Thanks to everyone that joined us for our June member meeting!
This month’s meeting featured Glen Andresen’s pollen and nectar report which can be found here. We also heard from our treasurer, Cheryl Wright who shared her experiences with the Oregon Master Beekeeping program. If you are interested in learning more about OMB, you can visit their website here. If you wish to join the program, now is the time to get on the 2019 wait list!
We also had the pleasure of listening and learning from honorary PUB member, Dr. Dewey Caron. He shared his results and insights from the PNW loss report which indicated that PUB participants had a higher loss rate than the overall Oregon loss. He provided guidance on IMP and moving towards treatment free beekeeping methods. You can view his presentation below:
About a dozen brave individuals gathered at the Zenger apiary colonies Sunday April 15th, during a steady Oregon liquid “sunshine” for dead colony forensics with Dewey.
Temperature was low 50s, with only a couple foraging bees venturing forth from 4 of 8 colonies. We hefted boxes and looked at two deadouts and in the top and between brood boxes of a very strong colony (but did not lift any frames).
Bees die overwinter for a number of reasons. By doing a dead colony autopsy we seek to determine what might have been the likely reason for non-survivorship. Understanding the why might help us avoid a repeat this next winter. The first deadout we looked at proved to be a tough diagnosis.
The colony was a mid-May nuc donation from Beetanical apiaries of Lane Co. Hive had a standard and a shallow. The shallow frames were quite full (>3/4ths of cells) with capped honey. The shallow was lifted off and placed on upside-down cover. There were dead brood remains on three frames of the lower standard box plus a small (<2000) number of dead adult bees on the screen bottom board and outside the entrance.
Two adjacent frames had widely scattered capped cells extending in an oval covering over 1/3 of the middle of the frames; there was a fist-sized patch of compact capped brood but it was not contiguous with the scattered brood of the other two frames. There was no evidence of a dead cluster but a considerable number of cells of stored pollen on 5 frames. Ample mold was evident in pollen cells and as a powdery grayish mold on surface of cells. Colony was sampled for mites with a sugar roll in September and had only 2 mites (<1%). It was NOT treated for mites as it was a non-treatment control. Colony was alive in a mid-October inspection.
Photo of the three frames with brood shows the frame with a patch of compact brood (held in my right hand) and two frames with very scattered brood (one in my left hand and the third on top of adjacent hive; this frame is shown isolated in photo below). Full super on ground.
So what can we diagnose? Lots of honey and pollen stores so we can likely rule out starvation. Small number of dead bee bodies suggests a small colony but if we would believe death from a too-small population of adults, there should have been evidence of a cluster with bees within cells and dead bee remains on the frame(s). There wasn’t.
Thus our best guess is a colony that had a BEE PMS condition. The scattered brood remains on both sides of the two frames suggests this –a spotty (snot) brood situation MIGHT have been diagnosed in the October examination, but this requires a close examination of the brood; we might have noticed evidence to too few adult bees to cover the brood – both are subtle clues. The fist-sized brood area, on a frame one frame over from the other two frames with scattered brood, might have been bees trying to escape the high mite numbers and their unhealthy brood of the 2 frames with scattered cells. Adult bees were likely dying prematurely and abandoning their (unhealthy) hive, thus the reason we saw only a smallish number of adult dead bees. The colony likely failed to rear sufficient fat, fall bees. The colony likely died within a month after the last October inspection, probably from a virus epidemic related to the mite infestation. NOTE: The September mite sample is misleading/confusing (we would expect it to have been higher); if an additional sample was taken it would perhaps have been higher?
The second deadout was a more standard autopsy. Hive was a spring split, that struggled all season. It had 2 shallows. Colony had a 19 mite count (6%+) in September and was treated with 2 formic pads between the two boxes. It was alive in March (this spring) but noted as small. It was fed dry sugar on paper (some still remaining) and provided with a frame of sugar candy.
Opening the top and removing moisture trap, (all Zenger hives had moisture quilt traps at top) showed a dead cluster of adult bees on 3 frames in top box at top of the box extending down about ½ way on the 3 frames (see photos; in photo right hive tool is showing the remaining dry sugar on paper; quilt trap with wood shaving lower right). The adult bees were black and showed excessive moisture; there were many maggots (scavenger fly) feeding on the dead bees. There was capped brood in compact pattern within the cluster. Dead adult population was small (perhaps 10,000 bees). There was NO capped honey in any of the frames of either box. Lower box was empty. There were some dead bees on solid bottom board. There was little mold.
So what was diagnosis? The dead cluster is characteristic of a colony that overwintered the tough months (Dec-Feb) and moisture of adult bees, maggots and little mold suggests recent death . The compact brood shows the colony was starting to expand in the spring (flight was noted in March). Although dry sugar (as candy and crystal sugar) was given as emergency feed (hefting would have revealed lack of enough stores) turned out to not be enough — colony likely starved. Bee cluster too small to generate enough heat to make slurry out of dry sugar or candy so bees couldn’t use it. Photo left shows one of three frames. We see “bee butts” under the dead cluster and compact capped brood.
All frames, except one with high number of drone cells, could be reused. Brush off dead cluster and form bottom boards. If inclined wash mold with bleach or vinegar solution.
We also looked at a hive with two very full boxes of bees.
The Vivaldi box had dry sugar and the burlap was quite wet on top but dry and distinctly warm below. Hefting indicated honey present – probably enough to cover two frames, the minimum that should be present. Then to determine if they might be rearing queens, the two (standard-size) boxes were split and the top box (and top quilt box) was angled up to look at the bottom of the frames of the top box. No queen cells were seen but there were several queen cups. Splitting was discussed – the next nice day a 3 frame split can be taken from this hive.
Spring is here and the apiary to-do list is ready to go! We had a full house at this months meeting and are grateful for everyone who came. BeSpoke Bee Supply donated a swarm box and PUB member Steve Niles shared milkweed seeds for our raffle.
Glen Andresen kicked off our meeting with the monthly pollen and nectar report complete with some much enjoyed Oregon triva!
Dewey Caron returned from his winter travels and shared tips for what to do in the apiary this month, as well as an update on the PNW Honeybee Survey. The success of the survey is dependent on participation! You can take the survey by clicking here. We were also pleased to present Dewey with a lifetime honorary membership to Portland Urban Beekeepers!
Yellow jackets are a problematic and sometimes devastating visitor in our bee yards. Being ahead of the yellow jackets can give your bees a much needed break from these predators as bee colonies wind down brood and honey production for the season. Robert Leger gave us some valuable identification tips, as well as insight on the yellow jacket life cycle. He gave us strategies for baiting and catching queens (keeps some rocks handy!) and how to deal with the workers. Did you know that yellow jackets orient themselves to the food source? You can check out Robert’s presentation here: The Yellow Jacket-free Home
The beekeeping community has been buzzing about the new Best Practices in Residential Beekeeping guidelines. Mike Rodia shared the document with us and gave an overview of why this is so important. “The best practices guidelines would make it possible to use existing local nuisance ordinances instead of new legal restrictions for managing conflicts that arise from beekeeping in residential areas.”
Just like generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) were developed as a means to use common sense widely & recognized principles in accounting, these guidelines for residential beekeeping are put into place so that beekeepers, our neighbors, and local/state government have some basic principles to refer to that demonstrate that we are keeping our bees in nuisance free manner.
If you live in Portland, you will still need to obtain a permit for keeping bees. More information on that can be found here. If you are unsure if your city of residence requires permits or has limitations on residential beekeeping, please check your city government website.
Thank you to all who attended our March membership meeting! This time of year is full of promise as we gear up for the bee season ahead. If you have suffered bee loss over the winter, this is also a time to take a look at the previous season as a whole and consider what may have led to the demise of your colony. Rebekah Golden, our education director and partner in Bee & Bloom gave us a detailed presentation on things to look for during a postmortem hive exam. She also gave important direction on how to approach your surviving colonies to give them the best support as they move into spring. This is such an exhilarating time in the beekeepers year and we are glad to share that excitement with all of you!
In December we were joined by Paul Anderson from TVBA for an oxalic acid dribble demonstration. December might not seem like a good time to open your hives, however it is an ideal time to use OA to treat for varroa mites because of the absence of brood. It is an effective, affordable and easy to apply treatment. We purchased our treatment kit from Brushy Mountain Bees.
We returned in January to check the mite drop levels. We were not able to install the sticky boards until 2 weeks after OA application, so we missed out on the bulk of the mite drop. Here are our findings:
This year I had the privilege of attending our state beekeepers association conference which was held at the Oregon Garden in picturesque Silverton, OR. It was a weekend of presentations, exhibitors, resource tables, spending time with beekeepers from around the region, and beautiful weather.
As a hobbyist beekeeper I wasn’t sure where I would fit in. On the first evening of the conference I overheard a lot of commercial beekeepers chatting about almond pollination and nuc sales. I was worried that the conference was designed for our commercial beekeeping friends… Oh, how I was wrong!
I found that all of the information provided had the same goal: helping our struggling bee population.
One of the most exciting presentations came from Dr. Jennifer Han from Washington State University. Her research is currently focused on using the Metarhizium Brunneum fungus as a method for Varroa control. Also out of WSU was a presentation from Dr. Brandon Hopkins who is testing the use of a forced brood break to improve the effectiveness of mite treatments. It all sounds very promising!
I absolutely enjoyed hearing the latest in honey bee research and what some of our regional beekeepers are doing to help the bee (non-native and native) population. And yes, there were BEES! The weather was absolutely perfect, so I took advantage of it and explored the gardens. It was easy to tell what plants to find the bees on because their enthusiastic humming could be heard from several feet away!
If you have been thinking of attending the annual conference, please go! It is a content rich experience and a unique opportunity to connect with beekeepers from around the region.
For our November meeting we had a “movie night.” If you missed out, or would like to re-watch it, the video is embedded below.
This video presentation by Joe Lewis was chosen because it summarizes what I’ve been promoting within the club for the past couple of years: the use of nucleus hives as a resource.
The video gets a little preachy at the end about treating for mites. I want to be clear that I and Portland Urban Beekeepers don’t want to shame people into treating. That is a personal decision. Yes, we shouldn’t ignore Varroa mites. They are a problem, no doubt. And whether you choose to treat or practice treatment-free beekeeping is entirely up to you.
But regardless of how you keep bees or even what kind of hive you use, nucleus colonies can be one of the most important tools we have at our disposal. I encourage all beekeepers to make it a regular part of their practice.
Some video creators behind the YouTube channel Super Deluxe recently visited our honey extraction party and created a very soothing video of the processes involved in harvesting honey. Featuring the hives, bees, and people of Portland Urban Beekeepers. Enjoy!
Summary: A review paper draws on scientific studies to recommend ways to reduce honey bee disease impacts, such as limiting the mixing of bees between colonies and supporting natural bee behaviors that provide disease resistance.
Some commercial beekeeping practices may harm honey bees more than help them, scientists warn in a paper published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
“Western honey bees — the most important pollinators for U.S. food crops — are facing unprecedented declines, and diseases are a key driver,” says Berry Brosi, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University and a lead author of the review paper. “The way commercial operations are managing honey bees might actually generate more damaging parasites and pathogens by creating selection pressure for higher virulence.”
The paper draws on scientific studies to recommend ways to reduce disease impacts, such as limiting the mixing of bees between colonies and supporting natural bee behaviors that provide disease resistance. The paper also highlights honey bee management practices in need of more research.
During the past 15 years, ecological and evolutionary approaches have changed how scientists tackle problems of infectious diseases among humans, wildlife and livestock. “This change in thinking hasn’t sunk in with the beekeeping field yet,” says Emory evolutionary biologist Jaap de Roode, co-lead author of the paper. “We wanted to outline scientific approaches to help understand some of the current problems facing beekeepers, along with potential control measures.”
Co-authors of the paper include Keith Delaplane, an entomologist at the University of Georgia, and Michael Boots, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Managed honey bees are important to the production of 39 of the 57 leading crops used for human consumption, including fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. In recent years, however, managed honey bee colonies have declined at the rate of more than one million per year, representing annual losses between 30 and 40 percent.
While pesticides and land-use changes are factors involved in these losses, parasites are a primary driver — especially the aptly named Varroa destructor. The parasitic Varroa mite and the numerous viruses it carries are considered the primary causes of honey bee colony losses worldwide.
Varroa mites are native to Asia, where the Eastern honey bee species co-evolved with them before humans began managing bee colonies on commercial scales. As a result of this co-evolution, the Eastern honey bee developed behaviors — such as intensive mutual grooming — that reduce the mites’ negative impacts.
The Western honey bee species of the United States and Europe, however, has remained relatively defenseless against the mites, which spread to the United States during the late 1970s and 1980s. The mites suck the blood of the bees and reduce their immunity. Even more potentially destructive, however, are the multiple viruses the mites transmit through their saliva. Deformed-wing virus, for instance, can cripple a honey bee’s flying ability and is associated with high bee larval mortality.
Following are some of the potential solutions, in need of further study, outlined in the Nature Ecology & Evolution paper.
Reduce mixing of colonies: A common practice at beekeeping apiaries is to move combs containing brood — eggs and developing worker bees — between colonies. While the practice is meant to equalize colony strength, it can also spread parasites and pathogens.
Colonies are also mixed at regional and national scales. For instance, more than half of all honey bees in the country are involved in almond pollination in California. “For a lot of beekeeping operations, trucking their bees to California for almond pollination is how they make ends meet,” Brosi says. “It’s like the Christmas season for retailers.”
Pollination brokers set up contracts for individual beekeepers on particular almond farms. “If the brokers separated individual beekeeping operations beyond the distance that the average honey bee forages, that could potentially help reduce the mixing of bees and the rate of pathogen transmission between the operations,” Brosi says.
Improve parasite clearance: Most means of dealing with Varroa mites focus on reducing their numbers in a colony rather than wiping them out, as the mites are developing increased resistance to some of the chemicals used to kill them. Such incomplete treatments increase natural selection for stronger, more virulent parasites. Further compounding the problem is that large commercial beekeeping operations may have tens of thousands of colonies, kept in close quarters.
“In a natural setting of an isolated bee colony living in a tree, a parasite that kills off the colony has nowhere to go,” de Roode explains. “But in an apiary with many other colonies nearby, the cost of parasite virulence goes way down.”
Allow sickened colonies to die out: Keeping bees infected with parasites and viruses alive through multiple interventions dilutes natural selection for disease resistance among the bees. In contrast, letting infections take their course in a colony and using the surviving bees for stock could lead to more resistant bees with fewer disease problems.
Support behavioral resistance: Beekeepers tend to select for bees that are more convenient to manage, but may have behavioral deficiencies that make them less fit. Some honey bees mix their saliva and beeswax with tree resin to form what is known as propolis, or bee glue, to seal holes and cracks in their hives. Studies have also shown that propolis helps keep diseases and parasites from entering the hive and inhibits the growth of fungi, bacteria, and mites.
“Propolis is sticky. That annoys beekeepers trying to open hives and separate the components so they try to breed out this behavior,” de Roode says.
The paper concedes that commercial beekeeping operations face major challenges to shift to health management practices rooted in fundamental principles of evolution and ecology.
“Beekeeping is a tough way to make a living, because it operates on really thin margins,” Brosi says. “Even if there are no simple solutions, it’s important to make beekeepers aware of how their practices may affect bees in the long term. And we want researchers to contribute scientific understanding that translates into profitable and sustainable practices for beekeeping.”
Berry J. Brosi, Keith S. Delaplane, Michael Boots, Jacobus C. de Roode. Ecological and evolutionary approaches to managing honeybee disease. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2017; 1 (9): 1250 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0246-z