Towards the end of March, the questions start showing up. The USDA seems to be the first, wanting to know how many hives I’ve lost by April 1st for the first quarter. Strange, it’s still March and I’ve gotten a letter and 2 phone calls. Whatever! Then the Bee Informed Partnership survey comes via email. Most years, the Back Yard Beekeepers Association survey also arrives. I try to answer as close as possible but I don’t take too many notes. The spring 2021 USDA was easy because all of my bees died in December thus 0 colonies in and 0 colonies out for the first quarter.
A few years back, American Bee Journal had an article about the New Hampshire Survey, I think it was 2018. Of all the surveys, this seems, to me, the most informative. For instance, some respondents claimed to have issues with yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets and considered them as a reason for losses. The next year, yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets made the survey. The New Hampshire Survey also compares years side by side. Even though I’ve found other surveys from Washington and Oregon, the New Hampshire Survey is my first go-to for information.
Survey questions seem to be similar (USDA is quarterly) such as how many colonies were alive on October 1st and then April 1st. Did you insulate and/or ventilate and with what? Did you treat your colonies, with what and how often? There are also questions on feeding. Some surveys go into more depth such as the New Hampshire Survey.
After the questions are asked and answers added, losses seem to be 35 to 50%. Mites are the #1 reason. Some years, a little higher, others a little lower, but the trend is toward higher losses. Many miticides have been reformulated or doses increased.
More mite poisons and higher losses?
Is it time to rethink surveys?
After reviewing information on Facebook, which at times, can be the best research tool available, some folks who push treating, and brag about their success rate, also do massive amounts of feeding. Did the hive survive due to treating or feeding? They can’t give an honest answer. Also, from Facebook, a hive was fed 50LBS of sugar in a week, plus 20% for moisture to get a honey-like consistency. This should be enough to get a hive through winter, but the hive went through it. Not sure what that means. Questions to ask: Was there new comb, brood, and/or stores? If not, where did all that feed go?
To explain another way. If you buy a nuc from someone who feeds 50 plus LBS of food and treats multiple times a year, you are likely to have to do the same to get your bees to survive.
I think the colony surviving at any expense needs to stop. Time to move surveys to a different perspective.
- A colony that dies would count as a loss.
- A colony that gets mismanaged to the point of needing chemical intervention would be counted as a loss.
- A colony that gets fed more than 25 pounds of food should be considered a loss. 25LBS of sugar plus liquid to be honey consistency would be roughly 30 LBS or over 4 deep frames of food. Every 25 pounds would count as a loss
Requeenning: I’m not sure even how to measure this. I’ve heard, requeen twice a year, once in the spring for honey production and again in the fall for winter survival. Some older studies claim a queen is most productive in her second year.
Back to Facebook, it appears that treating twice and feeding 50 LBS is quite common. One person fed 90 LBs per colony. Others treat way more than twice.
I’ll use a dead colony that was treated twice and fed 60 LBS of sugar as an example.
Dead hive: 1 Loss
Treated twice: 2 Losses
Fed 60 LBS, 25 times 2 is 50 LBS of excessive with 10 LBS left as emergence feed: 2 losses
This fictitious hive would have a loss rate of 5 for the season. If it did survive winter, it would still count as four losses. Calculating surveys in this fashion would put more focus on beekeeping, or the lack thereof. Unfortunately, when people realize how their information was being assessed, they would probably stop taking surveys. Beekeepers need something to blame for their losses (bad beekeeping). Conventional beekeepers blame mites and mite bombs. While the non-treaters blame genetics. I think it’s time to look at the actual beekeeping.
Michael R. Lund