Bee health assessment monitoring gives us an opportunity to help identify causes of honey bee losses and how we might reduce them
Background and proposal
Honey bee colonies die at an alarming rate over the winter in North America, and there appears to be an increase in warm weather non-survival. Mite infestation, virus infections, nutrition and queen quality appear to be the primary factors in this alarming situation. Hive management appears to have a major role in overcoming some of these issues, demonstrated by some experienced beekeepers reporting encouraging rates of survival that is probably based on skilled vigil and scientific planning.
For the next year or more, this project will examine management practices and health assessment factors in bee yards run by invited experienced beekeepers. Similar to the national program called Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), this project will not advise beekeepers on their practice elements other than by inference from shared reports. Part of the value of participating in this project is learning how fellow beekeepers are dealing with challenges as information is shared among three regional bee clubs from the reports generated by this project. Objective analysis of some practices that have only anecdotal bases without tested value may also reveal themselves.
Key to the value of the project is the documentation of regular inspection and testing of colonies (8 to 10 times a year) in order to establish relationships between disease incidence and survival and how management choices (or neglect) might have helped or hindered survival.
Information gathering is carefully standardized in the sampling forms, yet subject to peer review. Related special focus issues will be examined such as tracking Nosema incidence through the seasons, comparing Varroa testing methods, and evaluating ventilation control systems. An Infrared photography project for winter cluster tracking is being conducted independently by one advisor to this monitoring program. Consulting with him on this may be especially interesting to some beekeepers.
Volunteer experienced beekeepers will select two colonies and record details of either an invasive inspection (3 required) or brief inspection a minimum of 8 combined times per year, collecting a sample of 60 bees from each hive/inspection in the study. Ideally, the two colonies should be in the same bee yard and show contrast performance of one strong and one week hive.
Single case consult:
Single episode health issues are candidates for special examination whether or not the beekeeper is in the program. Various observed signs may prompt this service – diarrhea, sudden high mite counts on sticky board, abundant unidentified detritus on sticky board, suspect corn pollen forage, unusual pollen basket content, deformed wing bees, frequent dead, dark or crawling bees (on the skirt you should periodically place under the hive entrance) are all cases. Post mortem exam on sudden death cases would also be a special interest.
(Apply to both full and single case consult)
Nosema test – spore counts applied to data base with interpretive report to beekeeper –$10
Virus test on ¼ cup live bees (½ price subsidized by your bee club) –$40
Single case consultation – phone dialogue, written report, travel time– $50/hr.