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 October 2016
Danielle's Discourse
 Taking Stock at Harvest Time Shows Abundant Progress    
  Our Seeds for Bees program, which offers free seeds to California's almond growers to increase diversity and duration of bloom for bee nutrition, has increased acreage 92% over last year! We are preparing to launch our forage project in the Upper Midwest--the Honey Bee and Monarch Butterfly Partnership--from a pilot to a regional program in 2017. This week we won a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the California Department of Agriculture and Food, to support our project breeding Varroa resistant bees, which will provide $320K over the next 2.5 years. Our staff has been traveling to meet with stakeholders to present our work almost weekly. PAm nominated our first partner on a hedgerow project for a NAPPC Farmer-Rancher award, and they won!  Congratulations to Sran Family Orchards! We just closed the call for proposals for the National Honey Board research funds, and we will select the first PAm-Costco Canada PhD Scholar at interviews next month. We are really on a roll! There is so much good work to share, but here's a look at the best part--the bees! This short video captures the trait we select for in our Varroa resistance breeding program.  If you have never seen it, take a look!

Honeybees removing mite infested brood. 

  It has reached over 90,000 people on our Facebook Page, a hot post! Although there are many mechanisms of Varroa resistance in honey bees, including grooming and hygienic behavior, this is the mechanism of Varroa resistance we know most about, called Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH). These bees can find the capped cells where a Varroa mite has entered to reproduce; they uncap those cells and remove the developing bee. As you can see in the video, the mite escapes alive, and she may try again.  But the bees will interrupt her reproduction again, and this stops mite populations from growing. This behavior was discovered at the USDA ARS Bee Lab in Baton Rouge, and since then they have selected and bred lines of bees to maintain this trait. The challenge remains to stabilize that behavior in a bee with the full suite of desirable traits for commercial beekeeping use, to encourage commercial adoption. This is a significant endeavor. Breeding is a long-term commitment, and verifying the VSH behavior requires opening 100s of brood cells to inspect mite reproduction for each colony. It's a big challenge, but we believe it's worth doing--to develop a long-term, sustainable tool for Varroa control. We couldn't be more excited about all our projects to help bees. We look forward to sharing information with you at upcoming meetings! 

Danielle Downey
Executive Director 

Billy's Blog

  Since October - December is the ideal period for planting in California, now is an appropriate time to discuss the possibility  of planting pollinator friendly hedgerows.  Over the past year I had opportunities to design and install hedgerows near almond orchards in Fresno County.  Growers were happy with the cost and ease of installation.  Planting is easy.  Dig the right size hole, remove the pot, place plant into the hole, cover, and then install irrigation.  The process is more similar to landscaping than traditional farming.  No expensive equipment or implements are needed. 
  Every hedgerow is different.  I customize the hedgerow design to fit the needs of each grower or landowner.  A hedgerow for a beekeepers apiary would include plants that have ample amounts of pollen and nectar.  California's weather can support plants that bloom all year long.  If the right selections are made, a hedgerow will have at least one species in bloom for most of the year. Hedgerows can have something providing nutrition to bees 10-12 months out of the year! 
  An almond grower will also want hedgerows with pollinator friendly plants.  However, their goals are more numerous than a beekeepers.  They want to help bees and efficiently produce high quality nuts.  Hedgerows can assist with these goals by providing habitat for organisms that eat or kill common almond pests.  It is hard to imagine a simple row of plants can prevent erosion, reduce wind, buffer pesticide drift, support pollinators, and help keep pests under control all at the same time. Hedgerows are a true powerhouse!  Contact me today.  Let's get one on your farm or ranch.  Some plants to consider include:  toyon, CA buckwheat, Brandgegee's sage, Cleveland sage, germander, coyote brush (males only),  Pacific aster, CA lilac, coffee berry, bottlebrush, rosemary, lavender, manzanita, fern-leaf yarrow, elderberry, grevelia.  

Interested?  Please email me at or call me at 614-330-6932.

Billy Synk
Director of Pollination Programs

Technical Transfer Team Varroa Mite Averages
Average varroa loads across all tech teams this year and last. 
The Word From Wardell
  Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the International  Congress of Entomology in Orlando,  Florida. Researchers and academics from all over the world convened to share their research and most recent developments.  
  As an entomologist, there was nothing better than being surrounded by my peers and listening to the most fascinating talks and conversations throughout the week.  At the end of each afternoon I was literally exhausted from zipping from one lecture hall to another to hear talks that interested me.  There were so many great discussions both in the lecture halls and in the hallways afterward and a surprising amount which focused on bees: talks on solitary bees, bee nutrition, bee behavior, pesticide and fungicide interactions with bees and so much more.  

  By far, the most fascinating symposiums and presentations were on Varroa mites.  While it is still the number one problem facing beekeepers today, we don't have many more answers than we did ten years ago.  Mites continue to ravage our colonies and we are limited to a small number of treatments.  What has become clear over the years, and was hammered home during the conference, is that it is going to take Varroa resistant breeding and selection to get us, the beekeeping community, out of this dilemma.  
  It was encouraging to hear about continuing efforts to improve the mite resistance of the Russian stock and to push forward with Varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH).  This is where the adult bees detect infected pupae under the cappings and eject the pupae and mite from the brood nest before the mite can complete a life cycle (see Danielle's video link). Other researchers have identified lines of bees that attack and chew the legs off of the mites...a fitting end for the little parasite.  Yet other researchers have identified lines of bees that groom the mites, and other bees that (as adults) don't put up with a mite crawling on them.  The adult bees are clearly disturbed by the presence of a mite on their bodies.  When a mite attaches itself to a bee it begins a series of gyrations, flicking and dancing until the mite falls off the bee...a good trait to have to reduce phoretic mites.  To see a video of this behavior was most impressive.  It is a wonder that all bees don't react to mites in that manner considering the relative size of mites to bees.  

  Where this brings us is to the understanding that we still have a lot of work to do before we can put Varroa concerns behind us and address the myriad of other issues facing beekeepers today.  Over a year ago, Project Apis m. put out a request for proposals to address Varroa mite control.  We should soon be getting reports back on these projects.  Many of the ideas were novel approaches to controlling mites such as modified spider venom, new delivery systems for organic acids, stock and breeding programs and so on.  I would love to celebrate Varroa's 30th anniversary in North America with a footnote that its days are numbered.  I'm sure it can happen with the help of the impressive worldwide body of researchers working tirelessly on colony health issues.  

Dr. Gordon Wardell
Chairman, Project Apis m.

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The BIP Box

The sampling season is winding down

  October is usually the month when our samples start slowing down as beekeepers finish treatments, extract honey and start buttoning up their colonies for winter. This year has been a little different and most of our technical transfer teams have been able to sample well into October. This big push in the fall brings our sample number to 8,675 varroa samples and 8,675 nosema samples for a total of over 17,000 samples just from the technical transfer teams alone. 

  With this amount of data, we can begin to do trend analysis not only between regions but as an overall health indicator. Fall trends are something we particularly pay close attend to as varroa levels are usually a good measure of how well bees will fare over the winter. A positive trend going into the winter of 2016 is illustrated below. We can see that for this year, the averages from all 5 technical transfer teams are lower every month, with the exception of July, and specifically for the months of August and September. We will be keeping a very close eye as we close out October and November to see if those values stay below last year's values. 

  To indicate how low these values are, we can compare them to the APHIS National survey samples. September varroa averages from the APHIS national survey indicate a varroa mite load of 6.02 mites/100 bees, a value that is more than 2.6 times the value we are seeing from commercial beekeepers in our technical transfer teams this year.

BIP Data hot off the press:
  Averages for nosema and varroa loads across all tech teams thus far in October are at 0.09 million spores/bee and 1.09 mites/100 bees respectively, with the varroa significantly lower than last month. (see graph)

 Bee Husbandry

- Plan to have colonies inspected and certified in state-of-origin to mitigate border station delays.  Self-inspect colonies prior to shipment.  


- Prepare colonies for transport to CA orchards. Keep hives and pallets free from soil, weeds and plant debris.


- Maintain bee strength in preparation for pollination season


- Feed pollen patties as long as bees are eating it. 

- Remove untouched patties. They are the perfect breeding ground for small hive beetle and wax moth.


- Consider dry feeding pollen supplements. It can help reduce robbing.


- Over-wintering colonies fare better with younger queens. Requeen if necessary.


- Continue to inspect colonies and apply treatments as necessary to control pests and diseases.


- Maintain a reserve; don't commit all of your colonies to contract. 


- Project Apis m. has developed BMPs for beekeepers and growers, including hive, transportation, and business management. All can be accessed on our website.


Project Apis m. | |
6775 Chardonnay Rd
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Project Apis m. is a 501 (c) (5) non-profit organization.