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.

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.

Keeping Bees Alive and Healthy – Proactive or Reactive Management?

In the American dictionary the definition of health is “ the state of being free from illness or injury”. For the sake of discussion in this column I want to establish that managing health and treating for illness as two different aspects of management. There is a difference between treating illness and optimizing health. When a treatment of some kind is required it indicates an unhealthy condition. Treating is a reactionary management after an illness or pest has been detected. In managing health there are specific things we can do to maintain health and prevent illness, which is the proactive management of health. Reactive or proactive is not a right or wrong thing. In today’s beekeeping it is imperative to understand about and always be on alert for aliments that are or might affect our colonies and manage our hives appropriately. We can be proactive, applying a concept of working on creating conditions to enhance health before there is an indication sickness. That being said, let me confuse the issue. There is also a gray area called ”preventive maintenance treatment”. An example of that is a treatment for Varroa mites before the mites reach a critical level. I equate this management to humans receiving flu vaccine shots. Technically it’s a treatment, but a proactive treatment of a healthy organism to maintain health. In Alternative beekeeping there is a management concept that- if given the chance, the bees themselves can be both proactive and reactive in their own colony’s health. Michael Bush puts it very well in his book- “The Practical Beekeeper” when he says, “Give them the resources to resolve the problem and let them. If you can’t give them the resources, then limit the need for the resources”. An example he gives for giving resources and letting them resolve the problem is a queen-less hive. Give the colony a frame of brood once a week for 3 weeks and they will resolve the problem by making their own new queen. An example of limiting resources is one we all know- how we help the bees resolve the problem of hive robbing for themselves. We reduce or limit the size of one of their resources, the entrance.

In my opinion;
The strongest proactive form of maintaining Alternative healthy bees is starting with the strongest, healthiest bees we can. There is a growing realization that much of what we try to do as keepers to keep bees healthy and alive is exacerbated by poor or weak genetics, commercially narrowed gene pool, relocated genetics, (southern queens born and bred in the south and shipped to northern states). Starting with the strongest stock we can obtain helps immensely in keeping bees using Alternative methods of management.

In colonies started with a package- replace the package queen as soon as possible with a regional queen. There are some methods of breeding your own queen on a small scale. I find it far more convenient to purchase my regional queens from local breeders. We have some good queen breeders here in Western Washington state.

Catch swarms. There is no guarantee that the swarm you are catching isn’t someone else’s commercial genetics hive that swarmed. However the odds are far better that a swarm has stronger genetics than a package.

I do catch some grief from beekeepers when I talk about this last subject. Don’t worry if your colony swarms. I’m not saying “try” to get them to swarm, just don’t think it is a bad thing. Realize that it’s the colony’s proactive method of a healthy hive. Many of the aliments of the hive are brood related. The temporary reduction and lack of brood during the swarming period helps control these issues. Also the new virgin queen in your hive will breed with local drones and become your first generation regionally bred queen.

“It’s all about the bees” Ernie

Honey Bee Project at the Governor’s Mansion

Two hives were placed on the front lawn of the Governor's Executive Residence at the Washington State Capitol and honey bees installed on April 20, 2016.

The project, a collaboration between the Olympia Beekeepers Association and the Washington Department of Enterprise Services will help raise public awareness about the decline of bee populations, our dependence on them to pollinate much of the food we eat and their importance to Washington's agricultural economy. The honey bees will also be boosting the pollination of plants at the mansion on on the Capitol Campus.

 

Links to recent articles on the project in the news:

http://www.theolympian.com/news/politics-government/article73484692.html

http://www.king5.com/news/local/governors-mansion-gets-30000-honey-bees/145674691

http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/politics-government/article73484907.html

http://q13fox.com/2016/04/20/bees-installed-on-capitol-campus-in-olympia/

http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20160421/washington-capitol-buzzing-with-ags-littlest-lobbyists

http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article72268317.html

http://www.thurstontalk.com/2016/04/21/honeybees-capitol-washington/

http://www.greenwichtime.com/news/article/Bee-hives-installed-on-lawn-of-Washington-7249071.php#photo-9803250

Honey Bees Coming to the Washington State Governors Mansion!

Installation of stand and hive boxes was completed today by the OBA's Capitol Bee Team. The new buzzing residents at the Governor's Mansion will officially arrive on April 20th. The OBA is thrilled to be collaborating with Governor and Mrs. Inslee and the Department of Enterprise Services at the Capitol on this project.

OBA Members and Trudi Inslee, Wasingtons First Lady
(In the picture below, left to right, Brent Chapman, DES; Jeff Coleman, Duane McBride, Mark Emrich, First Lady Trudi Inslee, Laurie Pyne)