All of the males (drones) have now been kicked out of the hives. This usually happens once the temperature dips to about 30-40 F degrees for a few days in a row in the fall.
The hives are now heavily propolized (sealed with propolis, natures own sealant) to keep cold winter winds out of the gaps of the hives. Propolis is made from plant parts and bee saliva and pasted over every gap and crack and crevice. There are over 60lbs of honey now stored in each hive. This is the amount needed to get through an average mid-Atlantic winter. (They replenished that which I took during extraction in June, when I fed them sugar water from August through September.) The bees are now clustering in each hive around their respective queen, once the temperature falls below 45F. We hope they cluster under the honey stores so as they can move up in the hive through the winter where there is always honey readily available for to them to eat. It supplies the energy for them to vibrate and keep the hive warm at around 90F all winter long. The queen remains warmest in the center of the cluster. On warmer winter days (above 58F), they will break cluster and take cleansing flights (as pictured above), coming out of the hives to get rid of metabolites that have built up inside their bodies. Metabolism is much slower in winter bees and at cooler temperatures, so they do not become poisoned by their own metabolites building up; but they do need to take these flights to cleanse themselves, or this might ultimately occur. (Winter bees have a different longevity and metabolism from summer bees, allowing for this to work.)
Beehives (with weedblock in front) are cleaned, setup and ready to receive this year's two bee packages when they come.The call comes from the local bee club.
Past President Bill Bundy is back with the bees from Georgia. He's brought everyone's bees in his horse trailer. Dr. Kathy mixes up her 50-50 sugar syrup with a bit of fumigilin (antibiotic to calm the bees down) and some vinegar (to prevent mold growth) and puts it in a spray bottle.
Dr. Kathy drives straight from work in her company car to Bill's farm to get her bees.
Don't drop those packages!
The bees enjoy a nice ride in the American Pest vehicle's backseat.
Once at their new home in Brunswick, MD, the bees are spritzed on the front yard. They are thirsty!
Each package has 3 lbs of bees (about 3,000 workers-all girls) in them. There is also a queen cage with a marked queen and 5-6 attendants in each package. The queen cage has a cork at one end and a sugar plug of candy at the other end. Each package also contains a metal syrup can with small punctures at the bottom for the bees to feed on syrup in transit.
They are all clustered around their individual queens because before Sunday (pickup day is Wednesday) they didn't know each other. They were shaken together in this package. They are confused young bees. They detect their new queen's pheromone (a perfume like odor) and are getting used to this. They want to be close to her. So, the cluster forms around her-she is always in the center. She has come from a different background and is not initially recognized, so the queen cage protects her. The candy plug keeps her in the cage. If she were to walk out too soon, she'd be stung to death! But, as they become more and more familiar with her, and recognize her as their new monarch, she will be accepted. Sadly, the attendants in her cage will not be. The queen cannot feed herself. The attendants feed her. They eat the candy plug at the end of the cage. The idea is that by the time they eat through the candy plug to make a hole for her to walk out of, she will be accepted by her new subjects and not stung.
The two packages won't be installed in their new hives immediately because it is so cold at night-still freezing temperatures, so they are stored in the dark and cool basement on top of the freezer. But, one should not store them too long. They need to be installed about 4-6 days after being shaken together.
Until they are installed, the bees are kept in the cool and dark (like a hive). They must be spritzed periodically for sugar water for those on the outside of the cluster who cannot make it in to the can of sugar syrup. Expect some die off from the transit of the packages. This past week has been pretty chaotic for them.
The bees are coming, the bees are coming! It's about time!!
I pick up my two bee packages later today! The backyard has not seemed right without the hives since the Varroa mites killed them off in late fall. Weedblock is down in front of the landing boards and the two hives are re-assembled.
Now, to get my girls! (6002 of them-well, 3K in each package, plus a queen each....give or take a few 100!)
Editor's comment: I don't think he quite understands that if you split a hive with disease or pest issues, the new hive will also have issues. So, perhaps there are more new hives, but they are not necessarily healthy ones. -Dr. Kathy
Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high
The math says that if you lose 30 percent of your bee colonies every year for a few years, you rapidly end up with close to 0 colonies left. But get a load of this data on the number of active bee colonies in the U.S. since 1987. Pay particular attention to the period after 2006, when CCD was first documented.
As you can see, the number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA. The 2014 numbers, which came out earlier this year, show that the number of managed colonies -- that is, commercial honey-producing bee colonies managed by human beekeepers -- is now the highest it's been in 20 years.
So if CCD is wiping out close to a third of all honeybee colonies a year, how are their numbers rising? One word: Beekeepers.
A 2012 working paper by Randal R. Tucker and Walter N. Thurman, a pair of agricultural economists, explains that seasonal die-offs have always been a part of beekeeping: they report that before CCD, American beekeepers would typically lose 14 percent of their colonies a year, on average.
The other method involves simply buying a bunch of bees to replace the ones you lost. You can buy 3 pounds of "packaged" bees, plus a queen, for about $100 or so.
Beekeepers have been doing this sort of thing since the advent of commercial beekeeping. When CCD came along, it roughly doubled the usual annual rate of bee die-offs. But this doesn't mean that bees are going extinct, just that beekeepers need to work a little harder to keep production up.
The price of some of that extra work will get passed on to the consumer. The average retail price of honey has roughly doubled since 2006, for instance. And Kim Kaplan, a researcher with the USDA, points out that pollination fees -- the amount beekeepers charge to cart their bees around to farms and pollinate fruit and nut trees -- has approximately doubled over the same period.
"It's not the honey bees that are in danger of going extinct," Kaplan wrote in an email, "it is the beekeepers providing pollination services because of the growing economic and management pressures. The alternative is that pollination contracts per colony have to continue to climb to make it economically sustainable for beekeepers to stay in business and provide pollination to the country’s fruit, vegetable, nut and berry crops." We have also been importing more honey from overseas lately.
But rising prices for fruit and nuts hardly constitute the "beepocalypse" that we've all been worried about. Tucker and Thurman, the economists, call this a victory for the free market: "Not only was there not a failure of bee-related markets," they conclude in their paper, "but they adapted quickly and effectively to the changes induced by the appearance of Colony Collapse Disorder."
Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
The government has temporarily lifted a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in certain parts of the country.
An EU-wide moratorium was put in place after some studies showed the pesticide caused significant harm to bees.
But following a second emergency application by the National Farmers Union, two neonicotinoid pesticides can now be used for 120 days on about 5% of England's oilseed rape crop.
Environmental and wildlife groups have called the decision "scandalous".
The areas where farmers will be allowed to use neonicotinoids has not yet been decided. According to the NFU, it will be those areas where there are records over the last season or so that the pests - primarily the cabbage stem flea beetle - have inflicted most damage on oilseed rape crops.
Farming Minister George Eustace MP told BBC's Farming Today that it was "predominantly farmers in Suffolk" who would now be able to use neonicotinoids. He said that the government was approaching the issue "with an open mind" and that there was "a lot of ambiguity" about the evidence.
The temporary relaxation of the ban will cover an area of about 30,000 hectares.
This is the second time that the NFU has applied to the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD). The first application was rejected on the basis that it was not limited enough.
The NFU has welcomed the decision, but argues that it will come too late for many farmers.
Dr Chris Hartfield from the NFU said: "It is very nip and tuck. There is a lead time involved for the farmer. They will have to get hold of the seed, have to treat it, and have to apply it. For some it will come too late. For others, they fall outside the area, which is mainly in the east of England."
Two products from Bayer and Syngenta will be allowed to help protect crops from the flea beetle.
Bees and other pollinators are vital for the majority crops but are in decline due to habitat loss, the use of pesticides, and disease.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva said: "It's scandalous that the government has caved in to NFU pressure and given permission for some farmers to use banned pesticides that have been shown to harm our precious bees.
"Ever more scientific evidence shows just how dangerous these chemicals are to bees and other pollinators - they should have no place in our fields and gardens."
The group argues that the decision-making process has not been transparent.
"It is completely unacceptable for the government to refuse to make the NFU's decision publicly available - and even asked its own independent advisors not to publish the minutes and agenda of key meetings."
Dr Hartfield from the NFU countered the suggestion that neonicotinoids have been shown to harm bees: "The majority of the research that has fuelled this debate has been based on artificial dosing studies. The big question in this area is, does this accurately reflect what happens to bees foraging in and around neonicotinoid crops?
"We don't know, but the field studies haven't shown that they are causing population declines in pollinators."
A Defra spokesperson said: "We have fully applied the precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoids introduced by the EU, and we make decisions on pesticides based on the science only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment.
"Based on the evidence, we have followed the advice of the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and our chief scientist that a limited emergency authorisation of two pesticides requested by farmers should be granted in areas where oilseed rape crops are at greatest risk of pest damage."
"The Bayer ingredient allowed under this derogation - clothianidin - is the one tested in the recent study. It showed that bumblebees in landscapes with treated oilseed rape produced only a third as many queens as those in landscapes treated with other insecticide sprays, but not neonicotinoid.
"On this basis, areas with 5% of the UK's rape crop might expect to lose two-thirds of their wild bumblebee queens going into the winter of 2016/17 because of this decision. I would like to ask the two companies who gain from this decision - Bayer and Syngenta - to pay scientists to monitor the impacts on wild bumblebees and solitary bees, in comparison with areas that remain under the ban."
EPA is seeking comment on a proposal to adopt mandatory pesticide label restrictions to protect managed bees under contract pollination services from foliar application of pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees on a contact exposure basis.
Burt Shavitz, co-founder and namesake of natural personal care company Burt's Bees, has passed away at 80.
"We remember him as a wild-bearded and free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers..." the company said in a statement. "Above all, Burt was always Burt -- an uncompromising individual of his own invention."
Shavitz died of respiratory complications in Maine, and was surrounded by family and friends.
Burt's Bees started by chance -- Shavitz, a bearded beekeeper who sold honey from a roadside stand, pulled over one day in 1984 to pick up hitchhiker Roxanne Quimby. The two hit it off, and Quimby started making candles from Shavitz's beeswax.
The pair made $200 at their first craft fair selling the candles, and within a year, pulled in $20,000, according to a company timeline. Soon, they started making all kinds of other products -- featuring Shavitz's face and beard on the labels -- including Burt's Bees' iconic beeswax lip balm.
Burt's Bees was sold for $1 billion to Clorox(CLX) in 2007.
The company remains one of the most recognizable natural care brands in the U.S.