News and Information

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

Alternative Varroa Mite Control

In my mind Alternative Varroa Mite control encompasses anything not involving commercial treatments or ignoring the problem. I am not marginalizing the value of chemical miticides I’m just discussing alternative methods of dealing with the mite. The concept of the Alternative methods involves empowering the bees to control the mites themselves. We as keepers provide the tools and conditions for the bees to control their mites. Find out how the bees work and let them do the work. Trust me- no one wants to control the mites more then the bees do, their lives depend on it.
The first thing to understand in managing mites in general is a Integrated Pest Management method, or IPM. Simply put, it is using more then one method of mite control, at the same time or consecutively. A single method alone may not be highly effective in controlling mites but in combination with other methods will make a difference.
For all of the following methods to work well the colony must sit on a correctly designed Screen Bottom Board. The SBB is literally and figuratively the foundation of a healthy colony. In a solid bottom board hive when a mite falls to the floor, it simply waits for a bee to come near, latches on to it and returns back up into the colony. In a SBB hive you don’t have to particularly kill the mites, just make them fall off the bees. The SBB separates the little bugs from the big bugs. Once a mite falls from the colony, for any reason and lands on the sliding board under the screen, it will die waiting for a bee that will never come. Depending on the study you read, anywhere from 5 to 40% of the mites in a colony fall naturally without any kind of treatment. Add the natural fall rate with any or all of the following methods and a keeper can give a colony a fighting chance of surviving Varroa mites.
Genetics:
Regionally bred queens and queens bred for mite resistance. Literally- the farther away from the genetics of commercially bred southern queens that you can get, the better.
Agitating the mites:
What we are trying to do with these next methods is “agitate” the mites on the bees. An agitated mite starts squirming, jumping and moving from one bee to another trying to escape the agitation. Then during the confusion and chaos, being knocked off and falling the screen floor.
Smoking the hive. When working with the bees add green Cedar sprigs to the smoker. The smudge has been found to significantly irritate mites.
Powdered sugar- pouring powdered sugar into the hive. Purportedly the fine powder agitates the mites and affects their ability to grip onto the bees.
Thyme plant shredded leaves and tiny twigs. Strip a large handful of leaves and sprigs off a living Thyme plant and spread it out on the tops of the frames in the top box on the hive. The bees will pull the Thyme through the hive to remove it, spreading Thyme oil throughout the hive. The oil of the Thyme plant is not only effective on Varroa mites is also active against both tracheal mite and chalkbrood. The most important weapon one can have in their Varroa mite arsenal is the Screen Bottom Board. Within seconds of sliding the bottom board out from under the screen the keeper can assess the level of mites in the hive. Quickly and easily monitoring the mite population and the effect of any treatment on them. I paint my sliding boards white to make counting the mites easier or one can use sticky paper on the sliding board.
It’s all about the bees- Ernie

Alternative Thinking

Throughout recorded human history there were very few special men and women that understood the honey bee and how to keep them well enough to be called a Master Beekeeper. In ancient Egypt the Pharaoh’s apiaries were cared for by a select few Master Beekeepers and they were held in similar regards as temple priests. I would argue that it might have been a bit easier to keep bees in those days and still those select few were looked upon as mystical. As I work towards my Master Beekeeper Certification, it has become vividly clear to me why only a very few special men and women ever reach that level. They are able to “think” differently or as I say, “Break the code” of beekeeping. The ability to understand the concept and philosophy of working with honey bees. Most of all, to realize that the art of keeping bees is unlike any other form of animal husbandry. There is nothing we do as humans with animals, plants or anything else- that is remotely similar to keeping bees. As beekeepers we must disregard everything we know about any other form of animal husbandry. There is nothing we know in that area that will apply to bees. Believe me, I have tried for years to compare beekeeping to some other form of keeping livestock or pets. I wanted to say, “It’s just like keeping chickens” and give some examples. It just doesn’t apply-there is a reason we never hear the phase “Master Chicken Keeper”.
I feel we have to think differently about keeping bees. A different mind set, understanding that honey bees are unlike anything else we keep. How do honey bees and keeping them differ so much from the other creatures we keep?
First of all they are insects and their life cycles and the life cycle of the colony as a whole is different. There are individual bees being born and dying constantly in a colony. Workers only live weeks during the Summer, Drones don’t fair much better. Good queens are old in 2 or 3 years. Even wild colonies established for years, naturally die out from time to time. A colony can be considered a single living organism made up of 1,000 of individuals but it is not like a pet cat. The cat, as a single living organism, will live for years and our focus of managing and keeping a cat is focused on that expectation. With a colony of bees the natural order of life is not the focus of the life span of any individual in the colony. The only purpose of each individual is to give their life for the colony and the colony’s only purpose is to give it’s life for the species. The workers work as hard as they can then die, the queen lays a many eggs as she can then dies, the colony produces as many other colonies as it can then dies. They all die relatively quickly and all of this is obsoletely the completely natural flow of life for this species of creature. We as keepers must understand, work with, and manage that natural flow of life and death.
When you buy a package, and hold the queen cage in your hand. Look at her and understand this particular queen will most likely be dead within a year. Realizing that this is a natural order of events, we as keepers use management methods to prevent it from ending the life of the colony as a whole. One of the skills of a keeper is the ability to “tweak” the natural order of a colony. There are no management methods that will keep an old queen alive and viable past her natural life span. The method is to replace her with a new queen before she gets to the end of her life. Doing so allows the colony as a whole a chance to continue living on with a new queen. There are other managements we use as keepers to enhance colony survival such as feeding during droughts and winters, reducing entrances during hornets and robbing, treating for mites, etc. Most of all remember, our bees are unlike any other kind of animal husbandry. So think differently.

Alternative Beekeeping in the New Year

At this point hopefully we have all pretty much put our bees to bed for the winter. There isn’t much we can do for our hives now that we should have done last Fall. Gently lifting a side of a hive to check weight or maybe a quick peek on a warmer sunny day to check for winter stores.
This is the beginning of our new year and is a time to reflect on our personal past year in beekeeping and do some introspecting on our future plans for this Spring. What are we going to do in relation to our apiaries- more bees, replacing bees, increasing or replacing equipment and woodware. Maybe this year growing some plants just for bee forage.
It is actually the time to start thinking about ordering bees. Remember beekeeping is a business that is always thinking one or two seasons ahead. Our club has always been good at obtaining a supplier for our packages. Because of genetic issues there is never a shame in shopping around for possible sources of stronger bee stock. In the market for packages and nucs- suppliers are now already advertising for keepers to order early because they expect to not have enough bees to meet demand. Usually it is first come, first served for packages and nucs, but now some suppliers are asking for deposits on packages and nucs. Even if you aren’t sure if you are going to need packages, nucs or queens this year. Make a guess and reserve what you think you might need. If you find out you don’t need something you reserved let our club know and/or the local beekeeping Facebook communities. I guarantee there is always keepers that missed the deadline for ordering or just realized they needed bees that will buy your reserved packages or nucs.
I just discovered this local nuc supplier;  This is Kevin and Amanda Mills in Rochester. I have talked with Kevin and he is now taking deposits for nucs. He works with local queens in his nucs. If you are like me, I like to stretch my spending money for my bee stuff, out as far as possible. Now would be a great time to buy and assemble any woodware that we may be thinking we’ll need. One extra hive set in reserve is a good idea. With all the work and speding going on in the Spring- scrambling to buy and set up an empty hive for that surprise swarm capture is never that much fun. As far as woodware and supplies we have 2 local sources I know of which are the Lacey Tractor Supply Store and Beeline Apiaries in Rochester. This year I am going to put a bit more effort in planning, ordering, and planting bee forage. I feel the greatest time of need in the Pacific Northwest for bee forage is August and September. Now understand, I like the result of any work project I do to be as easy as possible to achieve and maintain. It’s not really being lazy, it is just working smarter. If I can plan a job with an objective that at a certain point becomes as maintenance free as possible, I’m there! As far as bee forage, I’m betting this year on The Chinese Tallow Tree, also know as the Ben Franklin Tree. They produce blossoms from August until the first heavy frost and do well in our climate. In an article published in the 1979 American Bee Journal, Hayes states “The Chinese tallow tree has become the most successful tree nectar source ever introduced into the United States.” I have not done business with this companies yet, so I can’t give them a personal recommendation. I just link them for everyone to check the tree out.

“It’s all about the bees” Ernie