True to form, “March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb”. Honey bees were gathering pollen in the southern half of the state during the last week of March when temperatures reached the upper 50’s and lower 60’s. The sight of incoming pollen is possibly as welcome to northern beekeepers as it is to the bees.
During April, bee management concerns monitoring the hive’s food reserves. Honey and other food supplements such as candy and syrup are essential for populous hives in April due to energy demands associated with brood rearing, the expanding adult population and foraging. April is a dangerous month for strong hives that are light on stores. These “boilers” are most at risk to starvation and/or brood cannibalism should a period of unsettled weather linger and prevent sufficient foraging. Keep an eye on those strong hives in April.
Early inspections and reports from beekeepers in during March, suggest there is lower hive mortality this winter in comparison to recent years. Apparently, there was one particular rough spell during mid-February when some hives succumbed to starvation because the cluster was unable to contact honey adjacent to the brood area. Bees rarely abandon brood in cold temperatures and often starve even though there are ample stores inches above the cluster. In the majority of situations, the cluster didn’t move from the lower hive body into the upper box or was the situated off center against the hive wall. The primary cause for winter mortality reported by beekeepers and witnessed during inspections of dead hives was Varroa related. Delayed fall treatment and pesticide resistance appear to be the primary reasons for loss. Queen problems were also apparent in a few of the weak hives inspected this spring.
Beekeepers now have several materials available to treat Varroa in addition to Apistan and CheckMite+. This is good news given cer- tain Varroa populations do not respond to these miticides. Presently, beekeepers can use Su- crocide (sucrose octanoate), Miteaway II (formic acid pad) and Apiquard (thymol gel formula- tion) in addition to the aforementioned materials for Varroa control.
Beekeepers in New Brunswick, Canada have reported colony and queen mortality associated with early spring applications of the formic acid pads. Apparently, early treatment with formic acid is extremely hard on the older “winter” bees. The Canadians recommend that spring formic acid applications occur only after there are several brood hatches and hives are populated with young bees. The spring treatment period would occur during the later part of May if the temperature and honey flow conditions are within the label guidelines. Most of the Canadians I have talked to, favor a late summer/fall treatment with formic acid pads.
Apiguard (thymol gel) was registered this winter for Varroa control. Unlike ApiLifeVar (thymol wafer) the Apiguard container is applied in the center of the upper hive body. A 3?4 inch rim is necessary for both the formic and thymol products. Read the labels.
Change is underway at the Department. Maine’s new Commissioner of Agriculture, Seth Bradstreet started work on March 27th. Commissioner Bradstreet is a potato farmer and has served the agricultural community in a variety of capacities. Until his confirmation, he was a member of the Pesticide Control Board and is familiar with honey bee issues due to the Department’s requests for registration of Varroa treatments.
Another major change within the Department concerns the resignation of Terry Burgoin, director of the Division of Plant Industry effective in mid-April. Terry has been my supervisor for 20 years and is one of the most dedicated workers I have encountered in my career. Terry has been an advocate for the honey bee inspection program and has worked on behalf of the bee industry on the state and national level. Terry has moved to the Federal Department of Agriculture where he will supervise export certification of commodities in VT, NH and ME. On behalf of all Maine beekeepers, I wish him well and I will certainly miss him.