Maine beekeepers State of the State Address

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Every year at the annual meeting of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association our state apiarist, Anthony (Tony) Jadczak talks about the condition of our bees throughout the course of the year. We all laughingly refer to it as Tony’s “State of the State Address”, but it really is important information to relay to the body of Maine beekeepers. Staying aware of what’s happening to honeybee colonies around the state can help beekeepers better manage their hives.

Tony said the 2014-15 winter was really tough and the spring warm up seemed to take forever. As a result, Tony says, “the herd [of honeybee colonies] was significantly thinned”.

maine beekeepingFollowing such a long, harsh winter the plant blooms were absolutely spectacular. The apples, raspberries and of course the goldenrod, were all phenomenal this year. Tony lamented on the dandelion bloom, saying that for the past 2 years the temperatures were too cool or it was too windy for the honeybees to take advantage of the dandelion bloom. But this year everything fell into place and the dandelions offered bees nectar late into the evening, whereas they normally shut down by 10 or 11am. According to Tony the bees like having 2 full days to work the dandelion bloom and this year they got that. And with pollen in abundance the swarming impulse seemed somewhat lower.

In most areas of the state, Tony said, it was a banner year for honey production. Tony recounted that he hasn’t seen production like that since the early to mid-2000s, with the exceptions being western and coastal Maine, whose nectar flow didn’t hit until later in the season─closer to July and August.

From what Tony saw, the summer honey was spectacular─light in color, with a great flavor. He reports that the fall honey was fairly dark: a chocolate brown, or almost reddish, which is can be attributed somewhat to the continuous spread of the invasive Japanese Knotweed (aka: bamboo).

There were a couple of reports of purple honey, which can sometimes happen apparently, when the bees are foraging on chokecherries or buckthorn.

In 2015 Tony reports that 975 beekeepers registered 9,789 hives; that’s an increase in beekeepers compared to 2014, when we had 909 register, but a decrease in the numbers of hives since in 2014 there were 10, 517 hives registered throughout the state. The number of beekeepers registered in the state peaked back in the early ’80s, before varroa came onto the scene.

There were 76,000 hives brought in for blueberry pollination, from 9 different states─and as far away as California. Fewer bees were brought because the hives were so heavy coming from the south that they couldn’t load as many onto the truck. And there was also some nuisance complaints, and 2 people were hospitalized due to stings received while migratory beekeepers were leaving.

According to Tony Jadczak, reinfestation pressure from the varroa mite was minimal til later in July, but after honey extraction Tony says some hives went downhill quickly. Upon reflection of the year, Tony states that approximately a third of hives that died was the result of the varroa mite and the viral complex that is associated with them; one-third starved to death during the winter, and the remaining third survived the season.

Tony asked the audience:

“What happens to bees when they’re confined for long periods of time
without the opportunity for cleansing flights?”

The excrement of healthy bees will be mustard-yellow in color, Tony explained. But in some situations this year the bees’ excrement was brown or almost black because they held it in for months; it resembled nosema somewhat and gave some beekeepers cause for alarm, but it was just the result of a long winters’ confinement.

This year clusters of American Foulbrood cropped up in southern Maine. Once again the issue seems to revolve around unregistered beekeepers and Tony and Dave wound up riding around knocking on doors and talking to new beekeepers to root out the origin of the outbreak. Thanks to some local beekeepers they were able to locate a shed where old equipment leftover from the ’70s and ’80s was being used by a beekeeper whose main business was actually growing squash, not bees, and so he wasn’t aware of the problems that can arise when old equipment is put back into use.

Tony asks that if you know any new beekeepers, please be sure to tell them that the state apiarist doesn’t bite. Many times new beekeepers are intimidated by the idea of the state apiarist because they fear the idea of hive inspections or imposed regulations, or just because they’re wary of the government in general. But registering hives is important so that when situations like an outbreak of AFB crop up the spread can be stemmed before other hives are infected.

There was a cluster of AFB also found just west of Hampden that proved to be a strain highly resistant to teramycin─the first such incident to occur since 2007─and again was the direct result of stored equipment being brought out and put back into use.

European Foulbrood was sky high this year, Tony proclaimed, and he went on to say that it was some of the most virulent stuff he’s seen since he left New Jersey, where they used to have extensive EFB. Some of the outbreak clusters were concerning packages coming into the state from Georgia, while others were tracked back to nucs coming from Texas.

maine apiariesTony went on to explain that if you ever suspect AFB or EFB to look at the scale left behind in the cell. He said that just because the brood capping are perforated with pin-holes it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s AFB, it could very well be related to a varroa infestation.

South African small hive beetles had a banner year, according to Tony; and incidents of sacbrood were high this year as well. Actually, Tony said he saw a hive this year that had died of sacbrood, which is a very rare occurrence, but the apiarist says simply to allow the combs and equipment to lay for a while before putting new bees in it and it should be fine to use─no need to burn the equipment as you would if it were AFB.

There are 2 legislative documents that have been proposed by representative McCabe from Skowhegan. The first is LD1105, which is an act to protect populations of bees and other pollinators through the labeling and advertising of plants for pollinators from those plants that have been treated with insecticides that make the plant lethal.

Tony reports that a number of organizations spoke in opposition to the bill, including the Nursery Men’s Association and the Farm Bureau, and Tony went on to explain that just because something was treated in Costa Rica as a rootstock and then transplanted into bigger and bigger pot until it finally hits the market─doesn’t really mean that there’s a lethal or even detectable amount of that pesticide remaining in the plant’s cell-structure. In fact, Tony further pointed out that some regulations mandate that plants be treated if they’re coming from certain countries or areas where pests are known to occur in order to prevent the spread of invasives.

The other bill was LD1106: an act to compensate beekeepers for hive losses for honeybee deaths from the application of pesticides. And Tony pointed out that the issue with this bill is one of funding, since the reimbursement process would require sampling and testing of the affected hives and it can cost anywhere between $130 and $330 per sample and you need to tell the labs exactly what compounds they need to look for.

At the federal level in response to the president’s 2014 memorandum regarding the protection of bees for agricultural pollination, the EPA published a document in May intended to mitigate the exposure of bees from acutely toxic pesticides. Proposed legislation includes the implementation of pesticide label changes. A “bee warning box” has been proposed to classify pesticides toxic to bees as a Class 1, 2, or 3, with a class 1 being “highly toxic to bees” and a class 3 being “low”. Tony says that certain circumstances like the weather and timing play a factor in a pesticide’s toxicity.

Another issue that may have a serious impact on Maine beekeeping is the new position of a “Veterinary Feed Director” which has been proposed by the Food & Drug Administration in an effort to stem the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in the livestock industry. According to Tony, beekeepers wishing to use teramycin or linkamycin in the future will need a prescription from a veterinarian, which requires a working relationship with that veterinarian.

Tony said in conclusion:

“It’s crazy─we don’t use antibiotics for the same reasons the cattle industry use it. All I can say is that these are interesting times…stay tuned, 2016’s going to be another action-packed year.”

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