I try to make these short articles a blend of what has recently happened in the bee world, what is happening right now and what I think it all means. Sometimes I simply report whats going on because you so seldom find anything about the beekeeping part of our agriculture system in the mainstream press ... and only a tiny bit more in the minuscule number of agricultural media outlets that still remain ... this is one of those.
As reported in the last entry, signs of Colony Collapse Disorder are beginning to show again in colonies belonging to beekeepers who had this problem last year and in colonies belonging to beekeepers who havent seen this before. Interestingly, for all of those suffering this malady this season the symptoms seem to be even more severe but somewhat different than last season.
So ... what are these beekeepers doing? Some scientists are doing actual research on the problem because they have both money and direction, but most are engrossed in applying for grants to ... yes, to do the research. Its a rock and a hard place for them, but beekeepers are still at the bottom of the pile. Research results arent being shared, scientists seem more interested in the attention than actually getting information to the beekeepers, and what information is available is screened through press agents, government information offices, and the regular press ... most of whom still dont know the difference between honeybees and other bees. So beekeepers are doing their own work and actually making some head way.
One of the things all beekeepers are looking at this fall is what happened last summer. Drought in much of the country stressed farmers crops, weeds, forest plants and forage crops. These, in turn, produced less pollen and nectar for the bees, or produced a reduced quality of these natural plant products. So beekeepers are looking at the nutritional needs of their bees and then asking if what their bees collected and stored last summer is adequate, or perhaps below average, for their bees. Betting that the latter is correct, astute beekeepers are feeding both sugar syrup and protein substitutes to their bees both earlier than usual and more than usual this fall.
Moreover theyre looking at what they are feeding. New products on the market this year are being tried, as are the old tried and true feedstuffs. Of course you cant feed a dead colony, and there are too many dead colonies already this year.
But what this means is that for the first time in a long time, honeybee nutrition is being taken seriously ... and not by government scientists or university professors, but by beekeepers doing the research, digging up the scientific literature, talking to animal nutritionists and experimenting themselves. Perhaps this will put some pressure on those who are supposed to have the answers to actually find the answers.
Varroa treatments, too, are being looked at anew. Not what they are using, but when they are using them. Its been known for years that mid- to late-summer treatments are best, but beekeepers are reluctant to treat then because the bees are making honey and you cant treat when youre making honey. But with much less emphasis on that crop for income (it costs right about $1.20 to produce a pound of honey in this country, and thats for the most efficient producers), its easier to make the decision to not make a honey crop when all you get paid is about $0.80/pound.
As a result, varroa mites appear to be causing less of a problem this year than last because beekeepers, can, indeed treat at the correct time. Well have more on varroa mites and their relationship to CCD later.
One industry representative summed up the situation right now ... before the big almond pollination push ... as beekeeping is in a state of serious transition. In fact all of agriculture that depends on bees is in transition ... Is it really OK, business as usual? Or, is it not OK, and nobody seems to have a handle on it? If you cant be sure, its hard to make decisions ... What do you do when you need to decide, and you dont have the information to decide?
What about importing honeybee colonies rather than packages, say, from Mexico? Thats one answer being tossed around.
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