From the Forager to the Hive


by Ginger Davidson

I have returned from a visit to the Purdue University bee lab in West Lafayette, Indiana and, like a forager bee, I wish to pass along information to the hive. The two day queen rearing class and the one day Indiana State Beekeeper Association summer meeting is something every serious beekeeper should experience. Surrounded by peers, mentors, and experts from around the world, anyone who attends will witness a paramount example of information exchange.

In a time when honey bees receive daily press for the stresses they are under, I feel privileged to have a world renowned honey bee lab in my state. The expertise and guidance provided by Purdue’s Dr. Hunt and Krispn Givens, and the knowledge gained from their cutting edge research into bee genetics, has been instrumental in ensuring that quality queens are making it into Indiana honey bee populations. Various other attendees felt the same and took time to remind Purdue’s Dean of Agriculture about the importance of its bee lab.

Attendees of this meeting donned their veils and chose two hands-on break-out sessions. Lead by experts, the choices included: hive inspections; selecting for bees that bite mites; disease identification; an Asian bee overview; queen cell installation; and making nucs. A further demonstration on assaying hives for hygienic behavior was also conducted.

News shared about the state of bees in Indiana included the results of field trials using new alternatives to seed hopper lubricating talc and recent tests performed on Indiana hives for resistance to acaricides treatments. The alternative talc was reported to greatly reduce the dust known to carry and spread neonicotinoid pesticides and the effectiveness of older mite treatments, such as such as Apistan and CheckMite, have decreased to 35 to 50% (newly approved Apivar was not tested). Furthermore, members of West Virginia and Ohio queen producer initiatives were there to learn and share ideas which readily transpired into discussions about sharing more information and genetics between the states.

Dr. Ratna Thapa, of the National Academy of Agriculture Science in The Republic of Korea, attended the queen rearing class and planned to return home to share new hive management techniques with Asian beekeepers. Mood music played in the background while class attendees concentrated on grafting 3-day-old, barely visible, ‘Purdue Ankle Biter’ larvae into queen cups. Meanwhile those waiting their turn at a grafting station passed time by ‘talking shop’. Catching swarms was one of the ensuing topics.

One attendee’s description of a recently missed swarm opportunity brought about the discussion of some rather interesting solutions. The bee swarm in question had been flying and had not alighted on anything when it was discovered. Yet, by the time they started to cluster on a tree, they were too high to safely recover. Dr. Thapa, originally from Nepal where the local culture is closely tied to bees and honey, shared some century old wisdom used by the Nepalese. The advice was to spray the flying bees with water or toss sand into the air in order to fool the bees into thinking that it is raining.

Amazingly, later that day, the same individual who had missed the swarm, drove back home and during an evening walk discovered another swarm of flying bees. Remembering the conversation from earlier in the day, she got out her garden hose and misted the flying bees with water. They quickly clustered on a reachable tree limb. She returned the next day to tell us about this swarm which was the largest she had ever seen and swore it was at least 6 feet long. Thanks to the information exchange, she was able to easily retrieve it. I should also mention that another person suggested beating on an old galvanized wash tub. The person said it sounded like thunder to the bees and expecting rain they would land. This is the second time I have heard this and I have to wonder if it too works.

Honey bees are definitely under stress from all sorts of pressures. Being stewards of the honey bee, beekeepers want to solve these issues. One way all of us can help each other is to share even the most basic information. Wide and growing arrays of problems are facing beekeepers and we don’t want the fundamentals to be lost amidst the clamor for these solutions. Although I enjoy sharing what I have learned and passing the drops of nectar back to the ‘hive bees’ at home, I hope this becomes the ‘waggle dance’ needed to entice others to attend next year’s ISBA summer meeting. If you can’t wait, I heard rumors that Dr. James Tew will be the featured speaker at the ISBA Fall Conference in Danville, Indiana on Oct 26, 2013.

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