Well, it's that time year again, time to put the bees to bed for the winter.
I’ve always thought that beekeeping is part science and part art. To me, the science is the easy part which occurs during the spring, summer and fall. During these months, science tells us how long it takes to develop mature queens, drones and worker bees from eggs. Science can tell us when certain trees and flowers start their nectar flow. With science, beekeepers can know when to add another brood box, when to start adding honey supers or when to harvest honey. One can even use science to know when to bottle your honey so it won't ferment.
But it’s during the winter, where the art of keeping bees comes into play. Colony mortality has plagued many beekeepers across the entire United States for many years. This phenomenon has not always been well understood but over time we have gained knowledge and insight on the causes and prevention of these losses. I’ve read that colony mortality may affect 50% to 80% of the hives across Iowa, dependent on winter conditions. I don't think there’s one single cause for this problem. Likely, it is a culmination of numerous factors that occur before and during the overwintering of many bee colonies. Some of these factors include: health of the queen, strength or size of the colony, Varroa mite infestation, viral load of the bees prior to overwintering, humidity and condensation within the hive, location of hives during the winter, the nutritional stress of the hive during the winter and environmental contamination of pesticides. Up to 25% of the colony losses cannot be fully explained! Oddly enough, the Colony Collapse Disorder, which has gained a lot of media attention in the last few years, only accounts for about 10% of the colony losses in the United States. Many of the previously mentioned factors play a much larger part in the total mortality of lost colonies. Get one or more of these issues and BOOM, there goes your colony. Juggling all these factors is where the art of beekeeping comes into play.
It's been pretty well proven that cold temperatures are not the primary cause of colony losses during the winter months. Bees do not go into hibernation when the temperatures drop. Honeybees themselves are cold-blooded but a colony of honeybees is actually warm-blooded. To over-winter, they gather together and form a cluster within the hive. They use their wing muscles to generate heat and keep the center of that cluster at approximately 92 to 94°F throughout the entire winter. Bees constantly are circulating within this cluster. That is, warm bees in the nucleus of the cluster migrate to the outside and the colder bees on the outside of the cluster migrate into the nucleus to get warm. This constant turnaround occurs throughout the entire winter sustaining the warmth of all the bees in the colony. They must consume enough honey or sucrose to sustain the energy to keep these muscles moving. How much do they consume over the winter? You’d be surprised!!… more about that next month.
Kudos to all our colleagues who have been paying their dues early. This has enabled us to stay in a positive cash flow so far this quarter and has even enabled us to put some of our cash reserves back into our investment pool.
Last month we had a flurry of committee meetings dealing with financial planning, budget, and administration concerns. During those meetings, we reviewed the past year's performance of our investments and offered direction to our investment portfolio managers for the coming year. We discussed and proposed a new budget for 2021 for the IVMA Executive Board to review. The Administration Committee spent a lot of time reviewing and choosing the company that will deliver our virtual Winter Conference. Next week our Legislative Committee will meet to plan our path forward in this next Legislative Session.
I would like to wish everyone a very joyous Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year. I will leave you with a very timely quote from C.W. Jones: "The joy of brightening other’s lives, bearing each other's burdens, easing other's loads, and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of the holidays.”
Dr. James R. Berger D.V.M.