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  March 2016
Christi's Corner
March is a big month in the bee business.  Most colonies have been in California.  Almonds can be very good for bees, giving bees early nutritious pollen and beekeepers the chance to split hives to improve their colony counts which bodes well for the rest of the season and even into the next year.  But if a grower combines insecticides with their fungicide sprays, bees can be set back.  This is not good for the beekeeper or the almond grower's colony numbers for the next year.  Be heard and participate in the Gene Brandi Survey so they can accumulate the data on this year's almond pollination season.  Speaking of bees in almonds - what's missing from the colonies in this picture?  Yes - the heart of the hive! Bee-knowledgeable thieves took the brood and in most cases the queen from the bottom box of Washington State University colonies outside of Modesto, CA recently.  Project Apis m. has been supporting WSU for several years and these were experimental colonies.  If you'd like to help WSU replace the colonies those despicable thieves stole, go to our website at and donate via check or PayPal, mention WSU, and we'll see they get those funds to help build back the program.

Christi Heintz
Executive Director  

Billy's Blog
One of the fun parts of managing the Seeds for Bees Program is traveling to see crucial bee forage in bloom.  Speaking with growers or beekeepers and exchanging knowledge is how new ideas, like planting bee forage in orchards, diffuse into the agricultural community.  If I learn just one new thing each time I visit someone, then I consider that trip a success. You are the key to Project Apis m.'s success in improving honey bee health.  Beekeepers, growers, orchardists, land owners, and scientists are who we collaborate with to be effective in our mission.  For example, an almond grower combined our Mustard Mix with triticale for a cover crop that provides bee forage and great organic matter decomposition. Triticale, a cereal grain, did not outcompete the mustard.  As the photo illustrates, triticale's root system is extensive and aids in the breakdown of pruned branches and mummy nuts (an almond that remains on the tree after harvest which is overwintering habitat for navel orangeworm).  Fewer mummy nuts means less navel orangeworm, which means reduced pesticide use.  Applying fewer pesticides is good for the grower and beekeeper.     
Mustard and Triticale
What bee beneficial innovations have you incorporated into your farm or operation?  I would like to hear about it.  Do you know of an opportunity to plant/manage forage in your area?  Give me a call.    

Billy Synk
Director of Pollination Programs

Danielle's Discourse
PAm mustard and daikon mix in almonds
Baptism by almonds! This month I worked in California, from Fresno to Sacramento, seeing the vast seas of almond orchards amongst California's agricultural lands. This pollination event that happens each spring is known to us all, but knowing about it holds no comparison to driving through miles and miles of orchards stocked with hives one after another! I was struck by the variety of management style of bees, orchards and land. This was confirmed by meeting with growers and beekeepers, who showed me all variety of practices. I talked with brokers and pesticide applicators, and it was clear that this event is full of opportunity for PAm to support bees, through best management practices and developing habitat. I saw excellent demonstrations of supplemental habitat plantings for bees, including cover crops and hedgerows, I met with enthusiastic growers who listed many reasons to use PAm cover crop mixes, and I saw plenty of room for more plantings! 

Danielle Downey
Director of Operations

The Word From Wardell
Dr. Gordon Wardell
To call the 2016 almond bloom an unusual year is an understatement.  We were expecting the bloom to be a little bit early but when we started getting eighty degree days in early February the trees couldn't hold back any longer.  Many areas went from 5% bloom to full bloom in just a few days.  Flight weather for the bees was perfect with only one minor rain event during bloom in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley and slightly more rain up north.  Varietal overlap was perfect and by rights a good almond crop should be set this year.  Bloom came on early and finished early as well with some growers releasing beekeepers by the end of February; an unprecedented event to be released from almonds so early. 

This year's almond pollination turned out much like 2014, great flight weather during bloom, little rain, in general a good year to set a crop, but unfortunately in 2014 over 80,000 honey bee colonies were killed or severely damaged due largely to tank mixed chemicals applied during bloom.  This year we are getting reports of poisoned colonies as well.  Hopefully, we won't see nearly that number of colonies damaged but reports are still coming in. 

Some facts about fungicides: In much of California, fungicides are a necessity during bloom to protect the nut crop from a variety of fungal pathogens. Studies have shown that the judicious application of fungicides during bloom has had little or no impact on the bees, but when those same fungicides are tank mixed with insect growth regulators, and possibly other adjuvants, a combination is formed that may not impact the adult bees but has been shown to be severely detrimental to the brood population. Because the sprays impact the larvae and developing bee population, consequences of the spray are not seen immediately but rather two or three weeks post application.  Often the damage isn't noticed after the beekeeper has left the orchard and returned home or gone to the next pollination contract. Typical damage is the lack of larvae in the colony or missing brood cycles, deformed and dying pupae, and many times the bees are unable to emerge from the cells and die with their tongues sticking out.  Eventually these dead pupae will be ejected from the colony and the ground in front of the colony will be littered with partially developed pupae.  

Following the spray damage in 2014, the Almond Board of California in collaboration with the California State Beekeepers Association, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and Project Apis m. worked to develop a series of best management practices for safe bloom-time sprays during almond bloom.  Reprints of these recommendations are available through the Almond Board of California and can be found on their website ( The principles are simple: (1) Communication - beekeepers should notify the county of where bees are located and communication between beekeepers and growers will eliminate any misunderstandings. Growers and beekeepers should agree on treatment products and methods. (2) Spray only what is needed when it is needed; avoid tank mixes and putting anything unnecessary in the spray program.  Avoid applying insecticides until more is known about their impact on brood populations in the colony. (3) If a fungicide application is deemed necessary, it should be applied in late afternoon or evening when bees are not present.  

Following the development of these Best Management Practices, a statewide effort was made to raise awareness of these points. These efforts had an appreciable impact in 2015, reported bee poisonings were down significantly and fewer than 500 colonies were reported to have been severely damaged. This was a huge improvement over the 80,000 colonies damaged the year before.  Unfortunately, the trend didn't hold. Numerous reports are coming in reporting damaged colonies following almond pollination this year.  The cause of the poisoning remains to be determined. The Bee Informed Partnership has sent investigative teams to take samples for analysis. Hopefully, pollen and brood samples will give us some clues as to what is impacting the bees so dramatically and give us a chance to refocus our efforts to protect the bees during almond bloom and all other pollination events. I will be sure to report the results of the studies in a later edition of the PAm Newsletter. 

Dr. Gordon Wardell
Chairman, Project Apis m.

2016 Almond Bloom Spray Issues Survey

Are you a beekeeper who pollinated almonds in 2016 and experienced significant brood loss?  If so, you're not alone!  You are encouraged to complete a brief survey  - find it here.  

NASS Honey Report

The annual National Ag Statistics Service Honey Report is out.  The statistics could be better; not only is honey production down in the U.S., but yield per colony and number of colonies is down.  Click here for the full report.

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The BIP Box
March Madness
Splitting colonies coming out of almonds this year has been difficult for some of our beekeepers affected by the sudden loss of much of the brood raised near the end of almond pollination. The jury is still out, but symptoms look very similar to the bee kill that occurred in 2014 and may be due to fungicides or IGRs (or combination of both).  Some of our tech teams have spent the last 2 weeks making the rounds to beekeepers, taking samples from bee bread, pupae, and eclosed (emerging, from pupae to adult) bees that just can't make it out of the cells. We are working closely with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CA DPR) and the Almond Board to investigate these cases and take samples inside the affected colonies for pesticide residue analyses, as well as generate a map of where our affected participants were worst hit.
Typical symptoms of those colonies suffering include eclosed bee heads emerging out of cells with proboscises protruding, malformed or no wings, and young bees pulled out of cells and removed from the colony.  Colonies appear to recover after time on fresh pollen; however the setback in bee population has severely diminished the colonies available to split for future pollination contracts and for honey production. 

Varroa and Nosema March loads
March averages for Varroa were at 0.3 mites/100 bees.  Nosema has increased from 0.89 million spores/bee in February to an average of 1.7 million spores/bee this month.  Both of these averages were from CA and MN samples only.

Close up of dying young bees (Courtesy of Bee Informed Partnership, TX Tech team Megan Mahoney)
Dead, emerging bees, proboscis out (Courtesy of Bee Informed Partnership, CA Tech team, Rob Snyder)
Eclosed bee without wings and proboscis out (Courtesy of Bee Informed Partnership, CA Tech team Rob Snyder)

Young dead bees pulled out of comb (Courtesy of Bee Informed Partnership, TX Tech team Megan Mahoney)

 Bee Husbandry
- The next 90 days is the best time of year to requeen. Try to requeen by end of May.

- Control swarms by making nucs or splits.

- If forage isn't present, think about feeding pollen substitute. 

- Manage your weak colonies, combine them with other colonies or add frames of capped brood.

- When is the next nectar flow? Remember one cannot treat for mites while a honey super is on. Check mite levels and treat if necessary.

- Take advantage of the cool weather appropriate mite treatments now before it gets too hot.  Think about using oxalic acid, formic acid, or HopGuard II. Always read the label.

- Be aware of increased wax moth pressure on unoccupied frames. 


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6775 Chardonnay Rd
Paso Robles, CA 93446

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