rgranelDecember 21, 2004

There was an article in our Sunday paper regarding bee populations. Almond growers here are concerned about a lack of colonies for spring pollination.

The paper interviewed commercial beekeepers for the story and these beekeepers report losing anywhere from 30% to 50% of their hives due to mites. They expect to lose additional colonies over this stretch of the winter. They claim the mites are becoming resistent to the chemical treatments.

Is this true? Are the mites becoming resistent to Check Mite? Beekeepers in my area were noticing that Apistan was no longer effective in controlling mites and were starting to use Check Mite. I am curious as I am going to start some colonies again this spring.

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I've been hearing the same thing from several sources, especially in the california area. All second or 3rd hand.

I've been told the president of the American Honey Producers Association was expecting to see losses in the US of 50%. I've heard of beekeepers who have already sustained 50% losses (before the winter really has started), and those who have tried a triple coctail (apistan, checkmite, and ? (formic perhaps?) with little to no effect.

I don't have any direct contact with anyone who has had such losses, but the heresay makes me worry for the industry in general. Though I do know colonies are becoming resistant to checkmite as I've heard that directly from officials (inspectors, etc.) It's not surprising, It should be expected based on our experience with Apistan.

Fortunately there is resistant stock and other methods of control (not all suited for the commercial beekeeper), and there are plenty of beekeepers who manage to keep bees without using Apistan or Checkmite at all.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2004 at 12:45PM
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Thanks for the great email tarheit. Last time I had colonies some people where using screens on bottom boards to capture varroa mites and I heard these screens can make a difference. I don't plan on keeping too many colonies so I have time to do things that may not be practical for the commercial beekkeeper with thousands of colonies.

I am planning to start with four and epxand them to eight. I am going to try and rent them out to neighboring almond growers to help pay for supplies. There is a shortage of colonies and some almond orchards went without bees last year so I think there would be people willing to rent them.

I am also going tor resubcribe to American Bee Journal so I can keep up with what is going on in the beekeeping world.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2004 at 1:57PM
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Some are suggesting this is the 'tip of the iceberg' and the worse is yet to come. IMO, Resistance is not the cause of the problems, it is the usage of the chemicals that is the cause of this phenomenon. The bees themselves produce substances and structures essential for communication within the colony. Domestic honeybees are in a weekend state from large cell usage, while it is being forced to get along with new and unnatural substances it never had selected itself. For example, plastic combs, chemicals, antibiotics etc. The result is a weakened immune system and the inability of the bees to defend against pests and diseases that otherwise would pose little harm to a healthy colony. Evidence suggests that these foreign substances and unnatural cell sizing can not only lead to communication disorders within the colony, but may be the cause of till now unexplainable phenomena in the bees inability for fight pest and disease resulting in colony crashes. Because, if the communication is disturbed, and the bees in a weakened state from large cell usage, the nectar - and pollen foragers have difficulty deciphering "bee language" in the hive, and too less foragers react on the bee dances (which show up the distance and quality of the feed source), thus too less nutritious pollen and nectar is going to be collected and the colony becomes malnourished. Now this alone may not be sufficient stress to cause a crash, but add another stresses such as rain, winter, varroa, or migratory factoring stresses and the colony becomes susceptible to crash. In this extreme weakend state, the colony is no longer able to defend against common honeybee pests and disease, and the colony may crash. Varroa resistance to chemicals is usually blamed, but this is not the case. The cause is the bees are weakened from chemical usage with combined stresses and dying from disease that they would otherwise handle just fine.

Here is a link that might be useful: Unexplainable Phenomenon?

    Bookmark   December 25, 2004 at 4:55PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I'm just getting into bees and I'm just wondering??
If us humans would leave some bees alone, what build there hives in hollow trees, or elsewhere, where they don't bother us, we would have a better strain of bees in today's world. It's "us" what's messing it up in the first place.IMO.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2004 at 9:49PM
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Probably. In their natural environment, a disease, mite, etc. that kills all of it's hosts to quickly will quickly die itself.

However, honeybees are hardly in their natural environment (at least in the Americas and other parts of the world). They are not indigenous to the Americas and were imported, as were the mites. And the regions honey bees were first imported had no exposure to mites, and thus no resistance. Plus often imported species do much better in their new home due to more favorable conditions (better weather, no predators, etc.) Just see how wide spread the dandelion is. (It was originally imported as a garden flower).

So yes, they would have been just fine without us. But we already started messing with things and have changed the playing field long before most would think, and there is little chance of ever going back. It would mean all beekeepers out of business, all almond crops would fail and something like a 40% reduction in food production in general.

Plus depending on your views of global warming, pollution (all types), land development, etc. we are already changing the environment of the entire earth. And that has been going on for thousands of years. (Even the indians used fire to clear land so grass the buffalo needed would grow). So short of a huge reduction in the human population, we really do have to address the problems we created because nature simply can't keep up with us.

ps. what you suggest was basically done in Russia in an area where the bees were basicall untouched for 500 years in the presence of mites and apparently coped with them well. There has been much effort in the US (and other contries) to speed this up here by selective breeding and importing bees that have desireable traits (such as the Russisan Bee).

    Bookmark   December 27, 2004 at 12:34PM
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If we let bees alone and let them survive just the way they always have, guess what. They will indeed survive. There is enough tolerance built into the bee genome to pretty much guarantee survival. The problem with this is that we humans like to collect honey to eat. Bees that survive don't necessarily produce honey that we humans can collect. Consider the life cycle and propensities of the Africanized bees that have taken over most of South and Central America.

As for the statements re small cell vs large cell foundation, its quite a logic leap to say that cell foundation size has such an overall impact on the colony. I've deliberately collected swarms and let them build natural comb. I then measured the cells to see just what they would make. Guess what? The cells were NOT as small as the small cell foundation nor were they as LARGE as most commercial foundation.

Want to know one of my pet peeves re bees in modern hives? Its the age of the combs! In nature, combs rarely survive more than 10 years. This is because a hive dies out, wax moths destroy the combs, then perhaps a new swarm moves in. Voila, new combs! I try to keep my hives on combs built new every five years.


    Bookmark   January 8, 2005 at 10:30PM
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Hi Fusion,

The news from beekeepers in Brazil is that AHB is saving the beekeeping industry, and Dr. Kern a celebrity there. Maybe the Âsmall cell AHB (4.84 mm) has something to do with their success. And European bees (5.16 and 5.27 mm for Italian and Carniolan cells, respectively) for their failure to compete successfully.

I have found when collecting swarms, there is no guarantee that the swarm is that of feral honeybees. In areas where populations of domestic beekeepers are present, feral bees can be genetically influenced to go larger over time and will tend to draw larger cells, and some swarms will be large domestic type bees. Some swarms that initially drew medium sized comb regressed very easily for me and generally perform very well on small cell. I would say most swarms you or I might get are not ferals and generally would not draw small cell right off. I have found that swarms placed on large cell, will eventually fail without treatments, swarms placed on small cell usually do well without treatments.

I do eagerly go after and have recovered a few survivor feral colonies, this is where I have found my best bees. In cases where the owner assured me that the colony has been active in the void for more than 5 or 6 years, I have found that the bees will tend to be of smaller size and draw 4.9 cells in the brood nest area, and the colony in a high state of overall health.

I would say "not a logic leap",,, but a Âgiant leap toward improved overall health of my colonies. I have been on small cell since 2001 and have observed a higher degree of nutritional foraging, cleanness, hygienic behavior, improved winter survival and overall fecundity of the colonies. I have not used any treatments on my bees since 2002, and my operation is expanding.

Joe Waggle ~ Organic Beekeeper, Derry, PA
'Bees Gone Wild Apiaries'
"Using humane and holistic beekeeping methods"
~ 100% Organic ~ Small Cell Beekeeping ~

    Bookmark   January 9, 2005 at 10:56AM
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Here is a good one Joe.

If you collect a swarm from a managed hive and let them build comb naturally, they will build the comb in the same orientation as the hive they came from and the cell size will tend to be the same as the cell size of the original hive.

Catch a feral colony that has been feral for a number of years and they will invariably build cells near the low end of the range, i.e. just above 4.9. There are a couple of exceptions to this. Bees with larger bodies tend to build larger cells and conversely, smaller bodied bees tend to build smaller cells. The smallest cells I've yet seen were from a feral colony of exceptionally pretty bees about 25 years ago. I didn't measure them but would guess they were only 4.8 or possibly 4.7 mm. They were so small that it was noticable when I opened up the cavity. Interestingly though, the honey storage cells above the brood nest were about 2 inches deep and significantly larger than the brood cells.

As for Italian and Carniolan bees, I won't have either of them and with a few exceptions have avoided them for the last 15 years. I've had very good results using Buckfast stock from a source in Canada. I did purchase some bees a few years ago that were a strain of Italian but as soon as I could raise queens, they were changed over to Buckfast.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2005 at 4:28PM
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Excellent observations Fusion! I agree that storage sizes are generally larger. The problem with domestic beekeeping is that bees over the years bees were forced to a larger size by the use of unnaturally larger foundation. In effect, the bees were forced to rear brood in cell sizes meant for honey storage.

You have noticed as I have that a mature feral colony has the larger honey storage cells situated generally outside the core broodnest area and mostly above. The broodnest in a feral colony may be forced to rear young for short periods in the larger sizes during dearth or normal cluster movement, but NOT for an extended period of time as domestic beekeeping methods have forced the bees to do.

The broodnest area is the Âheart of the colony, and where you will generally find small cell being drawn. That small cell is not found throughout the nest by no means disproves any small cell theories. HereÂs a link to a to a study that Dennis did on the cell sizes found throughout the nest. On the link you can see that smaller cells were constructed near the core. The decision by feral bees to place small cell in the Âheart of the structure emphasizes itÂs vital importance to the colony.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 7:04AM
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