Tuesday, January 21, 2014


It is snowing heavily outside and has for about 12 hours now.  Tonight the temperature is supposed to drop to 8 degrees F.  With windchill, it will feel more like -10F, the weatherman says.  Will my bees survive?  This is a good question.  These bees are from queens that I ordered from Georgia (USA) last early spring.

Bees have all kinds of fascinating tricks to stay warm and avoid freezing. Bees gather around their queen like a big cluster of grapes once the temperature drops below about 50F.  She's in the middle.  They surround her and vibrate their middle body segment, the thorax, to keep her and the whole hive warm.  Bees, like many insects, also have a glycol component to their hemolymph (blood).  This acts like an antifreeze and prevents the blood from forming ice crystals and freezing.

But, there are a lot of complicating factors to their efforts to make it as a hive through the winter months; I highlight several here.  1) Is there enough honey in the hive for the workers to eat as the bee cluster with the queen in the center moves up in the hive?  This will be their source of energy for metabolism.  Normally, for Maryland, we expect to have a few cold nights in winter, but this is already our second or third bout of single digits.  Two weeks ago, we even got down to -1F! Unheard of here; a new term-polar vortex was in suddenly our vernacular.We would normally be fine with 60lbs of honey stored in the hive for the winter, but who knows with these low temperatures.   2) Is there enough ventilation? To stay warm, the bees vibrate their thoraces and keep the queen in the center of the cluster warm (as long as there is enough honey to eat to do so!) The temperature doesn't fluctuate much from about 92-95F all winter long.  One must be sure that the top cover of the hive is cocked a bit to allow steam to rise and leave and not condense back on them as the hot air hits the cover to outside with cold air; moisture will promote disease causing fungi. The hive's bottom board allows for passive ventilation up and through the hive and out the top. But, below the hive, the bottom board area must be clear of obstacles, such as snow, to allow for this passive airflow to occur to heat the hive and cluster. 3) Are there enough bees to cluster and provide the warmth for the queen and hive?  A healthy hive going into the winter months needs to have 60,000-100,000 bees present. 4) Is there a healthy queen present?  This is only evident ahead of the winter by how well she is laying eggs and how she looks.  (In the winter she is not laying eggs.) 5) Are there disease or pests present in the hive? Is the hive in general healthy? Varroa and tracheal mites, and small hive beetles are just a few of the many pests that my hives have experienced.  A weakened hive having to fight pests, predators or disease will have a very hard time surviving the winter. 6) Is the hive location protected from strong northerly winds that bring rains, hail, sleet, ice and snow?  The front of the hive (entry) should not face North.  If some buffering device can be placed to prevent heavy winds, that is also ideal.  In more northern climes, beekeepers often insulate their hives with things like tar paper wrapping. (I've never done this and do not know much about it. But, in places like Maine and Minnesota with prolonged periods of frigid temperatures, this is commonplace. 7) Is the entrance reducer on to the smallest opening? To help insulate the hive, you want the smallest entry opening available.  YOU DO NOT WANT TO CLOSE THE HIVE! On nice days, the bees will take cleansing flights and need to be able to get outside.  In areas that get heavy snow pack that might cover the entrance reducer down low, many beekeepers will create a second opening up higher in the hive near the top, by drilling a small opening. An opening must be present. If one can make it to the hive and sweep snow or ice off of the entrance to keep it free and open, that is best.  But, snow breathes to some extent.  Ice does not.  8) Can  an ipm bottom board be added into the slot at the bottom of the hive?  This will help to insulate the hive as well.

Beyond these illustrated steps, the beekeeper cannot do much more to protect the bees from winter's onslaught.  It makes one wonder how bees in nature survive at all.  But, they do.  So, sometimes, even benign neglect is best! And, beekeepers can kill their bees with too much attention.  It's a delicate balance knowing when to assist or not.  Knowing that these queens originally came from Georgia in the Southern USA, I feel the need to assist them some.

Most winter bee kills are due to the cluster either getting wet and chilled/cold from moisture condensing and falling on them, or to starvation; either they don't have enough honey stored, or if they do, they don't move up into it properly.  Yes, there can be enough honey in the hive, but as they move up into it through the winter months, the cluster may be off center to it and miss what's available all together.  This is particularly sad when the beekeeper sees it.  So close, and yet so far!

A friend asked me how to know if my bees were alive in the winter months, since I could not open the hive. (And, please DO NOT OPEN THE HIVE, unless it is an ambient temperature of at least 55-60F outside. The bees cannot fly at lower temperatures, and the hive will lose hard to replace heat.)

There are a few signs to look for.  If the colony is alive, workers will be kicking out dead bees that were on the edges of the cluster, keeping the queen warm in the center.  You will see their dead bodies on the landing board and in the front of the hive on warmer days as their sisters carry them out.  (On frigid nights, there is a kill of those bees on the edges of the cluster, while the others in the center are at that toasty 94F! Since no new bees are being made-no eggs laid-at this temperature and time of year, the cluster will get progressively smaller as a result, with fewer individuals vibrating and generating heat.)

The other two traditional ways to know if your bees are still alive is to see them break cluster and flying on warm days, and/or to see them depositing fecal material on the front of the hive-little brown specks or flecks. On warm days (above 55F), the bees take cleansing flights to relieve their guts of the built up of feces and metabolic wastes.  They do not need to fly far to do this; just out the door and back.  (Amazingly, they can hold it all in until a warm day to do this.)  So, if you see the brown flecks on the front of the hive when they were not there before, and it's been a warm day, this is a good sign.

The non-traditional approach would be to use an infra red camera to see a heat profile within the hive.  I do not own an infra red camera, and because I'm still in a cast from an ankle surgery in mid-December, I can't get out to see how my bees are doing. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they are ok!

And, I've already placed an order for bee packages, just in case I lose my hives.  Order your bee packages, now!
View from my living room window-snow on my hives this afternoon!

Add Tobacco Ringspot Virus to Possible Causes of Colony Collapse Disorder

from ESA entsoc.org....

Add Tobacco Ringspot Virus to Possible Causes of Colony Collapse Disorder

In 2006 a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder(CCD) emerged. Beekeepers and scientists noticed that large numbers of adult honey bees were leaving their hives and failing to return, which had large implications for farmers and growers who use honey bees as pollinators.
Today the exact cause of the CCD is still unknown, but scientists have generally concluded that it’s caused by many factors, including pathogens, tiny mites that parasitize the bees, exposure to pesticides, stress on the bees as beekeepers ship them from one place to another, nutrition, and others.
According to a report by the National Honey Bee Health Stakeholder Conference Steering Committee in November 2012, three of the main research highlights were 1) the parasitic mite Varroa destructor remains the single most detrimental pest of honey bees, and is closely associated with overwintering colony declines, 2) multiple virus species have been associated with CCD, and 3) the Varroa mite is known to cause amplified levels of viruses.
Now a new study published in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal mBio seems to strengthen these conclusions. The study shows that tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV), a virus that is known to affect plants, can also replicate itself in honey bees and in mites, which can further spread the virus among the bee population.
“Here we provide evidence that a pollen-borne plant virus, tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV), also replicates in honeybees and that the virus systemically invades and replicates in different body parts,” the authors wrote. “In addition, the virus was detected inside the body of parasitic Varroa mites, which consume bee hemolymph, suggesting that Varroa mites may play a role in facilitating the spread of the virus in bee colonies.”
However, the authors have also stressed that their findings have NOT solved the CCD mystery. Yan Ping Chen, a bee pathologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service and lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Times, “I want to be cautious. The cause of Colony Collapse Disorder remains unclear. But we do have evidence that TRSV, along with other viruses that we screen on a regular basis, are associated with lower rates of over-winter survival.”
Read more at:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Putting Down Roots

This article below is from my favorite charity LWR (Lutheran World Relief).  See:


Whenever I have an opportunity to donate to LWR, I do so, because I know the majority of the donation is going to the cause and not to overhead and fees.  I'd encourage you to consider the same!  Here's a bee-related sustainability project they have in Nepal. -Dr. Kathy

Putting Down Roots

By Nikki Massie
Lutheran World Relief has officially opened our own office in Nepal, making it possible to reach even more people with long-term, sustainable development projects.
Lutheran World Relief has worked in Nepal since 2009, in partnership with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), reaching out to marginalized people and helping them to grow food, support their families and prepare for and cope with natural disasters.
“As LWR has begun to increase both the number and scale of our programs in Nepal, it was important to establish our own office to better coordinate our work with local partners and the government,” said Nicole Hark, LWR’s deputy director for Asia & the Middle East.
The opening of the new office means that LWR can expand its work into more remote areas of Nepal and bring what we’ve learned from past successes.
Like that of Dhanbir Thada. His family struggled for years to grow food on a small parcel of land. Unfortunately, they could only produce enough to feed the family for three months each year.

With the help of an LWR project, Dhanbir received training on beekeeping, which is a traditional activity in the area that has the potential for a more sustainable income. One special skill he’s learned is how to transfer hives from the forest to his village, where they can be better maintained. With this new skill, Dhanbir has not just one new source of income but two. He is able to sell the honey produced by his own bees, and one day he hopes to make a profit by transferring hives from the forest for fellow community beekeepers.
“I am doing this not only for my family but the entire village depends on me for this transfer,” Dhanbir says.
This is exactly the kind of life-changing support LWR looks forward to offering to more people in Nepal. Kiran Ojha, LWR’s country director for Nepal said, “... our registration ensures LWR’s ability to scale up our work and helps us to better serve additional poor and marginalized populations in realizing their full potential.”
Thank you for your support of LWR. Because you invest in our sustainable development approach, we look forward to a long, productive future in Nepal. With your help, we’re putting down roots and helping people discover their own paths out of poverty and into futures brimming with promise.
Nikki Massie is LWR’s Staff Writer.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Australia Fits Thousands of Bees with Sensors to Monitor the Environment

From entomology today...http://entomologytoday.org/2014/01/15/australia-fits-thousands-of-bees-with-sensors-to-monitor-the-environment/

Australia Fits Thousands of Bees with Sensors to Monitor the Environment

Up to 5,000 sensors measuring 2.5mm x 2.5 mm are being fitted to the backs of bees in Hobart, Tasmania, before being released into the wild. It’s the first time such large numbers of insects have been used for environmental monitoring by using a technique known as “swarm sensing.”
The research is being led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, and it aims to improve honey bee pollination and productivity on farms and to help scientists understand the drivers of bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a condition decimating honey bee populations worldwide.
“Honey bees play a vital role in the landscape through a free pollination service for agriculture, which various crops rely on to increase yields. A recent CSIRO study showed bee pollination in Fava beans can lead to a productivity increase of 17 per cent,” said CSIRO science leader Dr. Paulo de Souza, who leads the swarm sensing project.

Dr. Paulo de Souza in a TV interview about the project.
“Around one third of the food we eat relies on pollination, but honey bee populations around the world are crashing because of the dreaded Varroa mite and Colony Collapse Disorder. Thankfully, Australia is currently free from both of those threats.”
The research will also look at the impacts of agricultural pesticides on honey bees by monitoring insects that feed at sites with trace amounts of commonly used chemicals.
“Using this technology, we aim to understand the bee’s relationship with its environment. This should help us understand optimal productivity conditions as well as further our knowledge of the cause of colony collapse disorder,” Dr. de Souza said.
The sensors are tiny Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) sensors that record when the insects pass particular checkpoints. The information is then sent remotely to a central location where researchers can use the signals from the 5,000 sensors to build a comprehensive three dimensional model and visualize how these insects move through the landscape.
“Bees are social insects that return to the same point and operate on a very predictable schedule. Any change in their behavior indicates a change in their environment. If we can model their movements, we’ll be able to recognize very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause. This will help us understand how to maximize their productivity as well as monitor for any biosecurity risks,” Dr. de Souza said.
Understanding bee behavior will give farmers and fruit growers improved management knowledge, enabling them to increase the benefit received from this free pollination service. It will also help them to gain and maintain access to markets through improving the way we monitor for pests.
“We’re working with the University of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers in Hobart, and fruit growers around the state to trial the technology. Many growers rely on wild bees or the beekeepers to provide them with pollinators so they can improve their crops each year. Understanding optimal conditions for these insects will improve this process,” Dr. de Souza said.
To attach the sensors, the bees are refrigerated for a short period, which puts them into a rest state long enough for the tiny sensors to be secured to their backs with an adhesive. After a few minutes, the bees awaken and are ready to return to their hive and start gathering valuable information.
“This is a non-destructive process and the sensors appear to have no impact on the bee’s ability to fly and carry out its normal duties,” Dr. de Souza said.
The next stage of the project is to reduce the size of the sensors to only 1mm so they can be attached to smaller insects such as mosquitoes and fruit flies.
Read more at:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bills limiting use of neonicotinoid pesticides introduced in Maine, Alaska

from epestworld, the ezine of NPMA (the National Pest Management Association)

Bills limiting use of neonicotinoid pesticides introduced in Maine, Alaska
Last week, a bill was introduced in the Maine Legislature banning the use, sale and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides for two years. The measure, LD 1587, defines the term "neonicotinoid pesticide" as a pesticide containing imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, acetamiprid or thiacloprid. The legislation also directs the Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to review the use and effects of neonicotinoid pesticides. 

Legislation was also prefiled last week for the upcoming 2014 session of the Alaska Legislature prohibiting the application of imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, acetamiprid, or any other neonicotinoid pesticide to seeds, foliage, or in granular form to soil, unless the pesticide is contained entirely within a greenhouse. 

Similar legislation is also pending in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and Vermont.

EPA Funds Studies to Protect Bees from Pesticides

from http://www.pctonline.com/EPA-LSU-bee-study.aspx

EPA Funds Studies to Protect Bees from Pesticides

More than $450,000 will be divided among Louisiana State University, Penn State University and the University of Vermont to develop practices that reduce the use of potentially harmful pesticides.
January 8, 2014

A total of $459,264 will be divided among Louisiana State University, Penn State University and the University of Vermont to develop practices that reduce the use of potentially harmful pesticides, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement Wednesday.

Over the past few years, bee populations have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says is unsustainable. Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans, according to government reports.

Scientists, consumer groups and bee keepers say the devastating rate of bee deaths is due to the growing use of pesticides, sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops such as corn.

However, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and other agrichemical companies say the bees are being killed by other factors, such as mites.

The Louisiana State University project is focused on minimizing the impact to bees from insecticides used for mosquito control.

The University of Vermont project focuses on reducing pesticide use and improving pest control while increasing crop yields on 75 acres of hops in the Northeast. The project's goal is to reduce herbicide and fungicide applications by 50 percent while decreasing downy mildew, a plant disease.

And the Pennsylvania State University project is exploring the benefits of growing crops without relying on neonicotinoid pesticide seed treatments. The so-called 'neonics' are a chief suspect in honey bee deaths.

"Protection of bee populations is among EPA's top priorities," the agency said.

The EPA said bee populations were also being hurt by parasites, disease and poor nutrition.

The agency has been working with bee keepers, growers, pesticide manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and states to try to combat pesticide exposure to bees.