A Curious Beekeeper gathers samples for the BIP Sentinel Apiary Program

My mind got to wandering while I was collecting samples for BIP this afternoon: Why, I wondered, was a larger deal not made about the pesticide registrations that were cancelled early this week?

Admittedly, the cancellations were the result of a court case, but EPA backtracking on pesticide effects is huge. I guess I was anticipating this type of victory to be news worthy. I must be missing something.

Turning to sample collection…

This is the third year I’ve been collecting samples for BIP. I’m happy for them to collect the data and publish what they do. My main goal is getting independent confirmation of my Varroa sampling, and truth be told, I like that the obligation to collect samples monthly during the bee season, gets me regular Varroa counts.

BIP also provides Nosema counts, though I don’t especially pay much attention to those. Maybe I should; I lost a hive this winter where the major symptom was dysentery inside the hive. BIP warned me that Nosema (they don’t differentiate between Apis and Ceranae) counts were high in that hive last fall. Nosema is not something I know how to treat for anyway.

There is a discipline to collecting the samples. Every frame in the hive gets examined. And I have to assign values based on what I find. How many frames of brood are there in the hive? How do I rate the brood pattern? Has the colony been fed or medicated since the last inspection? Has any honey been harvested?

Today I used the sample gathering to do an initial assessment of a nuc I installed a week ago. I saw the queen (I did well this go round, seeing the queen in the 4 hives sampled) and looked at what they had consumed for food in the last week. The foundationless frame was about 1/3 drawn, while there was honey stored in frames that were empty when the nuc was installed. The colony has gone through a 1lb winter patty (Dadant, AP23) and most of a pollen patty too (Global, 15%)

I will switch them over to sugar syrup this week so I put the box on to around the paint can. I used today’s sample collection as my opportunity to add a honey super to one of the two over winter colonies I’m sampling.

This is a hobby for me, and I’m not a disciplined as I probably should be about doing regular inspections.

Today was our first day in the upper 60s temperature wise; I hope to check other colonies on Monday, though I may not check every frame.

BIP wants a variety of different hive sources in the sample so this year they’re getting two over winter colonies plus a colony started from a package and one started from a nuc. I’ll use the sample results, if interesting, from the package started colony as the canary in the coal mine for other package started colonies.

The big thing I’ve learned in the past several years of doing the sample collections, is that there are limits to what can be accomplished with technology. My Arnia scale reported robust activity on a dead hive over the winter. Still, technology attracts, and I’ve backed Dr. B’s cell phone app to assess colony health – I expect to have my copy of the app by July.

One thing I noted this year was that young queens bred to not have a strong swarm inclination, makes a difference. I went through a very populous over wintered colony and found no swarm cells and all of three cups positioned where they could have become swarm cells. Last year I went splt crazy – but not this year. I want to make some honey! Our frost-free season is very short, 6/15-9/15. That it is cold here means I usually don’t have to worry about using Formic Acid in August – in time to make healthy winter bees.

The BIP sample collection forces me to be a beekeeper. It reminds me of some things (like beekeeping this time of year is easy). And that decisions made last year impact colonies this year. I apparently didn’t do a great job leveling a hive stand a year ago and a result was that water collected on the bottom board. Drawn to my attention, I can address the problem.

Being included on the maps is nice and I like to look at others’ data, if only to make sure that my issues are typical. BIP now has a four colony testing option (there used to be an 8 colony requirement.) Four colonies works for me; 2-3 hours once a month isn’t that big a commitment.

Maybe you’ll participate next year.

Andrew Dewey