Saturday Open Thread

Happy Saturday Everyone!

It finally feels like spring everyone, at least here in Minneapolis! I have to say, this has been one of the longest winters I can ever remember. Even though I was in Reno Nevada the first part of January, Southern Cali the first part of February for my honeymoon, then periodically in Texas to sample beekeepers, I could still feel the wrath of this winter. BTW, my wife told me to stop complaining because she has been stuck in MN all winter….. The main perk of migratory beekeeping is that I am a migratory sampler! HA

Minneapolis got a huge snow storm a week ago, ~14″, and the snow has finally melted. With this recent warm front, I have noticed that many flowering plants have begun to blossom, including squill, maples, and willows. This is a great sign for the bees, and I am excited to start observing more bloom as the weeks pass. These blossoms are also a great sign for beekeepers, hobbyists and commercial alike. At least for our MN beekeepers, many come to Minnesota around this time so their colonies can build off of dandelion honey and other flowering crops. Unlike North Dakota, Minnesota has more forage during late April and early May. Many beekeepers can make a substantial honey crop. Substantial enough that dandelion honey can be sold as a gourmet honey. But anyway, I have begun to call my 25+ plus beekeepers in both ND and MN and plan my sampling trip. I typically sample them for varroa and nosema; however, we also do pesticide testing, viral testing, hygienic testing and full colony inspections. I love to learn about their operation, what makes them successful or not, and how these large beekeepers (often over 2000 colonies) manage such a large business. Moreover, I have built great relationships with many of these beekeepers. Anyway, after a 2 month hiatus, it will be nice to see what their bees look like


Bees in the News

Scent of Death: Honeybees Use Odors to Clean Out Deceased Broods

This is a great article from Scientific American. In summary, this article is about signals honey bees use to detect dead bees. Oftentimes, adult bees remove dead or disease larvae/pupae, which is an important behavior trait that bees use to manage diseases. For example, if bees can remove diseased larvae before they spread, this is one way to lessen the risk of disease spread throughout the colony. According to this article, it seems honey bees use chemical signals to detect dead or disease juveniles. Basically, these are “cleanup signals” according to the article.

SO what is the real-world application? Well I perform hygienic tests for many beekeepers. These hygienic tests select for bees with higher hygienic behavior, which is a heritable trait allowing bees to detect and remove dead or disease brood. Also, and why selecting for hygienic behavior can be important is bees bred for hygienic behavior will uncap and remove brood infected with varroa. Hygienic testing can be time consuming because it is a two day process: Day 1) Freeze 300 capped pupae with liquid nitrogen and place them back into the colony and Day 2) Count the number of uncapped sells in order to calculate degree of hygienic testing(Attached is link.. This test works great for the beekeepers that select for hygienic behavior, but it can be time consuming and equipment extensive. Especially for large scale commercial operations that lack time or resources. More research is needed, but maybe the so called “death chemical” could be used to select for more hygienic bees. Pretty cool stuff!

Refrigerating honey bees to fight mites, colony collapse

I loved this article because this could be a real solution for commercial beekeepers. I plan to write an extended blog about indoor storage of honey bees sometime, but I will just summarize what many commercial beekeepers do. In short, many commercial beekeepers, which are beekeepers that have 500 colonies and above, will place their bees into indoor storage sheds during the winter. Typically, bees are placed in these sheds around October. By October, the colony consists mostly of adult winter bees and very limited brood, if any. Beekeepers place thousands of colonies into these temperature, humidity, and ventilation control sheds until around mid-January, which is when they are shipped to California for almond pollination. Beekeepers place their bees into temperature controlled buildings for multiple reasons: 1) beekeepers get a break from work to be with their families, 2) bees do not have to be fed during this time, and 3)stored bees do get a “break”. From what I have seen, bees stored in the sheds do look great. However, this is all anecdotal. Anyway, I expect most, if not all, commercial beekeeper to store their bees in sheds in the very near future. But back to the article.

If beekeepers begin building more of these giant sheds, do they have the potential to act as mite treatments? I think there is possibilities. For this article, the authors summarized research at WSU, which use the shed to force a brood break. As many of us know, if there is not brood and all mites are phoretic, the bees are definitely easier to treat. Moreover, treatments are more effective. My real question is: when and how can beekeepers utilize these brood breaks? Beekeepers typically put their bees into sheds around October, which is too late to treat if your mite levels are high. I have already seen bees with high mites enter the sheds and leave dead. To really utilize the sheds, I belief beekeepers would need to initiate this brood break in the spring right before honey flow. However, this may mess with honey production and colony buildup. The fall may work, but this can only work if sheds are within close proximity because the bees would need to be: 1) placed in the sheds, 2)removed after ~two weeks, 3)treated and 4)placed back in the sheds. If you do not know, most sheds are in Idaho. Seems like a lot of work for commercial beekeepers…..So in short, I am still trying to figure out how beekeepers can utilize a shed initiated brood break in their operation, but there is possibilities. I do foresee other shed based varroa treatments, such as mite fumigation during storage and high CO2 levels lethal to mites. I think there is potential, but more research is needed.


Down to bees-ness: Delta unveils first-of-its-kind Atlanta honey farm

I always love seeing these big corporations support honey bees. I think it is important to see firsthand the impact honey bees can have. I have seen companies changes their practices based upon beekeeping for a year! For example, many golf courses around the cities now honey bees through the University of Minnesota bee squad. Based upon their experiences and intuitiveness, these golf courses have used less insecticides and more bee friendly treatments. While the company does acknowledge their carbon footprint, they also acknowledge the importance of honey bees and native pollinators for sustainability.

Bees find safety in numbers in San Mateo County

This is a great article about the interest in honey bees in Urban areas. I think they are learning that “hey, you do not need to manage 20 colonies to support pollinators, you can help bees by planing more bee-friendly forage”. Like they said in the article, “Any gardener planting native species and pollen-producing plants is helping honey bee to survive and thrive, whether in pastoral settings or urban landscapes”. Well said.

EU To ‘Completely Ban’ Outdoor Use Of Pesticides Blamed For devastating bees

I found this EU ban interesting, but not surprising. They had a temporary ban of neonicitinoids a few years ago, so I did see a complete ban coming. I want to chat more about neonicitinoids and insecticides in a later blog mostly because this is a tough topic for me. I am torn not because I want neonicitinoids to be continued, but because what is the alternative? I think we can debate the impact of neonicitinoids on bee health, and the true impact of insecticides on colony losses in relation to mites. But, if a complete ban were to occur in the United States, what would farmers turn to? I have great relations with many farmers and they depends on these insecticides for their livelihood. Without them, they would not have much of a crop. Farmers do support bees, I mean they loan beekeepers locations so they can produce honey. But if neonics are banned, will farmers begin to use more toxic pesticides? That is my real question. SO I will touch base on this more, but this is my first thought when reading this article. I guess these European countries will be a cool study!

That is all! Have a great Saturday everyone. Once again, please subscribe to this blog so you are up to date on what I post. Also, please join my facebook group called The Daily Guide to Beekeeping.

Garett Slater







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