April 24, 2014

The Snowbird Beekeeper: Reflections from Florida for 2011

Matt Scott, retired State of Maine Aquatic Biologist and re-founder of the Maine State Beekeepers Association

Matt Scott, retired State of Maine Aquatic Biologist and re-founder of the Maine State Beekeepers Association

by Matt Scott

Greetings from Florida! Following is what I have been observing or have seen the past few months:

Spring has really sprung down here—the red maple bloom is all over and now the oaks are in full bloom, producing pollen like mad. By the time you read this it will be spring and I will be back in Maine by April 15th to check on my bees and all my winter losses, like others I have talked to. What a tough winter you folks have had.

There are lots of wild flowers in bloom down here, with the citrus bloom going strong. The bloom period for grapefruit and oranges lasts for nearly three weeks and the nectar flow is tremendous. In talking with Dennis Sasserville and John Cotter (both Maine migratory beekeepers), the citrus nectar flow is so heavy and rich that when they move their trucks through the groves, the stake-bodies are all sticky with nectar. The yellow mustard is in bloom, as well as some small fruit trees such as pears and peaches. Strawberry varieties have been producing since last December, but will be all over in early April. It is amazing what these fruit growers do to survive the frost periods. They use a lot of water for spray irrigation to protect the plants and fruit from frost damage.

I attended the Florida State Fair, which is always a great event, lasting 12 days in late January. I enjoy attending the agricultural displays and various booths exhibiting Florida products. The Florida Department of Agriculture has a building of its own for various crop displays, and the honeybee display is no exception. The Florida State Beekeepers Association has a booth with observation hives, along with the Department and the University of Florida research work on honeybees and other insects. The observation hives are very good, plus the African small hive beetle display and what a mess that insect makes of come and honey. The Florida Sate beekeepers exhibit is where I met Laurence Cutts, the recent retired State Apiary Inspector. He is a friend of Tony Jadczak and they have had a number of personal and professional communications over the years concerning the movement of bees between Florida and Maine. Larry and I had a great conversation on a number of issues concerning honeybees and the future. He gave me several publications of which I am utilizing for this article. Larry says the greatest problems they have in Florida are still American Foulbrood, Varroa mites, small hive beetles, and yes, Africanized honeybees. He says the best defense against the Africanized hives is well-managed European hives. Mr. Cutts supervised 13 full-time inspectors during his 38 years of service to Florida. He says there is significant impact from out-of-state pollination services; a portion of the hives are not returning, and those that do return have had Africanized bee intrusion, requiring reqeeening with European queens or hive destruction.* All of their publications are printed in English and Spanish to further education and awareness. He feels that the only solution, if you want to call it that, lies in raising public awareness and providing education about the value of honey bees to Florida agriculture. It is an important part of the Departments’ mission. The Department will continue to protect the apiary industry and combat current and future threats through education, research, regulations, and best management practices because of the significant economic and agricultural contribution honey bees provide to Florida. Otherwise, he says, we may have to import our pollination in the future.

Much of my discussion with Laurence Cutts was with regard to Africanized honey bees. We talked about the European x African cross and how aggressive that hybrid Africanized bee is. Since its movement from South America to Texas in 1990, the problem has simply escalated. They have established a “Bee aware of your environment” policy to look, listen and run—especially in Florida where there is lots of development every year. New homes provide more and more potential nesting sites for absconding Africanized honey bees. They seek out nesting sites such as storage sheds, wood piles, flower pots, bird houses, empty containers, cinder blocks, air conditioners, mailboxes, culverts, meter boxes, barbeque grills, rain gutters, chimneys and roof vents. Just about anything around the home you can imagine. As a result, the apiary inspectors are very busy. The more development, the greater the problem to control the aggressive Africanized honey bees becomes.

The next item of interest is the University of Southern Florida in Tampa, only 15 miles from my home, where a beekeeping course of four weeks was offered and my last class was March 19th. I also am going to the University of Florida, Gainsville to visit with some folks. I hope to see Tom Sanford. That’s about it for now, so hope to see some of you at some up-coming lectures. Tony, Laurence Cutts sends his best regards from Florida. I know that at one time, you were a possible candidate for his vacated position. So, I look forward to my return home in a few weeks. Hope all of your bees survived the relentless Maine winter.

* Addendum: European hives are weakened by the African strain by genetic contamination, and further weakening them to CCD syndrome. So the returning hives are sometimes a total loss to the beekeeper. Also, Africanized bees tend to swarm a great deal by absconding—this also weakens a hive. There is no single cause, but instead, a combination of all the above.

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