Capitol Honey Bee Project Update

In spring of 2016, two honey bee hives were installed on the grounds of the Governor’s mansion in Olympia. Both hives began collecting pollen and nectar from local blossoms, carrying it back to their new “homes.” As the Olympia Beekeepers Association project team continued to check on their progress, one of the hives demonstrated signs of a problem with its queen.

For a honey bee colony to thrive, the queen must lay at least 1,000 eggs per day during the spring and summer months. The queen was not producing enough eggs and hive failure was inevitable without intervention.

New queen

Introducing a new queen to a bee colony can be tricky. The existing bees are used to their original queen’s pheromone, or signature scent. If the existing bees do not accept the new queen, she will be killed and the colony will collapse. Despite using techniques to ensure the new queen’s success, it took multiple trials to get the failing hive back on track.

Both hives continued to bring in nectar and create honey throughout the summer months, the bees’ winter survival food. The team was hopeful that the bees had built up their population enough to make it through the winter. Both colonies had also been treated for varroa mites - an external parasite that attacks honey bees. Monitoring for the hives showed the treatment had been successful.

Monitoring and results

In late December, an opportunity to peek into the hives to observe activity level and food supply presented itself. In the mansion hives, plenty of honey was observed but sadly, no sign of bee life.  

Beekeepers monitor hives to troubleshoot and intervene when conditions require assistance to ensure the bees’ survival. These hives were carefully monitored and supported since their installation. A single cause of failure could not be identified.

The cause was likely a combination of factors, such as: difficulty finding suitable plants for foraging (particularly when conditions get hot and dry and food sources are limited); pesticide or herbicide exposure or nectar, pollen or water that had been contaminated with pesticides; or some other unknown factor.

Hive survival trends

Many other beekeepers are observing similar fates to their hives. While the colony loss numbers for 2016-17 are still forthcoming, beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their colonies in 2015-16. The Olympia Beekeepers Association losses were at 48 percent in the same time frame.

Honey bee colony loss is no longer just a beekeeper’s problem. Washington State has a vibrant and vital agricultural economy. Honey bee and pollinator losses, should they continue at these high levels, will have an impact on our agricultural economy. This impact could potentially affect the cost and variety of food that is produced.

What’s next

Two new honey bee colonies were installed at the Governor’s Mansion on April 21. Working in collaboration with the Governor and Mrs. Inslee and the Department of Enterprise Services, the Olympia Beekeepers Association will monitor the hives throughout the coming months. The public is encouraged to support a healthy environment to help the bees thrive.

Honey bees are interested in pollen and nectar, and not people. You are not likely to get stung by a honey bee unless you step on it, threaten its home or swat at it. Honey bees forage for their food as they look for flowers and weeds (like dandelion and clover) within a four-mile radius from their hive location.

What you can do

People who live on or manage property near the Capitol Campus can avoid spraying nearby plants with pesticide or herbicide. Doing so can be problematic because one honey bee can sip the nectar of a hundred flowers on a single foraging trip, carrying a toxic load back to its hive. Considering there are tens of thousands of bees in each hive, this can produce both long and short-term toxicity and destroy the entire colony. Pesticide exposure can also kill bees outright.

You can choose to be bee-friendly by planting things like various herbs and flowers, growing fruit trees and berries, letting the dandelions and clover grow in your lawn, naturalizing with native plants, and replacing noxious weeds with plants suitable for bees. Their survival in the long-term is a problem we all need to have a hand in turning around.

PNW SURVEY OF BEE HEALTH & BEEKEEPING PRACTICES

Survivorship Survey - by Dewey M. Caron

Last year, 271 OR/WA backyarder beekeepers returned April surveys on overwintering colony losses/survivorship, and management such as colony feeding, sanitation and Varroa control efforts. The results for WA beekeepers are posted on the website: http://pnwhoneybeesurvey.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2016-LeCBA-and-WA-Report.pdf

There were 52 WA respondents included in the WA report
Colony loss levels from all WA respondents were 40% for 8-frame and 59% for 10-frame Langstroth hive beekeepers, 100% for 5-frame nucs and 97% for top bar hives. For 5 Pierce Co respondents, overall losses were 75%, and 47% for 25 Lewis Co beekeepers; from the 52 total Washington beekeeper respondents, the loss level was 60%. With only 52 total responses I DO NOT think it is representative of the survivorship of Washington beekeepers.
The electronic survey will be open March 28th and continue through end of April. It should take no more than 5-7 minutes to complete. Information requested will be very similar so I can compare last year with the current one, but I have trimmed the survey so it is shorter with fewer questions. If you would like to review the inquiries in preparation for the survey, please locate the “2016 PNWals-prep” pdf download available on the website blog page or by simple Google search.
While the main emphasis of the survey revolves around reporting how many colonies you had last fall compared to this spring, which we assess through hive location, hive types and originations (meaning were they overwintered colonies, nucs or packages purchased, swarms or splits), other survey questions sometimes open up more questions than provide answers. Last year, for example, beekeepers doing several wintering preparations improved survival, but feeding or use of the sanitation alternatives we listed did not result in better survivorship, at least not directly. Those beekeepers using sugar shake or mite drop boards to monitor mite buildup had fewer overwintering losses, while beekeepers using other sampling methods did not. Non-chemical treatments did not, directly, improve survivorship, at least for our survey respondents; use of Apivar, essential oil or formic acid significantly improved survivorship
The BeeInformed survey is also conducted in April each year. I ask that you continue to participate in this national survey as well. Although funding is now in the last year of this effort, we are hoping to continue what is now a 10-year record of overwinter loss/survivorship. Our BIP report from last year is posted on the pnwhoneybeesurvey site and I include comparisons to losses in Canada and Europe. Access the BIP survey at: www.beeinformed.org (it is available in April only)
THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS PAST SEASON. Please consider completing a survey for the 2016-2017 season this April. I am hopeful that there might be a larger County beekeeper response so I can provide additional Association reports.

Survivor Queen Producers

The Association is often asked for sources of queens. Here is a partial list. You can always ask if someone in the association is breeding any too.

Sam Comfort  -  Northern NY

Fortified Sugar Block Recipe

Lauri Miller Fortified Sugar Block Recipe

  • 25# cane sugar
  • one scant quart cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp of electrolytes
  • 1-2 Tbs citric acid (found in your canning dept)
  • Splash of Pro Health or other scented essential oil of choice

Mix together about 1/3 of the sugar and vinegar at a time in a five gallon bucket with a large drill and paint paddle mixer. If you try to mix it all at once, you will get uneven moisture distribution. Mixture will feel very soft, but not wet or sticky. I use a shallow aluminum baking sheet that fits right into my Cabelas food dehydrator. You can use any size pan you want, but be sure your bricks are no taller than your feeding shim under the lid.

Roll out and lightly compress in the pan. NOW sprinkle with BeePro or other dry protein mix if desired. I don't want to force them to eat protein , especially if they can't get out for cleansing flights regularly. If you live in a climate where regular cleansing flights are far and few between (a month or more) I might leave off the BeePro. You would need to experiment a bit to see what is the right mix for your hive's conditions.

Be SURE to cut the sugar into block size as soon as you make them. You'll NEVER do it after it's hard. The blocks will usually set up and harden in 1-2 days in the food dehydrator at about 130 degrees. It can take between 1 week and 3 weeks to dry and harden out in the open air. It depends on your room temp and humidity level.

Be sure NOT to cook this recipe or it will turn out differently, possibly a gooey mess.

Cheap insurance on hives with questionable stores, crucial for hives that have run out of stores.
This is what I am doing this year for hives that had eaten some of their stores, due to our warmer than normal fall and are now a bit on the light side. (I fed syrup earlier this fall until they no longer took it up). We are well into November and it is too late to feed syrup. Time to prepare for a dryer sugar mixture winter feed. They probably will not be needed for a few months, but I want to have them ready to install on a day the weather is decent and not raining. Note: do not feed sugar until they are winter clustered and actually are close to needing the extra feed. If they have much honey left they will haul the sugar out as trash.
Make sure you have an upper entrance and good air circulation.

Notes by Jim Rieck:

Because my operation is much smaller than that of Lauri Miller, I only make up this recipe using a ten pound bag of sugar with the following proportions:

  • 10# cane sugar (I use C&H or First Street - found at Cash & Carry or wherever)
  • 7 oz. apple cider vinegar (I use Four Monks found at Cash & Carry)
  • ¼ tsp. of electrolytes (Vitamins & Electrolytes “Plus” from www.ValleyVet.com or Del’s Farm Supply)
  • 1 tsp. of citric acid (Rocky Top Home Brew Supplies)
  • 1 tsp. of Honey B Healthy

After mixing well, I put it in similar aluminum sheet pans to those that Lauri uses, only they measure 13” X 9 ½” X ¾”. I picked mine up at Cash and Carry. What doesn’t fit into those I put in rectangular paper soup bowls that I found at Winco. They measure 8” X 8” X ¾”. I roll the mixture with a rolling pin and take a putty knife to chamfer the edges. For the aluminum sheets, I measure 6 ½” and bisect the sheet with a straight edge making two bricks per sheet. They fit nicely in my food dehydrator and are just the right size to put one or even two on the top bars right over the cluster. I don’t use the BeePro or any other protein powder like Lauri does. I probably overdry the blocks just to make sure I am not introducing any moisture into the hive. To prevent moisture absorption in storage keep each one in a Zip Lock. I normally don’t put the blocks on until late November. A fairly large healthy hive may only need one block to get through the winter. In warmer winters some of the hives have needed a second block. When the weather warms in March or early April, I will switch over to 1:1 syrup to stimulate brood rearing in preparation for the bigleaf maple and fruit tree honey flow.

Native Pollinators Study Group

Where? Traditions Cafe, 5th and Water St, downtown Olympia
When? Monday Oct 24, 7 pm

Pollinators play a significant role in successful crop production.

Research suggests that native pollinators are responsible for a larger percentage of crop success than had long been supposed.

Modern agricultural practices can disrupt native pollinator reproduction. Eli Bloom, a WSU PhD candidate, has been researching pollinator abundance on local organic farms, as well as practical solutions open to organic agriculture. Tonight Eli will present his preliminary results to our program.

Join us 4th Monday most months at Traditions, 7 p.m.