Project Apis m.’s forage projects support bees all season long – By Billy Synk
2 April 2017
As the world’s largest pollination event, the California almond bloom, comes to a close, beekeepers everywhere are asking themselves one question: Where do I take my bees now? As spring turns to summer here in California the foraging opportunities become more scarce. Surely there are pollination-for-hire jobs that beekeepers can try to fill. But the number of these contracts is limited and can’t support our nation’s 2.5 million colonies. Even if it were easy to find, the nutrition provided by some of these crops is of poor quality (e.g., blueberry 13%-14% protein). Historically, middle America has served as a summer vacation spot for many hives. Bees that have worked hard pollinating almonds get shipped to America’s heartland to get fat and happy. In fact, 75% of the nation’s honey bee colonies are found in just 8 states in the summer.
Places like North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Missouri used to have far more bee supportive flowers than they do now. Bees are under enough stress as it is. Year round, they are getting fed on by varroa mites that transfer disease. Interestingly, research indicates access to diverse, nutritious forage actually helps bees’ natural immune systems and has a direct impact on pollinator health (Alaux et al. 2010). This is why it’s alarming when vast amounts of forage in the upper Midwest and great plains regions disappear. From 2008-2011 alone, 23 million acres of grasslands have been destroyed and converted into cropland. This means there is now less land to support bee health, honey production, monarch butterflies, songbirds, pheasants, quail and wildlife, in general. The need for more forage is urgent!
Forage planted anywhere that is accessible to honey bees is a good thing. However, Project Apis m. is committed to using our donors’ support for forage programs in the most efficient way possible. We accomplish this in two ways. One, we target bee hives when they are at their weakest–early spring right before the almond bloom. The Seeds for Bees program has put more than 3,000 acres of cover crops into orchards this growing season. And secondly, we focus on replacing forage that has been lost in middle America.
The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund has already planted NextGen habitat plots on 124 farms in North and South Dakota. A bee hive that’s lucky enough to be in an almond orchard with a Seeds for Bees cover crop or near a NextGen forage plot in the Dakotas is getting a 5-7 month nutrition boost solely from Project Apis m.’s efforts! Seed is expensive. Funding can be hard to come by. Urban sprawl and increased agricultural production are making habitat and forage less common. By providing cost effective seed mixtures to growers in California and landowners in middle America, Project Apis m. is attacking forage issues head on.
If you learn one thing from this blog, it should be this: Forage supports bees and their health for a period of time that stretches far beyond the day they collected that pollen or nectar. What bees did or did not have access to during the summer has a direct effect on their survival and performance for the next season. It was eye opening for me to learn the abundance and diversity of forage in North Dakota during the summer has a major impact on almond pollination in California. Did you realize this? Those of us that toil in mud, rain, and scorching heat realize it every day. Those of us looking at honey bee health on a small and large scale get it. The title of Dr. DeGrandi Hoffman’s 2015 paper says it all, “Honey bee colonies provided with natural forage have lower pathogen loads and higher overwinter survival than those fed protein supplements” (DeGrandi-Hoffman, et al. 2016). When a beekeeper checks a colony in late fall, and it doesn’t have adequate pollen and honey stores, they know they must work much harder to get that hive strong come almond bloom. If they don’t, their livelihood and the almond crop will both suffer. Almonds contribute more than $11 billion dollars to the California state economy, so this is a problem that affects not only our bees, but our wallets and also our pantry.
Alaux, C. et al. 2010 Diet effects on honeybee immunocompetence Biol. Lett. (2010) 6, 562–565
DeGrandi-Hoffman, G., Chen, Y., Rivera, R. et al. Apidologie (2016) 47: 186. doi:10.1007/s13592-015-0386-6
Seeds for Bees: More Than Just Free Seed – by Billy Synk
27 February 2017
At Project Apis m. we do more than fund research and hand out free seed. We package up our knowledge and expertise in a way that is useful to beekeepers and growers. For example, Dr. Reed Johnson’s pesticide research is complicated. Growers and their advisors may have a hard time navigating the results when trying to determine the best way to protect their crops without harming bees. This is why we partnered with the Almond Board to create a list of Best Management Practices. Now growers have an easy-to-read, practical guide for what to do when applying pesticides. My point is, providing raw data and information without applying it to practical solutions isn’t very useful.
Seeds for Bees free seed is only half the program. The technical advice and onsite assistance I provide is how the program truly becomes useful. A significant amount of 2016/2017 Seeds for Bees enrollees had never grown cover crops in their orchard before. Simply sending them seed isn’t good enough. In an effort to educate, Project Apis m. and Kamprath Seeds have teamed up to host three Bee Forage Cover Crop Field Days in March. Taking place in three different growing regions of California, these field days will demonstrate how cover crops can improve soil and bee health. Join us on March 7th, 9th, and 15th to learn more about how cover crops can benefit your operation. This will be an outdoor event where attendees can view cover crops in almond orchards and hear presentations from growers and industry experts. Please RSVP to Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org or 614-330-6932.
Billy Synk, Breaking News! Varroa Feed Primarily on Honey Bee Fat Body
22 Jan 2017
Project Apis m. funds and supports research addressing issues across a wide range of topics. Our efforts have answered questions regarding contaminants in syrup, effect of colony size on pollination, pathogens, Colony Collapse Disorder, pesticides, genetic diversity, and, of course, Varroa control. All this research helps increase our knowledge of bee biology and their related health issues. However, after attending the American Bee Research Conference last week I feel compelled to write about a study conducted by Samuel Ramsey at the University of Maryland. He presented his paper “Varroa destructor feed primarily on honey bee fat body not hemolymph” and immediately our knowledge of the biological interaction between honey bees and Varroa changed dramatically. As far back as I can remember I was told Varroa, the deadly virus vectoring parasitic mite, feeds on bee blood (hemolymph). Pick up any book or paper on this topic, and one will read the same thing. Mites eat blood. Well, after Samuel finished his presentation, I turned to a colleague and said the one thing on my mind: “A lot of textbooks will need to be rewritten!”
Samuel’s work, which was funded by Project Apis m., involved feeding adult bees a fluorescent biostain that glows differently when present in either bee hemolymph or bees fat body. The adult bees then fed this stain tainted syrup to the brood. Varroa was then collected from the brood. After the Varroa was crushed, its contents could be analyzed for how much bee hemolymph stain vs. bee fat stain it had. This data allowed Samuel to determine what parts of the honey bee the Varroa mite is feeding on. It turns out Varroa eats two to three times more bee fat body than hemolymph.
Honey bee research proposals often ask for significant amounts of money. It is not uncommon to see scientists ask for more than $ 100,000 to conduct their experiments. While I’m sure these amounts are justified and necessary, it is important to note Project Apis m. strives to find the most applicable, cost-effective research possible. Mr. Ramsey’s work will have significant impacts on how the industry will study future Varroa control products, and it cost less than $20k to conduct! This work goes beyond being an effective use of funds; it’s also award winning. Congratulations to Samuel for his study winning the American Bee Research Conference Student Paper Competition. Please keep reading our Newsletter every month for more updates on exciting research from Samuel Ramsey and the rest of the students in Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp’s lab.
Billy Synk, Bee Health and Pollination Workshops coming in January
26 Dec 2016
This time of year we often get together with friends and family to enjoy each other’s company. Despite a few differences that might cause conflict, families and communities support each other based on their shared values. I have seen enough dead hives, sick bees, and destroyed habitat to give me pause about the future health of our nation’s pollinators. However, the concerted effort, passion, and team work of everyone I collaborate with gives me hope that we can change bee health for the better. Beekeepers, growers, landowners, pheasant hunters, bird watchers, conservationists, monarch butterfly advocates, native bee advocates, universities, non-profits, government organizations, land trusts, trade associations, seed companies, PCA’s, and all the industries that support agriculture believe bee health is an issue everyone needs to be responsible for. All these groups are working towards the same goal. How awesome!
This January, the Almond Board of California, Sure Harvest, and Project Apis m. are teaming up to bring you three Bee Health and Pollination workshops. Almond growers that have planted Seeds for Bees cover crops will be hosting three workshops in different regions of California. The events will have presentations on Best Management Practices, the California Almond Sustainability Program, and methods for improving bee forage and habitat. Honey bees and almonds are dependent on each other. Almond trees need their blooms pollinated while the bees benefit from a bounty of high protein pollen the flowers provide. Come to the Almond Board’s Bee Health and Pollination workshops on January 16th, 17th, and 18th to learn more about how planting cover crops and hedgerows help two essential industries; honey bees and almonds. There will also be information on tools to help growers calculate irrigation and nitrogen needs. Please RSVP to Jenny Nicolau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-343-3243. If you have a question about which Seeds for Bees mixes will be demonstrated, please call me at 614-330-6932.
Billy Synk, Hickman Brickmen Supporting Honeybees
21 Nov 2016
This month I attended the Delta Bee Club monthly meeting in Modesto. I spoke about Seeds for Bees, hedgerows, Varroa-sensitive hygiene stock improvement, and the Honey Bee & Monarch Partnership. Before I spoke I had the privilege of listening to a presentation by the Hickman Brickmen. They are a homeschooled group–part of the Hickman Charter School in Hickman, California. These students, grades 5-8, decided to focus their latest project on investigating the issues surrounding the decline in honey bee health. They concluded a feasible way they can help improve bee health is through education and planting more bee forage. It’s like they are doing my job for me!
During this past year, they have presented their work to kindergarteners at the Hickman Charter School, Delta Bee Club members, and local almond farmers. They informed the young students about the alarming statistics that display the loss of hives beekeepers are experiencing each year. They also shared how essential bees are to our agricultural food system. The team returned 2 weeks later and planted wild flowers in the garden on campus. To date, the Hickman Brickmen have spoken to growers that represent over 300 acres of farmland in the Central Valley. This research project was done in preparation for a FIRST Lego League competition. The Hickman Brickmen received two trophies for their achievements at the qualifier and have advanced to the championship which is scheduled for January 2017. Good luck to the Hickman Brickmen and thanks for all your hard work in supporting honey bees!
Zac Browning on National Meetings for ABF, 1 Nov 2016
The Honey Bee Health Coalition (HBHC) Oct 17-18, University of MD
Focus began with completing a fundable proposal for the HBHC project, “Bee Integrated”. This project aims to practice the main recommendations of each of HBHC’s four working groups (Crop Pest Management, Forage and Nutrition, Hive Management and Outreach/Communications) simultaneously at apiary locations to demonstrate benefits to hive health. Pending funding of proposals, 2-3 pilot sites will commence in 2017.
Progress and discussion from the individual working groups included:
Forage/Nutrition- Discussing Farm Bill Conservation priorities to improve USDA pollinator habitat programs. Defining and communicating the co-benefits of pollinator forage programs. Developing an interview tool for use at Galveston, to understand the success/failure/gaps of supplemental nutrition applications.
Crop Pest Management- How to improve incident reporting and provide a non-regulatory pathway for beekeepers to submit data due to pesticide exposure incidents. Also develop and improve crop pest advisor education and training.
Hive Management- Updating the Varroa Management Tools Guide and completing a series of ‘go with’ videos to demonstrate methods and application of Varroa controls.
16th Annual NAPPC Oct 19-20, hosted at USDA APHIS, Riverdale MD.
After 20 years, Laurie Davies-Adams announced that she will be seeking a successor in 2017. Speakers included USDA APHIS administrator Kevin Shea; Dr. Bruce Rodan from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Rick Keigwin from US EPA. Many of the talks and discussions centered around habitat for pollinators, especially monarch butterflies which are being considered for listing as an endangered species. NAPPC Farmer Rancher Award was bestowed on Lakhy Sran, owner of Sran Family Orchards in Kerman, CA. He manages 1500 acres each of organic conventional almonds, and has invested over $200K putting bee forage on his farm. Last year, he worked with Project Apis m. to install 6.5 linear miles of hedgerows for pollinators and will continue to install more. Lakhy will also work with the Xerces Society on a new program to certify farms and with Pollinator Partnership as a Bee Friendly Farm.
Since October – December is the ideal period for planting in California, now is an appropriate time to discuss the possibility of planting pollinator friendly hedgerows. Over the past year I had opportunities to design and install hedgerows near almond orchards in Fresno County. Growers were happy with the cost and ease of installation. Planting is easy. Dig the right size hole, remove the pot, place plant into the hole, cover, and then install irrigation. The process is more similar to landscaping than traditional farming. No expensive equipment or implements are needed.
Every hedgerow is different. I customize the hedgerow design to fit the needs of each grower or landowner. A hedgerow for a beekeepers apiary would include plants that have ample amounts of pollen and nectar. California’s weather can support plants that bloom all year long. If the right selections are made, a hedgerow will have at least one species in bloom for most of the year. Hedgerows can have something providing nutrition to bees 10-12 months out of the year!
An almond grower will also want hedgerows with pollinator friendly plants. However, their goals are more numerous than a beekeepers. They want to help beesand efficiently produce high quality nuts. Hedgerows can assist with these goals by providing habitat for organisms that eat or kill common almond pests. It is hard to imagine a simple row of plants can prevent erosion, reduce wind, buffer pesticide drift, support pollinators, and help keep pests under control all at the same time. Hedgerows are true powerhouse! Contact me today. Let’s get one on your farm or ranch. Some plants to consider include: toyon, CA buckwheat, Brandgegee’s sage, Cleveland sage, germander, coyote brush (males only), Pacific aster, CA lilac, coffee berry, bottlebrush, rosemary, lavender, manzanita, fern-leaf yarrow, elderberry, grevelia.
Participants are very excited about the program this year and are enrolling early. Growers are starting to understand how crucial it is to plant as early as possible. In almond orchards with drip irrigation, rainfall is the only source of moisture for the cover crops. Ideally, the fall planted cover crops will get exposed to every drop of rain that is available. This is how the PAm Mustard Mix can provide a great stand of bloom before almonds and how the PAm Clover Mix can provide bloom after almonds. The options we offer include:
PAm Mustard Mix is a mixture of Canola, Braco White Mustard, Nemfix Mustard, Common Yellow Mustard, and Daikon Radish. At a rate of 12 pounds per acre if broadcasting or 8 pounds per acre if using a drill, you can plant from mid-September to mid-November. However, for those with less rainfall and/or limited irrigation allotments, planting before October 5th is best. This cover crop option is great at adding organic matter, alleviating soil compaction, and capturing available nitrogen. The Mustard Mix requires the least amount of water of our options and is the best at reseeding itself. Bees love this mix because of the ample pollen it provides.
PAm Clover Mix is a mixture of five different species of clover (Crimson Clover, Hykon Rose Clover, Nitro Persian Clover, Frontier Balansa Clover, Beseem Clover) and Annual Medic. At a rate of 15 pounds per acre if broadcasting or 10 pounds per acre if using a drill, you can plant from mid-September to mid-November. Unlike the rapid fall growth of the Mustard Mix, the Clover Mix grows very slowly over the winter. Depending on the planting date, bloom will begin in March and can be prolonged with irrigation or rainfall. Clovers are nitrogen fixing. Crimson Clover, for example, can add about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre to the soil.
Lana Vetch is a single species sometimes called Woollypod Vetch. At a rate of 25 pounds per acre if broadcasting or 15 pounds per acre if using a drill, you can plant from mid-September to mid-November. Vetch, like clover, has nitrogen fixation properties and can easily add nitrogen at a rate of 100 pounds per acre. This cover crop is also good at weed suppression and erosion prevention. If nitrogen fixation is a goal, and you don’t have a lot of rainfall in your area, Lana Vetch is a good option.
Danielle Downey, Aug 2016, PAm Update From Hawaii
Danielle Downey, the Executive Director of Project Apis m., comes to PAm from Hawaii, where she built an Apiary Program that became part of the Department of Agriculture. She also worked several years refining and testing Varroa resistant stock in Hawaii. That project is ongoing, and on a recent site visit she met with supporters at Kona Queen Hawaii, including Gus Rouse who recently sold the business to Kelly O’Day. Kelly, with his wife Karen and son Mike, have kept the entire staff and they plan to continue producing quality queens together. Say hello if you see them at meetings!
Billy Synk, August 2016, Overcoming 3 Possible Issues
Seeds for Bees is a program that is changing how California grows almonds. Sure, the 3,000 acres of bee forage cover crops that we planted last year was only on a small fraction of the total almond acres. But the size of our program, however large or small, isn’t what makes me passionate about Seeds for Bees. It’s the positive feedback from growers and beekeepers that keeps me excited. But with any agricultural practice there are pros and cons. In this month’s blog I will focus on three possible issues and how to prevent them.
First, the mustard mix can harbor lygus bug Lygus Hesperus and false chinch Nysius raphanus. False chinch only poses a slight risk to first year trees. The University of California IPM website states, “In rare situations, aggregations of false chinch bugs can result in plant and tree decline, and there have been reports of these bugs killing young almond, pistachio, pomegranate, and citrus trees. This level of damage typically is reported only from the lower San Joaquin Valley.” There has never been tree death reported to us as a result of our cover crops, but it’s worth mentioning. PAm is here to help you, not give you another headache. Prevent false chinch damage by planting PAm Clover Mix in young orchards. Young trees need nitrogen, and clover can deliver it by fixing 75-125 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Lygus does not pose a risk to almond trees, young or old. However, lygus can damage pistachio trees. To prevent damage to nearby trees, mow the mustard mix down when almond bloom ends. The timing should work out to where lygus will not be an issue for the neighbor’s pistachios. A sweep net sample is a great way to monitor pests in row crops, cover crops, or weeds. Setting aside a few minutes to monitor every week is all it takes to stay informed. Instructions on how to take a sweep net sample can be found in the links below.
Second, if left to reach their mature size (May-June) our mustard mix will leave organic matter on top of the soil. Clover is a lighter plant with less cellulose and disintegrates much easier. There are two ways to prevent organic matter build up issues come harvest time. One, don’t let the stand reach maturity (mow before full size). Or two, disc/rototill into soil if the mustard is still growing in May/June.
The third issue I wanted to touch on deals with the Vetch we offer. Vetch works great for certain growers. The most successful plantings are achieved by using a drill for planting instead of broadcasting. I recommend using a drill for all three of the Seeds for Bees options whenever available. However, I am specifically discouraging anyone from broadcasting vetch in particular. When a drill is used, the seed stays exactly where it gets planted, right behind the tractor. Then, later when the tractor is mowing, discing, or rolling down the cover crop, all the plants are dealt with. A broadcaster throws the seed in all directions. It scatters seed not just in the places accessible to equipment, but also in hard to reach places like in between trees. Vetch has vine-like growing habits so once established under the trees it can become a nuisance.
False Chinch: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74153.html
Billy Synk, July 2016, It’s that time of year!
It’s that time of year again! The 2016/2017 Seeds for Bees program is here. I am pleased and excited to be managing this great project for a second time. I have learned a lot during the past year. Traveling throughout California to see big healthy stands of forage being utilized by bees from around the nation was a pleasure. Talking with growers and beekeepers about what strategies worked is how I gained knowledge about how our seed mixes are performing. We are still offering three options: PAm Mustard Mix, PAm Clover Mix, and Vetch. However, to better serve your needs, I have made some minor adjustments to the ratios and species of the mixes. Please read about this year’s mixes here.
Starting this month I will be calling growers and beekeepers to enroll them in our Seeds for Bees program. If you are interested in planting cover crops in or near your almond orchard please give me a call. I know late summer/early fall is a busy time for growers harvesting an almond crop. But planting early is very important. Proper planning is needed to get the best stand possible. Do it for soil health; do it for bees–either way give me a call! I look forward to hearing from you. Billy Synk (614) 330-6932.
Billy Synk, June 2016, Grassland Oregon takes initiative creating Pastures for Pollinators mix
This past week I had a chance to visit Grassland Oregon in Salem. They are a company that functions as breeder, producer, and provider of a wide range of seed products and knowledge. On their farm they evaluate more than 4,000 unique lines of multiple species annually. It was helpful to compare these high vigor cover crop species. When utilized correctly they will help farmers, dairies, orchardists and beekeepers everywhere. One species of clover still in development is ZigZag. I am excited for this variety to become commercially available because its prostrate form that lays flat on the ground might be the first perennial clover appropriate for almond orchards.
Grassland Oregon also thinks about the bigger picture. I commend them for taking the initiative to create a Pastures for Pollinators mix. This seed mix is improving the soil quality of grazed lands, while also providing high quality feed for livestock and bees! I met with Jon Bansen (photo below) of Double J Jerseys dairy. He is part of the Organic Valley co-op and a grower of the Pastures for Pollinators mix.
Billy Synk, May 2016, Which soil would you rather have?
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, Apr 2016, Bee Beneficial Innovations
Planting forage is a great way to improve the short and long-term health of honey bees. The nectar provided by flowers is energy for the adult bees. The pollen bees collect from forage provides protein and nutrients to the brood that supplement patties cannot. For the beekeeper, there is no reason not to plant forage. However, beekeepers don’t often have enough land to make planting forage worthwhile. If they do own land, their bees are often off site pollinating all the food we eat. So for part of the season, we rely on landowners, farmers, ranchers, and orchardists to plant other forms of food for our bees. These non-beekeepers who plant forage have to weigh the benefits and costs before making it part of their yearly routine. Here at Project Apis m. we take seriously the reservations some may have about bee forage cover crops or hedgerows. A valid concern for an almond grower, for example, is competition between the cover crop and the almond blossoms.
Our Seeds for Bees program was responsible for over 3,000 acres of bee forage being planted here in California this year. That is equal to 7,669,324,000 seeds that bloomed to provide food for honey bees. Those are a lot of flowers! Growers pay good money for bees to be in their orchards pollinating the trees, not cover crop flowers.
Let me assure you, cover crops in orchards will not hurt almond yields. This is more than an opinion. This is a fact. Almonds provide bees with large quantities of high protein pollen in a relatively small area, making it very easy for bees to collect. Bees want to work almonds more than anything else on the landscape. The anthers on the almond flower readily display the pollen, making it very attractive to honey bees. A nice open, easily accessible flower is what they prefer. In contrast, the hard-to-get pollen on the cover crop, located on the ground, is less appealing. Honey bees want to fly the least amount of distance, do the least amount of work, and get the highest protein pollen available. This means honey bees have a preference for almond pollen over anything that is provided by the Seeds for Bees program. Bees generally have worked all the pollen from almond trees by mid-afternoon; then they switch their focus to other pollen sources. There is one species of Phacelia I know of that bees do prefer over almonds. We made sure not to include this particular plant in any of our Seed for Bees seed mixes.
The research to back up these claims has been done by scientists at the UC Davis Williams Lab. Ideally, I wanted to share that data with you all this month. Unfortunately, this work is not published yet. Dr. Neal Williams, Kimiora Ward, and Ola Lundin have been repeating this research over multiple years to ensure they have sound data. Once they finish their work I will revisit this topic.
Billy Synk, Mar, 2016, Bee Beneficial Innovations
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.
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, Feb, 2016, Monitoring For Varroa
Varroa destructor, or simply Varroa, is a mite that can be harmful anytime of the year. Springtime is when the mite populations are at the lowest, but this doesn’t mean monitoring can be ignored. This is a reason our Bee Husbandry section suggests monitoring every month. It is that important! Varroa’s damage to bee colonies is often delayed. At a quick glance, colonies with high mite loads might seem fine, but once several rounds of compromised brood emerges the population will decrease dramatically. Varroa mites also carry and spread diseases so all bees in the hive are affected.
The first step to managing Varroa is monitoring. If done on a monthly basis one will know exactly when the mites are approaching the threshold level. Once this threshold level of mite infestation is reached, treatment should occur as soon as possible. There are several different ways to treat; sugar roll, either roll, and sticky boards are the most common. I suggest the sugar roll method. Start with 300 bees, which is a little less than one half of a cup. Place bees into a mason jar with screen or hardware cloth instead of a solid lid. Sprinkle on enough powdered sugar to cover all the bees. Shake and roll jar to fully cover the bees. With jar upside down, bang on bottom of jar to dislodge mites. Whatever method you choose to use, be consistent with the procedure throughout the year.
Once one has a mite count per 300 bees proper estimations can occur to determine how many mites are actually in the colony. For example, if one’s count is 9 mites per 300 bees then they have 3% infestation. However, this just accounts for the phoretic (living on adults) mites. To estimate the hidden mites in the brood, multiply the mite count by 2. So, 3% multiplied by 2 equals 6% mite infestation in the whole colony. Is this above the threshold? I’ll let you decide. Many beekeepers I know try to keep their colonies below the 3% mite infestation level year round. This doesn’t mean that hives with higher levels will not survive. A beekeeper that lives in a location with a long, cold winter might tolerate mite levels at 8%. Once the cold temperatures set in, the queen will stop laying and the mite populations will decrease naturally. Beekeepers that live in California, Texas, Florida, etc., don’t have the luxury of broodless winters. For them, a mite level above 5% would be alarming. There is no one-size-fits-all number, but keep in mind that fewer mites are always a good thing.
If having your own monitoring plan for mites (foulbrood, Nosema, etc.) sounds like too much work, there are labs all over the country that can do it for you. Please see our new updated lab directory. Each lab is staffed by knowledgeable people who are able to provide accurate expert data.
Billy Synk, Jan, 2016, How Many Frames/Acre in an Almond Orchard?
It’s almost February and almond bloom is right around the corner. Most growers have already signed a contract or shaken someone’s hand. The strength of most colonies will not change significantly between now and the beginning of bloom. As you are watching the bees fly, walking the orchard, or looking over the shoulder of a hive inspector this spring, think about the role colony strength plays in pollination. If a grower adheres to the recommendations about stocking rate and frame size it will positively affect the efficiency of their farm.
There are surprisingly few studies investigating the relationship between colony strength and pollination potential in almonds. Some of the newer work contradicts the experiments of the past. Sheesley and Poduska, in 1970, found colonies that are 8 frames or stronger collected 286% to 305% more pollen then 4 frame colonies. In 1976, John Edson discovered the same type of trend. During late February in an almond orchard, he compared the amount of collected pollen from 4 frame colonies and 8 frame colonies. The weaker colonies collected an average of 1.8 grams of pollen. The stronger 8 frame colonies collected an average of 12.8 grams. The stronger colonies collected more than 7 times the amount of pollen.
I don’t think anyone was surprised by the findings of these two studies. Colonies with lower populations (4 frames) need a greater amount of their adult bees to stay home and keep the brood warm. The stronger (8 frame) colonies have more adult bees to warm the brood while also sending out more foragers to go pollinate. In short, the idea is stronger colonies have a higher ratio of foragers to house bees than weaker colonies. However, Dr. Frank Eischen’s work in 2007 contradicts this notion. His studies produced data showing two 4 frame colonies do have the same pollination potential as one 8 frame colony. This suggests frames per acre may be a better way stocking orchards. So the debate continues.
Whether it’s two 8 frame colonies per acre or four 4 frame colonies per acre, no one is debating getting the highest yield possible requires 16 or more frames per acre. During the 2015 Almond Board conference this past December, I was surprised to learn many growers are stocking their orchards with colonies they know are weaker than 8 frames. Brittney Goodrich, a Ph.D. candidate in the school of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, conducted a survey during the conference on December 8th. Her work showed most growers are stocking their orchards with the recommended two hives per acres but some are accepting hives with a 4, 5, 6, or 7 frame average. The contracts allowing colonies weaker than 8 frames price each colony far below the typical price a grower would pay. Growers may be saving money by using weaker colonies, but they are missing out on higher yields. During a year with poor weather, this is even more pronounced. For example, if El Nin͂o is still active this February, flight hours will be reduced by rain and overcast skies. If each day of bloom only has a few sunny hours the bees are able to fly then it benefits the grower to have as many bees as possible during those hours.
Photo credit Kathy Garvey
John Edson (1976) Feb. 1977 American Bee Journal, pp. 78, 79, 92
Eischen, FA, RH Graham, R Rivera & J Traynor (2007) The effect of colony size and composition on almond pollen collection. http://projectapism.org/component/option,com_docman/task,doc_download/gid,40/Itemid,44/
Sheesley and Poduska (1970) Strong Honeybee Colonies Prove Value in Almond Pollination
California Agriculture August 1970
Billy Synk, Dec, 2015, Seeds for Bees and Lessons Learned
2015 was an exciting year! The transition to the New Year will mark six months of working with Project Apis m. I have accomplished a great deal – met so many great people that are invested in improving honey bee health and have presented information about PAm at a few conferences. Networking and collaborating with various people at these events is my favorite part. However, without hesitation, my favorite project has been Seeds for Bees.
Seeds for Bees is simple, yet effective. Without bureaucracy, or mandatory reporting, our program provides free cover crop seed to almond growers. This year we also provided forage for blueberry growers in Washington. They planted in-between the rows just like an almond orchard. We had 145 growers enroll in our California/Washington program. With our support they were able to plant over 3,000 acres of bee forage!
Having gone through one full season of ordering seed I have a few important points I would like to make:
1) Do NOT mix seed. Mixing the mustard seed and the clover seed together wastes the clover seed. Our mustard mix will germinate earlier and out-compete slower growing plants like clover. This is the same principal behind the idea that cover crops help with weed control.
2) Our cover crops are appropriate for organic production. We don’t offer organic seed but we will provide the organic coating. This is an extra cost for us so please keep that in mind when ordering. It’s always the grower’s responsibility to make sure they are managing their land in accordance with organic production standards.
3) Honey bees are constantly looking for alternative sources of forage. There is no way to make sure the bees are ONLY working the almond blossoms. Also, almond pollen is only available in the morning. Once these flowers have been pollinated the bees will switch to the cover crop forage in the afternoon. Planting forage in an orchard will not hurt yield. This is a valid concern for growers and I will have future blogs solely devoted to addressing this issue.
4) Do you grow pistachios and almonds? Are you an almond grower using our cover crops and have a neighbor with pistachios? Please mow your cover crop as soon as the bees have left in the spring. It’s preferable to mow or disk after the cover crop has set and dropped seed for the next year. This usually happens by June. This is what I usually recommend. However, clover in particular, harbors Lygus which damage pistachios. Project Apis m. is here to help growers and beekeepers, not give them an extra headache. Mow or disc in the spring and you should be OK.
It was a pleasure to talk with growers and help them decide what type of seed is most appropriate for their orchard. Soil type, age of trees, management style, and intended goals are all factors growers and I discuss. Spring is around the corner and I intend to travel to many forage sites to see them in bloom. I have more to learn about cover cropping in orchards. In the coming years I would like to provide better, more specific advice on all aspects of planting and maintaining bee forage. If anyone would like to host me this spring, please let me know. I will only need a couple hours of your time to help me locate the forage site while discussing success and failures.
The picture I have included is of land planted with forage in 2014. I snapped this photo on December 1st of 2015! Note how well PAm’s mustard mix will reseed itself if given the opportunity.
Billy Synk, Aug, 2015, Joe Traynor & the Bee Brokering Business
One morning, several weeks ago, I had a chance to travel to South Lake Tahoe and meet Joe Traynor at his Tahoe home. Though I have a background in beekeeping, and understand the surrounding commercial industries, I had yet to speak with a bee broker at great length.
Early into our meeting I realized Joe retained a wealth of information regarding honey bees, pollination, California agriculture, and the bee brokering business. Joe started Scientific Ag Co. in 1973 and has been providing advice and pollination services ever since. I sat with him on his deck talking bees, almonds and forage until lunch. Some of our conversation I will share with you here.
Q. Where did you grow up and how long have you been involved with bees?
A. I grew up in Berkeley and have been around bees since 1960.
Q. Where did you go to school?
A. UC Davis
Q. What was your department and major?
A. I was in the department of Pomology and majored in Soil Science and Plant Nutrition.
Q. What has changed the most about beekeeping since you started working with bees?
A. Varroa, and the difficulties associated with managing it. So, the price has changed a lot too. Fees used to be 2-3 dollars, now strong colonies can be around $200.
I asked a lot of questions about how brokers guarantee a quality service when they don’t actually own hives themselves. “Beekeepers send me their strongest hives” he says “and growers trust me that they are getting what they pay for.” “Inspections play big role in making sure the hive standards are met,” Joe explains. Scientific Ag Co. employs two inspectors. Every load is checked to make sure the eight frame average is met or surpassed. Two weak hives do not equal the pollination power of one strong hive. Beekeepers are able to provide a uniform service at a certain price because inspectors are involved.
Q. Where are the bees you broker for almonds coming from?
A. Hives can come from all over but mostly I deal with bees from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
Q. What percentage of the hives actually get opened and inspected?
A. A small percentage of every load gets checked. If only one hive doesn’t look good enough, 100% of the load will get looked at.
Q. In your experience do growers mind paying a higher price if they know the quality is better?
A. Not at all. Almond growers and beekeepers are becoming more scientific. They know even small differences in stocking rates, frames per hive and bees per frame will have an effect on yield.
As Director of Pollination Programs, forage is a topic that is on my mind a lot. Right now is the time to sign up for PAm’s Seeds for Bees Program. Under this program, people with eligible land receive free seed mixes with species specifically selected to provide nutritious forage at critical times. Lately I’ve been asking orchardists about growing bee forage in-between the rows of their almond trees. I was curious to hear Joe’s opinion on the idea of having bee forage as a cover crop in and around almond orchards. After lunch our conversation topic turned to forage and bee health.
Q. What is the most important issue facing the honey bee and almond pollination?
A. Forage. Varroa too of course, but without a diverse diet bees will never be healthy. I see the CRP [Conservation Reserve Program] lands disappearing as being a big part of the honey bee health issue. What’s going on in North Dakota affects the bees here.
Q. What barriers do you see to getting forage into the ground of almond orchards of apiaries across California? How can we overcome these barriers?
A. Well with the drought I would say, water. Planting in the middles of orchards and micro sprinklers helps.
I was pleased to hear him talk about the necessity for honey bees to access abundant and diverse sources of forage. While getting the bicycles ready for the trail along Fallen Leaf Lake I thought a lot about Joe’s answer to my question about the most important issues. It struck me that Californians a thousand miles away are hearing enough reports from beekeepers about a decrease of available forage in North Dakota they mention it when asked about the health of our almond industry.
Joe Traynor was a great host that was eager to share his knowledge. After a great ride I headed home. I left with a headful of information, armfuls of books, publications, and even a bag of almonds.
Billy Synk, July 21, 2015, The Last Frontier for the American Beekeeper
The Great Plains and the Upper Midwest regions of the United States are the last frontier for the American beekeeper. This sentiment is shared by many beekeepers, but not the public at large. These lands are precious to beekeepers because they provide forage during the times managed crops are not available in the quantities needed to support America’s 2.5 million colonies. After the almonds finish blooming in California in March honey bee colonies will need to be moved to places where adequate forage is present.
Some colonies will head north from California to Oregon and Washington to pollinate apples and stone fruits. Others may go to blueberries in Michigan, cranberries in Wisconsin, or various fruits and veggies in the south or east coast. These pollination contacts are limited and take a lot of work to ensure their transportation goes smoothly. Most colonies are placed near forage in the Midwest, in particular North and South Dakota. Here they enjoy the pollen and nectar needed for hive health and honey production.
Recently I had a chance to witness this valuable forage when I visited John Miller and Zac Browning in North Dakota. Coming from arid California I was immediately struck by the abundance of managed and wild resources available to honey bees. As I talked with multi-generational beekeepers, I sadly realized these valuable lands used to be far more productive for honey bees before the encroachment of corn and soy. Eighty pounds of honey per colony is acceptable in 2015. However, just 10 years ago 120 pounds or more per colony was average. Previous to 2000, corn and soy was nowhere to be found in the Dakotas and beekeepers made a living off of honey alone and relying on averages above 200 pounds. No migratory pollination was needed to supplement the family income. These tales are more than fun stories of yesteryear. They show us how our landscape is changing. They show young beekeepers like myself that bee care used to be more than mite treatments and continuous sugar feeding.
Here at PAm I hope to be a part of a movement that connects the concern with declining honey bee health to a viable solution; providing nutritious forage. There is no doubt California needs to step up and provide forage pre- and post- almond bloom. But California is a dry place and having forage there year round is not practical. We need to focus on places like the Dakotas. The Prairie Pothole region in particular is a unique habitat that provides white and yellow clover to honey bees. These potholes, or shallow wetlands, are not farmable. Growers plant row crops as close as they can to these small bodies of water. Between the standing water and the crops naturally occurring clover dots the landscape.
In addition to preserving these pothole regions we must plant forage. Enrolling land in programs like PAm’s Seeds for Bees project and the PAm-Pheasants Forever Honey Bee and Monarch Habitat Partnership will be crucial to combating the honey bee health crisis. These programs are a way of bringing back the resources that once blanketed North and South Dakota. They will provide the pollen necessary for rearing next year’s young bees and they will provide pure domestic honey that the American consumer demands.
After leaving John Miller’s operation, where I had a chance to work his bees a bit, I headed to the Minnesota Honey Producers meeting. The field trip to the USDA ARS Soils Lab was where I investigated oil seed crops as forage for bees. There is potential for crops like Borage, Calendula, and Echium to benefit honeybees and provide a substantial income for farmers. There is still a lot to be learned about how these crops can be used in a practical way. These plants’ seeds can be processed into oils used in beauty products. The barriers to these crops being adopted by farmers include: noxious weed status, domestic processing capabilities, toxicity to livestock, and knowledge of growing techniques. If these problems are addressed the payoffs might be great, some of these will yield more than $100 per acre.
The most important thing I learned from my trip was the key role the Dakotas and surrounding areas play in honey bee health, almond production, honey production, and our agricultural food system in general. Beekeepers, farmers, land owners, conservationists, and the public need to connect a decline in honey bee health with the loss of forage all across the United States. Write your government representative and plant honey bee forage! The message echoed from many beekeepers I talked to was one that bears repeating…. this area IS the last frontier for the American beekeeper.
Christi Heintz, May 5, 2015 PAm Completes 2 ½ Year BMP Grant!
We have just completed our Best Management Practices (BMP) grant we’ve been working on since October, 2012. Highlights of the accomplishments under this 2-1/2 year Specialty Crop Block Grant are nothing short of amazing:
- 30 monthly enewsletters produced, each highlighting seasonal BMPs
- Growth in enewsletter subscribers from 400 to 1,600 recipients,
- 14 videos produced with total views of over 50,000
- PAm’s #1 Video, Transporting Colonies to California, was viewed by over 26,177 viewers
- PAm’s Facebook page followers growing from zero to over 800 followers,
- 45 in-person presentations to regional, state and national meetings to attendees numbering over 4,000 and tradeshow attendance of over 12,500.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM THIS PROJECT
The most effective means of outreach for BMPs to beekeepers and for growers renting bees for pollination of their crops are still more traditional methods: 1) presence at beekeeper and grower meetings to promote BMPs and to demonstrate how to access BMPs on the web, 2) articles in local newspapers, agricultural and bee journals, 3) up-to-date information provided via the internet using a website or webpage dedicated to honey bee BMPs, 4) monthly seasonally-based BMP features in an enewsletter, and 5) frequent Facebook posting to access those not reached via live presentations or an established webpage.
It is recommended that provocative presentation titles, article titles, and enewsletter subject lines be employed to draw attention to the BMP message. Visual means should be fully utilized. Good quality, colorful photographs in enewsletters and in PowerPoint presentations draw greater attention to the material being presented. YouTube videos with a strong relevant message and interesting high quality videography are an increasingly popular method of learning.
Randy Oliver, March 23, 2015 EPA and Pesticides
Randy Oliver shares his observations and concerns based upon recent discussions with EPA, registrants, and growers.
Christi Heintz, January 8, 2015 NO 30th Birthday Party for Varroa Mite!
PAm’s executive director, Christi Heintz, announced at the North American Beekeeping Conference in Anaheim, CA during her Project Apis m. update to an audience of several hundred participants that there will be NO birthday party for the Varroa mite in September, 2017. If still in the U.S. by that date, the Varroa mite will have been in this country 30 years. “That’s 30 years too long”, says Heintz, “There’ll be NO 30th birthday party for the Varroa!” With funding from Co-Bank and American Farm Credit, Project Apis m. will embark on several new studies to eradicate this mite, the primary pest of the honey bee. “If you held a dinner plate up to your body, that’s the relative size of the Varroa mite to the honey bee. It pierces the bee’s exoskeleton, sucks the bee’s hemolymph, and transmits devastating viruses,” continues Heintz. PAm will conduct a wide search, even beyond the usual arena of bee scientists for innovative possibilities to combat this pest.
Western Farm Press, December 15, 2014, Why ag needs to do a better job with PR
Those in agricultural public relations must step up their game to innovate new ways to inform consumers on the truth about agriculture. This is an unprecedented challenge. The ‘word’ has always been and still is a powerful tool. -Cary Blake, Farm Press Blog
Read the full article here.
Christi Heintz, December 22, 2014 Project Apis m. Update for California Bee Times
Project Apis m. has recently presented at several beekeeper meetings and most recently the Annual Almond Industry Conference where we initiated sign-ups for the 2015 planting season for honey bee forage. The 2014 ‘Seeds for Bees‘ project was a success, enrolling nearly 150 growers and 3,000 acres for food for honey bees. We will continue to work hard to get almond growers and other landowners near our 1.7 million almond-pollinating colonies to plant at least a 20 acre average this coming year for additional forage to benefit our bees.
PAm submitted comments for the Federal Pollinator Strategy, outlining Varroa, Nutrition, and Pesticides as the three top challenges beekeepers face. PAm also stressed that when forming policy for honey bees, commercial beekeepers need to be at the table to help set those policies.
In recent PAm and CSBA research calls, the number of research submissions to combat Varroa did not adequately represent the seriousness of the challenge. PAm will be working hard to cultivate new researchers, new studies and innovative biological controls for this pest.
Project Apis m. will be attending the national beekeeper meetings in January, reviewing the current state of honey bee research, meeting with scientists and interacting with industry leaders as we continue to provide the service, the science and the programs needed to help our bees and our beekeepers.
Christi Heintz and Meg Ribotto, October 24, 2014, Forage and Nutrition Summit, Catch the Buzz.
The Honey Bee Forage and Nutrition Summit, sponsored by USDA, was held October 20-21, in Alexandria, VA. The Summit was postured to seek input from stakeholder groups on issues concerning the interaction of nutrition and available forage on honey bee health. (Click here to continue reading.)
Hannah Ribotto, October 2, 2013, Finding PAm on Social Media
Social media is the fastest way to share information on the internet.
Project Apis m. is on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. You can “like”, “follow”, and “subscribe” to us on all three by clicking the highlighted text above!
Christi Heintz and Gordon Wardell, May 13, 2013, PAm Highlights
Project Apis m. (PAm) has accomplished great strides in the six and one-half years of its existence. We have become the go-to organization at the interface of honey bees and pollinated crops. We are well-respected by scientists, government officials, beekeepers, agriculturists and related organizations. Some of the highlights of PAm’s work have included: Click here to continue reading.
Christi Heintz, January 30, 2013, Bee in our Bonnet.
Welcome to our blog posts. Every now and then we’ll get a bee in our bonnet to write to you about something we feel is important. Stay tuned.