by Christy Hemenway
Karen Kimball and I attended the Massachusetts Beekeepers Fall Meeting and Honey Show held in Leicester, MA on October 17th.
It took three years to get Dr. Marla Spivak all the way from the University of Minnesota to Massachusetts, but the wait was worth it! It was an information-packed day and well worth the minimal drive.
Dr. Spivak, known world-wide for her work with developing Minnesota Hygienic bees, spoke this weekend about anything but. Her morning talk was on Propolis and Bee Health. Propolis is a complex plant resin gathered and used by bees to seal them inside of a “bee tree”—acting as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and an anti- fungal—creating a sterile shell inside the hollow of a bee tree— known as the “propolis envelope.” Her recent studies have included rating different types of propolis for their ability to thwart bacteria. She discussed a method of collecting propolis that consisted of several layers of mesh arranged at the top of the colony—using mesh much like the bags that oranges are sold in. It seems that gaps up to 1/4″ are filled with propolis by the bees, but that 3/8″ gaps will be filled with wax. So the layers of mesh need to create spaces in the 1/4″ range. Then, when the bees have propolised the mesh bag, it is removed from the hive and frozen—when it is frozen propolis becomes quite brittle, and flexing and bending the mesh will cause the propolis to crack away from the bag.
Dave Mendez, the VP of the ABF—American Beekeeping Fed- eration—took a moment between speakers to promote the annual ABF Convention which will be held at the Wyndham in Orlando, Florida this January 12 – 16, 2010. The convention will be a joint meeting with Canadian and American bee folks, with a load of interesting and educational speakers. More info at www.american- beekeepingfederation.com/ABF_Conference.html
Dr. Heather Mattila from Wellesley College spoke next, discussing queen bees and polyandry. For those not up to speed on their “poly-” vocabulary—polyandry means “having multiple mates.” Only about 25 species are polyandrous, but honeybees are certainly one of them! The advantages of polyandry to the honey bee are many—the genetic diversity that comes from one queen mating with multiple drones provides many benefits—including improved disease resistance, better brood viability, nest stability, and a stronger attraction to the queen. A well-mated queen has a better pheromone profile, which improves the division of labor in the hive, increases the colony’s productivity, and makes for fitter bees. You might say “it’s all good”! And here’s an interesting tidbit— the highest number of matings on record for a European honey bee is 44. The highest number for a Giant Honey Bee is 104. Can you imagine!!!
After lunch, Dr. Spivak talked about a subject that is often on beekeeper’s minds—varroa mites, and how best to monitor for them. Since 1986, beekeepers have been battling the varroa mite by using some serious chemicals—from 1986 through 1998, the toxin of choice was a pyrethroid called Fluvalinate. When the mites developed a resistance to Fluvalinate, chemists went on to create another serious chemical, this time an organophosphate known as Coumaphos. This was in use from 1999 to 2005, but then, the varroa mite developed a resistance to it as well. During the beekeepers’ approach to bee health became almost automat- ic—identify the pest, treat with chemicals. We need to break this cycle—using management techniques and breeding programs to help build a stronger bee, and discourage the use of chemicals in the beehive. With viruses, varroa mites, nosema, nutritional deficiencies, environmental pesticides, and pesticides purposely placed in the hives by beekeepers, bees have been struggling.
Dr. Spivak’s favored method of monitoring for varroa mites is the alcohol wash—since its accuracy surpasses most other methods. But the sugar roll method means that you do not kill the bees in the process of monitoring. The sugar roll method requires that you gather 300 bees from the brood nest portion of a colony—this is approximately 1/2 cup of bees. Using a square-sided cup to gather the bees makes it easier, and if you run the side of said cup downwards over the bees’ backs, they will fall easily into the cup. So your half cup measure, when full, gets you approximately 300 bees. After pouring these bees into a quart jar, covered with a lid made of 1/8″ hardware cloth, add 1 – 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar. Roll the bees until they are thoroughly coated with the sugar. Then LET IT SIT FOR AT LEAST ONE MINUTE! The heat of the bees, combined with the sugar dust, needs a min- ute to adhere to the mites’ feet, and then it begins to dislodge the mites from the bees. After a minute, vigorously shake the sugar and mites out into a white container—white to make it easier to spot the dark mites.
Then the question becomes—how many mites are too many mites? The threshold that Dr. Spivak recommends is 4.3 mites per 100 bees. This is rather a lot of math, but she arrives at this number in this way: Take the number of mites you find using the sugar- roll method, and multiply it by 1.3. This should give an accurate estimate of how many mites are throughout the rest of the colony. So if you found 10 mites, multiply by 1.3, and you get 13. If you had 13 mites for 300 bees (divide 13 by 300), you get .043 mites; multiply by 100 bees, and get 4.3 mites per 100 bees. Honey bees, provided they are stationary bees, can cope with a mite level of 4.3/100 bees. She emphasizes that some mites are okay — decimating the mites in the colony is not necessary! She says that Minnesota Hygienic bees can overwinter with a mite count, using this method, of up to 8! Whatever method you use, if you use it consistently as your standard, then your data becomes more useful with each time, as it establishes a trend. Any deviation from this trend is unusual and can be useful in predicting and preventing problems.
Dr. Spivak posted a website available from the University of Minnesota where one can access an online beekeeping class—$25 allows for four years of access [www.extension.umn.edu/honeybees]. pass along the responsibility of editing the
There are other great courses available there
Bee Line to another member of our organiza-
as well, including a queen-rearing course.
tion. I’m refocusing on teaching bee schools
The last session of the day was a second talk by Dr. Matilla. She talked about bees’ swarming behavior. Her studies have shown
I’ve got to say that I have sincerely enjoyed
that the most likely time for a colony to swarm is at 10am, but
met a lot of great peo-
that they can go as late as 2pm. They may “bivouac,” or gather in
ple, and I appreciate all the feedback regard-
a cluster for as short a time as four hours, up to three days. She
had some very good video of the last five minutes before a colony
swarmed—showing the increasing agitation of the colony from
You’ll still be hearing from me regularly, I’ll b
calm to the workers “piping,” to bees giving the “buzz-run”
updating on the SARE Grant progress and als
signals, excitincgoonthreibrubteiensgtobbeeerkeeadeyptinogdeapratritc,laensdwthenntehveeirr I
actual departure which took under 30 seconds. Only 30% of
swarms that depart their parent hive actually survive after swarm-
I am sure that along with the new editor the
ing—not very good odds, considering!
BeeLine will get some new energy and enthu Allinall,avesryiagsomod.mPeletainsge.Aremrafeflmewbaesrhteolds,uapndpovratrioyuosurBe beekeeping eqLuiinpemebnyt cwoans trraifbfluedtinofgf, ainrctliucldeins,g “aBGuozlzdinSgtasr”Taonpd Bar Hive kit, which was won by Ted Jones, the President of the Connecticut Beekeepers—the same group that just organized SNEBA (the Southern New England Beekeeping Assembly)— which took place on November 21st. There was a considerable group of Maine State Beekeepers planning to attend that Assembly from groups all up and down the coast—the subject was “Survivor Bees for the Surviving Beekeeper.” The speakers were Dr. Larry Connor, David Mendes, and Randy Oliver. Look for the notes from that meeting in your next Bee Line!