NASS Suspends Data Collection For Honey Bee Colonies Survey

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Issued July 1, 2019 by the Agricultural Statistics Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's, National Agricultural Statistics Service. For more information, contact Travis Averill at (202) 720-3570 or

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will not collect quarterly data this July for the annual Honey Bee Colonies report, which is still scheduled for release Aug. 1 at 3 p.m. ET. The report will contain data from Jan. 1, 2018 to April 1, 2019. The Honey Bee Colonies report allows the USDA, beekeepers, and other interested parties to compare quarterly losses, additions, and movements and to analyze the data on a state-by-state basis.

Before deciding to suspend data collection, NASS reviewed its estimating programs against mission- and user-based criteria as well as the amount of time remaining in the fiscal year to meet its budget and program requirements while maintaining the strongest data in service to U.S. agriculture. The decision to suspend data collection was not made lightly but was necessary given available fiscal and program resources. NASS will continue to review its federal agricultural statistical programs using the same criteria to ensure timely, accurate, and useful statistics.

This change does not impact the annual Honey program; the latest Honey report was released May 16, 2019. All NASS reports are available available online at

Africanized Honey Bees

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Africanized Honey Bees (AHB's) get their name from their place of origin - Africa.  For research purposes with hopes of improving pollination, the bees were transported to many places around the world.  One of these places was near Sao Paulo, Brazil.  In 1957 an accidental release of 26 queen bees occurred there.  The bees found the climate in their new home favorable and were able to proliferate by hybridizing with European Honey Bees (EHB's).  Since then, they have dispersed over a vast area.  From Brazil they have moved north at the rate of about 100 to 200 miles per year, through Central America, Mexico and into the United States.  AHB's were first found in California in 1994 in the city of Blythe, and now inhabit the southern one-third of the state.  To date, AHB's have NOT been found in Sutter or Yuba Counties in California.  The Center for Invasive Species Research (CISR) is a website with excellent information about AHB's.

Differences between the Africanized honey bee and the European honey bee

  • AHB's will start a new nest much more frequently than other honey bees. The average amount is every 12 months. Africanized bees locate new locations every 6 weeks.

  • AHB's can become highly defensive in order to protect their hive and brood

  • AHB's will occupy a much smaller space than the EHB. Known AHB nesting locations include water meter boxes, metal utility poles, cement blocks, junk piles, and house eaves

  • AHB's "home turf" is also much larger than the European honey bee. AHB's have been known to pursue a perceived threat for a distance over 1/4 mile while EHB's will only attack you from a yard distance

  • Cannot survive extended periods of forage deprivation

AHB's are problematic not because of a "killer" sting, but because of the aggressive way in which they respond to disturbances around their nests.  They respond sooner to disturbances, stay agitated and attack for longer periods of time and chase an attack victim for longer distances than EHB's.  In almost 60 years of hybridization with resident EHB's in the western hemisphere, the AHB's aggressive behavior has not changed significantly.  Their sting and toxin is no more harmful or deadly than EHB's, but AHB's respond by sending most of the bees in the colony to attack and sting.  This can be thousands of bees.  A victim's reaction to an AHB attack varies depending on the number of stings received, the location of the stings and any special sensitivity that may have been developed by prior exposure to bee venom.  Most healthy individuals can tolerate many stings without serious effects.  A victim that receives hundreds or thousands of stings may exhibit toxic effects similar to a rattlesnake bite or may die.  Stings on the mouth or throat can result in swelling and cause a life threatening respiratory obstruction.</p>

AHB's and EHB's can only be distinguished by an extensive laboratory examination.  If you see or encounter a bee's nest or a swarm, stay away from it.  It may be an Africanized colony.  Immediately notify your county Agriculture Department.  Noise and vibrations from lawn mowers, weed eaters, odors from insecticides, physical contact, or motion in close proximity to a nest may elicit a defensive response from the bees.  If you are attacked, leave the area quickly.  Cover your face to protect your eyes and mouth.  Get into a shelter where bees cannot enter, such as a car or house.  Do not dive or go underwater.  AHB's have demonstrated tremendous patience in that they will wait for a victim to surface for air and then deliver stings to the mouth and face.  Individual bees can only sting once.   After stinging, a bee leaves the stinger and poison sac imbedded in the victim.  The poison emits an alarm pheromone (odor) that stimulates other bees to direct their sting in the same area of the victim's body.  It is important to remove these poison sacs as they continue to pump poison into your body after it has detached from the bee.  Don't pull the sac out with your fingers, that will squeeze more venom into you.  The sac should be scraped out with a dull edge by dragging the edge along your skin.  A credit card works well for this.  Victims of multiple stinging attacks need immediate medical attention.

Click here for more information on Africanized honey bee attacks and the differences from European honey bees.

Empty Calories

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By Dan Wyns July 2, 2019

Foragers gathering fresh sawdust. Photo: Mike Connor

Foragers gathering fresh sawdust. Photo: Mike Connor

Somewhere early on in a “Beekeeping 101” class you’ll learn that honey bees forage for 4 things: nectar, pollen, propolis, and water. The nectar and pollen become honey and bee bread to provide sustenance. Propolis is used as a structural component and also contributes to colony health through immunological activity. Previous blog posts about propolis here and here provide more information. Water is necessary for a variety of purposes including preparation of brood food and evaporative cooling. So in addition to water, bees need 3 substances produced by plants. But do they collect anything else? Of course they do. If you’ve ever seen open syrup feeding, it’s apparent that the bees will forego the flower visitation part of foraging when a sweet liquid is provided. Bees will also readily gather pollen substitute when bulk fed in powder form. While these nectar and pollen surrogates may not be as attractive or nutritious as the genuine articles they are intended to replicate, they can be important in getting colonies through lean times.

Flowers and their surrogates are what the bees should be getting into, but what are they actually getting into? Some beekeepers have a perception that if bees gather it they must need it, but in my time working in and around bees I’ve seen them get into a lot of different things that probably aren’t great for them. One summer we noticed a propolis traps in a yard were yielding a dark brown, almost black propolis with sharp plastic smell instead of the typical red/orange sweet smelling propolis for the area. When we  sat waiting for the construction worker with the Stop/Go sign to allow us through the roadworks where a new topcoat of asphalt was being applied, we noticed bees collecting road tar to use as propolis. This paper detected petroleum derived molecules that matched the chemistry of local asphalt in propolis from urban colonies, confirming that bees will gather sticky stuff other than plant resins. I’ve also seen bees appearing to collect silicon-based caulking product. I’ve often described the physical role of propolis in the colony as bee-glue or caulking, so seeing one bee resort to gathering our version shouldn’t come as a shock if actual resins aren’t available. Bees gather “real” propolis from a variety of botanical sources depending on geography and climate. Some of the most common propolis sources in temperate climates are members of the genus Populus which includes poplars, aspens, and cottonwoods. For more about the role of propolis in the colony and an overview of botanical sources around the world, check out this article.

It’s not just propolis collection where bees make mistakes, sometimes they get it wrong when seeking pollen too. While building woodware in the shop, I’ve seen bees take a lot of interest in the sawdust from both treated and untreated lumber. I’ve never actually seen a forager pack it onto her corbicula, but beekeepers report bees gathering a variety of powdery materials when pollen is scarce. An early study on pollen foraging noted this tendency,  “During periods of pollen scarcity bees are reported to seek substitutes, such as bran, sawdust, and coal dust, which are of no known value for brood rearing.

Just about any sweet liquid is going to get the attention of honey bees, and I’ve seen them investigate many kinds of sodas and juices. This tendency may be a little unnerving to picnickers, but it isn’t really a problem unless there is a more permanent stationary source of sugary liquid that the bees find. One such case happened when some urban bees in NYC found a bit of runoff syrup from a maraschino cherry factory which was only the beginning of the story.

Honey Bee Colony Losses 2018-2019: Preliminary Results

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JUNE 19TH, 2019

Note: This is a preliminary analysis. Sample sizes and estimates are likely to change. A more detailed state-specific report, as well as a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, will follow at a later date. 

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP; recently conducted the 13th annual survey of managed honey bee colony losses in the United States. This past year, 4,696 beekeepers collectively managing 319,787 colonies as of October 2018 provided validated colony loss survey responses. The number of colonies managed by surveyed respondents represents 11.9% of the estimated 2.69 million managed honey-producing colonies in the nation (USDA, 2018).

During the 2018-2019 winter (1 October 2018 – 1 April 2019), an estimated 37.7% of managed honey bee colonies in the United States were lost (Fig. 1). This loss represents an increase of 7 percentage points compared to last year (30.7%), and an increase of 8.9 percentage points compared to the 13-year average winter colony loss rate of 28.8%. This year’s estimate is the highest level of winter losses reported since the survey began in 2006-2007.

Similar to previous years, backyard beekeepers lost more colonies over the winter (39.8%) compared to sideline (36.5%) and commercial (37.5%) beekeepers. Backyard, sideline, and commercial beekeepers are defined as those managing 50 or fewer colonies, 51 to 500 colonies, and 501 or more colonies, respectively.

Our survey also asked what level of winter loss would be acceptable by beekeepers. Interestingly, this revealed an increase from 20.6% last year to 22.2% this year, which is much greater than the 11-year average of 17%. This increased acceptable loss may indicate that beekeepers are more realistic or pragmatic in their expectations of colony losses. Even with a higher acceptable loss, sixty-two percent of responding beekeepers lost more colonies than the level deemed acceptable.

During the summer 2018 season (1 April 2018 – 1 October 2018), an estimated 20.5% of managed colonies were lost in the U.S. This level is slightly higher (3.4 percentage points) than the previous summer’s colony loss estimate of 17.1%, but is on par with the summer loss average reported by beekeepers since 2010-2011 (20.5%), when summer losses were first recorded by the BIP.

For the entire survey period (1 April 2018 – 1 April 2019), beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 40.7% of their managed honey bee colonies. This is similar to last year’s annual loss estimate of 40.1%, but slightly higher (2.9 percentage points) than the average annual rate of loss reported by beekeepers since 2010-11 (37.8%).

We note that loss rate for each period was estimated by identifying the total number of at-risk-colonies that died, and that annual loss rate was not estimated by summing the individual summer and winter loss rates. This year’s state-specific loss rates will be added to previous years’ results on the BIP website shortly (

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Fig 1. Total winter colony loss rate in the United States across years of the Bee Informed Partnership’s National Honey Bee Colony Loss Survey (yellow bars; 1 October – 1 April)1. Total annual loss estimates (orange bars) include total winter and summer (1 April – 1 October) losses; the latter has been estimated since 2010-2011 only. The acceptable winter loss rate (grey bars) is the average percentage of acceptable winter colony loss declared by the survey participants in each year of the survey.

 1Previous survey results estimated total winter colony loss values of 31% in the winter of 2017-18, 21% in 2016-17, 27% in 2015-16, 22% in 2014-15, 24% in 2013-14, 30% in 2012-13, 22% in 2011-12, 30% in 2010-11, 32% in 2009-10, 29% in 2008-09, 36% in 2007-08, and 32% in 2006-07 (see reference list).

The Roles Of Drifting And Robbing In Varroa Destructor Mite Infested Colonies

Catch the Buzz By David Thomas Peck & Thomas Dyer Seeley June 21, 2019

Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

PLoS One. 2019 Jun 21;14(6):e0218392. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218392. eCollection 2019.

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When honey bee colonies collapse from high infestations of Varroa mites, neighboring colonies often experience surges in their mite populations. Collapsing colonies, often called “mite bombs”, seem to pass their mites to neighboring colonies. This can happen by mite-infested workers from the collapsing colonies drifting into the neighboring colonies, or by mite-free workers from the neighboring colonies robbing out the collapsing colonies, or both. To study inter-colony mite transmission, we positioned six nearly mite-free colonies of black-colored bees around a cluster of three mite-laden colonies of yellow-colored bees. We then monitored the movement of bees between the black-bee and yellow-bee colonies before, during, and after mite-induced collapse of the yellow-bee colonies. Throughout the experiment, we monitored each colony's mite level. We found that large numbers of mites spread to the black-bee colonies (in both nearby and distant hives) when the yellow-bee colonies collapsed from high mite infestations and became targets of robbing by the black-bee colonies. We conclude that “robber lures” is a better term than “mite bombs” for describing colonies that are succumbing to high mite loads and are exuding mites to neighboring colonies.

Read more:

That Big Rig You're Passing Might Just Be Full of Bees

Jalopnik By Andrew P. Collins June 25, 2019

Illustration: GMG Art Department/Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Illustration: GMG Art Department/Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

There are still cowboys driving livestock across America in 2019. While most of us are snoozing, they’re rolling up to dark fields with trucks full of creatures that are critical to our nation’s agriculture: thousands and thousands of bees.

“Very few people know that this happens, and it happens as a necessity of the way our agriculture’s done,” Apiarist and filmmaker Peter Nelson explained to me. “I see bee trucks when I’m on the road, but most people don’t recognize them because it looks like a truck with boxes covered by a net.”

Nelson’s new movie The Pollinators is all about the bee industry, its huge role in our food system and the dire situation it’s in today. After months embedded with beekeepers documenting the complicated logistics of hauling bees from one end of the country to another, and years raising bees in his own backyard, he’s become something of an authority on the subject.

After watching his film myself, I have a whole new appreciation for this fascinating biological and economic ecosystem. I will now impart some of this wonder to you, before getting back to the part about trucks filled with bees driving down the highway at night.

Bees: We Fear Them, But We Must Love Them (Or We Starve)

Crops that make some of our favorite foods—almonds, broccoli, blueberries, avocados, apples—all need to be pollinated, and they’re pollinated by bees. But it takes armies of the insects to tend the immense commercial farms that get those foods to grocery stores. Since pollination only happens in certain seasons, it’s not practical for most farmers to stock and feed their own bees year-round. There definitely aren’t enough wild bees to get it done. And that’s why we’ve got a bee industry.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Wild and farm-raised bees have slightly different lifestyles, but they have a lot of the same problems. Wild bees have to contend with their feeding grounds being paved and plowed for crops they can’t eat. Bees that work for humans for a living are at risk of being poisoned by pesticides designed to protect the plants that the bees are hired to pollinate. And all of them can succumb to parasitic varroa mites. These are tiny bugs that ride on bees and drink their blood, identified by the USDA as one of a bee’s biggest threats.

The importance of both natural and commercial pollination is well documented, as are the threats to their systems. If you want to dive deeper into the science of the situation, The Center for Biological Diversity’s paper Pollinators In Peril from 2017 might be a good place to start.

More recently, the plight of pollinators is starting to sneak its way into pop culture. Even PornHub is using its platform to make people realize how important bees are. But to truly appreciate what’s happening, you’ve got to wrap your head around the scale and significance of the bee industry.

Why Are We Trucking Bees Around, Exactly?

There are more than 90 million almond trees in California. They need to be pollinated every year, and it takes over 31 billion bees to make that happen.

Since there aren’t enough natural pollinators to take care of today’s commercial crops, just like there’s not enough rain to water them without the help of irrigation, the rental bees are brought in. Those same bees could get booked in every other corner of the country too, pollinating different crops in different seasons.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

After almond season, the bees might get shipped up to the pacific northwest for apples. Then Massachusetts for cranberries, Maine for blueberries, or, some go to North and South Dakota to relax and focus on making honey, as highlighted by an article in The Conversation that notes many beekeepers are based there.

Nelson told me there are approximately 2,000 beekeepers with “more than 300 hives,” which he also explained was about the threshold from where a hobbyist or sideliner beekeeper becomes a serious commercial player. “The biggest beekeeper in the country is about 100,000 hives,” he added.

And how many bees does that entail? The typical hives Nelson had seen tended to house about 25,0000 bees. But bee colonies expand and contract over the course of a year. An Oregon State University paper cited by GrowOrganic stated that you could have between 10,000 and 60,000 bees living together.

If bees are comfortable, they can multiply fast. A typical worker bee only lives for about 40 days, but population growth can be fast in the right conditions. A queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day when the environment is optimized. So a beekeeper renting hives to farmers could be working with many generations of the insects, at the same hive, over the course of a year.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Today beekeepers at big scale make most of their money from pollination services, as opposed to 20 years ago, Nelson told me, when honey production was more lucrative. But as farms expanded and natural bee habitats have contracted, the demand for rental bees has gone up.

Pollination fees vary. “Last year ranged from $175 to $225 per hive for almond pollination,” said Nelson. “And that’s the biggest pollination in the country. Honeybees are essential to almonds, so they command a higher price.”

Almond crops need two hives per acre to be pollinated completely, so the dollar figure starts to swell pretty quickly. The Center for Biological Diversity says “more than $3 billion dollars” changes hands for fruit-pollination services in the U.S. every year.

And yet, sometimes commercial beekeeping business relationships are pretty old-school. “a lot of these contracts or agreements are made on a handshake,” Nelson explained. “Dave Hackenberg, [well-known professional beekeeper, credited as the first to raise awareness about colony collapse disorder] he’s been keeping bees my whole life, and he has some of his regular clients that go back 30 years.”

OK, So Here’s How You Haul Bees

Bees are considered livestock, so people charged with moving them are supposed to be comfortable working with animals. Still, transporting bees presents some unique challenges. Like, if you stop on a warm day, your cargo might just buzz away. That, or get trapped in the net covering the truck’s cargo deck, and that’s just a bad day for everybody.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

If a bee truck crashes, “it’s a mess,” Nelson told me. It happens, and when it does, beekeepers will try to save their wares. If the queen bee stays in the hive, which they normally do, the rest of the bees will buzz back. But the insects can only get back to their hive if it’s in the same place they left it. If a cleanup crew has to move the hives, or replace them, rounding up all the loose bees can be impossible.

Most bee hauling runs don’t end in that kind of disaster, but they are a lot of work. Let’s say a big rig’s worth of bees need to get from Georgia to California early in the year, for the start of the almond season.

Bees are generally loaded up for transportation at nighttime. That’s partially because the cold slows them down, but mainly on account of that geolocation phenomenon I just mentioned. If the bees go to bed in one place and wake up in another, they apparently don’t care, and go about their business pollinating in the new spot. But if you move the hive while the bees are active, they get confused and lost.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Before being heaved onto the deck of an empty flatbed trailer, bees are often calmed down with smoke. (Bees: They’re just like us!) The trick is that beekeepers go around their hives with smoke-dispensing canisters to make the insects think there’s a forest fire.

You might imagine that would send them into an apocalyptic panic, but apparently it has the opposite effect. Kind of. The bees gorge themselves on honey, either in preparation for evacuation or just resignation that doomsday is near, and become significantly more docile than they usually are.

Smoke also “blocks pheromones and makes it harder for them to sting,” says Nelson.

With the bees toked out, about 400 to 425 palletized hives can be stacked onto a semi-truck trailer with a forklift. Multiply that by 25,000 bees per hive, and yeah, you could have more than 10,000,000 on a truck easily.

Once the bees are rolling, their humans like to keep them in motion as much as possible during the day since the wind discourages them from going outside. If beekeepers do have to stop, they try to do it at high elevation where it’s cooler and bees will be more motivated to stay indoors. Once again, I am realizing how bee-like my own existence is... I don’t like to leave the house unless the weather’s soft, either. Also, if my house moved I would definitely get lost.

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

Speaking of weather, that’s the last, and most critical, factor bee haulers have to worry about. If it’s too warm, the bees will escape and die. If it’s too cold, the bees will die. If it rains or snows, that presents its own set of problems.

“The thing that they’re all watching is weather... The almond pollination, that’s probably the riskiest one,” Nelson explained, “because a lot of the distances they cover are long. From Florida, Georgia, Alabama, all the way to Central Valley, California. And then also because of the weather that time of year (January and February) is a little more volatile.”

Beekeepers will even pre-run their hauling routes, just like Baja racers, to scout good spots to stop and plan their pacing. “A lot of beekeepers will go these exact routes beforehand,” Nelson added, “so they’ll know places where, ‘OK if you need to pull off, this is a good place, because it has an elevation that’s a little bit higher, so it might be cooler and better for the bees to stay in the hive,’” for example.

A 2018 Agweek article cited Miller Honey Farms Vice President Jason Miller as stating his companies hives “lose about two percent of their bees each time they’re moved,” and also mentioned that bee farmers sometimes have to get creative when it comes to finding places to park the bees in down time. The Miller operation apparently rents potato cellars in Idaho as their bees’ winter home.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

But even if beekeepers manage to keep their bees alive through the cold months, and get them on-and-off trucks safely, they still have to deal with bee bandits.

Yes, beehive theft is a thing. National Geographic recently reported that $70,000 worth of buzzing gold (bees) was heisted from a California farm. In 2016, somebody made off with $200,000 worth of bees in Canada and similar crimes have happened in England, New Zealand and elsewhere.

In the U.S., California’s Rural Crime Prevention Task Force deals with this kind of thing. “These cases are hard to crack because bees don’t have VIN numbers like cars, and we can’t track them by their DNA,” Detective Isaac Torres of the Task Force is quoted saying in that Nat Geo article. But stolen bees do get found, and the California State Beekeepers Association apparently “offers a $10,000 reward for information resulting in the arrest and conviction of a bee rustler.”

How Do We Befriend The Bees, And Earn Their Trust And Respect?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve got an understanding of how hard bees and their keepers have it. Some even say forcing bees to work for us at all is exploitive and wrong. But short of trying to topple the bee industry, it is possible for people to proactively be part of a pollination solution.

Photo: Peter Nelson ( The Pollinators )

Photo: Peter Nelson (The Pollinators)

“One of things I like to suggest to people is to support their local beekeepers,” Nelson told me when I asked him how I could help the bees. “Buy[ing] honey locally, certainly buy[ing] U.S. honey,” helps our bee economy, but planning a garden that’s pollinator-friendly if you have the space for it, and minimizing the use of pesticides around your house goes a long way too.

Not all pollinating bees are honeybees that can fly five miles or get carted thousands of miles across the country. Some local pollinators might just hang out in your yard.

Making good food choices, as in buying food that’s pollinated sustainably, can be difficult to do. It’s a very positive step in helping the environment, though. And now that you know that, you might have some more research to do. But at least, next time you see a truck with stacks of boxes covered by a net, you’ll know what it’s up to!

For a longer look at the life of bees on the road and the people making a lot of your food happen, you really should try to see The Pollinators movie, which you might be able to catch at a film festival soon.

Preliminary Figures Suggest Honey Harvest From Bee Colonies Could Be Up In 2019 In California

Catch The Buzz By Christine Souza - California Farm Bureau June 24, 2019

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CENTRAL VALLEY – It’s a “mixed box” when it comes to beekeeper expectations regarding this season’s honey crop. Some beekeepers report that winter weather brought plenty of forage for honeybees to feast on this year, and others say uneven citrus bloom in some areas may affect honey production.

Although no formal statewide honey production figures are expected to be released for a few months, individual beekeepers report that the amount of honey they will extract from bee colonies could be up this year.

“We’re expecting that the honey crop should be significantly better than the last five to seven years at least because of all of the rain,” said Imperial County apiarist Brent Ashurst of Westmoreland, president of the California State Beekeepers Association. “For everyone, the weather has been beneficial because of all of the additional food sources for the bees, and it really makes our job easier because the bees can do what they are supposed to do.”

Beekeepers point out that in recent years, factors such as the ongoing drought and lack of forage, Varroa mites and exposure to crop-protection materials, have taken a toll on the bees, resulting in bee losses for many beekeepers. But the moisture and precipitation this season has led to diverse forage for honeybees, including an abundant mix of plants and wildflowers that bees depend on for quality nutrition.

Ashurst said he does not rely on honey as an income “because it’s feast or famine; there are some years we make a decent amount of honey, and some years we don’t.”

“Where we are located (in Southern California), a good year is 12 pounds of honey per colony. Whereas at a honey-producing area like Montana, they might be getting 120 pounds per colony, so 12 pounds is pretty insignificant,” Ashurst said.

This season, due to the favorable weather, Ashurst has honeybees placed in sage locations in Temecula and Escondido.

“What we’re hoping to get is a sage (honey) crop because finally we got some rain. We don’t know what that crop is going to look like until we take it off in June,” said Ashurst, who added that many beekeepers can sell honey for the wholesale price of $2 a pound, or filter and bottle the honey for farmers market sales and make about $10 a pound.

Stanislaus County beekeeper Orin Johnson of Hughson said “honey production in California has over the years decreased, but this year, we’re looking for a little bump up in honey production for the state.”

For the past few days, Johnson has extracted sage honey, calling the variety “one of the premium honeys in the world.”

“The bees are still in the sage and will probably make another box by the time they come out by June,” Johnson said. “We only make a good sage crop in extremely wet years. This year we had a lot of moisture. It wasn’t as much as 2017, but it came at the right time and the plants are producing.”

With his honeybees placed in sage locations near Hollister and Pinnacles, Johnson recalls beekeepers had large sage honey crops in 2017 and 2010. Johnson sells honey direct to local customers from his warehouse.

“A lot of my customers, other than the family that wants a jar or two, are those interested in selling honey at farmers markets, so they will come with their 5-gallon buckets and purchase direct from me,” Johnson said. “l might have one person come and get a quart jar and another person come get about 30 gallons.”

Many beekeepers have recently moved bees out of the state’s citrus groves near Tulare County and are busy pollinating other crops.

Tulare County beekeeper and citrus grower Roger Everett of Terra Bella Honey Co. said, “We just got done pulling hives from the citrus groves and now we’re trying to get to the next pollination job.”

Transporting honeybee colonies to pollinate watermelons in Kern County, Everett said he likely won’t open a hive to extract citrus honey until late May or early June.

“I don’t know if the hives are all heavy or sort of heavy. I just know there’s a stack of pallets with hives that just came out of the citrus that need to be ran through a machine and we’ll see what we get,” Everett said.

The citrus bloom was hit and miss, Everett said, adding, “Bloom was really weird on the citrus; some fields had heavy bloom and some hardly bloomed at all. That’s how much variation there’s been, at least in Tulare County.”

Related to the orange honey crop, Everett said, “I think it’s going to be a little off again compared to previous years or the expectation over the past few years with the rain we’ve been getting.”

Honey production has been declining in California in recent years, Johnson said, although he said the state is among the top 10 honey-producing states.

“At one time, California was the second- or third-leading honey-producing state in the nation. Production is now about 40-pounds per hive, where before it was closer to 60 pounds a hive,” said Johnson, who noted that changing diversity among irrigated crops has affected honey production.

Beekeepers say that for much of their income, they rely on revenue from pollination, such as from pollinating almonds and other crops.

“Definitely, we’ve got to have the almond pollination income,” Johnson said.

A report on U.S. honey released in February, by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, found that American appetite for honey is growing. In 2017, Americans consumed 596 million pounds of honey or about 1.82 pounds of honey per person, a 65% increase in consumption since 2009. In addition, the report noted that the U.S. honey sector in 2017 was responsible for more than 22,000 jobs and had total economic output of $4.75 billion.

The state apiary sector will know more about this season’s honey crop in a few months, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service is expected to release its annual honey report for 2018 this week. The report includes information about honey producing colonies, honey-production and price by color class.

Honey Harvest Festival: June 22nd & 23rd, 2019

Join Us!

Honey Harvest Festival
Central Park, Fillmore, CA

Saturday and Sunday
June 22 and 23, 2019

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Free Admission!
Live Music, Petting Zoo, Agricultural Exhibits, BBQ Tri-Tip Sandwiches, Train Rides to Honey Farm Tour, Citrus Packing House Tour, Antique Carousel Rides, Craft and Food Products, Honey Products, and more.

Jump on board the Honey Bee Express!
Train Ride and Tour of
Bennett's Honey Farm

Beekeepers from the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association will be riding the rails with you, sharing their adventures in beekeeping and the latest BUZZ about honey bees.
Lot’s of fun for everyone!

Book Your Train Tickets Here!




More Bad Buzz For Bees: Record Number Of Honeybee Colonies Died Last Winter

NPR The Salt By Susie Nielsen June 19, 2019

Honeybee hives stand on a field at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Beltsville, Maryland. An annual survey of U.S. beekeepers shows the rate of colony death last winter — nearly 40% — was the highest reported since the survey began 13 years ago.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Honeybee hives stand on a field at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Beltsville, Maryland. An annual survey of U.S. beekeepers shows the rate of colony death last winter — nearly 40% — was the highest reported since the survey began 13 years ago. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

It's a sweltering morning in Beltsville, Md., and I'm face-to-face with bee doom. Mark Dykes, a "Bee Squad coordinator" at the University of Maryland, shakes a Mason jar filled with buzzing honeybees that are coated with powdered sugar. The sugar loosens the grip of tiny Varroa mites, a parasite that plagues bees; as he sifts the powder into a bowl, they poke out like hairy pebbles in snow.

"Right now there [are] three mites per hundred [bees]," says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, associate professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and president of the Bee Informed Partnership, which studies bee survival rates. That's a high rate of mites, vanEngelsdorp says: "If this were September and you were seeing that number, you'd expect the hive to die" during the lean months of winter.

Varroa  mites, tiny pests that can weaken and destroy honeybee colonies, are on display in a small jar.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Varroa mites, tiny pests that can weaken and destroy honeybee colonies, are on display in a small jar. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Bee colony death continues to rise. According to the Bee Informed Partnership's latest survey, released this week, U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their honeybee colonies last winter — the greatest reported winter hive loss since the partnership started its surveys 13 years ago. The total annual loss was slightly above average.

The survey included responses from nearly 4,700 beekeepers managing almost 320,000 hives, making up about 12% of total managed honey-producing colonies in the United States.

Bee decline has many causes, including decreasing crop diversity, poor beekeeping practices and loss of habitat. Pesticides weaken bees' immune systems and can kill them. Varroa mites (full, ominous species name: Varroa destructor) latch onto honeybees and suck their "fat body" tissue, stunting and weakening them and potentially causing entire colonies to collapse.

Honeybees crawl through a modern-day hive. This past winter saw the most dramatic losses of managed honeybee colonies in 13 years, according to researchers.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Honeybees crawl through a modern-day hive. This past winter saw the most dramatic losses of managed honeybee colonies in 13 years, according to researchers. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

"Beekeepers are trying their best to keep [mites] in check, but it's really an arms race," says Nathalie Steinhauer, science coordinator for the Bee Informed Partnership and co-author of the report (vanEngelsdorp is also an author). "That's concerning, because we know arms races don't usually end well."

Steinhauer says Varroa mites are the "number one concern" around wintertime. They've become harder to control, she says, because some of the tools that beekeepers have been using — chemical strips that attract and kill mites, essential oils and organic acids — are losing their efficacy.

Pollinators are responsible for one of every three bites of food we take, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Most of these pollinators are domesticated honeybees. They have become essential for many flowering crops, including blueberries, almonds and cherries. Wild insects can't be relied on to pollinate hundreds of acres of these crops, so fruit and nut producers call in commercial honeybee colonies instead.

Beekeepers use this device, called a smoker, to calm honeybees.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Beekeepers use this device, called a smoker, to calm honeybees. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Beekeeping has thus become an essential cog in the machine of American industrial farming. But it's a tough industry. Commercial beekeepers are so migratory that it's difficult to track how many live in each state, and all that moving around is expensive and stressful. Beekeepers have to monitor thousands of hives for sickness and pests.

These winter losses have made business even tougher, says vanEngelsdorp.

"We're not worried about honeybees going extinct. What we're worried about is commercial beekeepers going extinct," he says. When hives die, beekeepers can split healthy hives to replace their numbers — but it's costly to do so. "The question is, how long can they do that and stay economically viable?"

If the beekeeping industry shrinks, he says, crop production will suffer. "If we want to continue to have a food supply that has the variety that we want, we need a movable pollination supply, and those are honeybees," he says. "If we don't have commercial beekeepers managing those, then we won't be able to meet that demand."

Dennis vanEngelsdorp pulls out a frame from a hive. Managed honeybee hives are usually made of stackable, separable components so that beekeepers can closely monitor the colony's health.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Dennis vanEngelsdorp pulls out a frame from a hive. Managed honeybee hives are usually made of stackable, separable components so that beekeepers can closely monitor the colony's health. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Maryann Frazier, a retired senior extension associate for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved with the survey, says its results are limited by the fact that they rely on self-reported data from beekeepers. Beekeepers who've lost a lot of bees may be more likely to contribute to the survey, she says.

Still, she says the results are troubling, if unsurprising. Stressed, sick bees in close proximity are likely to die during the winter months. And bees face increasing levels of stress. Until all parties work together to address the sources of that stress, she says, steep winter die-offs will continue.

"I don't expect to see a change in losses over time for this reason. There's been no significant effort to correct what's causing the decline," she says.

Take pesticides, she says. "There's a huge amount of data [and] research showing pesticides are a significant player in the decline of honeybees and other insect species. And yet there's been so little done to make a change on that front," she says. "The EPA has been incredibly ineffective."

She says that pesticide industry leaders often try to shift blame for bee declines solely onto Varroa mites and viruses when in fact, she says, "there is so much evidence that pesticides are a major player in the decline of honeybees."

"And these things are synergistic," she adds. Pesticides can compromise immune systems, so when a mite or other pest hits "a bee compromised by pesticides, it's a downward spiral." Other sources of stress, like changing landscapes, have not been corrected.

Bees crawl over larvae and capped honey cells on a hive frame. Larvae are especially vulnerable to pests like  Varroa  mites.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Bees crawl over larvae and capped honey cells on a hive frame. Larvae are especially vulnerable to pests like Varroa mites. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Honeybees are a "sentinel species," Frazier says, meaning that their losses may warn humans of the larger trend of insect decline worldwide, including the decline of other pollinators like beetles and wild bees. "The picture is well beyond honeybees," she says. "The whole system is crashing."

[NOTE: The beekeepers in this story are working the bees in short sleeves and without protective clothing. They are located in the state of Maryland. They do not have the danger of Africanized Honey Bees. If you are in areas such as Southern California, which have AHB, we advise that you DO NOT work your bees without protective clothing.]

Honey Bee Caste Systems: Part 2 – How Genetics and the Environment Shape Honey Bee Workers and Queens

Bee Informed.jpg

By Garett Slater, Former Midwest Tech Transfer Team June 5, 2019

In part 1 of my blog series, I wrote about how genetics can shape reproductive males (drones) and both reproductive (queens) and non-reproductive (workers) females within a colony. However, genetics only explains part of the story. I will describe why that is in the second installment of my 3-part series:

  • Part 1: The Genetic Book of Life-The basics to honey bee genetics (for Part 1 click here)

  • Part 2: How Genetics and the Environment Shape Honey Bee Workers and Queens

  • Part 3: The Differences Between Queens and Workers

Figure 1: Queen and Worker honey bees. As you can see, there are clear anatomical differences between these castes despite genetic similarities.

Figure 1: Queen and Worker honey bees. As you can see, there are clear anatomical differences between these castes despite genetic similarities.

Queen determination has always fascinated researchers and beekeepers. This is unsurprising considering queens and workers are genetically similar yet have distinct anatomical and physiological features (Figure 1). In fact, queens are highly fertile and lay more than 2000 eggs per day whereas workers have anatomical structures specialized for foraging, nursing and other colony tasks. So how does a colony produce either a fertile queen or a sterile, highly specialized worker, even if they have the same genetics?

Most beekeepers and queen producer know nutrition determines whether a fertilized larva develops into a queen or worker. Just place a 1-3-day old larvae into a queenless colony and watch as they develop a queen from a previously worker-destined larvae (Figure 2). However, how this nutrition determines queens has historically perplexed researchers. Since the 1890’s, diet quality has been thought to determine queen-worker castes in honey bees through a “biological active substance” found only in royal jelly. This quality hypothesis arose from early observations of queen and worker larvae receiving different proportions of water-clear and milky-white secretions from nurse bee glands. The milk-white secretion fed to queen-destined larvae was termed royal jelly whereas the water-clear secretion was termed worker jelly (Figure 3). Since then, royal jelly was thought to contain the major dietary components necessary for queen development.

Figure 2: Queen producers make queens by transferring worker-destined larvae into queen cells of breeder colonies.

Figure 2: Queen producers make queens by transferring worker-destined larvae into queen cells of breeder colonies.

Figure 3: Royal jelly (left) is fed to queen-destined larvae and worker jelly (right) is fed to worker-destined larvae.

Figure 3: Royal jelly (left) is fed to queen-destined larvae and worker jelly (right) is fed to worker-destined larvae.

The first person to empirically test differences between royal and worker jelly was Dr. Adolf van Planta in 1888 (Table 1). He concluded the food composition fed to workers changed drastically after the age of 4 days, which is when worker larvae cannot develop into a queen naturally in a colony. While the food fed to workers and queens seem striking, royal jelly content was only quantified for 1 day. However, once this study was published, researchers began to search for the substance in royal jelly that determines caste. In fact, the only other study after Dr. von Planta’s publication to compare differences between royal and worker jelly was Wang et al. 2016.

Royal jelly was then deemed special and necessary for queen development. In fact, royal jelly has been thought to contain a “pure determining substance” not found in worker jelly ever since. This has pushed scientists to find this active substance so we can truly understand how queens develop.  Researchers have tested nearly every major component in royal jelly on caste determination. In fact, most studies found positive results. They found lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, water, pantothenic acid (vitamins) and even p-coumaric acid (chemical in pollen) all contribute to queen development in honey bees under some experimental conditions. Despite positive results, how does every single macronutrient and micronutrient in royal jelly determine caste? This question perplexed me.

Table 1: Comparison between Royal and Worker jelly.

Table 1: Comparison between Royal and Worker jelly.

As I began researching royal jelly and queen development, I realized none of these studies controlled for diet quantity. This is surprising because queens are obviously fed more food than workers during development. In fact, queen-destined larvae are fed an excess of 300mg of diet and are fed 1400 times more frequently by nurse bees than worker-destined larvae. As I did a literature search, I couldn’t believe the impact of quantity on honey bee caste determination has not been formally tested. 

Figure 4: 48 well plate I use for rearing honey bee larvae on an artificial diet

Figure 4: 48 well plate I use for rearing honey bee larvae on an artificial diet

I decided to pursue this question during my masters. I used in vitrorearing techniques to test whether diet quantity causes queen development (Figure 4). In vitro rearing is a useful tool because I can become a “nurse” bee and control the food larvae receive. In fact, I can change the type of food and the amount of food larvae receive and see how that impacts development. So, I tested the relative contributions of diet quantity and quality by rearing honey bee larvae on diets that altered both quality and quantity.

Figure 5: The range of sizes I produced by changing diet quantity. I produced small workers, workers, intercastes, and queens.

Figure 5: The range of sizes I produced by changing diet quantity. I produced small workers, workers, intercastes, and queens.

A wide range of individuals were raised from my artificial diets. Not only were queens and workers reared, but also intercaste bees (part worker-part queen), or what I call them, princess bees (Figure 5). I have never seen intercaste bees in a natural hive setting nor have I seen miniature workers half the size of normal workers. Thus, it seems bees have the ability to develop into a wide range of body sizes. These results indicate 2 conclusions: 1) nutrition during development is extremely important for both workers and queens, and 2) colonies impressively control queen versus worker development. More importantly, it seems diet quantity plays a larger role in caste determination than expected.

Caste determination is fascinating and I truly enjoyed studying it, but why should the average beekeeper care? The main reason is queens are an integral component of a colony however we have little understanding about how a queen develops and which factors make a high-quality queen. This is important to improve queen quality and manifest important queen traits through breeding, selection, and alternative management practices.

Honey bee queen determination is an intersection between genetics and the environment. I hope you enjoyed reading this post and keep an eye out for the next installment on the key differences between queens and workers.


von Planta, A. (1888). Ueber den Futtersaft der Bienen. Zeitschrift für physiologische Chemie12(4), 327-354.

Wang, Y., Ma, L., Zhang, W., Cui, X., Wang, H., & Xu, B. (2016). Comparison of the nutrient composition of royal jelly and worker jelly of honey bees (Apis mellifera). Apidologie47(1), 48-56.

Pollinator Week Proclamations Span The United States And Galvanize Citizens

Catch The Buzz June 19, 2019

Pollinator Partnership.jpg

Pollinator Partnership (P2), which founded Pollinator Week in 2007, announced today that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, as well as ALL 50 state governors (and many mayors), have signed proclamations supporting the observance of National Pollinator Week. In addition, more than 350 events (breaking all previous records) across North America and the world are registered through P2’s Pollinator Week web site.

Bees, butterflies, birds, and beetles that support 90% of flowering plants – including over 1000 crop plants that humans rely on for their food, are facing threatened futures that require immediate human intervention.  Across the planet, celebrations, planting sessions, garden and farm walks and marches mark Pollinator Week 2019 (June 17-23), the thirteenth consecutive year of bringing greater awareness to the critically important issue of pollinator conservation.

Laurie Davies Adams, President and CEO of Pollinator Partnership, noted that ” Pollinator Week gets people talking and acting – making sure that every landscape is shared with pollinating species everywhere and that we provide habitat, eliminate all chemical impacts, and reduce the pathogens, parasites, and climate challenges that contribute to the deaths of pollinating species.”

Pollinators bring us 1 in 3 bites of food; promote ecosystem health; and lay the foundation for a sustainable future. While we are seeing some signs of the benefits of conservation efforts, many species of pollinators are in grave peril. Communities throughout the world celebrate Pollinator Week by organizing local events such as native plants sales, beekeeping classes, pollinator themed meals or mixers, and more! As a result of P2’s coordination, eleven major landmarks will be lit up in pollinator colors this week including The Baltimore City Hall, the San Francisco City HallNiagara Falls, and CN Tower. In addition, P2 is co-hosting a variety of events in Washington, D.C., including a Congressional briefing held by the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus, and a reception at the American Society of Landscape Architects headquarters, with its beautiful rooftop garden as a focal point. Get more information and resources at

Life of Honeybees in Turbulent Weather Times Not So Sweet

WHIG Standard By Elliot Ferguson June 14, 2019 / updated June 15, 2019

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson lifts a frame out of one of her hives at her property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson lifts a frame out of one of her hives at her property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson had one bit of advice as she walked up to the hives she keeps on her property north of Gananoque.

“When you open a hive, they say you shouldn’t stand in front of it,” she said, lifting the lid off the top of a stack of three white boxes.

“You’re in their flight path.”

Within minutes, thousands of honeybees buzzed around her, bouncing off the mesh hood she wears that has become the most recognizable part of a beekeepers uniform.

This day she was in luck.

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson takes a frame out of one the hives in an effort to create a new hive at her property north of Gananoque.(Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson takes a frame out of one the hives in an effort to create a new hive at her property north of Gananoque.(Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Hanging off one of the frames she removed was a new queen cell, the structure where new queen bees are grown.

Peterson removed the entire frame, placing it in a new hive box. From that queen, a new hive will eventually grow.

It was among the first hives Peterson had split this year.

“I am so late this year,” she said. “Usually I would be halfway through splitting the hives. I can’t get into the fields. It’s just been so wet.”

After 25 years of beekeeping, first as a hobby and now as a retirement job that has her with 200 hives distributed around farm fields in the Kingston area, Peterson said there have been subtle changes in the seasons, but she admitted that many effects may be so slight they have either gone unnoticed or she hasn’t chalked them up to climate change.  

The interior of a honeybee hive at beekeeper Elaine Peterson property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

The interior of a honeybee hive at beekeeper Elaine Peterson property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“I believe in climate change. I’m not an idiot,” she said. “I don’t actually see great differences or I don’t attribute it to climate change.

“I’ve known it’s happening. I’ve known all these years only because in September you used to take all the things off the hives because come October you were packing them,” she said. “I pack them in December now. For me the season is shifting.”

Beekeeper Nancy Cole prepares her protective clothing before going out to her hives at her property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Nancy Cole prepares her protective clothing before going out to her hives at her property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

The change in the seasons is something beekeeper Nancy Cole has noticed at her property near Colebrook.

“They say bees in the environment are similar to canaries in coal mines. They are sort of the indicators,” Cole said. “I’ve noticed a difference in the past 10 years.”

Cole said she and other local beekeepers who are members of the Limestone Beekeepers Guild have become accustomed to losing about 25 per cent of their bees during the winter. In the past three years, her losses have been close to 50 per cent, and last year she lost 80 per cent.

“I lost a lot because of the cold spring, which is climate change, really. Our seasons are changing,” she said.

The constant rain this spring has put honeybees about a month behind schedule, said Curtis Brunet, who tends about a half-dozen hives on his one-hectare property north of Lansdowne.

“I am hyper aware of what is happening in the weather,” Brunet said. “If I didn’t have bees, I wouldn’t be so aware of exactly how many days it has been without rain, how many days it has been with rain, how many days has it been over 10 C.”

Honeybees in Canada have about three months to build their hives and make enough honey to make it through the following winter, the season when many hives succumb to the temperatures. 

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet adds smoke while opening a hive on his property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet adds smoke while opening a hive on his property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

The rain and cold kept Brunet away from his hives for most of May, the month when honeybees get started preparing for the next winter.  

“I didn’t get my hives split in time because every time I tried to come up here, it was either raining or it was too cold. Usually I am into the hives at the beginning or middle of May. By the end of May, I should have gone through my hives, reversed them, done their antibiotics. By now, they are making honey.

“This year in particular we have had a crazy spring.”

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet carries a frame full of bees over to a new hive on his property north of Landsdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet carries a frame full of bees over to a new hive on his property north of Landsdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Honeybees, the only insect that makes food that humans can eat, are critical to agriculture as a pollinator.

But for their importance, the honeybee faces critical threats, including disease, mites and chemicals such as neonicotinoid, an agricultural insecticide that many beekeepers consider among the most lethal threats to honeybees.

Climate change is just one subtle threat on a long list of challenges to honeybees. 

“We are beginning to see some changes that aren’t good news,” said retired college instructor Bill Kirby, who keeps about 16 hives on his 24-hectare property near Yarker.

A closeup of honeybees at a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

A closeup of honeybees at a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“It’s not to the point that the world is ending as far as honeybees are concerned, but the variability of the weather is an additional stress on an already stressed population.”

Timing is the key to the survival of a honeybee hive.

When warmer spring temperatures arrive, a queen bee starts making more workers who, in turn, start making honey to feed the hive.

“What seems to be happening is the temperatures are different, as is the rainfall, and the sunlight, the heat, those have an influence on the beehives,” said Kirby, who has been a hobby beekeeper for 40 years.

A honeybee lands at the entrance to a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

A honeybee lands at the entrance to a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“When this spring happened, and last spring, there were not the flowers that there should have been at the time when they should have been there.”

If the spring weather cools, hives that have already created more bees than can be fed will starve unless they are supplied extra food.

Beekeepers are known for keeping track of the weather, and it wasn’t just this spring that seems to be different, Brunet said.

Beekeeper Bill Kirby checks one of his hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Bill Kirby checks one of his hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Winters in recent years have been getting harder for honeybees to survive, and the milder seasons have become difficult to predict.

A couple of summers ago, the Kingston area baked under the driest summer conditions on record, conditions that had a knock-on effect for honeybee hives even in the following summer. 

“Too dry, too wet, too cold, too hot,” Brunet said. “We can see our winters getting harder. The length of those really cold, cold spells, like -20 C, that is really tough on the bees. And then when you get those springs where it rains every single day, that screws everything up. Flowers and trees are not pollinating at the same time, that puts the queen behind. If spring comes early, they may run out of food.

Honeybees on Curtis Brunet’s property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Honeybees on Curtis Brunet’s property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“I think any change, whether they are local or global, it totally affects the bees,” Brunet said. “We are just starting to see those signs and they are only going to get more and more dramatic.”

“What’s happening in our summers is that they are either cold and wet or hot and dry,” Kirby added. “We don’t have that stable weather pattern where we get rain every couple of weeks and we get sun most of the time and the temperatures are reasonable. That affects honey production.”

In recent years, Kirby said, the shifting weather patterns have created a disconnect between what honeybees are expecting and what is actually happening in the environment.

Honey reflects sunlight in one of Bill Kirby’s hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Honey reflects sunlight in one of Bill Kirby’s hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

And the increasingly unpredictable and variable weather isn’t limited to the spring. Summers are just as hard to forecast, Kirby said.

Honeybees are small. They can’t fly in the rain. When it’s hot and dry, flowers stop making nectar.

“What seems to be happening is the temperatures are different, as is the rainfall, and the sunlight, the heat. Those have an influence on the beehives,” Kirby said. “The changes in our environment are going to come faster than we actually now are experiencing and that make even more extreme conditions and irregular patterns.

“I’d like to be an optimistic person — I’ve tried to live my life that way — but I don’t think there is a great future ahead of us.”

A new worker honeybee emerges from a brood cell in a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

A new worker honeybee emerges from a brood cell in a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Two Great Podcasts Today And Tomorrow, And Only 2 Of The 5 For Pollinator Week. Migratory Beekeeper Davey Hackenberg And Bloomberg’s Business Of Bees, With Adam Arlington

Catch The Buzz June 18, 2019

Pollinator Week: Davey Hackenberg – Commercial Beekeeper

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Davey Hackenberg is a second-generation of beekeeper following in the steps of his father, Dave Hackenberg, in the honey and pollination business. Davey lives in Lewisberg, PA where he and his family run Hackenberg Honey, home of Buffy Bee Honey!

In this candid interview, Davey talks openly about the year-round challenges he and other pollinators face as they travel the country taking their bees to crops and orchards. If you want to become a pollinator or dream about walking away from your office job to become a full-time beekeeper, you just might want to listen to this Beekeeping Today Podcast to hear the good and the bad, the past and a glimpse of the future the commercial beekeeper. Keeping your business ‘sideline’ may be your best bet!

Davey is also featured in Peter Nelson’s The Pollinators movie. Jeff & Kim talk with Peter in Beekeeping Today Podcast (#022).

Pollinator Week: Adam Allington – The Business of Bees

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Adam Allington is the producer and host of the Bloomberg Environment podcast, The Business of Bees.  Adam joins Jeff and Kim on this podcast of the 2019 Pollinator Week series.

Business of Bees is a six-part podcast series that introduces the listener to the business though in voices of those in the industry, including several you’ve heard here (John Miller, BTP #002and Dr. Samuel Ramsey, BTP #015).

Adam’s series is a easy to listen to, high quality podcast that represents the pros and cons to the business, including how honey bees helps to pollinate the nation’s crops. The series also touches on the debate of honey bees vs. native pollinators.

The Business of Bees is available wherever you listen to or download your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts.

Websites and links mention in the podcast:

Let's Celebrate National Pollinator Week

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey June 14, 2019

A ceramic/mosaic sculpture, “Miss Bee Haven,” anchors the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. It is the work of self-described rock artist Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A ceramic/mosaic sculpture, “Miss Bee Haven,” anchors the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. It is the work of self-described rock artist Donna Billick of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

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Did you know that next week is National Pollinator Week?

It is. June 17-21 is the week set aside to celebrate pollinators and how we can protect them.

Actually, National Pollinator Week should be every day.

Launched 12 years ago under U.S. Senate approval,  National Pollinator Week zeroes in on the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles, according to Pollinator Partnership, which manages the national celebration.  (Other pollinators include syrphid or hover flies, mosquitoes, moths, pollen wasps, and ants. Pollination involves the transfer of pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma.)

On the UC Davis campus, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be a "hive" of activity next week, announced manager Christine Casey, academic program management officer. "We'll be hosting National Pollinator Week events Monday through Friday, June 17 to 21, between 10 a.m. and noon each day." Activities include bee information and identification, solitary bee house making, and catch-and-release bee observation.

The haven volunteers also will sell bee friendly plants and bee houses to support the haven (cash and checks only).

A new event at the haven is hive opening. At 11:45 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, California Master Beekeeper Program volunteers will open the hive in the haven "so visitors may see the girls in action." The haven, installed in the fall of 2009,  is located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. It is open from dawn to dark, free admission.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is planning a free webinar Insect Apocalypse? What Is Really Happening, Why It Matters and How Natural Area Managers Can Help on Tuesday, June 18. The webinar, by Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society begins at noon, Eastern Time, which is 9 a.m., Pacific Time. 

Black says he will "explain the latest science on insect declines and highlight important ways natural areas managers can incorporate invertebrate conservation into their land management portfolio. Though they are indisputably the most important creatures on earth, invertebrates are in trouble. Recent regional reports and trends in biomonitoring suggest that insects are experiencing a multi continental crisis evident as reductions in abundance, diversity and biomass. Given the centrality of insects to terrestrial and freshwater aquatic ecosystems and the food chain that supports humans, the potential importance of this crisis cannot be overstated. If we hope to stem the losses of insect diversity and the services they provide, society must take steps at all levels to protect, restore and enhance habitat for insects across landscapes, from wildlands to farmlands to urban cores. Protecting and managing existing habitat is an essential step as natural areas can act as reservoirs for invertebrate diversity." Click here for more information and to register.

Happy Pollinator Week! Think the "b" alliteration: bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. But don't forget the flies, ants, mosquitoes and moths!

Visitors to the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven can learn what to plant to attract pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Visitors to the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven can learn what to plant to attract pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

2019 California Spring Update

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Bee Informed Partnership Post by Rob Snyder June 12, 2019

Many California beekeepers reported that the start of this year was the worst in 20+ years. Several factors contributed to this year’s issues, starting with the numerous fires last year causing nearly 3 months of smoke in the area.

A beekeepers yard in September showing smoke from fires in Northern California 2018.

A beekeepers yard in September showing smoke from fires in Northern California 2018.

Petal Fall in 2019 in almonds after heavy rain.

Petal Fall in 2019 in almonds after heavy rain.

Once the days got longer, queens started laying but the temperatures dropped again and egg laying stopped once more resulting in smaller colonies after almonds. In fact, most colonies were 2-3 weeks or even a month behind, which delayed the start of queen production. Many producers had to source bulk bees from beekeepers further south to begin starters, builders and nucs.

Italian Queen selected for hygienic testing.

Italian Queen selected for hygienic testing.

Carniolan Queen selected for hygienic testing in 2019.

Carniolan Queen selected for hygienic testing in 2019.

Once queen producers started generating nucs, the weather conditions were still challenging enough that the windows of opportunities for queens to mate were narrow at best. However, many queen producers found the first round of catching queens resulted in better than expected mating percentages, allowing them to somewhat catch up on orders and start replacing their own queens. Around this time beekeepers were treating with terramycin to combat European foulbrood (EFB). Some beekeepers believe as I do, that fungicides play a roll in colonies being more susceptible to brood diseases especially EFB. I do think that some of the EFB outbreaks we see are due to the way commercial beekeepers and queen producers manipulate colonies to shake bulk bees.

Early EFB symptoms, orange arrows indicate larvae I would select for testing, red arrows indicate old larvae I would not test

Early EFB symptoms, orange arrows indicate larvae I would select for testing, red arrows indicate old larvae I would not test

If you are seeing this or lots of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) it will be really hard to nurse colonies back to health. This is what happens if you neglect to treat or manipulate colonies to impact mite levels. Red arrows point to varroa mite in or on open brood.

If you are seeing this or lots of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) it will be really hard to nurse colonies back to health. This is what happens if you neglect to treat or manipulate colonies to impact mite levels. Red arrows point to varroa mite in or on open brood.

Currently queen producers are re-queening and treating their colonies before shipping off to summer honey and pollination locations. The late spring has provided more rain than the past 8 years and many beekeepers say that rain in May increases the star thistle crop. We are hopeful this year will be a great star thistle honey crop, helping to restore lost colonies and recover some of the income lost due to the late start on queen production.

Tariffs on Chinese Products Aid US Garlic and Honey Producers

CATCH THE BUZZ June 12, 2019

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Employees on the production line at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California — the local garlic industry is reaping the benefits of US trade tariffs against China because it makes local produce more competitive in the United States (AFP Photo/Josh Edelson)

As most US farmers feel the brunt of the trade war with China, some, like garlic and honey producers who have struggled for years, are applauding new, higher tariffs on Chinese goods.

“It’s been a pretty exciting time for us in Gilroy, California,” Ken Christopher, whose family runs Christopher Ranch, the nation’s largest garlic grower, told AFP.

Though nearly all garlic consumed in America was grown in the US prior to 1993, that changed almost overnight when Chinese exporters began flooding the US market with their product, all but wiping out garlic growers across the country, Christopher said.

“Back in the 1990s, there used to be 12 commercial garlic farms in America and now there’s only three,” he said. “And that’s due to the illegal dumping of Chinese garlic.

“Since 1993 they have illegally flooded the US market with cheap garlic below the cost of their production.”

Under sweeping trade duties imposed by the Trump administration — part of an aggressive strategy to force Beijing to end what the US considers to be unfair practices — tariffs on Chinese garlic increased from 10 to 25 percent on May 10.

Christopher, whose company grows about 100 million pounds of garlic annually that represent 30 percent of total US consumption, said that has led to prices more in line with US growers who have higher labor costs and have struggled over the years to stay afloat.

A box of about 30 pounds of Chinese garlic that sold for some $25 before the latest tariffs increase is now selling for about $45.

That’s as opposed to $50 to $60 for a box of US-grown garlic.

– Relief for Industry –

“This has brought immediate relief for our industry,” said Christopher, whose family-run business is the largest employer in Gilroy, located south of San Francisco, with about 1,100 people working there full-time.

“For the last 25 years, it’s been a game of whack a mole,” he added, describing the difficulty in going after Chinese exporters dumping their produce on the US market for a fraction of the price of US-grown garlic.

“By the time the US Department of Commerce identified the Chinese exporter violating the US law, that company would fold and pop up as a brand new company.

“And often times many of the companies in China were subsidized by the Chinese government.”

Honey producers across the United States who have helplessly watched over the years as China blew them out of the market are also thrilled about the tariffs increase.

“It’s been probably 30 years that China’s been trying to destroy our domestic beekeepers by selling large amounts of honey at prices way below what we can produce at,” said Kelvin Adee, head of the American Honey Producers Association.

“It costs the US producer around $1.75 to $1.85 to produce a pound of honey,” said Adee, whose company Adee Honey Farms is the largest commercial beekeeping operation in the US with some 100,000 beehives.

“They’re bringing it in here under a dollar and there’s no way we can compete with that.”

Adee said that while the US is heavily dependent on imported honey — it consumes around 600 million pounds of the product a year and only produces between 150 to 170 million pounds — tariffs are needed to ensure fair trade practices.

Trump has imposed 25 percent tariffs on a total of $200 billion in Chinese goods, and has threatened even more — while Beijing has hit back with tariffs of its own, largely targeting soybeans and pork.

But despite hopes the tariffs will even the playing field, farmers like Adee and Christopher are well aware that Chinese producers can still beat the system by using evasion schemes.

And they realize that other farmers across the country, like soybean and hog farmers, are paying a steep price because of the spiralling trade dispute.

“We know that a lot of farmers in the middle of the country are hurting and our hearts go out to them,” said Christopher.

“And we know that a 25 percent tariff isn’t a long-term solution,” he added. “We know that at the end of the day there will have to be some kind of negotiation between China and the US.

“But it’s our hope that there will be enhanced enforcement on both sides to make sure that their illegal dumping stops.”

Manuka Honey To Kill Drug-Resistant Bacteria Found In Cystic Fibrosis Infections

Swansea University From Ben Johnson / University Press Office May 29, 2019

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Manuka honey could provide the key to a breakthrough treatment for cystic fibrosis patients following preliminary work by experts at Swansea University.

Dr Rowena Jenkins and Dr Aled Roberts have found that using Manuka honey could offer an antibiotic alternative to treat antimicrobial resistant respiratory infections, particularly deadly bacteria found in Cystic Fibrosis (CF) infections.

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Using lung tissue from pigs, experts treated grown bacterial infections mimicking those seen in CF patients with Manuka honey. The results showed that it was effective in killing antimicrobial resistant bacteria by 39% compared to 29% for antibiotics, whilst improving the activity of some antibiotics that were unable to function effectively by themselves, honey and antibiotics combined killed 90% of the bacteria tested.

CF is one of the UK’s most common life-threatening inherited diseases, with around 10,400 people in the UK suffering according to the CF Trust. A government review led by Lord Jim O’Neill also highlighted the threat of antimicrobial resistance, estimating that a continued rise in resistance by 2050 would lead to 10 million people dying every year from antimicrobial resistant infections.

A problem that CF patients suffer from are chronic and long-lasting respiratory infections which often prove fatal due to the presence of certain bacteria that are resistant to many (if not all) the antibiotics that doctors currently have at their disposal.

Bacteria that cannot be removed from the lungs through antibiotic treatment can, as a last resort, be removed by providing patients with newly transplanted lungs. This has some associated risks, however, as the bacteria that caused the original infection can still be found in the upper airway, and migrate into the new lungs, thus making the transplant ineffective.

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Some patients have a worse prognosis as they are infected with deadly types of bacteria, such as Pseudomonas and Burkholderia cepacia complex, which are difficult to kill (due to multiple antibiotic resistance) and cause extensive damage to the lungs. In some instances, merely their presence within a patient can prevent them from receiving life-saving lung transplants.

The effectiveness of antibiotics against these deadly infections is a huge concern, making the need to find suitable, non-toxic alternatives, which are effective at killing the bacteria a top priority.

Honey has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal product. More recently, research has shown that Manuka honey is capable of killing antibiotic resistant bacteria present in surface wounds. Funding from The Waterloo Foundation and The Hodge Foundation has allowed research to look at it as an antibiotic alternative in CF infections.

Dr Rowena Jenkins, Lecturer in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Swansea University, said:

“The preliminary results are very promising and should these be replicated in the clinical setting then this could open up additional treatment options for those with cystic fibrosis infections.

“The synergy with antibiotics and absence of resistance seen in the laboratory has allowed us to move into the current clinical trial, investigating the potential for Manuka honey as part of a sinus rinse for alleviating infection in the upper airway.”

This research was first published in Frontiers in Microbiology, while Swansea University are currently sponsoring a clinical trial for this research that runs for another 12 months.

Join Kim And Jim In The Beeyard, And On The Front Porch Of The A. I. Root Homestead On June 18th At Noon EST (9 AM PDT)

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Check out the next LIVE KIM&JIM Show, on June 18, 2018. Kim and Jim are first going to take a look at the 4 bee hives on the A. I. Root Company property, right next to A. I. Root’s Home. There are 2 overwintered colonies, and 2 were installed as packages this spring. What’s up with the old and the new this spring? We’ll find out. Then, they’ll take a look at the new polystyrene hive just installed this spring to begin looking at thermal efficiency in a beehive. A new hive, with a new package will be the center of attention for a bit.

Then, because it’s Pollination Week, KIM&JIM will take a breather after all that work, and sip a cool one on the A. I. Root’s front porch and talk about all of the historical figures that have come and gone from that porch over the years, sort of a sneak preview of THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN BEEKEEPING event coming your way in October. And, because it’s pollination weeks, they’ll discuss a bit about the pollinator gardens, that they will visit later this summer, and about some of the activities going on around this most important subject.

KIM&JIM. Tune in, Tuesday, June 18, 2018 from noon to 1 PM. Look at bees, look at beehives. Sip a cool one on A. I. Root’s front porch. What better way to spend the first week of summer.

Please Register for Kim & Jim Visit the hives at A. I. Root’s home. on Jun 18, 2019 12:00 PM EDT (9:00 AM PDT) at:…/8037399612017492493

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.