Let’s get those excellent farmers to use marginal ground, riparian areas along waterways, as well as rehab areas to plant the best habitat possible.
Honey bees have had their 15 minutes of fame for the past 10 years! Now people like Pheasants Forever, Monarch Butterfly folks, as well as many other concerned groups want to team with us. We all need the same thing! The movement is big but lacks a uniting force. Can Project APIS m. be the leader? What can you do to help promote this effort?
When bees are healthy the beekeeper prospers. When bees are not healthy, it’s hard to make a living, and there is much more at stake. In my 30 plus years of associating with beekeepers, I’ve never seen a group of folks who are more resilient. That may be due to pure stubbornness, but I like to think it’s hopefulness, tenacity, and a passion for the incredible interaction with nature that we get to be a part of.
I want to thank my family, especially my son, Russell, for keeping it all going.
Board Member, Project Apis m.
Dear PAm readers,
I would like to welcome you to a new column in the Project Apis m. newsletter that we are calling The Sounding Board. This column will take the place of the column, Word from Wardell. I'm not going anywhere; it is just that Danielle and I feel that there is a wealth of information and knowledge available from our Board. This column will give you, the readers, a chance to hear from the PAm Board members and gain from their insights. I will be contributing to the Project Apis m. newsletter on a periodic basis. But, like you, I'm looking forward to hearing from all the PAm Board members.
Thanks for being loyal PAm Newsletter readers. Gordon
Read Word From Wardell Here