Beekeeping in Montana

MT_OCT14_92 Hives Last week found me in Lewistown, Montana, attending and speaking at the annual Montana State Beekeepers convention. Montana is one of the largest producers of honey in the United States. In 2013 almost 15 million pounds of honey was produced by beekeepers in Big Sky Country. One might think that this very northern state, Montana’s northern border is with Canada, would not be a great area for honey bees. While the winters are very cold in Montana, in summer the plains explode into color with blooming plants, including yellow sweet clover. Coupled with extremely long days, which give bees more time to haul in nectar, production of 200 pounds per hive is not unusual.

More interesting facts about Montana beekeeping:

• Montana has only about 200 (registered) beekeepers. Of this 200, 36 are commercial beekeepers, who are responsible for the vast majority of the 14 million pounds of honey production. This equals about 417,000 pounds (35,000 gallons) of honey per beekeeper.

• There are approximately 145,000 hives in Montana, again the vast majority – if not all (the small scale beekeepers may not be included in these hive count statistics) – are owned by these 36 commercial beekeepers. This equals about 4000 hives per beekeeper, which does not surprise me. Often when I am at meetings where there are large numbers of commercial beekeepers, I’ll hear I’m only a small beekeeper, I just have 1,500 hives!

• With production of 15 million pounds and 145,000 hives, we get an average yield of 100 pounds per hive, which many beekeepers would consider excellent. However, I had beekeepers at this year’s Montana state meeting tell me that this year (the statistics I have been quoting are for previous years – 2014 information is not yet available), many hives yielded 200 pounds this year. the best production was in Eastern Montana, due to better rainfall.

Image

Nectar flow is on

We are having a good nectar flow in my area, south of Lexington, Kentucky. I started putting honey supers on a month ago, which was later than most years. As in much of the Eastern U.S., we had a hard winter and late spring, my hives were also behind in April, but have caught up now. I’ve had some swarming, but have at least 1-2 full supers on all of my stronger hives, including those that swarmed. Like a lot of beekeepers, I had a couple of what Randy Oliver calls “dinks”, hives that for some reason, are slow at building up, but even these seems to be putting some nectar into supers now.

We had a nice black locust bloom in my area, which started a couple of weeks ago, but storms last week knocked off most of the flowers. I am seeing a lot of white clover blooming now. We’ve had enough rain that blooming should continue. Drought can slow things down quickly. I was north of Lexington last Tuesday and saw a nice locust bloom there, the beekeepers told me it was just starting. This is a difference of about 50 miles, north – south.

DSC_0637_004

Here is a photo of my son standing next to one of our hives, taken on May 23rd. Five of those honey supers were full on that day and we added two more. These supers are 10 frame supers, but only have eight frames in each super. All of them were placed onto the hive with drawn comb. I’ll also comment that I did not feed any syrup last fall or spring, I did no spring manipulations – no reversing hive bodies or moving comb around. I did do a thorough check of my hives, both early in the spring and last fall. The inspection last fall included varroa mite monitoring.

By far the most important management task that I undertook was treatment for varroa, this was done last fall, after monitoring.

Winter loss of colonies – dead bees and why did my bees die?

It is finally looking like spring at my old Kentucky home, bees are flying, a lot of blooming underway, bees are bringing in nectar and pollen, and I am putting honey supers on my hives. However, I continue to receive questions about colonies lost this past winter. Winter is rough on bees, winter colony losses occur in hives in nature (trees), as well as in managed colonies. Our role as honey bee shepherds, or beekeepers, is to help our bees survive better than in nature. 

Below are a couple of photos of what beekeepers often see when opening colonies that have died out in winter. The first (below) shows dead bees with their head down in the cells.


 

Dead bees in that position indicate starvation, even though there was stored honey elsewhere in the hive. The other is a very small, baseball sized cluster of dead bees.


I’m certain that the low population contributed to the colony’s final demise. It is not unusual to see clusters of starved bees, in the winter or early spring, inches from honey.

When I speak to beekeepers about helping our bees get ready for winter, I talk about three major issues: 1 – numbers of bees, 2- food stores, and 3 – colony health. Continue reading

Bee Informed Partnership annual surveys

To my fellow beekeepers,

While we have a lot of great honey bee research going on at our state universities, I am greatly impressed by the work of a group called the Bee Informed Partnership or BIP. Based at the University of Maryland, one of the primary roles of the BIP programs is collecting and analyzing information of honey bee health and colony losses, including management practices that may contribute to better health of our colonies. One of the important tools of this data collection are annual surveys of winter colony losses and management practices. I encourage ALL beekeepers to participate in these surveys. The surveys can be filled out on line, Continue reading

Federal program for honey bee losses

I received this press release today, announcing a federal government program for reimbursements for livestock losses – the ELAP program, which includes honey bee colonies. For more information, you can see the 2014 Farm Bill fact sheet, but there is not a lot of information there. Alternate and perhaps best source of information is contacting your local Farm Service Agency office. I’m attaching the link for state FSA offices, from the state office webpages, you may locate your local office. Sign-ups for the program begins April, 15, 2014.  

National Geographic photos of bees

National Geographic magazine is known for their beautiful photographs, of places, people and nature. You may visit their webpage to see some beautiful micro-photographs of bees, including honey bees.

You also may wish to visit another link mentioned in the article, about a previous story concerning strangely colored honey in France, a subject I wrote about in my Ask Phil Bee Culture column last year.

Varroa mites & Hopguard

Hopguard is a varroa miticide that came out a few years ago (2011?). The active ingredient is “hop beta acids”, which are derived from hop flowers – more commonly known as a flavoring for beer. Hopguard is marketed as a natural miticide, which it is. It can be used even with honey supers on the hive, though not inside the supers. As a contact miticide, as opposed to a fumigant, it can be used without regard to outside air temperatures. The strips are made of cardboard and are saturated with hop acid, so they are wet and brown in color when removed from the packaging. Continue reading

Chinese honey removed from store shelves in Great Britain

See this link http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-101494/All-Chinese-honey-ordered-shelves.html for article concerning removal of ALL imported Chinese honey from store shelves in Great Britain. Testing is said to show the presence of the antibiotic chloramphenico in 40% of the Chinese honey sampled.

Killer hornets

I ran across this article on the CNN webpage concerning a large number of human fatalities in China, due to a species of wasp, Vespa mandarinia, commonly called the Asian Giant Hornet. A follow-up article discusses the problem of allergy reactions and red blood cell damage that result from the sting of these insects, complicating sting reactions. This second article quotes Dr. Justin Schmidt, an entomologist at the Southwest Biological Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Schmidt previously worked at the USDA Bee Lab in Arizona, where he studied Africanized honey bees.  A related Asian species of hornet – V. velutina – has been responsible for attacking and destroying beekeepers’ honey bee colonies Continue reading

When NOT to destroy a feral honey bee colony!

This was forwarded to me this morning.

Woman lights power pole on fire to get rid of beehive

VALLEJO, Calif. (United Press International) — Authorities in California said a 68-year-old woman was taken for a mental evaluation after she allegedly lit a power pole on fire to get rid of a beehive.

A Vallejo Fire Department spokesman said the woman used lighter fluid to ignite the power pole about a block from her Vallejo home. However, he said there were no reports of stings and the flames were quickly extinguished.

Police officers were apprehensive about exiting their vehicles to take the woman into custody.

“She thought they were killer bees,” a police lieutenant said. “The officers didn’t even stop. The bees were everywhere.”

(Since putting this up, have received a note from a beekeeper friend  – see comments -who said that Vallejo was pretty far north in California (” …close to Oakland and San. Francisco area..” and so more likely not Africanized Honey Bees).