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Help Contribute to the Beekeepers and Honeybees in Puerto Rico

Bee Informed Partnership support@beeinformed.org

We are pleased to have Val Dolcini, the President and CEO of Pollinator Partnership as our guest blogger.

As the US moves into winter with some beekeepers feeding heavily to make sure their bees have enough stores until spring, imagine trying to maintain active colonies with no forage – no nectar and no pollen in sight for months with no resources to bring in supplementary food for their colonies. Imagine viewing your apiary with boxes torn apart and bees swarming in open homes. This is what is happening to the beekeepers and honey bee colonies in Puerto Rico.

There are over 4,000 colonies on this US Territory and approximately 130 beekeepers trying to manage on an island where most of the plants were ripped out or mowed down by Hurricane Maria.

Much of the island has no basic necessities such as water, electricity and the infrastructure has been devastated making recovery that much worse. Nearly $780 million in crop losses have been recorded and these beekeepers provide pollination services that are critical to all fruits and vegetables in addition to coffee. These bees, more than ever, are vital to the recovery of Puerto Rican agriculture.

Click here to contribute.

Beekeepers are trying to keep them alive in the short term by providing sugar water; but without a floral resource to provide essential proteins through pollen, surviving colonies are at risk of collapsing. In the continental U.S., beekeepers have access to commercially produced protein sources, in powdered form and patties. These commercial sources have been critical to beekeepers in Florida and Texas. However, these sources are unavailable in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria also destroyed many of the Langstroth wooden hives used by beekeepers to house their bees. Bees that survived the destruction of their hives have swarmed, taking up residence in people’s homes and other structures. The beekeepers have reached out to USDA, APHIS and the private sector seeking help.

Beekeepers in the U.S. Virgin Islands are facing similar challenges, and we are working to learn more about their situation.

Unless we take immediate action to help them recover, both honey bees and production agriculture in Puerto Rico will remain at risk. Please help by contributing here.

For additional information, contact Val Dolcini at vdolcini@pollinator.org or Tom Van Arsdall at tva@pollinator.org

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Winter-Blooming Plants Help Bees Survive the Season

Dean Fosdick,  Associated Press

Winter and early spring are lean times for honeybees as they emerge from their hives, where food supplies are dwindling, to forage.  Adding cluster of winter-blooming plants around the yard will give them much needed nourishment.

Bees take in carbohydrates from floral nectar and protein from floral pollen.  Being aware of bloom times and providing flowers that overlap the seasons are important for beekeepers who want to successfully over-winter their colonies.

Some bees, including many wild varieties, begin searching for food as early as January, when sunny days can push temperatures up to 55 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

Blooms on Big Leaf maple near Langley, Washington provide floral, nectar and pollen for early-season foraging bees. Trees are amongst the earliest pollinator plants to bloom in spring. People often overlook trees and their importance to pollinators desperate to find food in the early spring.

Redbud blooms near New Market, Virginia, about the times bees are about to emerge to forage for a new season of honey production. Winter and spring are the lean months for honeybees as they begin to emerge from their dwindling food supplies. People often overlook trees when planting for pollinators.

“In the early spring, bees are going to need food to get their engines started again,” said Andony Melathopoulos, a bee specialist with Oregon State University Extension Service. “You can’t simply start up your gardening routines (for pollinators) again in the spring. Solitary wild bees, honeybees and hummingbirds are just clinging to life.

“The preparation you do now is very important since early spring is a vulnerable time for pollinators.”

Pollinator plants like crocus, primrose and snowdrops will bloom even when snow is on the ground. Trees and shrubs also are effective choices for feeding early emerging honeybees.

“People often overlook trees,” Melathopoulos said. “But when it comes to late winter and early spring, it’s the trees that are important. Willows, maples, filberts and hazelnuts are some of the earliest sources of pollen you’ll find. They’re easy to establish and grow.”

He also suggests establishing the early blooming plants in clusters to make it easier for foraging honeybees to spot and access them.

“Bees are efficient pollinators,” Melathopoulos said. “They really appreciate patches of flowers. They can go from flower to flower easily. It’s hard for them to work on cool days, and if they don’t have to fly between clusters, they really appreciate it.”

Many winter-flowering plants grow in the wild, but pollinators generally don’t live near them, he said. That makes cultivating winter bloomers important when you’re planning your gardens.

Property owners also should leave suitable places for native bees to hibernate undisturbed. Let turf grass grow long over the winter. Avoid pesticides. Reduce lawn size and turn instead to protective shrubs.

Even a small amount of habitat will be enough to sustain bees, Melathopoulos said: “These are tiny creatures. Well-thought-out landscapes can provide all the food they need in winter. Gardeners can really help with that.”

Here are some additional bee-friendly plants that can provide a degree of brightness in winter while also nourishing pollinators:

  • Oregon grape, an evergreen shrub that produces yellow flowers blooming for weeks.
  • Heath and heather. “In shades of purple to copper to gold, these low-growing plants make a mat of color throughout the year, including winter,” Melathopoulos said.
  • Male willow plants, maples, apple, crabapple, native cherry. “I’d start with these shrubs,” said Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director for The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore.

“Native plants selected to feed bees are definitely part of the solution” to declining bee populations, Vaughan said.

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Why Human Behavior is Hurting Honey Bees

An article from Entomology Today (www.entomologytoday.org)

The Varroa destructor mite (shown at right attached to a bee) is a widespread parasite of European honey bees (Apis mellifera). Poor management practices have enabled the spread of V. destructor and other bee pathogens, an Australian bee researcher argues.

In the search for answers to the complex health problems and colony losses experienced by honey bees in recent years, it may be time for professionals and hobbyists in the beekeeping industry to look in the mirror.

In a research essay published recently in the Journal of Economic Entomology, Robert Owen argues that human activity is a key driver in the spread of pathogens affecting the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) and recommends a series of collective actions necessary to stem their spread. While some research seeks a “magic bullet” solution to honey bee maladies such as Colony Collapse Disorder, “many of the problems are caused by human action and can only be mitigated by changes in human behavior,” Owen says.

Owen is author of The Australian Beekeeping Handbook, owner of a beekeeping supply company, and a Ph.D. candidate at the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Analysis at the University of Melbourne. In his essay in the Journal of Economic Entomology, he outlines an array of human-driven factors that have enabled the spread of honey bee pathogens:

  • Regular, large-scale and loosely regulated movement of bee colonies for commercial pollination. (For instance, in February 2016 alone, of the 2.66 million managed bee colonies in the United States, 1.8 million were transported to California for almond crop pollination.)
  • Carelessness in the application of Integrated Pest Management principles leading to overuse of pesticides and antibiotics, resulting in increased resistance to them among honey bee parasites and pathogens such as the Varroa destructor mite and the American Foul Brood bacterium (Paenibacillus larvae).
  • The international trade in honey bees and honey bee products that has enabled the global spread of pathogens such as Varroa destructor, tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi), Nosema cerana, small hive beetle (Aethina tumida), and the fungal disease chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis).
  • Lack of skill and dedication among hobbyist beekeepers to adequately inspect and manage colonies for disease.

Collecting semen from a drone honey bee that will be used to artificially inseminate a queen bee. Stephen Ausmus, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Owen offers several suggestions for changes in human behavior to improve honey bee health, including:

  • Stronger regulations both of global transport of honey bees and bee products and of migratory beekeeping practices within countries for commercial pollination.
  • Greater adherence to Integrated Pest Management practices among both commercial and hobbyist beekeepers.
  • Increased education of beekeepers on pathogen management (perhaps requiring such education for registration as a beekeeper).
  • Deeper support networks for hobby beekeepers, aided by scientists, beekeeping associations and government.

“The problems facing honey bees today are complex and will not be easy to mitigate,” says Owen. “The role of inappropriate human action in the spread of pathogens and the resulting high numbers of colony losses needs to be brought into the fore of management and policy decisions if we are to reduce colony losses to acceptable levels.”

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A letter to the editor, from Rachel Culotto

I am writing to pitch a stirring story about local beekeepers, Pamela Vosbein and Phil Villarubia of Bush, Louisiana. As you know, our honey bee population is declining, and they are so essential to our ecosystem. Honey bees are wonderful creatures and it would be a shame to see them go extinct. It is important to share local stories of beekeepers starting out so that others may be influenced to partake in keeping our honey bee population alive.

Pamela and Phil started out with a bare minimum of knowledge on beekeeping.  Pamela, over the last year, has become a mentor to several newer beekeepers, while Phil has been successfully ending his first year of harvesting honey.  They both, daily, share their experiences with co-workers and friends in the New Orleans area with hopes of encouraging more locals to take part in rejuvenating our honey bee population.

My story shares how both Pamela and Phil became interested in beekeeping, how Pamela handles being a mentor for those interested in this hobby, ways to make beekeeping affordable and fun, as well as, the importance of getting our community to participate in keeping honey bees alive and well.  Because both Pamela and Phil have been invested in beekeeping locally, each for over a year now, they both are impressionable people for our community to read about.  Their experiences are easily relatable to our community – those who are interested in this hobby, as well as, those who know nothing about beekeeping.

I firmly believe publishing this story will not only encourage those in our community to educate themselves on the importance of honey bees, but also inspire ordinary people in our community to step up, get involved, and start their own hives.  Pamela and Phil have both done their part in our community.  Let’s honor their hard work and dedication to our honey bee population in return!

————–

From the editor:  Thank you Rachel.  I rarely receive any comments and rarely a letter.  Yours is heartwarming and definitely worth posting.  Pamela and Phil, I hope you are able to read this and thence know that your devotion and efforts are being recognized!  I hope 2018 and the following years are filled with enlightenment and enjoyment, not only with beekeeping but also with the friends you are interacting with.   — Tim Haley

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Photos from the 56th Annual LBA Convention

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Annual Convention contest winners

Congratulations to all of the contest winners at our 2017 Annual Meeting & Convention!

4-H Essay Contest Winners

  1. Sarah Hammonds (Bossier Parish)
  2. Moriah Jackson (Lincoln Parish)
  3. Anna Vandeven (Tensas Parish)

Honey Contest Winners

  1. Mary Brasseaux
  2. Larry Kebodeaux
  3. Art Prell

Honey-baked Condiments Winners

  1. Margaret Prell – Honey Pecan Bars
  2. Stacy Blomquist – Honey Bun Cake
  3. Emily Winners – Honeyed Pecans

Brood Box Contest: Youth

  • Most Beautiful – Mackenzie Stanford
  • Most Unusual – Savannah Rose McReynolds
  • Most Creative – Lane Stenford

Brood Box Contest: Adult

  • Most Beautiful – Connie Kebodeaux
  • Most Unusual – Mackenzie Stanford
  • Most Creative – Stephen Harrell
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LBA 2017 Annual Convention featured speakers

The 2017 LBA Annual Meeting & Convention was held last month in Pineville, LA and featured a variety of educational presentations on topics of interest to both large and small-scale beekeepers.

Other speakers included, Doug Roberts (Texas Beekeeping Insurance, Co.), Kyle McCann (Farm Bureau Associate Commodity Director, Director of National Affairs), Tim Haley (LBA Board Member), Pierre Lau (PhD student, Entomology Department, Texas A&M University) and Dan Aurell (Crop Protection Agent, Tech Transfer Team-Texas Bee Informed Partnership).

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Pollinator forage at risk – contact your legislators today!

The impact of pests, pathogens, pesticides, and poor forage upon our honey bees and native pollinators has honey bee health at the edge with one small change

enough to crash the system of pollination service.  Southern states are vowing to control the Chinese tallow tree in the landscape.  Yet, this imported plant has become a vital source of nectar for honey bees.  A variety of states are beginning to enact invasive weed control programs, with no plan to restore a native plant in place of the invasive, or to understand that many invasive plants are nectar and pollen sources for honey bees.  Many invasive plants are growing where nothing else will; have limited pesticide exposure, and therefore support millions of pollinators whose habitat is dwindling.

Commercial beekeepers who travel the country pollinating America’s food supply rely on pollinator supportive plants for their honey bees in between crop pollination services, as a wintering area for their bees prior to the start of almond pollination season, and simply to make a honey crop.  Chinese tallow tree nectar is fairly pesticide-free, and thus healthier food for the bees.

State governments and researchers are seeking funding now to introduce the non-native flea beetle, Bikasha collaris, as a biological control for the Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera).  Beekeepers are concerned about the effects of releasing a non-native insect into the American ecosystem, and about the loss of this vital pollinator forage. Learn more about a project proposal to introduce the non-native flea beetle in Louisiana .  View a map of the Federal lands in Louisiana that could be affected if the non-native flea beetle is introduced. And then contact your legislator and ask him/her to oppose this action and protect this vital source of nectar for honeybees.

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HandyAndy Pollen Book

LBA local hobbyist beekeeper Andy Havard, aka HandyAndy, has begun putting together a collection of Louisiana blooming plants and their pollen. 2 versions are available – coffee table or research oriented. Copies of this ongoing endeavor may be purchased through this link.

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