Letters to the Editor archive
Letters to the Editor - January 2015
Bees for Development
Thank you for the excellent article that you have published about us by William Blomstedt (Volume 154, No 11, page 1247). We are all delighted by this article – William visited us by chance and for just one day, and has captured the essence of our organisation very well indeed. We hope that we might gain a few more supporters in North America.
Thank you again for providing us with this excellent coverage, and with kind regards
Dr Nicola Bradbear
Director, Bees for Development
President, Apimondia Scientific Commission Beekeeping for Rural Development
1 Agincourt Street, Monmouth NP25 3DZ
United Kingdom Tel +44 (0)1600 714848
The Bees for Development Trust UK Registered Charity 1078803
We help vulnerable communities in poor countries to achieve self-sufficiency through beekeeping.
First North American Honey Bees Brought by Spanish Settlers?
In the September issue of ABJ, author Cecil Hicks (pg 999) attributes the introduction of European honey bees into North America to the Jamestown settlement in 1622. While this dovetails nicely with his story about a Virginia beekeepers guild, it is factually incorrect. The Spanish settlement of Santa Elena in 1564 located in Port Royal Sound, South Carolina (on what is now the Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot) was the first introduction of European honey bees into North America. This introduction occurred 68 years before anyone set foot in Jamestown.
According to Timothy Drake of Clemson University, these honey bees spread approximately 200 miles to the north, south and inland via swarming before anyone set foot in Jamestown. Most authors continue to attribute the introduction of honeybees to Jamestown erroneously. Thank you for your consideration.
Dr. Drake said, “Honey Bees had moved as far inland as Tennessee by the late 1700’s, so early settlers coming to the Piedmont of SC, and NC Mountains, did not have to take bees with them when they travelled westward from the coast or down the Great Wagon Road from Virginia. They just captured swarms from the bee trees and put them in bee gums made from hollow poplar and sweetgum logs.”
David E. Arnal, President
Beaufort-Jasper Beekeepers Association
Hilton Head Island, SC
Support Virginia Honey Bees: Apply for a New Honey Bee License Plate
Pittsylvania County Beekeepers Assoc. is sponsoring a “honey bee” license plate for Virginia drivers. The $10 special interest fee is being proposed to support apiculture in the Dept of Agriculture of VA. 450 prepaid license applications are needed to be considered in the state legislation. The plate design has been approved by DMV and our legislator is ready to present the plate for final approval.
To order plate:
Fill out the License Plate Application
Include $10 (or $20 for personalized plate).
(Make checks to Pittsylvania County Beekeepers Assoc. or PCBA)
Mail money/check with application to:
455 E. Store Ln
Chatham, VA 24531
Money will be deposited into a special account as specified by DMV. Applications and money will be turned into the DMV when the total reaches 450 applicants.
For more information contact: Russell East, President PCBA (434) 251-6437 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Honey Wheel
A clarification of the Honey Wheel article in the November ABJ: The video of Amina Harris tasting honey is available free on YouTube.
The wheel, developed at the Mondavi Institute at UC Davis is for sale at: honey.ucdavis.edu/products.
Letters to the Editor - December 2014
When to Feed Pollen Substitute
I must thank you for printing the interesting and instructive articles that Randy writes for the ABJ. When I think of all I have learned over the years, often facts casually mentioned. This article taught me that I should take closer note of the kind of jelly around the tiniest brood. I had wondered why sometimes the jelly was white, and sometimes not, and now I know. I will take much closer note of it in the future.
I’m always pleased that the timely research Randy does addresses questions beekeepers are really interested in. Keep those articles coming!!
Very little attention to beekeeping financials exist today in the beekeeping literature. The Financial Analysis Honey Production, Pollination and Queen Rearing Spreadsheets (David E. MacFawn, email@example.com ) have been used to analyze various bee operation scenarios to determine investment strategies. The spreadsheets give an insight into pricing strategy, overall operation profit, total investment outlay, individual product line cost and profit, and blended honey pricing and costs. The spreadsheet is pretax with the accounting tax information not included since everyone’s tax situation is different; it is a business planning tool. The Net Present Value (NPV) method is used to determine if your bee operation strategy will work and make you money. NPV is the standard that most United States corporations use in investment decisions.
Several generalities are illuminated with the spreadsheet. Local honey can command a higher price than generic honey. Honey of various types, such as sourwood, tupelo, or orange blossom, also can command a higher price than typical wild flower honey. Overall strategy to market your honey is to push the upper price limit with your honey prices to determine what exactly your upper price point is, then back off a bit to retain your sales. Set your honey prices based on the market rate, not cost, then determine what your profit margin is based on your cost. Customers are also more willing to purchase a product at a lower price than a higher price; such as a $2.00 two ounce container rather than an $11.00 pint or $17.00 quart container. You can also make higher profit margins from smaller quantities than larger quantities.
When starting out, locate your hives as close to your house as possible to minimize travel time and cost. Generally around 11-15 hives is the break-even point to start having out-yards profitably. Locate your out-yards approximately five miles from each other to minimize travel expense with five miles being the general maximum distance that foragers will travel. There is a trade-off between how many colonies an out-yard will support and the travel cost. You want to have as many colonies in an out-yard as possible due to travel cost but not so many that the area cannot support the number of colonies. Usually 15-20 colonies is the maximum that I want in an out-yard since this is the maximum one person can typically work comfortably at one time.
h up to 10-15 colonies you can make money off of one 40 pound per hive nectar flow if you minimize travel and extracting equipment. Up to the 10-15 colony range it is usually cheaper to pay someone else to extract your honey rather than investing $800 or so in extracting equipment. This 10-15 colony number is lower if you produce more than approximately one medium super per flow. Maybe your bee club has an extractor and equipment that you can use. Total extracting equipment investment decision is dependent on your labor rate and equipment cost. Invest in your bees and woodenware first prior to investing in a lot of extracting equipment or a big building.
Generally, a honey operation needs to produce approximately around 100-120 pounds of honey per hive a year or more to make money commercially, if solely producing honey. This may be multiple nectar flows. This will reduce the equipment investment cost per pound of honey. However, it is dependent on the travel cost and the selling product mix. It is tough to make a profit only selling barrels of honey retail ($1600 - $1700 per barrel). You need pollination revenue, queen and / or NUC revenue, and / or selling lower honey quantities than barrels. However, as always, it is dependent on one’s particular operation and product mix.
The small honey producer should sell retail whenever possible. You will typically lose money or break even at best, selling at wholesale prices. The product prices should be market based and this spreadsheet will tell you if you are making a profit and what it is based on your selling price. Colony survival rate impacts your overall honey production profitability greatly. Also, the honey yield per colony per nectar flow also impacts the operation’s profitability.
Generally, there is a trade-off between producing honey and renting out your colonies for pollination. It depends on the per colony honey yield, the per colony pollination rental rate, and distance traveled. If you are lucky and pollinating certain crops, you may be able to produce a super of honey. A beekeeper may consider doing both honey production and pollination. This is especially so as to not be dependent on one source of income. Also, it is cheaper per hive to transport a “full load,” of hives than a partial load. This may be eight to ten colonies or more in a pickup (depends on if you want to stack them).
The Spreadsheet also highlights that if you are able to make a large investment up front, you can spread you equipment costs over a longer production time frame and increase your Net Present Value (NPV). This is especially true if you invest in extracting equipment or a honey house.
You also have the option to pay yourself a salary or a lump sum at the end of year. If you pay help during the year, then you probably would want to include that salary. Paying yourself a salary will give you a more realistic pricing structure, profit margin and costs than a lump sum at the end of the year.
Yes, you can make money with bees, but you need to make your investment decisions judiciously. A small operator needs to invest in bees and woodenware first without investing a lot in extracting equipment or building. Minimize your travel costs and set up your operation optimally from the beginning. Utilize that garage or existing building that you may have.
Beekeeping in the Mediterranean from Antiquity to the Present October 9 – 11, Syros Island, Greece
The Eva Crane Trust in conjunction with the Chamber of the Cyclades and the Hellenic Agricultural Organization (DEMETER) organized this first beekeeping symposium in Hermoupolis, which is on the capital of the 24 islands that make up the Cyclades. The two-day symposium actually took place in the Council chamber which held upwards of 100 delegates. However, by the magic of cctv, a further 45 people took part through live links to seven other islands in the group.
The eastern Mediterranean is rich in the history of beekeeping and the first day was given over to looking at this rich heritage. After the opening addresses by governmental and local dignitaries, the day was devoted to an overview of this history. Richard Jones set the stage by recounting Eva Crane’s own work in the area which formed important parts of her seminal texts: Archaeology of Beekeeping (Duckworth, 1983) and The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (Duckworth, 1999). This was followed by Professor Mazer of Israel who described the great archaeological find of an apiary of 100+ hives dated to 3500 BCE at Tel Rehov. The oldest example of commercial beekeeping yet discovered.
Ancient Egyptian beekeeping was covered by Alaskan beekeeper and world traveller, Stephen Petersen. Professor Gene Kritsky from the USA continued his quest for the perfect hive by looking at ...
Letters to the Editor - November 2014
Forager Marking Devices for Kids
This summer the kids and I spent hours foraging in the garden for watermelon and tomatoes, and watched countless pollinators in action. Watching honey bee foragers led the kids to ask me lots of questions. “Does this bee on the cucumber flower return here tomorrow?” “Do the bees on the sunflowers forage on the zinnias, too?” “Have all of our hives found the pumpkin blossoms?” I thought that it would be best to let our foraging bees answer the kids’ questions. I taught our kids to mark foragers in the garden!
I modified an old, wooden queen cage and turned it into a plunger-style marking device with a honey lure, using basic tools. The method of using the forager marking device (FMD) is easy for a child to understand. We placed the open FMD in the garden where bees were foraging. Bees could enter and exit and gorge themselves on honey all day. When we went to the garden, we checked the lures. If a bee was inside, the kids plunged her gently upward to close the entrance, marked her through the screen on the thorax, plunged her down until she dried and was full of honey and then, safely opened the entrance and tracked her flight direction back to the colony.
With the holidays fast approaching, I am planning to gift FMD’s and non-toxic paint pens to family and friends. This little contraption really does need explanation, so I made double sided, printable instruction books that are easy to understand. Homemade gifts are so cool. We are proud to be entertaining and educating our children in the garden and wanted to help others do the same. Enjoy!
Bees Seeking Water During a Heat wave
It’s 108 degrees in our backyard. This is a photo of the honey bees coming to the water dish where all the creatures come for water on these hot days. There are often dozens (hundreds ?) at any given time. The squirrels and cats don’t seem to mind.
A catnip plant took over one of my flower beds. It was attractive to honey bees and they worked it in June and July.
Letters to the Editor - October 2014
Colony Collapse 20 Years Ago
During rainy days this summer, I’ve been sorting through 31 years of files, reports and correspondence in order to recycle the paper and/or save and scan documents for historical records. Much of the content in the file cabinets consists of letters and reports that were written before the computer age. In one of the drawers I found a forgotten and significant letter written to Dr. Hachiro Shimanuki, Lab Leader at the USDA-ARS Beltsville Bee Lab.
The letter was written in part to thank both him and Dave Knox, Bee Lab entomologist for processing brood and adult bee samples for viral analysis. The letter also described a phenomenon that I had never seen before among beekeeping operations and a situation update regarding the operation the samples originated from. Unrelated to the issue, the correspondence also included data comparing tracheal mite infestations of Yugo, Buckfast and Italian honey bee stocks.
Following are excerpts from the letter to Shim written on Oct. 17, 1994:
“September 14, 1994 - 2 apiary locations (40 and 24 hives) with 1,000’s of bees on the ground resembling a pesticide kill, however, not all of the colonies were affected (approximately ¼). Many young “hive bees” observed walking from affected colonies unable to fly…The affected hives were still actively foraging with field bees bringing in pollen from goldenrod and aster. The young bees walking from the hives had ‘tremors’ or a ‘shaky’, ‘shivering’ behavior. In general, the majority of the bees died just in front or within 10 feet of hives. The crawling bees often weakly fluttered their wings resembling symptoms of what was observed during the late 1980’s when many tracheal mite infested hives were dying off during winter and early spring in Maine. The hives had large populations with 6 plus frames of brood and a super of honey when this behavior began. Varroa was found within worker and drone cells. When this ‘colony collapse’ was first observed, about 6 of 40 apiary locations were affected.”
“October 14, 1994- Revisited apiaries with die-off. The crawling behavior nearly stopped…Live colonies are now down to about 2-3 frames of bees and brood, lots of honey and frames of dead brood (chilled or otherwise)…During the last month, 20 additional colonies died out in the two apiary locations….About four apiaries were moved to a staging yard during the last month. These hives have dwindled far worse than the hives not moved. Of the 200 colonies staged, I think mortality will exceed 50% by the time they reach Georgia (Thanksgiving)….Things look pretty grim….Since our initial conversation concerning this matter, Roy has reported a similar situation with his last load in northern Maine….During the week of October 3rd I visited a southern Maine operation of 100+/- colonies. Colony collapse was evident (i.e. empty hives, spotty brood, lots of honey) but no dead or dying adults in front of hives. These hives appeared to have absconded.”
Within the letter to Dr. Shimanuki, I used the term “colony collapse”, first in parenthesis since I had no other way to describe what I was observing. We now know that the symptoms described in the September 14th and October 14th narratives concerning Norm and Roy’s operations were due to acute paralysis virus and Kashmir bee virus activated and vectored by Varroa (ABJ-May & Oct issues 1995). However, the symptoms concerning the colony collapse within the southern Maine apiary checked on October 3rd were very different. No bees (dead or alive) were present. Sound familiar?
For the record, the neonicotinoid Admire (imidacloprid) was registered in Maine for use on potatoes in 1994 in lieu of GMO (Bt) potatoes due to market pressure. It was applied to potato acreage in 1995. The letter to Dr. Shimanuki in 1994 accurately describes the existence of the CCD syndrome formerly called parasitic mite syndrome (PMS) before wide-spread use of the neonic insecticide class.
Maine State Apiarist
About Cell Size, Varroa Control and a “Fatal Error”
More than 20 years ago, Erickson et al.1,2 suggested that reducing the size of the brood cells of the European honey bee could help in controlling the development of varroa mite populations. This claim was developed and discussed among beekeepers, including in the American Bee Journal.3,4,5 As cornerstones of their approach, the proponents invoke two major arguments. Firstly they postulate that cell size was smaller before the general use of wax foundation and, secondly, that a “fatal” error occurred around 1930 when a new method (the square approach used by Baudoux, a Belgian researcher) replaced the traditional “rhombus” approach for estimating comb cell density. As a consequence, they suggest that beekeepers should undertake “regression” programs in order to keep their bees under, according to them, more natural conditions. They embed their ideas in the tempting view that honeybee colonies become more efficient at detecting mites, more rigorous in their hygienic behavior and, if not resistant, at least tolerant to varroa infestations. Their arguments were convincing enough to persuade the beekeeping equipment industry to produce and market wax foundation and artificial comb with a smaller cell size, as well as to convince scientists to conduct their own controlled studies in order to assess the effectiveness of cell size in mite control programs.
When I first heard of this theory in the fall of 2012, I was also taken in by it and rapidly became convinced that I had found a way to overcome colony losses. I then contacted our beekeeping authorities (who are deeply involved in developing organic control methods) and asked them why they were not supporting the small cell approach. They answered that the scientific evidence was not yet convincing enough to steer beekeepers in that direction. They also shared their collection of publications on the subject. I therefore read in detail the methods developed by the proponents of small cells, as well as the publications of the scientific community on the topic. At the same time, I prepared to undertake my own “regression” program for the following spring.
But over and over again, I came up against the “fatal error” argument. I could not understand how two measuring methods based on plane geometrical figures could yield different cell densities. I then started to make my own measurements: as theory predicts, I found identical results with either the square or the rhombus approach! In the meantime, I also discovered that some authors6,7 challenged the view that cell sizes had been smaller in the past. In addition, evidence from scientific studies was far from sustaining the small cell theory.8
Finally, I understood that the “fatal error” was an act of the proponents of the small cell theory themselves: when they transformed cell densities, allegedly measured using the rhombic approach, into modern figures using the square method, they considered that a rhombus of basis 1dm had the same area as a square of basis 1dm (cf. Figure 1). I also found that the rhombus approach has never been used as a standard in the past and that most historical data were reported as cell widths and not as cell densities. There was therefore no need to transform historical data in order to compare them with modern cell width measurements. In addition, an extensive review of historical data clearly confirms that cell densities were not smaller before the introduction of wax foundation.
Ironically, an opposite controversy on cell size arose around 1935, with the claim that bees became smaller following the introduction of wax foundation! According to Honegger10, Mehring, who invented wax foundation around 1857, designed his first wax mill on the basis of his own measurement, namely 18 cells/dm, i.e. a cell size of 5.55 mm and a density of 750 cells/dm2. Later on, some European producers of wax foundation turned to smaller cells and much higher cell densities (e.g. 920 cells/dm2, corresponding to a cell width of 5.0 mm, in Belgium before Baudoux’s work). This might explain why wax mills from the beginning of the 20th century correspond to small
In conclusion, the findings of this study, published in greater detail in a recent issue of the Journal of Apicultural Research11, clearly show that two major arguments of the proponents of the small cell approach are not supported by the facts. Firstly, historical data indicate that cells were not smaller before the introduction of wax foundation. Secondly, if any “fatal error” occurred, it was rather at...
Letters to the Editor - September 2014
National Honey Board Announces Availability of 2014 National Honey Month Press Kits
Firestone, Colo., July 16, 2014 –The National Honey Board (NHB) is pleased to announce that again this year, they will be providing press kits to the honey industry in order to promote September as National Honey Month. September has been recognized as National Honey Month in an effort to celebrate this all-natural wonder and its many benefits. The press kit, intended for delivery to local media, will be available at no cost to beekeepers throughout the United States.
The 2014 press kit features information on the benefits of honey, a variety of honey recipes, a 30 Days of Honey one-page handout which encourages consumption of honey throughout the month, as well as the NHB’s newest and most popular honey brochures that showcase honey’s versatility. All the resources included in the press kit are perfect for use by editors and journalists preparing honey features and news stories.
The press kits will be made available in early August and may be requested by calling Andrea Brening at the NHB office (800-553-7162), or by sending an email to Andrea@nhb.org.
The National Honey Board is an industry-funded agriculture promotion group that works to educate consumers about the benefits and uses for honey and honey products through research, marketing and promotional programs.
National Honey Board
September Cover Painting
I do have prints of all my bee images. Most of them are in my eBay store. I didn’t post them all to my website because they are very small and not Limited Edition Prints. They are signed though. Please do refer readers to my website (www.robys.com); there is a menu button on the main page on the left side that they can choose that is my eBay store link. My website has only the Limited Edition Prints listed there. I’ll give you the link to my “bee” page on my eBay store so you can see what I’m talking about: http://stores.ebay.com/Roby-Baers-Fine-Art-And-Prints/Bees-/_i.html?_fsub=294869219&_sid=4807169&_trksid=p4634.c0.m322
Roby & Rich Baer
Why would you want to print a free advertisement for Bayer?
The article in News Notes by Bayer Project Manager, Becky Langer, (July 2014) may as well be a Bayer commercial. The beekeeper has wonderful success on space provided by a grower of corn, soybeans, mums and hay. We all get the implication that the bees are doing well among crops coated with Bayer systemic poison. You have allowed this commercial to share space with truly important news from USDA and NCSU. Do you really think that Bayer propaganda should share space with our research authorities?
If you are willing to print private advertisement as news, I would like to start providing you with articles to advertise my beekeeping business. I’m sure I can create a “feel good” article to promote my products and services on a monthly basis for you.
Donald P. Studinski
Letters to the Editor - August 2014
I was so pleased to see the June issue of American Bee Journal with a beautifully painted hive on the cover. When I travel in Europe I like to visit other beekeepers and I noticed that so many of their hives were painted in pretty pastel colors or designed to look like small houses or had interesting hive roofs. I thought this was a good idea. I decided to create a beautiful beehive roof that looked like ones I had seen in Paris. But how?
I remembered an old friend who was the metals conservator for the Park Service. He was immediately interested in the challenge of designing and building a cover. Because he is a beekeeper, he knew the best way to build a roof that worked. The photo attached is our version of a beautiful beehive. It complements our urban perennial garden. It has a copper roof handmade by Bart Rogers, who is shown in the second photo building the skeleton for the hexagonal hive cover.
I think decorating their beehives is starting to be a trend with urban American beekeepers. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing to us, we think it helps the neighbors accept our bees by making the hives beautiful to look at.
If other beekeepers are interested in having one or more of our hive covers, my website is: beautifulbeehives.com
For the Birds!
In early May, I placed a bait hive under one of my trees, the same location where I had scout bees checking it out two years ago.
The bait hive is on top of a six foot ladder. It is a medium hive box with enclosed top, and bottom with a one-inch entrance hole. I baited it with three old drawn out combs, and a cotton ball with a few drops of lemongrass oil (a honey bee attractant that simulates the Nasonov pheromone).
I check the bait hive periodically to see if there are interested scout bees. Today, June 8, I noticed a bird flying away from the bait hive. Curious, I put my ear to the box, and heard baby birds chirping inside. Fortunately, my hives have not swarmed, and found another home since my bait hive was already occupied.
Letters to the Editor - July 2014
July Cover Picture
This is the first in a series of 6 paintings depicting beekeeping work in the apiary. This will also be made into a limited edition 40x24 inch signed poster. A poster will be sent to every state agriculture department helping to highlight the importance of beekeepers and their diminishing numbers.
Mirald Cake, the artist, is the son of a beekeeper. He came to this country at age 13 in 2000 with his family from Albania. His father, a beekeeper in Albania, wanted a better life for his children and was granted a visa to immigrate to the US. As you know, beekeeping is a family business. Mirald spent many days as a young boy assisting his father in the fields. His art is influenced by that environment.
Not speaking English, his father, Behar Cake, supported the family by taking maintenance & cleaning jobs around Clearwater Florida. His mother, Luisa, a nurse in Albania, worked here as a hotel maid. The children learned English within a year and became straight A students. They all became US citizens.
My wife, then the executive housekeeper at the Adams Mark Hotel in Clearwater, became friends of the family during Luisa’s time there as a hotel maid. My wife helped her to learn English and took an interest in Mirald’s drawing abilities and gave him a painting kit as a Christmas present. Six years later my wife drove Mirald to the prestigious Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota for an interview. Four years ago he graduated. His father’s secondary income as a beekeeper helped Mirald through college.
Mirald sees his father as his hero and beekeeping is his father’s passion. This series of six paintings will depict the beekeeper in that mode. I have added some links about Mirald and his art.
Please consider his art for a cover of your Journal. And a story about his family’s beekeeping journeys in life in the same issue.
Links about Mirald Cake:
A google on his name will bring up more results
I would like to respond to the recent “Letters to the Editor/Bee Forage Network Developed, May, 2014.” First, I would like to acknowledge that using various websites for beekeeping endeavors are extremely valuable, and there are hundreds if not thousands of good ones out there. Furthermore, I would encourage new and old beekeepers alike to take advantage of them. However, now I must get to my point. This article seemed to suggest that all new beekeepers need to do is just run to their computer, type in the website, and determine which day to start putting on supers for their bees to fill up. This computer-dependent mentality is detrimental to learning about honeybees and their habits. We need to use computers and websites as tools to help us, but rely on working with the bees after opening up the colony for observations in order to make decisions as to what the colony needs.
At the risk of getting too elementary for many of the ABJ readers, I think somebody needs to point out that we need to get back to the basics. During my first year of working with bees, I learned that the way to determine when to super a colony was to open up the colony and remove one of the brood frames. You could look at it to see if the workers were putting in nectar into the cells right after the new workers emerged and before the queen had a chance to lay more eggs in the cells. This process is called “plugging out the brood nest with honey.” Then, turn this frame 90 degrees from its original position and lightly move the frame up and down without shaking the frame too hard. If drops of nectar fell out onto the tops of the other frames, then the honey flow (actually nectar flow in which the nectar is changed to honey by the bees) was on. If you wanted further proof, you could taste one of these drops. If it was sweet (which is practically always the case), then it is nectar. Thick honey will never fall out of the frames during this check. At this point, you can add honey supers. There are other ways to check for a honey flow: past years – even though there are differences in different years, bee flight, and white wax either seen as burr comb on the top bars or as the comb surface as it is capped. However, as anyone can surmise, most of these activities actually involve opening the hive and inspecting the bees, not sitting behind a computer. Furthermore, if your hive swarmed, then this would have a great effect on how much honey your hive could collect and how many supers a beekeeper would need to add.
I think that all beekeepers, especially new ones, need to understand that the way to learn about bees is through experience in front of an open hive. Sure I have heard, and it does have merit, that opening a hive does disturb the bees. But to be successful, you need to learn firsthand. Open the hive and make each time a learning experience. As my teacher and major professor, Dr. Alfred Dietz, told me on many occasions. “Don’t worry about it; if you do something wrong the bees will let you know.”
by Les Crowder
I, too, have been a beekeeper for 40 years, a state bee inspector, etc. etc. I have watched beekeeping and agriculture go through many changes. One of these is IPM, integrated pest management. IPM has adopted many of the practices of organic farming, inasmuch as many pests can be controlled with mechanical and biological means. When these methods are successful, one need not resort to chemicals.
However, IPM is a continuum, which responds directly to pest levels. If the method used is not working, one goes to the next level. For example, if you have mice in your house, IPM would start with mechanical and biological methods like mouse traps and cats. If that doesn’t work, you might go to rat bait. If that failed, you may have to tent the house. What you would not do is give up and live with a rodent infestation, or abandon the house.
Many of the treatment-free advocates are idealists. Idealism too exists on a continuum. At it simplest, it is the belief in a better world. But often it slides toward ideology. Fervent ideologies tend to attract people who want simple answers to hard problems. Just as IPM aims to be flexible and responsive to real world situations, one also can have an integrated attitude toward knowledge which is flexible, responsive and avoids ideology. Because ideology slides toward fanaticism.
Peter Loring Borst
Beers Settlement, NY
Playing with the Winter Sun — Solarizing Hives to Reduce Winter Losses
The following information may be of interest to beekeepers living in zone 6 or colder, where the rate of winter kill is high.
We know honeybee colonies can take the cold weather as long as they have a good population, plenty of food inside the hive, are free of serious disease and have a dry cavity. However, we see colonies entering winter in apparently good condition, dwindling or even dying in late winter. The long conﬁned life during winter may favor the development of health problems and the queen may fail or die of age or illness, when supersedure cannot take place. But a dead colony, with food inside the hive, in late winter, may also be the consequence of insufficient natural warming breaks during the long cold periods, when the colony turned weak. This further explains why the rate of winter losses gets higher with the latitude. Let me make this point clearer:
We know the bees adapt to cold weather by ....
Letters to the Editor - June 2014
June Cover Picture
I thought you might like to use these pictures in your magazine. I am a loyal reader. The artist’s name is Jill Sanders. She lives in Knoxville, TN.
I’ve attached a full sized picture of the hive that is 4MB. If you use it for the cover, I thought this might have the higher resolution you would need/want.
I own the hive, but Jill painted it for me. She is a great artist, and I’m sure she would be thrilled to see the picture on the cover.
Jill’s website is jsandersart.com. Her Facebook page is Jill Sanders Art. It would be great if you would mention these in the magazine so she could get some traffic from it.
I went to school from kindergarten through 12th grade with Jill. She is a class act. I got the idea to have her paint one of my beehives when I saw what an excellent job she did painting a rain barrel for a local charity.
I suddenly became aware recently of how the honey bee stores pollen.
As one can see, there are two different positions shown. For the pellets lying on the sides, the different layers can be identified and one can count the number of trips required to make one pellet. When the end view is shown, one can observe the hexagonal shape.
Perhaps others have made these observations, but I have never seen such pictures before.
Lawrence A. DuBose
Carol Stream, Illinois
Change Management - Save Bees
The exact number of people who have bees in Iowa, and other states, is unknown but maybe Iowa’s State Apiarist, Andy Joseph may have an estimated figure.
Within that number are a few that are qualified beekeepers. They have earned that distinction by managing honey bee colonies to survive Iowa’s rigorous winters with a minimum of loss. It is being proved even with more difficulties in beekeeping.
After the initial start of getting colonies organized, which requires the feeding of sugar syrup, they managed colonies to produce their own food and eliminated the feeding of syrup. Most colonies are provided two brood chambers for producing bees and storing honey for the months of dearth when no source of nectar or pollen is available.
Even though queen excluders are used above the two brood chambers, 99 percent of colonies will need additional full combs of honey for winter. Those surplus combs of honey can be produced by allowing some colonies to fill the full depth hive body with honey that can be reserved for the purpose of bringing all colonies designed to winter up to weight.
There will be some smaller amounts of honey to process and sold, BUT it will eliminate the need to make arrangements, work and expense of feeding sugar syrup.
Fair colonies can be produced by feeding sugar syrup, BUT not the healthiest of bees. Honey is a perfect diet for bees. It produces healthy bees which can better stand the environment of today’s contamination.
Now about finding the proper balance of stores for the colonies to be wintered with a quick view of the combs from the top, it appears they are full of honey. Upon closer examination, it is found that some of the combs are only partly filled. Counting each comb would help, but would be a lot of work and time consuming. The hefting of each hive is quite inadequate. A completely filled upper chamber with honey would assure that there was enough honey. But, three combs of open cells need to be placed in the upper chamber in September. That is where bees prefer to cluster on the open cell combs.
The only way to make sure there is the right amount of honey stores is the use of a scale. This doesn’t mean placing every hive on a platform scale needlessly. The scale pictured is the only sure way to make sure that there is the correct amount of stores, not too much or too little.
All hives should be placed on 2” X 4” pieces, 42 inches long. Either the flat way or made into H frames. This allows the scale hook to fit firmly under the side of the
Lift each side of each hive and add the total. That gives you the near exact weight of the hive. If the total weight is 100 pounds, then three combs may be needed to bring the hive up to needed weight. In Central Iowa it was found we needed each hive to weigh 115 to 120 pounds. After a couple of years, you will have determined the wieght needed to last until some sources of nectar and pollen are available in the late April.
Colonies having the proper amount of stores and given all other provisions for winter, including Styrofoam fit in the inner cover and wrapped in black asphalt paper will be in condition that brood equalization can provide extra combs of brood and bees for making up a few lost colonies OR increasing numbers. We found that during the daylight hours it was 30 degrees warmer under the asphalt paper than the outside temperature.
Enough of this done throughout the Midwest would eliminate the need to import the thousands of packaged bees that are now being used for replacements. Maybe the day will return when queens would again be available from California or the South in early April—the desirable time to make up additional colonies. There should be enough honey left for all single brood chamber colonies after equalizing the brood.
Now for a scale: All that is needed is two pieces of 1” X 8” board for a base. Cross the grains to prevent splitting. Two pieces of 2” X 2”: One 24” the other 32” Fasten the 24” upright to the base with 4 pieces of metal strap 12” long. Bend down 2” to bolt onto the base using all 1/4 inch bolts. Four 1/4 inch bolts hold the strap to the upright piece. Cut the top of the upright piece at a 45 degree angle. Fasten the lever to the upright about 8 inches from the end with a 5 inch strap hinge. At the end of the lever place an eye bolt which will hold the swivel snap attached to the scale. The scale is the expensive part, but well worth it. It takes only about 30 seconds to weigh each hive which tells you a lot. One that weighs 160 pounds has too much honey and upon checking, you will find too little brood in September and will be short of bees that will be needed to survive the winter.
Beekeepers fashion all kinds of reasons, or excuses, for extreme losses of colonies, especially during the winter. The latest has been the extremely cold winter. Cold has little or no effect on bees as long as they have plenty of honey. The major problem is neglect and mismanagement. A little special attention paid each colony takes very little time, but pays big dividends.
Iowa State Apiarist, emeritus
908 N. Highway 69
Huxley, IA 50124
Hive Boxes Make Handy Tool Shelves
I’ve been busy building bee equipment this spring, and like many other beekeepers, I have been using hive boxes for shelves and worktables, among other things. I have photos of several examples. When using tools, I dislike keeping them on the ground. Mostly because I am over six feet tall, and am too lazy to continually bend over. Hive boxes can be arranged to almost any height, and are readily available. When my younger daughter Michelle headed off to college, she packed along several hive boxes, and used them as shelves and a TV stand. They make a nice worktable in the beeyards, and with careful placement, can be used as a step to get up to the truck bed. Although not OSHA approved, I have heard that they could be used to reach a light bulb for changing, or to see inside the top of the honey settling tank. I thought that this could help other beekeepers with ideas for making life easier.
Andy Hemken, Beekeeper
Big Bend, Wisconsin
Letters to the Editor - May 2014
I’ve attached two versions of a photograph that I took today while working in our backyard apiary in Oak Ridge, TN. I’ve been feeding our bees a little extra carbohydrate in the form of a semi-solid sugar candy that I refer to as semi-fondant. While inspecting the hives I noted the workers in this hive busily siphoning up the semi-fondant while shredding the paper plate it was placed on as they go. Notice the shredded plate to the left, but especially to the right of center of the banner formatted image.
Buzzy Bee Apiary
Oak Ridge, TN
Beekeepers Must Move Bees
Last fall the EPA published a new pesticide label originally for the foliar application of four neonicotinoid pesticides. By December, the EPA stated this new pesticide label language would be “harmonized” across all chemistries. The label was meant to protect pollinators.
The Pollinator Stewardship Council with the Bee Industry, sought a response from EPA’s Assistant Administrator clarifying our concerns with the new label. The Pollinator Stewardship Council received an answer from EPA, and Mr. Dave Hackenberg, representing the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, received a different letter from EPA (even though both groups along with AHPA and ABF signed the original letter).
The Office of Investigations for EPA stated in a letter to the Pollinator Stewardship Council, they will review our concerns and “a determination will be made as to the most appropriate course of action.” In the response to Mr. Hackenberg, Assistant Administrator Jones clarifies that contrary to the December EPA webinar this new label language is for the “four products formulated with the four nitroguanidine neonicotinoid chemicals (clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam) as well as two recently registered as active ingredients: tolfenpyrad and cyantraniliprole.” These last two pesticides are an addition to the original label adjustments presented August 15, 2013 by EPA for foliar applied neonics only. As to the concerns beekeepers expressed about the five conditions listed on the label past the “do not apply statement:” EPA stated to Mr. Hackenberg, “Both of the foregoing prohibitions, however, are subject to the exception listed in the “unless . . .” clause.” “. . . application would be legal if one of the five conditions is met . . .”
The bee industry has its answer: any harm that comes to a beekeeper’s managed colonies due to a foliar application of clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, tolfenpyrad, and cyantraniliprole is the responsibility of the beekeeper. If bees are damaged or die due to a foliar application of a those products during bloom, and the application was made based on one of the five conditions, the fault of bee deaths lies with the beekeeper. Beekeepers must move their bees. No clarification was provided by EPA on what constitutes notifying a beekeeper to move their bees, if a State has a voluntary apiary registry program, or for the loss of a honey crop or crop pollination if bees are to be moved. The cost of time, labor, and loss of honey crop will be shouldered by the beekeeper.
The Pollinator Stewardship Council has attached an analysis of the new pesticide label. While EPA has clarified the “conditions” will supercede the “do not apply” statement, the label still has undefined terms, features an icon that defies culturally accepted warnings, and native pollinators will continue to be harmed and killed. Again, the EPA now states the new label will only be required for foliar applications of clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and the two new products tolfenpyrad and cyantraniliprole.
The Pollinator Stewardship Council encourages beekeepers to document their costs due to moving bees in relation to this new label language for foliar applications of clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, tolfenpyrad, and cyantraniliprole. Also, document if and when you are notified to move your bees.
The Pollinator Stewardship Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend managed and native pollinators vital to a sustainable and affordable food supply from the adverse impact of pesticides. For more information about the Pollinator Stewardship Council visit www.pollinator
Note: From the EPA’s EFED Risk Assessment of 2013, page 4, Cyantraniliprole, IRAC group 28, “is a systemic, broad-spectrum insecticide that belongs to the diamide class of chemistry.”
Tolfenpyrad, IRAC group 21 “is a broad-spectrum pyrazole insecticide/miticide. It acts by impairing energy metabolism in the target pest . . . including cessation of movement, lack of fecundity, and eventual death of the pest.” (Page 3, EPA’s unconditional registration document for tolfenpyrad)
Pollinator Stewardship Council, Inc.
P.O. Box 304
Perkinston, MS 39573
Bee Forage Network Developed
As a beekeeper for the past five years in Vermont, one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked is “When do I super my hives?” Over the past several weeks I’ve been playing with a reporting tool that might help beekeepers, especially new beekeepers, learn when the time is right to super their hives.
The Bee Forage Network is a free service for Vermont beekeepers that graphically presents local blooming conditions of bee-friendly plants based on reports submitted by volunteer observers.
The site, available at BeeForage.com presents local forage conditions in a manner similar to pollen reports. Local observers - like weather spotters - can report flora in bloom and update the site from their smartphones or tablets in real time using a simple app that allows for the selection of regional forage plants. Reports can include photos and video to assist beekeepers in identifying plants in bloom. The mapped data is available for viewing online as it is entered. Participants can then elect to receive email or text alerts so they will know when certain plants are blooming in their area. Reports can be submitted anonymously or users can create a free site account which offers greater management control.
The Bee Forage Network was created in response to a question as to when beekeepers should place honey supers on their hives in the spring. The site aims to assist new beekeepers who have difficulty identifying when plants bloom during the course of the season. It is helpful to know when this occurs because beekeepers use this information to manage their hives.
The site was developed using the Open Source Ushahidi interactive crisis-mapping platform. “Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was a website initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The Ushahidi platform is now being used worldwide in support of a variety of political and environmental issues.
While currently available for Vermont beekeepers, the site can easily be expanded to include data from other states if there is interest. Future plans call for weather overlays and integration with hive scales. In addition to being a teaching tool the Bee Forage Network could serve the historical record as a possible indicator of changing climate as the reporting database grows. It could also help promote the importance of maintaining forage for pollinators.
4740 Route 30
Cornwall, VT 05753
Hive Box Decorating Contest
Looking to add a touch of fun to your local beekeeping meetings? The Fort Bend County Beekeepers in Texas held a [bee] box decorating contest with great success. Kids, Teens and Adults all had a category and 23 entries were submitted. The club gave place ribbons, ‘Lil-Smoker” Trophies and gift certificates from Dadant and Brushy-Mountain to the Champions. Member Jack Richardson spearheaded the competition exclaiming, “There is so much talent and imagination in our club.” Beekeepers from age 7 to 70 participated and every member got one vote per category. “We gave everyone a red, a white and a blue poker chip to vote for their favorite in each of the three age divisions. You dropped your chip in the bag sitting inside the box you liked best”, said Jack. “Participation was terrific and everyone was wearing a smile!”
Fort Bend Beekeepers
Bee Venom Therapy Clinical Trials
We will be recruiting patients until July 2014. Future news will likely come from our Chief Medical Officer, Anna Jakubowska M.D., MBA
Robert Brooks PhD, COO, Apimeds
Apimeds Launches a Phase III Clinical Trial for Osteoarthritis and Its Standardized Honeybee Venom
On January 6th Apimeds began screening US patients at 15 clinical sites for osteoarthritis of the knee with its standardized honeybee venom Apitox. The clinical trial excludes beekeepers, but if you know someone interested, the sites that are actively recruiting patients can be found on www.clinicaltrials.gov/Apitox.All contact information about Apimeds, Inc and its vendors can be found on the government website. The study will also enroll patients at sites in India for this clinical trial.
Apimeds is preparing a clinical trial with ...
Letters to the Editor - April 2014
April Cover Painting
I’ve titled the painting Golden Days. The painting is done on an old inner cover. My husband keeps bees and I’m a self taught artist. I love anything vintage, especially old trucks. My husband acquired that specific inner cover from an old beekeeper who had recently gotten out of it. When I saw it, I knew I wanted to paint a bee scene on it (that included an old Ford). The painting is available for sale for $100.
I do custom work at an affordable price and anyone can reach me at this email. My work can be viewed on my etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/Payntstar or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Payntstar.
For prices on prints, you can contact my business email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Port Allegany, PA
Starving Bee Sponges, Bee Aware of Triclosan!
Reference: Starving Bees!, pages 149-152, February, 2014 ABJ article.
Common kitchen sponges labeled “antibacterial” are likely to be impregnated with Triclosan, an antibacterial-antifungal ingredient with a known toxicity to fish, frogs and test mice. These antibacterial cellulose sponges should not be used in baggies for feeding sugar syrup to your bees as it is unknown whether or not it is toxic to them. Currently, the FDA believes it is safe for humans in its current use in cosmetics, hand soaps, household cleaning products, etc. to combat bacteria. However, it is reviewing new information on Triclosan and possible toxicity to humans.
A trip to any grocery store, (not a health food store), found it impossible for me to find sponges not labeled “antibacterial” although Triclosan was not listed on the label. I must assume it is Triclosan, as it is the cheapest and most commonly used antibacterial in such products.
So . . . a simple inexpensive solution to the antibacterial sponge problem is to use “grout” sponges found at any home improvement store near the masonry supplies. These are small celled usually polyester sponges that hold twice as much liquid as common kitchen sponges, (a plus for the feeding project). Use a utility knife to cut the super large sponge into smaller sizes to fit the baggie and continue on as I have instructed.
Thanks to Michael Jaross of Mt. Baker Beekeepers Association for bringing this to my attention.
Mississippi Bee Stewardship Program
I wanted to share with you the quick status of an ongoing effort here in Mississippi concerning the pollinator/pesticide issue.
Many of you may know that Andy Whittington, our MFBF Environmental Programs Coordinator, has recently been appointed to serve on EPA’s Pesticide Policy Dialogue Committee. Andy is representing the American Farm Bureau Federation in this position.
In an effort to be proactive on this issue, Mississippi Farm Bureau® arranged several meetings with the Mississippi Beekeepers Association, the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Association, the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Mississippi State University Extension Service, and row crop farmers to develop a plan where all parties recognize the need to coexist together and outline some basic standards on how to achieve a cooperative relationship that minimizes any adverse effects to beekeepers and at the same time does not put a producer at risk of yield loss. An additional component of the program is the creation of the “Bee Aware” flag (see attached image). Our goal is for it to become so common place that you will never pass one on a turn row of a grower field where you don’t think about bees and producers will take precautions if preforming any activity that might be detrimental to hives.
Recently, a document and plan was adopted by all parties and will create a very important foundation for problem solving at the local level through education and stewardship. Our next steps in this program are to develop a brochure/flyer/communication piece that we will promote to our beekeepers, row crop producers, and other stakeholders and begin this communication effort.
Again, we simply wanted to make you aware of this effort. We will need your support in working with producers and industry to emphasize the importance of this program. Hopefully this will be a successful effort that we can provide to EPA as a great example of the cooperation that can exist between beekeepers and farmers to better protect our bee population.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.
Commodity Coord.- Cotton, Rice, & Soybeans
Regional Manager-Region One
MS Farm Bureau Federation
As part of a biology class from Carroll University in nearby Waukesha, Wisconsin, I have been conducting a two-hour lecture on beekeeping biology, followed by an hour out in my backyard beeyard of around 70 beehives. I teach the students about honeybee biology and behavior, and give them an up-close look at the honeybees in the hive. I demonstrate the sting response of the honeybees, outlining the mechanism and the specifics. At the point of the sting on my forearm, the instructor snapped this photograph of her students, and the reaction is priceless. After two years of bringing her classes out to our operation, the instructor, Danielle Greer, and her husband, Andy, are now set to start two beehives of their own.
Andy Hemken the Bee Guy
Big Bend, Wisconsin
Beekeeper in Training
At four years old, Tommy Dotterweich is already a beekeeper in training. He often joins his mom at Marshy Point Nature Center in Baltimore MD, where she works as a naturalist. Together they care for the bees in the nature center’s apiary. Children and families visit Marshy Point to learn about honey bees and the important role they play in pollination. Tommy is eager to share his love of bees with visitors.
Letters to the Editor - March 2014
Wrapped for Winter
North Liberty, Ind.-The thousands of honey bees in each of these hives can snuggle up thanks partly to warmth inducing black tar-paper wrappings on each hive helping them also to survive the winter.
Wrapping is just one action taken to sustain some 90% survival of my colonies the past two winters.
Here is a check-list of some other actions taken:
- Insulating inside over the inner cover flush with 2” Styrofoam, cutting an air channel from the inner cover hole to the 3/8” x 3/4” opening at front of inner cover for ventilation.
- Leaving ample stores of honey, using the three-deep hive body system (*) for food and early spring population build-up. No nutrition-short corn syrup or sugar water is necessary.
- Breeding from our area’s survival stock. No imported stock from out of our area.
- Avoiding use of chemicals.
- Assuring in-hive water availability during the flight season.
Benefits of these efforts include far above average honey crops and hive survival, both exceptions to media horror stories of colony collapse.
(*)The year around three-deep hive body system, although expensive initially due to cost of 10-frame hive bodies and giving up a first time investment in honey not taken, is a practice perfected by Tim Ives, North Liberty beekeeper.
North Liberty, IN
Beekeeping Among the Redwoods
I read with interest the article entitled “Beekeeping in the Shadow of the Redwoods” in the January issue of American Bee Journal. I lived for ten years in the Central Valley of California and the coast redwoods was my favorite place to go on short vacations. The redwood trees are awe-inspiring and one of God’s greatest creations. My wife loves the ocean so there was something there for both of us.
I worked for Wenner Honey Farm during package season in 1979 to 1981. Clarence Wenner still had some queens from a race of bees obtained in the coast redwood country. These bees were very black, somewhat ill tempered, very nervous and ran when you opened the hive, and prone to American foulbrood. That was their bad qualities. These hives would shrink to an extremely small population for overwintering, but would grow explosively in the spring. They would regularly have a mother and daughter queen in the same hive. I can recall having a mother queen on one side of a frame and a daughter queen on the other side of the same frame. Clarence sold some of these queens and he said that they performed fantastically up in Alaska.
Four years ago, I was visited by a hobby beekeeper who lives in the Eureka area. He told me that he had caught some swarms that were much the same as the bees that Clarence Wenner had. He also said that he killed the queens because the overwintering population was so small that he thought that they were weak queens. So, probably these bees still exist. Though there was no mention of these bees in the article about Mr. Oostra, I thought that this information might be interesting. Perhaps Kees Oostra may run across these bees. They may be worth propagating and have something to contribute to the gene pool of bees in North America.
David Ellingson, Ortonville, Minnesota, shows off his 2013 Harley Street Glide, with a paint job designed by himself. The front and sides reflect a honey and beekeeping theme. Dave parked his motorcycle in the exhibit hall at the January American Beekeeping Federation convention in Baton Rouge.
How are the Bees Doing?
I, like many other new beekeepers, for some unknown reason during the winter months (here in Ohio) have an insatiable curiosity to know if the bees are still alive or if they have enough food to make it through the long, cold winter (it is -13F, as I write this letter). As a result, we often “crack” the hives to take a peek - often at the detriment of the bees - assuming, of course, they are still alive.
My son suggested we assess the bees’ health using his Infrared (IR) camera using the logic that if the bees are alive, they would be clumped together producing heat which would show up on a thermal scan. The picture below showing our two hives (a rock atop each) clearly shows a clump of bees, which are producing heat (i.e., they are alive!) in each hive. No need to sneak a peek!
The other apiary photo shows the six hives of our beekeeping instructor and mentor, Mike Pittman (and a thermal picture of Mike, as well). Unfortunately, only one of Mike’s six hives shows any sign of heat being generated by a living clump of bees. There is a slim chance that some of the five remaining “dark” hives may still have a clump of bees, whose heat did not register on the thermal camera, which may re-emerge in the spring, but the chances are slim indeed.
Letters to the Editor - February 2014
“Plant These to Help Save Bees”
My name is Hannah Rosengren and I am writing to submit my illustration, “Plant These to Help Save Bees” for consideration to be printed in your upcoming February issue.
I am a recent graduate of Maine College of Art and am still residing and working on the coast of Casco Bay here in Maine. Reflecting back on my college work and deciding what to make since graduation, I realized I wanted to focus on pieces that were not just aesthetically appealing but also meaningful to me personally. My growing understanding of Colony Collapse Disorder, a love of botanical illustration and an interest in horticulture inspired this piece.
Originally I posted the piece on tumblr with little response, but was suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of thousands and thousands of shares along with requests for prints and even an email from Spain sending thanks and admiration. I’m very pleased that this issue is important to so many. I have since been making prints (in multiple languages) and have been looking for publications and venues to spread the word to. I found American Bee Journal and was fascinated by your history and knowledge base. I would love to be part of your next issue.
Survivor Stock from Feral Colonies?
I was reading through your December issue of ABJ when I came across the Letter to the Editor entitled “Test Yourself - Raising Queens from Survivor Stock.” The letter threw me back a little. Its main point (to keep track of the age of your queens, and don’t believe everything you hear about others saying they have the longest living queens), is well taken. However, you do have to realize the irony in the fact that the article enforced that others be skeptical when someone says they have the longest living queens . . . and then proceeds to tell others about how HE has the longest living queens. A little “pot and kettle” going on, all be it probably unintentional.
The main reason why I was taken back by the article, however, was because it talked about the use of “survivor stock” and “feral colonies.” I find this topic to be fraught with inaccuracies, in general, this article included. Survivor stock is not a defined term. All it means is that you have stock that has survived. All stock has survived, or it wouldn’t be there anymore. To say that it survived treatment free, or management free, maybe. But that’s not what Survivor stock indicates. Just that it has survived. It’s very misleading to represent your stock that way, at least when you are trying to promote your stock or your method of beekeeping. It’s about the same as calling a company “green.” Sure it’s green, probably greener than the neighboring company. But how green is it? Who knows. It’s promotional anyway.
Apart from the use of the term “survivor”, the author also appears to incorrectly, at least in my opinion, define feral colonies. The article, while it doesn’t directly say so, indicates that the source of his colonies are from cut outs and swarms that existed for “years” without any treatments or interventions from man. Not really true. Most studies that have been done on feral colonies have found they only live in one location for a year, sometimes a few, before they die out. A study in New Zealand watched, I believe, 12 feral colonies over the course of a year, that were identified by locals to have been at their location for over 10 years. One year after beginning to watch them, all 12 colonies had died. Seeley also tracked feral colonies in the forest outside Cornell University over an admittedly longer period of time, and found that between two observations, no colony occupied the same location more than once. Meaning every location that Seeley first recorded a colony at, was no longer alive when he returned.
And yet the myths of feral colonies living in trees for “decades” lives on. Why? It’s simple. Someone sees a bee colony living in a tree (usually with activity in the spring). If the colony dies that winter, that local wouldn’t know it until they didn’t see activity the next spring. By then, another swarm could easily move in. To the onlooker, it appears to be the same colony, so must still be alive, when in actuality that colony came from a newly issued swarm (i.e. not new). If a swarm doesn’t move into that tree one spring, and remains empty, would the person notice? Probably not, unless they were recording or doing a study on the tree (which I have yet to have found a non-beekeeper do).
So most of the time these feral colonies haven’t been “chemical free” or “treatment free” or “management free” for _____ years. They haven’t been anything free for _____ years as they haven’t existed that long (or worse, they keep dying in that location, showing they can’t “survive” anything). And where did those “feral” colonies come from? The managed hives right down the street. So why spend the time finding the “feral” colonies? Why not just cut out the middle man and split your own hives from current stock? Makes sense to me.
In the end, the author’s queens lived longer than the person he was comparing them to. Why? No one knows. Not you, not me, not the author. He can speculate as to the reason, and give (at least what I believe to be) an inaccurate cause and effect relationship for it. But in the end no one knows.
Streams of Gold
As an experiment, I snapped this picture with my extractor running at full speed. I was very pleased to get this shot of strands of honey flying across the gap between the frame’s top bars and the extractor wall. I thought some readers might like to see it too.
Letters to the Editor - January 2014
Build Your Own Label Holder
I have spent years positioning my rolls of labels on any surface that is handy, while bottling honey. Time spent orienting the labels the best I can, and constantly moving the rolls to keep them in the right position. No more.
Using materials that are readily available, I built a label holder over the course of several months. Sometimes things move slower when a project is not in the “front burner”.
Most of our label stock comes on 3'' rolls. I used 2'' PVC pipe to form the upright and the rack itself. I put the upright in the vice and used a 2-3/8'' hole saw to better cut the curved cradle. The rack piece is about 10'' long, and holds several rolls of labels at a time. The rack is solvent welded to the upright. I cut several 2'' disks out of some scrap plastic in the workshop, and solvent welded them on each end. I raised these up about ¼'', so that the label rolls are easy to load and unload, but would stay on during use.
For the base, I picked up some scrap ¾'' PVC plate from our local plastic supply house. I cut this to a 10'' x 12'' size, rounded the corners, and routed a nice radius on the upper edge. I then used my 2-3/8'' hole saw to cut a hole in the center. The upright can then be solvent welded in place. This can be painted to dress it up.
The label rack can be washed, and is very stable. We can pull off labels, and the unit doesn’t move. This can be built out of painted wood, but I wanted mine to be more food safe. I hope that this helps with your bottling efforts, and may give you some ideas on how you can do things in your operation.
Andy Hemken, Bee Guy
Since 1977 I have subscribed to the American Bee Journal without having missed a single issue. What has kept me such a steady subscriber is the quality of articles in your publication. Clearly the best of the articles is the series contributed by Randy Oliver. And some of his articles are worthy of regular reprinting in the ABJ, particularly the three-part Fat Bees which appeared six years ago. Mr Oliver should be encouraged to continue his contributions. This will help keep the ABJ truly “The Beekeeper’s Companion.”
Daddy’s Little Beekeeper
While out of town on business this fall I asked my wife to have my 7-year old feed the bees. He suited up in my jacket and veil and went to work. My wife captured this image. Pretty cute; we thought we’d share.
Sustainability in Beekeeping
I really enjoyed the article “Sustainability in Beekeeping” by Lawrence Connor in the November, 2013 issue of the “American Bee Journal”, as I do all of Mr. Connor’s articles.
I have a question specially for Mr. Connor and generally for all the other beekeeping experts out their in the fields, “How does a small beekeeper who depends on package bees, usually from California, get survivor stock for their local area(s) so they can practice sustainable beekeeping?” It seems to me that my biggest challenge is getting that package through their first winter, that is not in sunny California!
I get most of the sustainable practices, but I struggle to get my packages to survive their first winter.
Is there a better way of doing this?
Thank you. I really enjoy the ABJ and its great articles.
Frank D Gunseor
Dr. Connor responds
Mr. Gunseor raises a question many beekeepers have been forced to address over the past few decades, since the introduction of parasitic mites and the widespread use of miticides to control them. While there have been programs that produce mite-tolerant stocks, they have not been the total answer for all beekeepers.
Regardless of where you obtain package bee colonies in the spring, you face the same facts of life of package bee production in the United States. First, there is an enormous demand for package bees each season, with tens of thousands of package bees going to individual states from a small number of producers. It seems the number of package bee producers is shrinking, while the demand is growing with the new flood of new beekeepers that have appeared over the past six or seven years.
Second, this demand is for packages early in the year, putting the producers under tremendous pressure to produce early queens. It is my opinion that most queen producers know how to produce a well-raised queen, but they fail to produce an adequate supply of vigorous drones containing a large number of viable sperm. The reasons for this are many: First, I do not think that these queen producers supply enough drones within the mating areas of the queen yards, either through lack of knowledge of how many drones it takes to mate with a queen, or their inability to produce early drones and sustain drone production throughout the season. This problem of a general drone shortage is increased by the absence of a large feral population of colonies, poor drone rearing conditions (cold weather in the South, rainy weather in California) and the pressure on these colonies to produce large numbers of worker bees for the packages. You cannot shake a colony for bees and expect drone production to be a maximum level. Nor can you expect two or three colonies at the end of a thousand-colony mating yard to produce adequate drones for mating.
Miticides are a fact of life of commercial beekeepers, yet there is very clear data showing the negative impact on drone production and viable sperm production. USDA and University studies show that certain miticides are hard on queen production, drone production and viable sperm production in hives. Drone larvae must be well fed with carbohydrates and pollen in order to form sperm. They cannot be exposed to many common miticides during this formative stage. Then, when the drone emerges from the cell, he must feed on pollen for the sperm to move from the testes to the seminal vesicles. High levels of high nutrient pollen are essential for good drone production.
To address Mr. Gunseor’s key question: “How does a small beekeeper who depends on package bees, usually from California get survivor stock for their local area(s) so they can practice sustainable beekeeping.”
First, stop using package bees if you are able. While nucleus colonies (nucs) are not without their own set of problems, starting colonies with nuclei increases your success in getting at least one through the winter. Many beekeeping clubs address this concern head on by providing pairing of new beekeepers with existing members who are able to provide bees for a nucleus or two in the spring. They also are setting up local queen rearing operations. Unfortunately, these efforts are only successful in providing thousands of colonies per year, not the tens of thousands that are needed.
Second, as I outlined in my book Bee-sentials: A Field Guide (Connor and Muir, www.wicwas.com), keeping two hives provides a safety net for queen or bee failure in the other colony. This past summer I worked with a group of Western Michigan University undergraduates and we set up six nuclei colonies that quickly grew into booming colonies able to produce six nucleus colonies in the early summer. While not all were successful, the nuclei provided queens for two of the initial colonies when they experienced a queen loss (natural or human cause). This case for two and a half hives for every new beekeeper makes a great deal of sense, and I suggest new beekeepers let the bees keep most or all of the honey they produce their first season, although the WMU students harvested about 180 pounds from the six colonies. Beekeepers who used package bees in the area did not have this success. One could argue that the key difference was my role as an advisor-mentor to these students, but I would reply that we started out with very good nuclei colonies and that made all the difference. No amount of experience will undue the damage of a group of low-quality queens from a package bee producer.
Finding large numbers of mite-tolerant bees is a challenge. They are out there. Start with the USDA supported programs with the VSH and Russian queen programs. I plan to add Russian stock to my bees in 2014 and will buy these queens to make nuclei. I have used VSH and stock from Sue Cobey in the past, and with good results. Look at various hygienic stocks available to you in your area. I have all but given up on southern raised Italian stocks that have not been selected for mite resistance. They built the US beekeeping industry in the last century, but they are not the best bee for the 21st Century.
In year 2014 we will reach the 27 year mark of having Varroa destructor in the United States. We know the use of miticides has delayed the development of natural resistance in the largest group of managed colonies in the country—the commercial and semi-commercial beekeeping operations that must use the chemicals to keep their colonies alive so they can pollinate almonds and other crops. As I travel around North America I notice that in those areas where there are no commercial beekeepers and migratory pollination requirements, there seems to be an increase in the survival of bee colonies and less reliance on miticides.
This gives me hope that Nature will eventually solve some of our problems if we as an industry cannot. Yet there are methods commercial and semi-commercial beekeepers can employ to increase mite tolerance, starting with the use of only stocks with documented mite tolerance. Yet the dominant view in the country seems to be to use chemicals but keep switching from molecule to molecule to avoid resistance developing in the mites. We would all be better off if we concentrated on developing resistance in the bees themselves.
The beekeeping industry has a dependence on miticides. We have a drug problem and we need to rehabilitate. Like all drug treatment programs, it will not be easy.
Larry Connor, Ph.D