I've made the comment that beekeeping has changed more in the last two years than in the last 20, and every day that comment becomes more and more clear. Beekeepers that suffered extreme losses from Colony Collapse Disorder did one of three things:
- They quit
- They didn't do anything, and then they quit.
- They changed what they were doing, and are still around today.
More changed than didn't, and that means they are still around today.
But beekeepers that didn't suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder, or had only a touch of the plague, made changes too, and they are still around and in fact are doing well and growing. Those changes have been huge in terms of what they have managed to do with the number of colonies they have, and even more so in terms of the paradigm shift in colony management techniques.
What's different, you ask? We've mentioned this before but it really bears repeating because it has made such a difference. Probably the major shift has been in how beekeepers monitor for, and control varroa mites in their colonies. Better techniques are being used to find and count mite populations, and safer and kinder techniques are being used to control those mites. This is good because mite populations don't build up to lethal numbers, lots of mites aren't able to pass along destructive viruses, and the control agents previously used are no longer building up inside the colony.
Beekeepers are feeding their bees more food when food is scarce, feeding them at a more appropriate time in the season, and feeding them better food. All have contributed to better wintering, better buildup, and healthier colonies.
Generally, beekeepers are more attuned to the routines of keeping their bees healthy from all of the problems bees are prone to. Individually these pests and predators have been a bane, generally, on our bees, and combined they have contributed far more than the sum of their parts.
So, we have more bees this spring. More bees than for the last 3 years it seems. It's still a bit early to sound the trumpets, but I'd suggest warming them up to declare a holiday from trouble ... so far, anyway. And it could turn again. That's how it started ... bees looked good in late January, then crashed and burned and burned and burned in February that first year. But right now, as one big beekeeper says, "most beekeepers are pretty well pleased with their bees this year. You hear of an occasional beekeeper who's having problems but nothing like last year." And losses of 2% (compared to 35% last year) aren't uncommon. One contact close to the situation was quoted as saying there were as many as 100,000 extra colonies in California right now ... but that is expected to drop as weak colonies (and there are always weak colonies) are culled. So with more beekeepers having more bees ... California almonds right now are, and you read this here first ... "over-beed."
But wait, there's more! What with the water shortage going on in parts of the state heavily populated with almond trees, growers are either abandoning trees altogether, maintaining them just enough to keep them alive until water is hopefully more abundant next season, or hedging their bets and putting the minimum number of colonies on them, just in case they don't get enough water later and have to abandon them then ... but they have to have some bees to make crop insurance claims. So flat out there are fewer almond trees getting pollinated this spring. California is, and you read this here first too ... "under-treed." More bees, fewer trees equals an early-season glut of bees and a crazy quilt of pricing and haggling and struggling just to make enough to ship those extra bees home.
In two weeks this will all be settled. I think those extra bees will get used because there's more water, or maybe there isn't even any extra bees because the weak went away and CCD returned, again. Two weeks ... a blink in beekeeper time, but an eternity in a honey bee's life.