That's the consensus of the declining honey bee population in the United States.
A newly released poll showed that our nation's beekeepers lost an average of 21 percent of their colonies last winter, as compared to 27 percent the winter before, according to the 11th annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership. They polled nearly 5000 beekeepers.
"We would, of course, all love it if the trend continues, but there are so many factors playing a role in colony health," bee expert Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, told the Associated Press in a recent news story headlined “Survey Finds U.S. Honeybee Losses Improve from Horrible to Bad.”
Nino, who was not part of the survey, added “I am glad to see this, but wouldn't celebrate too much yet."
Survey director Dennis vanEngelsdorp. a University of Maryland apiculturist, told the Associated Press: "It's good news in that the numbers are down, but it's certainly not a good picture. It's gone from horrible to bad."
Indeed, the 10-year average for winter losses is 28.4 percent, and bee scientists want it down to at least 15 percent.
Pests, pesticides, diseases, stress and malnutrition all play a role in our nation's honey bee population decline.
Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, who retired in 2014 after a 38-year career, has long pointed out the malnutrition issue is a major factor in the declining bee population.
"You, no doubt, have lost track of how many times I have stated that malnutrition is a leading factor in our unacceptable annual bee colony loss numbers," Mussen wrote in a 2013 bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, located on the Department of Entomology and Nematology website. "I have also stated innummerable times that our synthesized bee diets just cannot match the value of nutrients obtained by bees from a mixture of quality pollens. My concern has been that although we have a very good idea of the protein requirements for honey bees, the rations of essential amino acids honey bees require, and their required vitamins and minerals, etc., we still cannot feed bees on our best diets and keep them alive more than two months in confinement."
Malnutrition is linked to a number of factors, including loss of habitat, but also climate change.
Scientists believe that our rising carbon dioxide levels may contribute to die-off of bees. A May 2016 Yale publication warned that "Rising C02 Levels May Contribute to Die-off of Bees."
"As they investigate the factors behind the decline of bee populations, scientists are now eyeing a new culprit--soaring levels of carbon dioxide, which alter plant physiology and significantly reduce protein in important sources of pollen," wrote Lisa Palmer.
This is the gist of it: scientists headed over to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to examine the pollen content of goldenrod specimens, dating back to 1842. Why goldenrod? It's a key food source for bees in the summer to late-fall bloomer when not much else is blooming.
They compared samples from 1842 to 2014, when atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide rose from about 280 parts per million to 398 pmm, and found the results quite troubling--a lot less protein in the pollen of newer specimens. In fact, the most recent pollen samples contained 30 percent less protein. "The greatest drop in protein occurred from 1960 to 2014, when the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose dramatically," Palmer wrote.
Scientists speculate the rising carbon dioxide concentrations--think climate change--may be playing a role in the global die-off of bee populations "by undermining bee nutrition and reproductive success," Palmer wrote.
Noted entomologist May Berenbaum, professor of entomology and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (she's now a past president of the Entomological Society of America) was quoted in the article: "A declining quality of protein across the board almost assuredly is affecting bees. Like humans, good nutrition is essential for bee health by allowing them to fend off all kinds of health threats. Anything that indicates that the quality of their food is declining is worrisome."
So honey bees--which pollinate about one-third of the food we eat--are still in trouble.
And so, it appears, are we.
And your bees.
The declining honey bee population now has 52 more friends. Science-based friends. Bee ambassadors. Partners.
They're the new apprentice graduates of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), administered by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her colleagues at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Program, University of California, Davis.
The program, which includes apprentice, journeyman and master levels, uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors to help the troubling honey bee population, assist beekeepers, and engage in public outreach, according to CAMPB program manager Bernardo Niño of the E. L. Niño lab. The written and practical exams for apprentice took place in September at the Laidlaw facility. Now the 52 grads can opt to stop at the apprentice level or continue on to the more advanced levels of journeyman and master.
“We know that all will represent the program confidently and knowledgeable throughout the state and the country and we look forward to working with all the future CAMPBers,” wrote Elina and Bernardo Niño in the current edition of their Apiculture Newsletter.
The 52 beekeepers answered 125 questions on the written test, dealing with basic honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, maladies of the hive, and management techniques. Then they took the practical exam, which consisted of 20 minutes of one-on-one time with an examiner. They demonstrated their mastery of basic colony and hive inspections, identification of equipment and different hive types, and various management techniques.
The most intimidating portion of the exam? Performing a sugar shake to monitor for varroa mite levels, the Niños said. The parasitic varroa mites are considered "Public Enemy No. 1" of honey bees.
The first beekeeper to sign up for the practical test, held in the Laidlaw apiary, was Cheryl Veretto, president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association (SCBA) and a member of the Sonoma County Master Gardeners (SCMG).
“I signed up to get it over with," Veretto acknowledged. "I hate waiting for a test--it is nerve-racking. But once I opened the hive, I felt at home. The Master Beekeeper session was somewhat intense studying for the test. There is a lot of science/biology and vocabulary that I learned. Overall, it was a great experience. And I passed."
Veretto joined SCBA seven years ago, and has been keeping bees for six years. Seven years ago, the membership totaled 95; today it's 460. "SCBA has been a non-profit since 2011," she said. "Prior to that it was a club that changed names a few times but the core beekeepers have been going since 1990s."
How did she decide to be a beekeeper; what interested her in bees and in beekeeping? “I started out as a greedy gardener-- wanting everything to be pollinated so that I could select my best,” Veretto recalled. “I have always planted for pollinators in my gardens, but wanted to maximize, and so, I started beekeeping--and what a journey its been. I am now an activist for pollinators, and you never stop learning when you get into bees/beekeeping. The honey bee and humans are tied together closer than many think."
Veretto thoroughly enjoys keeping bees and engaging in public service. “I enjoy building community. We have an awesome bee club with a membership that is fully engaged--we have activities going on most every week, and we are active in the community, doing presentations and demonstrations,” she said. “I do public speaking with both SCBA and SCMG groups talking on 'Planting for Pollinators' and 'Safe Gardening' practices. I just finished the Advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program with Master Gardeners and hope to include much of that information in my presentations as well. My true passion is gardening and propagating bee forage plants; most days you find me outside in the gardens and apiary.”
Veretto lives on a small rural farm with her human family and 12 bee hives, along with Cashmere goats, chickens, cats, dogs, a food garden and several pollinator forage gardens.
"I started beekeeping with one hive six years ago and gradually built up to 12," she said. "I think that is a good size of apiary for me; it takes a little more time for management but I am learning so much more, having several colonies to watch, and something different is going on in each. I keep bees in both Langstroth and TopBar hives, and have an observation hive for demonstration.“
Now she's looking forward to serving in the California Master Beekeeper Program as a science-based bee ambassador.
Interested in learning more about the California Master Beekeeper Program? Here are some Niño-lab resources:
- California Master Beekeeper Website
- E. L. Niño Lab Website
- E. L. Niño Lab Facebook Page
- Apiculture Newsletter
The Niño lab plans to expand testing sites to encompass the entire state, and will be working with UC Cooperative Extension offices. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center helps support the program. To receive the most up-to-date news and information, folks can sign up for the CAMPB-specific mailing list.) For further information, contact Bernardo Niño at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 380-BUZZ (2899).
If you attended the 141st annual Dixon May Fair, held May 5-8, and saw the honey bee display in Madden Hall, you probably heard the buzz.
In keeping with the theme, "Buzzing with Excitement," bees buzzed in the bee observation hives as fairgoers singled out the queen bee, worker bees and drones. Images of bees pollinating almonds graced the walls. Youths in Garry Haddon's beekeeping project in the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, displayed their decorated boxes. A smoker, gloves and beekeepers' suits lined a fence.
The UC Davis E.L. Niño lab, headed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Department of Entomology and Nematology, shared beekeeping equipment, facts about bees, pollinator posters (Guess if I'm a pollinator or not?) as well as bee observation hives. They told fairgoers that bees are responsible for a third of the food we eat, and if there were no bees to pollinator our crops, we wouldn't recognize the produce section of our supermarkets. Most of the shelves and bins holding fruits and vegetables would be empty.
Bee scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, are offering a total of four short courses from Feb. 13 to March 20. All will be at the Laidlaw facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. They will be comprised of lectures in the conference room and hands-on exercises in the apiary.
Instructors are Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño; staff research associate Bernardo Niño; facility manager/staff research associate Charley Nye; and graduate student Tricia Bohls.
The first short course, "Planning Ahead for Your First Hives," is set Saturday, Feb. 13. "This is perfect for those who have little or no beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical skills to move on to the next step of owning and caring for bees," says Elina Niño. You'll learn about honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your colony, and maladies of the hive. You'll be shown how to install a package, how to inspect your hive and how to monitor for those dreaded varroa mites. The $95 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch, and refreshments
Next will be the "Queen Rearing Techniques" short course. Due to popular demand, there will be two sessions and you can select the one on Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13 or the one the following weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, March 19-20. You'll learn about honey bee queen biology, basics of selective honey bee breeding programs, various queen-rearing techniques, testing hygienic behavior, and assessing varroa mite levels. You'll have the opportunity to learn about and practice multiple methods for queen rearing.
“We will go through a step-by-step process for queen rearing via grafting, including setting up cell builders and mating nucs,” Elina Niño said. At the end of the course, you'll be able to check your grafting success. If you live in the area, you can take home queen cells from the workshop. You'll also learn techniques to assess varroa mite loads and to evaluate hygienic behavior. Each session also will include a guided tour of the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that attracts many pollinators and is filled with art from the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program and entomology/art classes taught by Diane Ullman and Donna Billick.
The $350 registration fee for each queen-rearing session covers the cost of course materials (including a set of grafting equipment: grafting frame with bars, plastic queen cups and a grafting tool), breakfast, lunch and refreshments on the days of the short course.
Interested? For more information, contact Bernardo Niño at email@example.com or call (530) 380-BUZZ (2899). The Niño lab website is at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/, and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab/. The bi-monthly apiculture newsletter, written by Elina Niño, is online.
The rain that pounded Northern California on Oct. 18--complete with thunder and lightening--also drenched a few honey bees that waited out the storm.
Have you ever seen a thoroughly drenched bee? This one got caught in the storm and relocated from an African basil to a yellow rose in Vacaville, Calif. It burrowed beneath the petals.
As soon as the rain stopped and the sun emerged, she crawled out of her "bed of roses."
More rain is on its way in the form of El Niño.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes El Niño as "a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather and climate across the globe." Basically, an El Niño is "characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific." Contrast that to a La Niño, characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.
Beekeepers are among those eagerly hoping that El Niño to put a dent in California's four-year drought. More rain means more flowers. More flowers means more nectar and pollen and better nutrition for the bees.
When Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño (firstname.lastname@example.org) joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology last year, she indicated she wished she could have brought some rain with her from Pennsylvania.
Well, it's on its way. And you can Track El Niño on the NOAA website.