Website   |   News   |   Forage   |   BMPs   |   Videos
  May 2016
Christi's Corner
In this issue, Billy Synk draws the connection between bee forage and soil health, Danielle Downey describes an expanding PAm research program, BIP provides useful insight to their recent survey with comparison to the NASS survey, Gordon Wardell enlightens us on wild blueberry pollination and we have a new PAm-Costco Scholar!  Read on!

Christi Heintz
Executive Director  

PAm Announces New PAm-Costco Scholar
Congratulations to the new PAm-Costco Scholar, Morgan Carr Markell! We had an exceptionally competitive field of applicants and wish we could fund them all!  Morgan is bright, determined, and an excellent communicator with a variety of audiences and we couldn't be more excited about awarding her this scholarship.  Morgan is working on her PhD at the University of Minnesota, studying honey bee usage of native prairie plants. The award is $150,000 over three years, a significant investment in the future of honey bee research.  Watch for Morgan to do great things!

Danielle's Discourse
PAm and National Honey Board: working more like one hive! 

Project Apis m. is very pleased to announce that we have been asked to administer the production research funds for the National Honey Board! Starting in 2017, PAm will manage the NHB funds ($0.015/lb) collected by federal marketing order with a focus on maintaining the health of honey bee colonies. In 2016, these funds were $416K. Uniting our efforts moves us one big step closer to harmonizing the many opportunities in our industry: to propose, review, support, and direct research projects efficiently and for the greatest benefit. Proposals received and funded by PAm and NHB have much in common, reflecting our similar interests in supporting the industry. By combining our efforts, there is one less round of independent writing and reviewing proposals AND ALSO the opportunity to connect funding and ideas with much broader resources, everyone wins! PAm is perfectly poised to facilitate this streamlining. We are grateful for the confidence NHB has in our work, and we hope other organizations will consider joining this effort. As we appreciate the elegance and efficiency of our beloved honey bees, let them inspire how we do our work! 

Danielle Downey
Director of Operations

Billy's Blog
When developing presentations or writing articles about forage, I always mention the benefits cover crops can have on soil health.  One particular attribute bee forage cover crops have on land is the building of organic matter.  Productive land having the proper amount of organic matter is so important that I wanted to solely focus on it in this month's blog.
As the roots, stems, and leaves of plants break down, they give the soil structure.  Anything that was once alive and is now in the soil is called organic material.  Microorganisms then break down this organic material into humus. This organic matter/humus acts as a reservoir for nutrients and water.  Humus is responsible for the soil's water-holding capacity, nutrient supply, soil aggregation, and its ability to prevent erosion.
This month I had a chance to visit with Margaret Smither-Kopperl at the USDA-NRCS Lockeford Plant Materials Center.  Here I witnessed a great side-by-side comparison of how cover crops can help soils. Two plots of land were treated in the same way except one side had a cover crop and the other did not.  For every 1% increase in organic matter, the soil will provide an additional 19,000 gallons of water-holding capacity per acre.   Basically, soils with more organic matter will increase production efficiency.  Good soil should aggregate easily and hold its shape when disrupted.  I took a shovel to the ground to show you all this in action.  On the right is soil from a plot with cover crops, on the left is another plot of land that was fallow.  Which soil would you rather have?


Billy Synk
Director of Pollination Programs

The Word From Wardell
And Yet Another Dance

Dawn is just breaking on a steel gray morning.  As the predawn mist begins to dissipate, the sun's warmth starts to feel good.  Though the bees are peeking out of the entrances of their colonies, they're still not flying.  Temperatures are in the low 50's but the weatherman promises mostly sunny conditions and 70 degrees today.  Soon the bees will be on the blueberry flowers setting a crop that could approach last year's amazing 100 million pounds, the second largest crop in a decade.  These aren't the high bush blueberries of New Jersey, Georgia or Michigan; we're in the wild blueberry barrens in Maine where I spent the week with thousands of bee colonies, blueberry growers, and Project Apis m.'s Science Advisor, Dr. Frank Drummond. It was an amazing educational process.  Frank is a professor of Insect Ecology and Insect Pest Management at the University of Maine and Apiculture Specialist with the Cooperative Extension Service. 
Blueberry pollination is an important revenue source for many commercial beekeepers bringing in rental fees second only to almond pollination.  It's another one of those crops that demands large numbers of strong colonies.  Sure, native bees are effective pollinators of wild blueberries but the acreage has grown beyond the capability of local bees to cover the vast acreage.  Commercial bumblebees and even leafcutters have been used in the barrens, but honey bees still do the heavy lifting when it comes to blueberry pollination.  Much like almonds, growers are contracting for 8-10 frames of bees and brood in the colonies, but unlike almonds some growers may put more colonies per acre than we typically find in almonds.  The average stocking rate is said to be around 2 to 3 colonies per acre but some growers may contract for as many as 8 or 10 colonies per acre to insure optimum fruit set in Maine's less than ideal pollinating weather.  Colony densities that high require the beekeeper to continually monitor and feed the colonies to prevent starvation.     
Maine has over 47,000 acres of wild blueberries growing naturally in fields and barrens across the southern and central part of the state.  Over 90,000 commercial hives are brought in to pollinate the crop.  Like almonds, Maine's blueberry pollination was originally a local phenomenon, first using native pollinators around the barrens.  As the acreage grew, colonies came from Maine, Massachusetts, New York and even New Jersey, but today colonies come from all corners of the nation to pollinate this crop that is so important to Maine's economy.  
I found the cultivation practices of low bush blueberries fascinating.  Some of the fields have been in production since the 1840's and very likely even longer.  Maine's Native Americans cultivated the tiny blueberries for dried and fresh consumption.  Much like the growers today, the native people used fire to maintain the fields and keep out competing plants.  Looking across the barrens you see a low growing carpet of vegetation but when you look closer you will note differences in the clumps of plants.  The entire field is a patchwork of different looking clusters of plants called clones.  Each clone is a single plant growing 8 to 12 inches tall connected by underground rhizomes and may reach a size of 25 square yards.  When the forest is cleared, the naturally occurring blueberry plants begin to spread and eventually fill in the available surface area.  Unlike high bush blueberries they can't be grown in a nursery and planted.  Stems can be rooted and planted but for some reason they won't form the necessary rhizomes and spread.  So, the farmers clear the forest, remove the boulders deposited by the last glacier, create an ideal growing substrate, fertilize and water minimally and the bushes eventually spread and cover the fields.  The genetic diversity of the plants reduces pest and pathogen pressure; meaning little spraying needs to be done during bloom.  The difference between clones also spreads out the bloom period over several weeks.  Standing in the field you can see some clones in full bloom while others within a few feet are still in early bud stage. It's amazing to have this much diversity in a cultivated crop that is so immense in size. Besides the sheer enormity of the fields, bees are essential because they move the pollen from flowers in one clone to flowers in a different clone providing cross pollination.  Not all clones are self fertile so for best yields bees are needed to move pollen between the plants just like almond varieties. 
The bees in the barrens are looking good this year.  Plenty of pollen is coming from native blooming trees and shrubs in the woodlots surrounding the fields as well as blueberry pollen, of course.  Most beekeepers feed supplemental protein and sugar syrup during bloom to keep the colonies healthy and growing in case inclement weather keeps the bees from foraging.  The challenge, like always, is to feed the colonies enough to prevent starvation but not to overdo it and inadvertently promote swarming.  
When blueberry pollination is complete, some of the colonies will leave Maine and go to cranberry pollination in Massachusetts while others will travel to the Dakotas or their home yards to hopefully put on a crop of honey. The remainder will go on to a myriad of other pollination services.  As it turns out, wild blueberries are an interesting step in the amazing dance performed by beekeepers every year while Mother Nature calls the tune.

Click here for more information on wild blueberry pollination and cultivation.  

Dr. Gordon Wardell
Chairman, Project Apis m.

Photo of the barrens, note the different colors of the plants depicting the different clones
Low bush blueberries in full bloom
Quick Links
Job Opportunity: Bee Breeding Apiarist
We THANK our Recent Donors!
Millers Honey Farms
Scientific Ag Co.
Costco Wholesale
Laurel Przybylski
Veronica Swarens
Lockhart Fine Foods

The BIP Box

May showers bring June flowers...and the BIP National Loss Survey results 

The month of May always heralds the release of preliminary results from our BIP National Loss survey. But before we get into the results and what those mean, May Tech Team sampling resulted in averages of Nosema and Varroa loads across all tech teams at 0.75 million spores/bee and 0.55 mites/100 bees respectively.

Our preliminary loss report was posted on May 10th with more than 5,700 beekeepers responding. Colony losses in 2015-2016 inched up to an annual total loss of 44.1% with increases in both summer (28.1%) and winter (28.1%) total losses.  You can read the full report at our website but we want to take this opportunity to explain the survey and the results. Before BIP started recording losses, there were no other numbers to compare what "normal" losses are for beekeepers and what is excessive. We are also trying to make the results more accessible every year by improving our website.

The Bee Informed Partnership reports total loss, or a weighted loss rate. Total loss treats each colony the same or more simply stated, "One colony, one vote." This means that the total loss rate is more representative of commercial beekeeper loss as they operate a large majority of the colonies in the survey. The average loss rate, which we no longer report in our preliminary summary, is an unweighted rate where we calculate the loss rate for each responding beekeeper and average these rates. So average loss, more simply stated is, "One beekeeper, one vote." As there are many more backyard beekeepers than commercial beekeepers, average loss rates are more influenced by these smaller beekeepers.

Because the BIP winter loss results are presented as one number (28.1% total winter loss), it does not show the huge variability in what commercial beekeepers (and other operational sizes) report as their losses. Some beekeepers have losses well under 15% while others have over 50%. The 28.1% can be hard to relate to if you are on either end of the spectrum.
Consistently across all BIP survey years, commercial beekeepers reported having fewer winter and annual losses compared to backyard beekeepers. For this year, Figure 1 illustrates the variation of losses across operation types from the BIP survey.

Over the last year, and for the first time, the National Agricultural Statistical Survey (NASS) was funded to conduct a colony loss survey and the NASS report was released on May 12. The NASS results are presented as quarterly loss rates and so are not directly comparable to BIP numbers; however, we have reworked their numbers to permit some comparisons. NASS is able to track almost all commercial migratory operations so their total losses would be primarily driven by commercial beekeepers as are the BIP results.

Figure 1: Preliminary Total Losses by Operational Size (Backyard<50 colonies, Sideline<500 colonies and Commercial>500 colonies)

See the BIP report (and larger graph) on our website.
 Bee Husbandry

-  Requeen if needed. All hives that have 2 year or older queens should be requeened by June. Requeen after that in an emergency 

-  Select stocks that are productive and disease & pest resistant

-  Encourage high drone densities during mating season to provide well-mated queens and genetically diverse crops

-  Mitigate swarming. Make nucs and/or splits. By this time of year each apiary will have obvious strong and weak colonies.  Shake excess bees from strong colonies onto weak colonies. Use powdered sugar!

-  Buy/make honey supers. You will need them soon. Do you have enough queen excluders for placing hose honey supers? 

-  Check hives for pests and diseases. Early detection is key!

-  Use diagnostic services for objective colony assessment

-  Follow regional guidelines for action thresholds for Varroa and Nosema control.

Project Apis m. | |
6775 Chardonnay Rd
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Project Apis m. is a 501 (c) (5) non-profit organization.