Or there could be a late-summer lull, followed by an intense fall nectar and pollen flow. And in the arid West, the colony may be facing a long, dry dearth until the first fall rains. In any case, colony population typically peaks during the main flow. Then, depending upon summer forage availability, temperature, and rainfall, attrition will exceed recruitment meaning that more workers die each day than emerge from the broodnest—see Fig.
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Practical application: lots of bees die through normal attrition every day. Since this high rate of attrition is normal, in order to maintain colony strength, uninterrupted broodrearing is critical. And that requires a steady supply of pollen. The above graph is for illustrative purposes only—bees of course love to remind us that there are exceptions to every rule. In any case, whenever the attrition of workers exceeds recruitment, the colony population will decline.
This occurs whenever there is not enough incoming pollen to sustain serious broodrearing. Figure 2. She was able to rebound for a short period in September, then as fall progressed, broodrearing was curtailed, and the population further declined in preparation for winter . On the other hand, a declining population starts to lose its youthfulness and resiliency. Honey bees can survive in an incredible diversity of landscapes.
The population dynamics of the colony reflect the abundance of resources. In general, colonies respond initially to the first tree pollens, then build rapidly on early spring nectar and pollen sources, and reach peak population during the early- to midsummer main flow or flows.
The beekeeper can immediately recognize this in the broodnest. The band of reserve beebread disappears, and the brood pattern becomes spotty Fig. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this late summer decline. As I showed in my last article, it is actually critical, in order to conserve honey stores for the winter. But it also puts the colony under stress. The aging, protein-deficient population loses its resiliency, and is less able to deal with parasites, pathogens, and pesticides including beekeeper-applied miticides [ 3].
Practical application: the shrinking of the broodnest and the overall colony population in late summer is a completely natural response by the colony to the changing environment. Locally adapted stock may require no additional husbandry. On the other hand, Italian-type stocks bred for full-tilt production may not respond appropriately, and go into severe nutritional stress. In the arid West with which I am familiar, during late summer, colonies may shrink in strength to the degree that they may not be strong enough for almond pollination come February.
To provide better nutrition, professional beekeepers may move their hives to irrigated land, next to residential areas, or to states where it rains during the summer. Or they may feed supplemental protein Fig. Practical application: feeding an average of about a pound of high-quality protein supplement per week will maintain colony strength; feeding more may allow it to grow sometimes at a remarkable rate.
Recent research [ 4] has confirmed that varroa aside the most important factor for colony health is a continual supply of nutritious pollens. Such a supply depends upon the sort of floral diversity often found in undisturbed habitats, but may also occur in some agricultural and residential areas. The benefit of a steady supply of nectar and pollen may outweigh the harm from agricultural pesticides [ 5].
Note: before I get jumped on, pesticides can clearly be an issue for colony health in some agricultural areas and instances. Simple enforcement of existing pesticide regulations at the state level would often help. Lack of protein not only causes a restriction in broodrearing, but also affects the health and longevity of the workers.
Nutritional stress hurts the developing larvae, which require constant feeding for optimal development. Poorly-fed larvae grow into sickly, short-lived, virus-susceptible adults. Workers that upon emergence, do not find adequate stores of beebread upon which to feed, are unable to realize full development of their physiology, and due to their short survivorship, exacerbate the decline in colony strength [ 6]. Practical application: The baseline factor for colony health is the availability of nutritious pollen.
Feeding of enough pollen sub not only restores the flow of jelly in the hive allowing workers to live longer , but also initiates renewed broodrearing, and thus recruitment of replacement workers.
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- Understanding Colony Buildup and Decline: Part 10.
Following the intensity of egg laying earlier in the season, queens in their second year or older often peter out. Practical applications: unlike humans, in which females get better with age hear that, honey?
In truth, the workers treat the queen as the fungible ovary of the colony—should the queen show any sign of failure, or the colony start performing poorly, the workers will replace her at the drop of a hat. Annual requeening is one of the best ways to keep your colonies healthy and productive.
If opportunity presents after the main flow, this is a good time for requeening, as this is when colonies tend to naturally supersede worn queens in order to establish a vigorous young queen prior to winter. A number of beekeepers report good success in simply placing a protected queen cell up away from the broodnest. Requeening at this time is also a great opportunity for mite control—a subject that I will address in an upcoming article.
The food for varroa is bee brood.
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Thus, this puts us into a quandary regarding management decisions. The highly productive and gentle Italian-type stocks so favored by beekeepers are also loved by varroa, due to the extravagant broodnests that they maintain throughout the season. And managing colonies to be strong for almonds adds to the problem. Practical application: huge broodnests make for strong colonies. But they also constitute unlimited fodder for varroa—the more brood, the more successfully varroa can reproduce. Thus, feeding colonies is a two-edged sword, as it prevents the colony from starving out varroa during time of pollen dearth a strategy well exhibited by Russian bees.
We Americans need to remember that varroa arrived in Europe a decade before it invaded the U.
We must also keep in mind that there are a lot of very sharp researchers in other countries, from which we can learn a great deal. My point—the Europeans have a year jump on us as far as experience with varroa [ 7] , and are a crystal ball for our future. After varroa first invades, its effects upon beekeeping follow the same trajectory in most every country in which European bees are kept.
Then the viruses evolve to take advantage of the mite, and beekeeping gets tougher. Varroa soon develops resistance to synthetic miticides one by one, and beekeepers are forced to shift to organic acids and thymol. Eventually, we will finally resign ourselves to the fact that the long-term solution is not eve-increasing chemical treatment, but rather in breeding naturally mite-resistant stock.
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This will require an overall genetic shift of our commercial bee stocks to mite and virus resistant bees. Practical application: we can see the future—so what the heck are we waiting for? After that our focus was diverted by CCD and pesticides. Meanwhile, varroa kept chugging along, and researchers and a number of beekeepers are now realizing that varroa is indeed honey bee Enemy 1.
So let me explain a bit of mite biology.
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A key thing to keep in mind is that having a few mites in a hive is not a problem. Even mites placed in a hive would not be a serious problem, so long as those mites did not reproduce , since they would all eventually be groomed off or die of old age. The same is true of Alcock. While most people do everything in their power to keep termites away, Alcock hunts for cow patties around the Mazatzal Mountains north of Phoenix and plops them in his yard to attract termites. During the summer, with his wife, Sue, in tow, Alcock sets up shop next to his brittlebush where generations of bees come to nest.
He uses acrylic paint to mark them and then observes how many return to the same bush. In , he was named a Regents Professor, an honor reserved for exceptional faculty scholars who have achieved national and international distinction. When asked if she shares her husband's fascination with bugs, Sue Alcock replied, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm a 6, he's definitely a They frequently stop by to check out his front yard garden and see what new experiment he's working on.
Alcock admits he pushed the envelope a tad when he secured three bags of rat dung from an ASU lab and added it to his compost heap in the back yard. One bag would have sufficed. He didn't tell. He has also contributed many of his photographs.