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Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 2 | Speedkin

Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 2

Part 1 here.

Saturday morning, we were back bright & early — and a little more rested.  Still, I let the caffeine flow freely and had a much better day at not being a complete moron.  However, I’m afraid my notes are not up to my usual standard.  I was trying to take notes on the presentations while, at the same time, not missing a word of the discussion and debates at my table.  Much info was flying back and forth.  My brain soaked in most everything but my notetaking suffered.

First speaker of the day was Randy Oliver, Scientific Beekeeping, and was most excited to hear him speak.  He started off acknowledging that there is a lot of conflicting advice out there — one of my personal crazy buttons.  To simplify that, just go at it with the rules of beekeeping from the bees’ view:

  1. The need a warm, dry cavity.
  2. They need pollen & nectar sources.
  3. They need to manage parasites somehow.

Then he got into the colony goals:

  • Winter:  Don’t freeze to death.
  • Spring:  Reproduce the colony.
  • Summer & Fall:  Prepare for winter, putting away stores.

That’s all pretty simple from the bee viewpoint, isn’t it?  Heh.

The main enemies of bees are cold, poor nutrition, toxins, and parasites.

Cold:

Keep in mind that it’s not about the individual bee/organism.  Rather, a colony of bees is a superorganism, about the size of a cat and it has to keep the same, constant temperature throughout the year.

Poor Nutrition:

Self-care will handle this unless problems crop up that depress immunoresponse.

Toxins:

Currently, everyone is focusing on the manmade toxins but there are also natural toxins.

Parasites:

These include varroa mites, nosema, and viruses.  (Did you know that there are (reportedly) no varroa mites in Australia yet?)

Recruitment – Attrition = Colony Strength

Recruitment, as used by Randy Oliver in his presentation, means replacement bees, brood raised by the colony.  (This helps to keep the bee:parasite ratio low enough for the bees to deal with.  During the spring build-up phase, the bees outgrow the parasites — more about that later.)  On the flip side, there’s attrition.  When bees get sick or start dying, they will fly off to die away from the hive.  When this happens at a very high rate, we get CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).

The colony experiences a complete turnover of “staff” every 4-5 weeks.  Colony growth rate is a function of the bees’ average lifespan.  Nosema shortens the worker lifespan and productivity.  There are few visible signs of nosema.  You have to crush the affected bees, do some high-falutin’ sciencey stuff, and look at them under the microscope to know that it is nosema.

To swarm (reproduce the colony) is the colony’s #1 goal.

Cells are filled & packed with brood, resulting in explosive growth.  (A 3:1 bees:brood ratio is optimal in order to fully tend to the brood.  Keep this in mind when “reading” your frames.)  When the bees backfill and become honeybound, that’s the signal to swarm.  Here’s the interesting thing:  The swarm flies off mostly mite-free to a fresh start while the bees left behind get left with the parasites.  (My thought:  On the other hand, the left-behind bees get a fresh, new queen while the swarm takes the old one.  There’s more to that thought so maybe I’ll come back to it later.)

Goal #2 is to time the maximum population to coincide with the main nectar flow.  With this in mind, you should try to keep enlarging the honey-storing area so that they keep the honey coming, instead of becoming honeybound, which could signal the need to swarm.

In the summer, during the pollen dearth, there is little recruitment.  This is when the varroa population:bee population ratio reaches the critical level.  DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) becomes an issue.

Come fall, the bees begin broodrearing of the winter bees — criticial time to manage varroa.  (Although, he covered elsewhere that you should not wait for a critical time, rather to keep on top of it all along so that the parasites never reach that level.)  Good nutrition is a must at this time.

The Fall Population Turnover:

When the broodnest is small, the brood pheromone diminishes.  This sends the colony into survival mode.  Old bees abandon the colony to die and the population drops suddenly.  This further lowers the bee:mite ratio.  Looks for white, calcified deposits on the cells — this means mite problems.

Winter

There is no incoming pollen so there is no reproduction.  This is when the problems of the year catch up with the hive.  Nosema is a “cold weather” problem — a problem in those long-lived winter bees.  Paralytic viruses lead to deadouts in the early spring.

Spring Turnover

The now-old winter bees rear their replacements, make jelly & bee bread, and begin foraging.  Imagine a geriatric you, having to raise babies, do all of the housekeeping & cooking associated with that, while working a full time job to bring home the bacon.  Can you say tired and worn out?  An unsuccessful spring turnover can mean the bees just could not do the spring jobs required of them to get the colony up & running.

Colony Population Diagnostics

We’ beekeepers have all heard this — brood will be densely centered in the frame.  If you have spotty brood, something is wrong.  But, to take that further, the brood should be grouped by age.  The queen should lay in one area, moving further out — or on to other frames — as she goes so that brood ages are patterned.  The death rate can seem invisible as dying bees will fly away.  So, while the birth rate can be easily seen, the death rate is not so easily figured.

What you can do to gauge the population trend is look at the adult:brood ratio.  If the number of adults is high and brood is low (remember that optimal 3:1 ratio I mentioned?), then attrition is exceeding recruitment.

Inside Inspection

If you have a vigorous queen, ample pollen, and a good nectar flow, you’ll have good recruitment.  If the queen has a good retinue (her “ladies in waiting”, so to speak — workers will congregate around her, tending to her), that means she’ll be throwing good pheromones and the morale of the colony will be good.

Another thing to look for is wet brood.  Brood should be shiny & very wet.  If it’s not, there’s something wrong.  Dry brood means poor survival.  They could be protein deficient and, in that case, a good protein/pollen substitute could help.

Wintering

The colony needs to thermoregulate.  (Remember that “cat” superorganism?)  They need a certain “mass” to do so successfully.

The strongest colonies, having the highest population of bees, will also have the highest population of mites.  In Randy’s experience, those strongest colonies had the biggest drops in strength.  (The bigger they are, the harder they fall?)  On the converse, his weaker hives were the ones who gained strength — yet also died out more.  I so wish I had all of his charts for you — they would make this so much easier to explain!  In his hives, he’s found that having a goal of 10-11 frames filled with bees is optimal.  (He has several hundred commercial hives in California that work the almond crops.)

The winter cluster fights the enemies:  nosema, varroa, viruses, and toxic residue. (Randy mentioned that maybe temperatures could possibly factor into when toxins are at their most… well, toxic.)  When the colony is at its weakest, it is most susceptible to failing from those things.  (In my mind, I liken this to people.  How you live when you’re younger catches up to  you in old age.  All of those stupid things you did when you were younger, such as not taking care of your health, may not have caused you much trouble then but you can bet it’ll all come back to bite you in the butt later in life.)  If all the stars are aligned and the bees hold their tongues just right — and there’s no frost at the wrong time — the bees can spontaneously recover if they’re able to keep the brood warm.

Nosema

There are two types of Nosema:  apis and ceranae.  A microscope is the only way to diagnose nosema.  Nosema ceranae makes for increased colony mortality but other problems often mask the issues.  These pathogens spread by proximity, from hive to hive.  If you have nosema, it will drift from hive to hive, the hives being grouped together.  If you suspect nosema, isolate the sick colonies quickly and bolster recruitment any way you can.

That’s the end of Randy Oliver’s presentation on “Understanding Colony Health Issues”.  I’ll go ahead and post this so it’s not lost and get started on the next section.

4 Responses to “Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 2”

  1. Gail Curry March 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    wow – dats a lotta data! :)

  2. Robin March 27, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Thanks! Very helpful to this new beek.

  3. LeAnn Moyers March 27, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    I have four pages of notes from his talk, yet not nearly as coherent. Good job!

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  1. Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 3 | Speedkin - March 26, 2013

    […] Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here. […]

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