Your Source For Beekeeping News, Information and Entertainment
April 10, 2023

2023 Almond Season Updates and Tropilaelaps with John Miller (S5, E43)

John Miller, a commercial beekeeper with Miller Honey Company in North Dakota, just finished his almond pollination season. In this episode, John returns to talk about the weather before and during his time in the orchards, the water issues almond...

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John Miller, a commercial beekeeper with Miller Honey Company in North Dakota, just finished his almond pollination season. In this episode, John returns to talk about the weather before and during his time in the orchards, the water issues almond growers are facing, the almond market and what might be in store in the future for this important part of the business. He also shares a bit about the condition of his colonies after wintering in an environmentally controlled building and what worked, and what didn’t.

He also looks at the looming threat of the entry into the US of the Tropilaelaps mite because them may be headed into Canada. Compared to Tropilaelaps, varroa mites are a walk in the park and John is knocking on a lot of doors to make sure everything possible is being done to keep them out of the US. And then he shares what you can do to help that cause.

Prior to our talk with John, Louisa Cartwright from Northern Bee Books joins us with a series of interviews with beekeepers attending a recent large beekeeping meeting in Telford, UK.

We are sure you will like this episode!

We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast: 

Honey Bee Obscura

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This episode is brought to you by Global PattiesGlobal PattiesGlobal offers a variety of standard and custom patties. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customerBetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong MicrobialsPodcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com

We welcome Blue Sky Bee Supply as a sponsor of the podcast! Check out blueskybeesupply.com for the best selection of honey containers, caps, lids, and customized honey labels. Enter coupon code PODCAST and receive 10% off an order of honey containers, caps, lids, or customized honey labels. Offer ends December 31, 2023. Some exclusions apply.

Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their support. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry.

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We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments in the show notes of this episode or: questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com

Thank you for listening! 

Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; A Fresh New Start by Pete Morse; Wedding Day by Boomer; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC

Growing Planet Media, LLC

Transcript

S5, E43 – 2023 Almond Season Updates and Tropilaelaps with John Miller

 

Bill Heaton:Welcome to the Beekeeping Today Podcast. My name is Bill Heaton and I have four hives of happy bees here in Versailles, Kentucky.

[music]

Jeff:Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast, your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim:I'm Kim Flottum.

Global Patties:Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom paddies to meet your needs.

No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta and in Butte Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.

Jeff:Thank you, Sherry, and a quick shout-out to all of our sponsors who support allows us to bring you this podcast each week without resorting to a fee-based subscription. We don't want that and we know you don't either. Be sure to check out all of our content on our website. There you can read up on our guests, read our blog on the various aspects and observations about beekeeping, search for, download, and listen to over 200 past episodes, read episode transcripts, leave comments and feedback on each show, and check on podcast specials from our sponsors. You can find it all at www.beekeepingtodaypodcast.com.

You know I've said it before, but I'll say it every day, we really appreciate you being here. We have a big episode in store for you. Thanks to Bill Heaton there in Kentucky for today's opening. You know you can help open the show. It's pretty easy. Just use your cell phone, your computer, your tablet, or whatever you listen the podcast on and record a brief opening message welcoming listeners to the show. State your name and where you live. Just be creative and have some fun with it. For even more fun and excitement, you can even ask your local club or regional club to join you in opening like we did last week. Now, that would really make it memorable. Just make sure it's audible.

Send your audio file to questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com and listen for it in the next couple of weeks. You may just hear yourself opening the next episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast. If you're listening on Monday, I hope you didn't overdo it on eggs and/or too many chocolate Easter bunnies. Kim will be along momentarily when we talk with our good friend of the podcast and commercial beekeeper John Miller. John is a multi-generational beekeeper based in Gackle, North Dakota and in California. He is CEO of Miller's Honey Farms and runs thousands of colonies with his sons. This season, Northern California experience floods, rains, snows, and even a few days the bees could fly.

John joins us today to talk about how well the almond season in Northern California was for both the beekeeper and the grower. In addition to changing weather patterns, beekeepers have another threat on the horizon. The Tropilaelaps mite is expanding its range around the world just like the Varroa mite did until it showed up in Florida in September of 1987. As an aside, Roy just hit this shores down under in Australia, one of the last countries free of Varroa destructure. Is the Tropilaelaps mite a threat? I know I won't spoil our chat with John by saying you bet you're bee yard it is. First, though, spring bee meetings are a treat.

It is a time to see new bee equipment, get deals on that bee equipment, attend seminars, talk to other beekeepers. Just plan your season. You really should attend a large bee meeting on a regular basis. On today's episode, Louisa Cartwright of Northern Bee Books recently attended one of the largest UK beekeeper meetings in Telford England and talked with several beekeepers. As the saying goes, all beekeeping is local, but I submit it has common threads that we can all relate to. Listen to these beekeepers along with Louisa. Are they like you? Okay, let's get to the bee show and listen to a couple of attendees, then we'll meet up with Kim and John Miller.

Louisa Cartwright:Hello, Louisa here from Northern Bee Books. This weekend, I'm in Telford in Shropshire in the heart of England. I'm at Telford International Center where the inaugural beekeeping show is taking place. The beekeeping show is set to be one of the largest beekeeping and pollinator events in the whole of the UK, attracting suppliers and customers worldwide. There's more than 3,400 square meters of floor space in the trade hall, so I'm very much looking forward to having a look around and chatting to some beekeepers.

If you're interested in finding out some more information about the show, you can head to thebeekeepingshow.co.uk. Let's go in. We've just stopped by a chap carrying a nuc. Can I ask whereabouts in the country you are located, where you keep your bees?

Participant 1:I'm currently located in Hereford, but have just moved over from Africa and was located in Tanzania and Kenya.

Louisa:You were beekeeping over there as well?

Participant 1:Yes, beekeeping in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania for about 20 odd years.

Louisa:Amazing. Can you tell me how are the honey berries from over there to here?

Participant 1:All the plants over here, I think a lot of the pollen and nectar come from crops over there. It is all wild-based. From wild trees and probably a bit from gardens, but mostly natural. The bees are feeding on natural vegetation.

Louisa:How big is the apiary over here? How many hives are you managing at the moment?

Participant 1:Over here, I'm just starting in the UK. In Africa, I had anywhere from three to six hives depending on what I was doing.

Louisa:Very nice. What are the challenges you're finding over in Britain if there are any?

Participant 1:You have to feed the bees. In Africa, I never had to feed my bees. It was very easy, they were very forgiving. One thing that we did have to worry about in Africa was obviously the honey badger. Very different to the badger in the UK. They would absolutely annihilate a whole bunch of hives. You had to really try and badger-proof your halves across them.

Louisa:That's fascinating. Comparing the challenges over here, would you say that Varroa is something you're facing over here or have you not been struck yet by Varroa?

Participant 1:This week I'm about to start off over here, but I know everyone I've been talking to, all my friends that are beekeeping around here that it is a problem.

Louisa:Great. Thank you very much.

Participant 1:Okay, brilliant. Thanks.

Louisa:Walking through the show, I've spotted another chap carrying a nuc. Hello. Can I ask where in the country you've traveled from today?

Participant 2:Yes, we're from Lichfield in Staffordshire.

Louisa:Very nice. Can I ask how many hives you are keeping at the moment?

Participant 2:I have 10 hives overwintering.

Louisa:Can ask what are the challenges you've faced in the last season if any at all?

Participant 2:Oh, many challenges. Changes in the weather patterns. I started beekeeping very early last year in March. Never inspected in March before. A very busy season, literally tons of honey. Kept me very busy extracting all season. I think for the bees, the biggest challenge was probably EFB. They kept the bee inspector busy. [laughs]

Louisa:Tons of honey, so you're producing it on a big scale.

Participant 2:Not really. It was my biggest harvest ever last year.

Louisa:Can I ask what type of honey it is? What sorts of flora have you got in your local area?

Participant 2:The spring crop will mainly be from the oil seed rape that's sewn in the fields surrounding my apiary. The summer is multi-floor wildflower, but I am on 22 acres of blueberries. That's why my bees are there.

Louisa:Are they your blueberries or is it local?

Participant 2:I wish they were my blueberries, no, [laughter] but it belongs to a farmer, a good friend of mine who wants my bees there to pollinate his blueberries.

Louisa:That sounds fantastic. Lastly, can I ask how you're finding the show today?

Participant 2:Yes, it's a busy show, isn't it? It's obviously the first one that they've held here and I think it's been quite successful. There's quite a lot of suppliers here who could do with some cheaper prices. [laughs]

Louisa:All in all.

Participant 2:Yes. It's been a good experience. Lots of beekeepers from our association in Staffordshire here, so we've found a bit of a social as well.

Louisa:Fantastic. Thank you very much.

Participant 2:Okay, thank you.

Louisa:We're back around at the Northern Bee Book store and I've just bumped into one of the authors of the books that we're selling. Hello, Steve. Can I ask where you've come from today and where you keep your bees?

Steve:Hi. I live in Manchester and I keep my bees in Cheshire just at the south of Manchester.

Louisa:I hear that you are writing a new book. Can you tell us anything about that?

Steve:That's correct. The first one that you refer to, Interviews With Beekeepers, that's been out for a few years now. I'm doing something a bit different. It's called Maximize Your Honey Crop.I'm working with Paul Horton, who's a Lancashire bee farmer. It's very much about how he achieved such huge honey crops throughout the season. He's a migratory beekeeper. He's a former bee inspector and member of the Bee Farmers. Lots of good information there, but we also are doing something for people who don't want to move their hives.

Louisa:Sounds brilliant. Is it available to buy yet?

Steve:No. Still looking for a publisher, actually. [laughter] It won't be too difficult because my wife has a publishing company, so if all else fails, I can scrounge off her.

Louisa:Very good. Can I ask how you found the beekeeping season so far? Obviously, it's right at the beginning in Britain, but how have you found the weather where you live?

Steve:I think overall it's been quite mild. I've been around the hives. I've not opened them up, but a very few of them I've checked the weight and are a bit light, so I've had to find and turn them. Most of them are strong, still heavy. I've had about 10% losses, so not too bad. I'm quite happy.

Louisa:Yes, very good. Can I ask what sort of flora you have around your hives? What are they foraging from mainly?

Steve:Mostly where I am, it's rural, but just hedgerows, trees, wildflowers, there's not much. Very occasionally, there's a field of oil seed rape, but not much of that around me, which I'm quite happy about, to be honest.

Louisa:That's a relief when it comes to extraction. Can I ask your first book, you wrote Interviews With Beekeepers, which we actually sell at Northern Bee Books? Can you tell our listeners the premise? Obviously, the title gives away.

Steve:Basically, at the time that I did that book, I was a beekeeper of maybe five, six, seven years. I'd read all of the normal beekeeping books or I thought I had. Although now I'm outstanding at Northern Bee Books, maybe not. What I found was that lots of the beekeeping books were quite similar, and yet, when I talked to an individual beekeeper, there was always some gems of knowledge there that you don't hear about in all the books. The idea was I'll just travel. It was also an excuse to travel. I had a bit of time and a bit of money.

Louisa:Where did you travel?

Steve:I did New Zealand, California, Vermont, and Britain, and France, Scotland, if that counts.

Louisa:Real global variation.

Steve:Yes.

Louisa:Like I say, you can buy it from Northern Bee Books and we're very excited to see what Steve's new book is like as well. Thank you, Steve.

Steve:Thank you very much.

Louisa:We've come across a familiar face here who attends most of the shows that we at Northern Bee Books trade at. Hello, Steve. Can I ask where you've come from today?

Steve:I come from Swindon. I live very near Arkells Brewery, which is very handy and I've traveled for about two hours and arrived around about 10 o'clock and it's been tremendous today. There's been loads of people and there's been people I know, which is nice as well. There's just been a great buzz, literally, and lots and lots of noise and lots and lots of talking.

Louisa:That's brilliant. Yes, we've noticed it's been a very popular show right from the offset. Can I ask about your beekeeping season last year? How you found it, if there are any, challenges at all?

Steve:The big problem I had last year was a bad grower infestation towards the tail end of the season. That caught me a bit by surprise. We had a heat wave, so I didn't treat the bees with thermal medication maybe early enough because I wanted to hold off until the temperature was a bit more stable and it plummeted. It caught me out. That was my big challenge last year, other than the fact there was a bit more honey than I thought.

Louisa:Good. Can I ask what sort of honey it is, the local floras that your bees forage from?

Steve:I've got lots of sights spread along different roads. In effect, most of the honey I get comes from the spring honey and blackberries and things like that. I get quite a lots of blackthorn, oil seed rape, field beans moving on, and then you head in towards blackberries and limes and things like that.

Louisa:Very nice. A real variation in your honey. That sounds lovely. Lastly, how is the beekeeping season seeing you at the moment? We're obviously at the very beginning of it, have you noticed any changes from last year?

Steve:I've noticed since I drove up that the blackthorns already in flower in some places, which is exciting. I've seen a lot of pollen going in. Lots of bees foraging and flying and not many winter losses. It's looking very promising this year.

Louisa:Good. Best of luck with it, Steve, and see you soon.

Steve:To you. Cheers. Bye.

Louisa:Walking through the show and we've met another attendee. Can I ask where you've come from today, please?

Participant 3: [unintelligible 00:14:59] South Wales.

Louisa:Very nice. Are you beginner beekeeper?

Participant 3:A complete beginner.

Louisa:How are you finding the show? Do you feel like there's a good range of products here to suit your need?

Participant 3:Yes, so far.

Louisa:Good. What have you bought today?

Participant 3:Queen excluder and some beef food and looking into Varroa treatments.

Louisa:Very good. Lastly, can I ask what sort of flora have you got in your local area? What goes into your honey?

Participant 3:Apple blossoms and hedge rolls mainly.

Louisa:Very nice indeed. Good luck with your beekeeping season. We've come across another author at the Northern Bee Books stand and we've got his book right in front of us. It's Jo Widdicombe. Hello, Jo, can you talk a bit about your book that we've got in front of us here?

Jo Widdicombe:Hello. It's a long story. This book took a while for me to write. I did it very slowly as I'm always being told, but it's really just my experiences of beekeeping from the start and how I transformed the quality of my bees over a period of years through selection of what I like. I started off like most beekeepers, buying lots of different bees and importing it, buying a few queens that had been importing and so on. I quite quickly realized that was a dead loss. I came across a organization called BIBA, Bee Improvement and Breeding Association. I listened to them, but basically, I came round to the idea of selecting and improving from the bees I'd got as a better way forward.

When you start, of course, you don't know where to begin and you're fluffing around. This book is a story of how I went about it. I guess I was trying to prove that there is a system that works. I treated it like an experiment and they actually produce good results. That's what the book's about, really, how you can select and improve your bees. You don't need to rely on imported stock.

Louisa:Yes, brilliant. The book is called The Principles of Bee Improvement by Jo Widdicombe. Jo, can I ask where in the country you keep your bees and what the local flora is like around you?

Jo:I live in Southeast Cornwall.

Louisa:Oh.

Jo:That's in the southwest of Britain. It's quite a good area, particularly in the spring. The bees can do very well in the spring. The summer is very variable. It's usually either too wet or too dry, so we can't always rely on a good flow in the summer. The bees always get off to a good start and I'm very hopeful. Then summers often aren't that exciting. A bit can be disappointing, but some years, everything goes right and you get a very good crop.

Louisa:Very lovely. It's usually a good spring in store for you then. How are you finding it so far? Obviously, we're right at the beginning, are they bringing in pollen can you see?

Jo:There's a little bit of pollen coming in. It's been a slightly hard winter, I think. I had a couple of cold spells, which people say bees can stand that very easily. We overwinter some nucleus colonies or mini nucs actually. Some of them have perished. I think I'd say we'd had more losses than usual in the small ones. I think they just couldn't keep warm, but the other ones seem to be okay at the moment.

Louisa:Can I ask? I'm also living down in Cornwall. Do you breed the Cornish black bee and what's your view on that?

Jo:That's a very good question. When I started selecting my bees, I had a very mixed collection of bees, all sorts of shapes and sizes. Basically, they didn't breed true, but part of the section process was to try and get them into a uniform strain, but there's still plenty of genetic diversity within them. That's how it works. I've gone over to the Cornish black bee or our native subspecies. That's what I settled for in the end. Now we've got pretty good meetings going on. The bees breed true. The breeze are very good-tempered and productive. They seem to produce as much as anyone else in the area, if not more. We've tried other trains.

Occasionally, pick up an odd swarm or something of a different type of bee, which I just keep outside my media area further afield, but they never perform any better than what I've got. I'm very happy with what we've managed to produce and the temper is very consistent. We can handle them without gloves, without any fear of a lot of stings or anything like that. That's a normal situation.

Louisa:Brilliant. Am I correct in thinking they're adapted to fly in the Cornish mizzle with extra hairy bodies?

Jo:Yes, I think that's right. I think the dart bee does better in cooler conditions. People think it's lovely and warm and everything, but really, the truth is it's warm winters. Compared to the rest of England, it's probably cooler summers actually. It's always windy and often wet, but they're suited to it. They've evolved in that originally, evolved by that. It suits them.

Louisa:Do you have any more books in store, Jo?

Jo:This one took me ages to write as I'm always being told, but I want to revamp this one a bit and make a glorified version, actually with what I've learned since I did it. I've already promised that to my friend here, but it'll probably be a few years in the pipeline.

Louisa:Good. We look forward to it very much. Thank you very much, Jo.

Jo:Thank you very much.

Louisa:That's about it for today. We've had a fantastic show at the beekeeping show in Telford today. Right here, we have with us Alex Ellis, one of the three directors of this fantastic event. How do you think the event has gone today, Alex?

Alex Ellis:We're really pleased with how the show has gone. Feedback from visitors and from the exhibitors has all been really positive. Everybody seems to be leaving with a smile on their face.

Louisa:That's the impression we've got as well. It's been a staggering turnout. Lots of people with bags and that's been fantastic. As we're in the last hour of the beekeeping show, there are still lots of people mulling around and there's a fantastic lecture pool area. Who's speaking at the moment?

Alex:This is our final session of the day and we've got three really popular YouTubers, Richard Noel, Lawrence Edwards, and Griff Rhys doing a panel question and answer session. If any of you saw Lawrence's live preview of the show last night on YouTube, you'll have got a really good flavor of how the event was shaping up and how it is. Rich has just come over from Hive Life out in the US and was interested to compare the two shows and he said they've both been great fun, really good, memorable experiences.

Louisa:That's brilliant to hear. This will be streamed in the US, so that's great. Thank you so much, Alex.

Alex:No problem. You're welcome.

Louisa:Thank you.

Sherry:This episode is sponsored in part by Blue Sky Bee Supply. Check out blueskybeesupply.com for the best selection of honey containers, caps, lids, and customized honey labels. Enter coupon code PODCAST and receive 10% off an order of honey containers, caps, lids, or customized honey labels. Offer ends December 31st, 2023. Some exclusions apply.

[music]

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Jeff:While you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to the Hive, the regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. Sitting across our virtual Zoom table right now is our good friend of the podcast, John Miller. John, welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast.

John Miller:Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, Kim. It's like a conversation with a couple of dear friends. I'm honored to be back and I appreciate the service you're doing to the beekeeping industry. Nice work.

Kim:We appreciate that, Jeff. It's good to see you again.

Jeff:I've never been called Venison before, but I'll take it. John, for our listeners who are new to the show and perhaps new to beekeeping, can you give us just a little bit about your family's and your history in beekeeping?

John:Thanks, Jeff. I'm number four. My great-grandfather started keeping bees and his sons went into bees, and one of his sons, Earl, had a son, Neil, my dad. He had a career in bees and I then bought Miller Honey Farms in 1997. Is that possible?

Jeff:[laughs] My, where has the time gone?

John:I sold the business to my son, number five, in 2019. They tolerate me from time to time during the year. I show up for almond time. I work in the queens in April, then I do work in the fourth quarter, but I am retired.

Jeff:You've been around the business a time or two, and I've met you through a time when you were serving, doing a lot of work with the National Honey Board back in the early 90s, I guess. Not only have you been a beekeeper, you've been a spokesperson for the industry pretty strongly and pretty widely.

John:The thing I'm really enjoying right now is Project Apis m. It's the leading bee research funder in North America. Boy, we've got plenty of work in front of us. The plate's always full. It's gratifying to be engaged in trying to make this industry better and hive health. Is there anything more important in beekeeping than hive health?

Jeff:John, last time you were on, we talked about indoor wintering. Since we just came out of wintering, and I assume your bees came out of wintering and they were placed into almonds, how did the wintering go this year 2022/2023 winter?

John:That's a whale of a good question. Indoor wintering, I think broadly speaking, this year was a little less successful than 2022. Our numbers were down a little bit. I know last year, 92% of the hives coming out of the building were in the almonds. This year we're down. It's probably 85% this year. I know some guys had big problems and usually, it's multifactorial. A building is not a hospital. You can't put impaired hives into a building and expect them to get better while they're in the building. The math just doesn't work that way. You can't put in 70% okay and pull out 80% okay. It just doesn't work.

I don't think the science is in question anymore on indoor wintering for large or small-scale operations, but you get what you put in and if your bees are really good going in, they're probably going to be pretty darn good coming out. The other big thing about indoor wintering is feed is not expensive until denied. Kim, if you can get your head wrapped around that. You can't put them in too light. You pull them out and you've got starvation and that's irresponsible. Indoor wintering still works great, and this year, probably even more so, indoor wintering was a safer place for the hives to be as opposed to rolling down the Mokelumne River in a flood.

Kim:Maybe unwritten, but is there a standard description of what a hive should be before it goes in? Size, honey stores, population, Varroa count. Is there a set of measurable numbers that I can take a look at this hive and say, "This is good enough" and take a look at the next one, "This is not good enough"? Does that exist?

John:I think it exists in operators of indoor buildings, the owners. People that lease space in indoor buildings have no control over what goes in. It's a rental agreement.

Kim:When I drive my truck up to that building and he unloads it for me, the colonies in that truck all meet a minimum standard of quality, health, all of those things. Does that list exist?

John:It exists in my head, and I'll share part of it with you. We know that hives consume about an eighth of a pound per day in a dormant condition inside the building. The building's 40 degrees all the time, day and night. It's dark all the time, day and night. You don't have the daily stimulation of daylight and the instinct to go foraging. Back to the weights, I like to see bees go in at about 120 pounds. If they're in there for 60 days and they eat an eighth of a pound a day, you've got seven or eight pounds came out of them, so upon leaving the building, you'd be at 112 or so pounds per hive.

This is pretty basic arithmetic that a guy should just have the hives backgrounded at 120 pounds plus or minus to be assured you don't have any issues with just basic food supply.

Jeff:Is that gross weight, net weight, or is that doubles? Is that singles?

John:They're double deeps and that's gross weight with the pallet. The number two is just vital. When you're going into winter, if your numbers, if your bit numbers are two or lower per a hundred, those hives are going to come out pretty okay. If your hive is blowing a five or higher, it's dead, it just doesn't know it yet.

Kim:Let me interrupt you here, John, because one of the things that's beginning to evolve in looking at that number that you had was I can go in and I can bomb a hive with 28 pesticide treatments and I can come out with two mites per a hundred, but the whole summer before that they were 40 mites per a hundred. I'm guessing that even if I get it down to two, the bees that are going in are going to be less than perfect. Do you work with that? Do you account for that?

John:Yes, you hit a key metric right there because those last two, three hatches of brood, the last three rounds of brood, if you're packing a high virus load or if you're addressing your Varroa accounts, you're a little bit behind. I know that in North Dakota, Miller Honey Farms traditionally harvest a smaller crop than most everybody else because we start cleanup about 5th of August, which sounds ridiculously early, but it's not. It depends. The last 20 pounds of honey that your hive stores may be the most expensive 20 pounds of honey you'll ever extract. You know what I mean?

Kim:Yes, it makes sense.

John:Because we're focused. See, the revenue profile for a commercial outfit now revolves much more around pollination services than honey production. Sorry, you know that the world has changed. Forage is so dramatically different from 1995. Those are fewer flowers. Crops are smaller and the half a million hives that used to populate the 83,000 square mile bee yard in North Dakota is now pushing a million hives on the same 83,000 acres that are now planted with a lot more corn and soybeans than they were in 1995.

Kim:That tells you a story right there. It sounds like you did all right, all things considered, coming out of cold storage. When you get out, do you put them on a truck and head for the almonds?

John:Yes. We're disciples of what my son calls light touch. What light touch means is the fewer times we handle that colony in third and fourth-quarter and first quarter of the year impacts the well-being of the hive. There's a former editor of Bee Culture, Kim Flottum, once said that every time you move a hundred hives, you lose 1%. We have adopted that. For example, when we gather the hives prior to entering the building, we go to the out yard, we load the out yard onto the truck and drive straight into the building, one touch, and we load the building and they're undisturbed until they get on the semi to go to the almonds. That's the second touch.

Now a lot of guys don't have that luxury and they will gather the out yards and put them in a bunch yard one touch and take the bunch yards and put them into the semi-holding yard. That's the second touch. Put them on the semi and haul them to the indoor wintering building or haul them to California. Third touch, fourth touch. Take them off, put them on the ground waiting for your slot to go into the indoor storage building. Fifth touch. On and on and on it goes and pretty soon you've got eight, nine touches before they ever get to the orchard. We view that as detrimental, so we go with what we try to call light touch.

Kim:That sounds like a very good practice. Something that should be considered. I've got to go back a half a step about that quote that you made. Every time you move a hundred hives, you lose a queen.

John:Yes, I think it's true.

Kim:So then you lose a hive. Just to clarify that a little bit. [laughs]

Jeff:Oh, now he's got to change this whole management practices. [laughs]

Kim:You go pretty much straight into almonds then?

John:Yes, straight into almonds because, again, different from 1995 is dormant sprays. There's far fewer pesticides being applied in almond orchards than there were. We'll just keep drilling on this 28-year-old model from 1995. They used to be flying on some pretty hard stuff at some pretty high rates and there'd be no entry placards on the orchard. They had to be in by January 20th, so we could start moving in on February 5th or something. Those constraints have largely gone away due to different practices by the almond orchards and the inability to spray those harsh chemicals because they've been removed from the marketplace. Almond guy's hoard practices are a lot different now.

Also, the big bugaboo for rejects and dockage is navel orange worm, and in the fall, navel orange worm looks for what we call a stick-tight. A stick-tight is an almond that didn't release from the tree. If you're a navel orange worm, that's the perfect apartment to set up shop, find a girlfriend, raise a family. Almond growers practicing the number two, that is two stick-tights per tree is the gold standard for orchard hygiene. Now, when I'm driving through and looking at an orchard for any customer, I can observe their hygiene practices just by what's hanging on the tree. Growers that are practicing the number two run safer orchards for me to be in.

I think growers practicing the number two and beekeepers practicing the number two are finding each other and they can actually save money, Kim. They can save money by addressing the stock rate, how many colonies per acre. For a little background, in the old days, 95 trees per acre, some of these planting grids are now up at 130 and even higher on the trees per acre, but the grower, he's still trying for an enclosed canopy. If you fly overhead with a drone and you photograph the orchard, you're looking for a canopy that covers the ground. You could do that in the old days with giant trees. Now, the trees are more compact and the pruning practices are a lot lighter.

The point is if we are bringing good bees into the almond orchard, he can rent, say, a colony and three-quarters or one and two-thirds. He can rent those colonies and he can actually pay me more for those really good bees that we're bringing in because it's all measured strength contracts now or it's mostly measured strength contracts now, and we're attracted to those guys because there's better revenue stream from it. The almond guy, by certifying the strengths through the measured strength inspection, meets the test of insurance for his crop.

If he's carrying crop insurance as risk mitigation or risk arbitrage, he can meet that test. He can rent fewer bees knowing he's renting better bees. Does that make sense? It's a long answer to a short question.

Kim:Perfect sense. I'll take it a half a step further. There are some organizations in the beekeeping industry. I think Project Apis m is one of them that are looking to perhaps supplement some of those missing flowers in and around the almond orchards. Do you see any of that this year?

John:Seeds for bees, is that what you're talking about?

Kim:Exactly.

John:Seeds for bees put more acres in the ground than any year ever this year. What growers are beginning to embrace is that bear dirt is not better for frost protection than forage on the ground. Growers are beginning to understand in the morning when the bees go into the field, usually, by 2:00, 2:30 in the afternoon, those bees have vacuumed all the almond pollen from the trees. There may be a couple of hours of flying time between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon when everybody comes home. That's when bees get in trouble by flying off the orchard and perhaps getting into fields that they shouldn't be in and foraging on forage they shouldn't be on.

As the afternoon progresses and 2:00, 2:30 comes long, if there's forage on the floor of the orchard, if they've got some brassicas or some mustard, if they've got some rapini, if they've got some stuff going on the floor of the orchard, two things happen. The tap root penetrates that hard pan and opens the soil for moisture penetration. A lot of the plants also fix nitrogen below the ground, but it anchors, for the bee guy, it matters because it anchors those bees in the orchard instead of them flying beyond the orchard and getting into trouble.

Jeff:Hey, this is a great place for a break. We've pulled the bees from cold storage, we've transported them out to the almond orchards, and now we have them sitting there. When we get back from the break, we'll talk to John about the bees in the almond orchards in the spring of 2023.

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Kim:All right, now you've got your bees in the orchards and pretty much all of the bees that are going to be in almonds. There's a date somewhere that most of the bees are where they should be or going to be for the duration of bloom. I think every third newspaper article in the month of February was about how bad the weather was in California this year. What role did that play? I would like to see an almond, just to say I've done it, see an almond tree and blossom covered in snow. I've seen pictures this year. [laughs]

Jeff:Oh, God.

John:Yes, this year is the outlier. We're well above average on rainfall. Flying hours are greatly diminished. Several people track flying hours and flying hours this year are quite diminished, going back over two decades. This is not a good year. It's just been a lousy weather year.

Kim:Off the top of your head, talking to the people that you know, given that, the crop is going to be average, less than average, way less than average?

John:No one knows right now what the crop will be.

Kim:It depends on where you were, I'm sure, but it's going to be spotty. I got to bet that overall, I know the almond industry's been looking at sales and having some issues with how many almonds are able to sell. This has got to hurt, doesn't it?

John:Yes, it does. This would be what we call a mixed blessing.

Kim:Okay.

[laughter]

John:They currently have a big carryover. Three of the last four years have been 3-billion-pound crops. There's just been a huge amount of product to move, and we had this pandemic and we had shipping and supply chains locked up and the ports weren't functioning. This may sound a little wonky, but it was consumption of the almonds in various markets around the globe because they export 70% of the crop. The consumption wasn't happening for two reasons. One, they couldn't get the box of almonds off the boat in Europe or Asia, and people were concerned and weren't consuming the almonds.

It was this perfect storm and the nut tree guys are just having a hell of a time. The walnut guys, there's tens of thousands of acres of walnuts in prime of their life pushed out. This year, probably for the first time in a long time, we're going to see net acres of bearing almonds drop. They're probably going to push out 100,000 acres, but they probably have 70,000 acres coming into production that were planted four years ago, but I think you'll see a net reduction in almond acreage and that might persist.

Kim:How much of that 30,000 acres are going to be in self-fertile almonds? You got a feel for that?

John:It looks like growers are moving to 20%, 25% plantings of these compatible, self-compatible varieties, but there is no question that the nonpareil variety of almonds, which requires a cross, is still the favored variety for growers and consumers. It's a big nut, it has great weight, it has a great appearance, it handles well, it doesn't chip a lot. It's just the best nut, nonpareils.

Kim:There you go. You've made it through almond blossom. I'm guessing from the weather patterns that you had, getting them out of almonds was probably really hit-and-miss.

John:The releases are now on, and this is the 16th of March, so we're four, probably five full days behind average on release dates, and that is going to compound as time goes by. Yes, they're having problems getting out of the orchards. They're having problems with places to go to after they leave the almond orchard. The Sierra is just a mess. The snow level is down, the spring, nectar varieties like manzanita is completely wiped out this year, but there will be. There's going to be good. The vetch is going to be stellar, they're probably going to have great sage blossom this year.

Thistle, [laughs] the most noxious weed in the world, starthistle, makes the finest honey you'll ever taste. It's going to be real interesting, but we are late and queen production is lagging because the cell builders haven't been building and the drone mother colonies are not yet percolating like they should. This is just going to feed on itself. It's going to be a little bumpy this spring.

Jeff:I know that a lot of the beekeepers in this area are worried about or concerned about the bees and the packages and the nukes and everything else that come out. They're really a byproduct of the almond production and almond bees. Those are going to be delayed and/or they're not going to get what they expect. Any insight into that?

John:There's a few poster boards where bees are sold post-bloom, and a lot of guys do this. This year, the price is up and supply is down because a lot of guys are just trying to rebuild their own outfits internally after higher-than-average losses. It's a mess.

Jeff:2023.

Kim:It certainly sounds like a mess. That downstream trickle is just everybody is going to get behind, not because they're not doing anything, but because you guys got hung up this spring. Your bees are going back to North Dakota, right?

John:When the snow melts in July, yes.

[laughter]

Kim:From what I'm hearing, there are more bees and less forage in North Dakota this year than maybe ever.

John:I think that's very possible. The snowpack is pretty high here. Bismarck may come in with the second snowiest winter ever. They've got 148 years of data. The moisture profile is going to be really good. The soil temperatures are going to lag. Again, a mixed blessing is with all this snow, the ground has been insulated as opposed to an open winter. I think there's some insulation blessing from the snow that we haven't yet seen, but I cannot imagine this being an early season in North Dakota. There's just too much snow and it's going to flood.

All those people in Fargo and Grand Forks as the great mighty Red River of the North flows north, I don't know why you'd ever be surprised with the north-flowing river that floods because spring comes to Winnipeg after spring comes to Fargo.

Kim:Yes.

Jeff:A repeat of a couple of years ago.

John:Yes.

Kim:Given all that, and that's a lot, I'm glad I'm not juggling a beekeeping business this year, what do you see getting ready for next year overwintering and after you're finished harvesting and medicating and all of those things going into cold storage? Are those numbers growing, the numbers of bees and the number of facilities? Are people taking a step back and going, "Let's look at this again," or how is that looking for next year?

John:The trend is more square feet in indoor storage, not less. There's new buildings. Several new buildings came online in late 2022. I'm sure there'll be a few more. Without naming names, I saw two new buildings in South Central Idaho. New building opened in billings and a couple of buildings opened in North Dakota. Yes, the trend is up.

Kim:The other thing is getting out of California, they got a lot of water this year, and in the Midwest, what we see are the bad pictures. We see the bridge is out and the little river that used to be a stream is now a great big river and all of these things. Is any of that going to get in your way?

John:No, I don't think so. One of these days, the old man's going to reach up and turn the spigot off. The rainfall will stop. If you go to some websites, you'll see that reservoir storage in California is abundant right now. Earlier this year with one of the atmospheric rivers, they achieved the flush, they call it the flush, where water is potted through the delta at increased volumes. Other years, that's been done by drawing down reservoirs. This year it was done by capturing a couple of those storms and all the rainfall that fell below the reservoirs blasted through the delta. I think five mil an acre feet of water went through the delta in the month of February.

That's just an enormous number, but the reservoirs, I think the water deliveries will be sound in California this year. I cannot imagine water contracts not being fulfilled. The other thing is, when you got all the surface water in the canals this early, a lot of farmers are putting water down their wells to recharge the aquifer.

That's real smart. To do something like that on years of great abundance, good for them.

Jeff:Does that really work? It must, but my understanding of wells is a little bit wrong, and I didn't know that you could force water down into a well back into the aquifer.

John:I'm aware of it being in practice since about '83. '83 was another monster year for moisture, and a lot of guys were pulling water out of Delta Mendota and the aqueduct and putting it down their wells.

Jeff:See, you learned something on Beekeeping Today podcast every episode. I wanted to mention, though, we brought on to talk about the almonds, but we also wanted to talk about another area of topic that I know you've been present in. We've had conversations with Dr. Sammy Ramsey in the past on the Tropilaelaps mite. That critter that's looming on the horizon. What can you tell us about that and what progress has been done looking forward?

John:Progress. Boy, is that a loaded term.

Jeff:Proactively. There's another word, proactive.

John:I was going to say the unsubstantiated reports are that Tropi has now arrived in Uzbekistan and I had to look it up. I didn't know where it was. It's part of the old Soviet Union. If you listen to Jeff Pettis and the Apiary Inspectors of America, they're struggling with Tropi that is overwintering on the Korean Peninsula. We don't know how that's happening because the Korean Peninsula is like North America in the winter. [unintelligible 00:51:49] there's a big mystery there that Dr. Jeff Pettis will be working on. Dr. Sammy recently returned from Thailand and I believe he returned with some samples.

I don't know if they're on ice or on alcohol, it doesn't matter, but if we could just get one of these critters and plate it and run the genome, that would perhaps give us some insight into vulnerabilities that this mite has. We don't know enough about this thing, but we know this bug is five times worse than Varroa. My mission, probably for the past year, has been banging on the door of anybody that will listen to me. EFAS, Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA, Office of the Chief Scientist to focus on prevention rather than treatment or response. It's just keep this bug out.

Kim:I think that's what Australia said. That's a tough thing to measure.

Jeff:See how well that did.

Kim:They went to extraordinary measures.

John:The gossip is Ausi beekeepers that are finding themselves in zones of restriction are secreting their hives out of the quarantine zones, which only meets Ms. Varroa's goal of spreading herself farther and wider across Australia. We've seen this and we see it in other sectors of agriculture. Avian flu is a take-no-prisoners response if avian flu is in your chicken flock. Ironically, birds that fly are cooped up in 50,000 bird sheds, but they're vulnerable to fly over from birds that poop while flying in the air. I don't have the answer to this, but I know that de-populating hives didn't work with Tracheal, it didn't work with Varroa, and it won't work with Tropilaelaps. Let's not repeat history.

Jeff:You mentioned about the Tropilaelaps perhaps potentially being in Uzbekistan, what does that have to do with a North American beekeeper? How does that impact North American beekeepers?

John:This is where John gets a little kooky. The Canadians have opened their borders to Ukrainian bees. I don't get the irony here because the Ukrainians and the Italians who are now also open to go into Canada are trying to raise bees at the exact same time that Canadian guys are trying to rear bees. I'm not able to track the logic of importing bees from countries that are also attempting to import bees. I don't want to go down any conspiracy theories of finding Tropi in Uzbekistan and placing it deliberately into Ukraine for it to then jump on the next 747 freighter to do a polar hop into Edmonton, Alberta. I don't even want to touch it.

Jeff:That would not be good.

John:I think in five years, and I don't want to get off rail here too much, but I believe in five years, Jeff and Kim are going to interview a person holding significant responsibility in a major food chain, any of the majors, and I think the position is going to be called insect-pollinated food supply chain management. If the wheels come off of insect-pollinated production agriculture, we're going to have a problem that we are not prepared to address. I don't think companies are.

I don't think the supply chains, I don't think the vines and the berries and the pit fruits and the tree nuts, I don't think any of these sectors understand the potential significance of Tropilaelaps in America, which is the most mobile beekeeping industry on earth. If you want something spread in a hurry, America Beekeeping is where you put it.

Jeff:I said long ago I think when Sammy was on the show, go to YouTube and find videos of Tropilaelaps and watch those things scurry across the hive. It really is scary. If you want to watch something scary as a beekeeper, watch a video on Tropilaelaps.

John:Now look at their rate of reproduction. They populate four times faster than Varroa. Their life cycle is almost entirely under the cap, so they're more difficult to get to. [sighs] I love my job.

Jeff:Wait, you're retired. You retired.

John:I haven't been paid yet. I really want those guys to succeed because I'm too old to take this back. If I could speak to the beekeepers in America, I would say that during the 2023 Farm Bill deliberations, the beekeeper should talk to their United States Senators and talk to their congressman and say to them it wasn't so long ago we had a $50 million all hands on deck appropriation for hive health. We got a beehive on the White House lawn.

I would suggest that we ask for the same appropriation, $50 million, and I would suggest we focus the $50 million or whatever we can pry out of USDA on Tropilaelaps with geneticists, with parasite specialists, with virologists to address this thing. Because I'm telling you, if this is the perfect example of preventative, it's much more productive than redemptive.

Kim:There you have it, folks. Start talking to your congressman, Department of Ag, and everybody else that's in charge of stopping this thing.

Jeff:What an uplifted note we can leave the episode on, John. Thanks a lot. We can depend on you for such things. Raising the awareness to the problem and raising awareness of the potential devastation that Tropilaelaps will cause is something we need to spread. Varroa is bad, but Tropilaelaps would be catastrophic. John, is there anything that you'd like to mention before we sign off?

John:I think that's enough for one day.

Jeff:[laughs] Job well done. All right, well, John, it's been a great pleasure, again, having you back. Look forward to having you on the show again and feel free to reach out anytime you hear something that you'd like to talk about.

John:Certainly. Thanks, guys. You're a window into the world of beekeeping in America and I appreciate your service.

Kim:Thanks, John. It was good seeing you again. Good luck to the season.

John:All right, thanks. I'll check with you in October.

Kim:Good.

[music]

That'll take the wind out of your sales, I guess, sometimes, Jeff, all that stuff on Tropilaelaps. I know you got to talk about it and it's got to be dealt with.

Jeff:Yes, different people have different nightmares and mine is definitely Tropilaelaps after watching that video on YouTube. I have no love for the thing and I have a hard enough struggle, as do all beekeepers, whether they know it or not, a hard enough struggle with Varroa. I cannot imagine the Tropilaelaps. I don't want to.

Kim:It's a whole different learning curve. There's a lot of us that don't have the other one down yet.

Jeff:Oh, gosh, no. The other thing John talked about was the almonds this year. That is a big topic. The weather has just really turned it upside down this year.

Kim:It wasn't at all predictable. I'm amazed it went as well as it did for a lot of guys, but I'm going to switch gears here for a half a second, Jeff. One of the big things going on in the almond orchards this year and in California in particular is climate change. Just to let folks know that we're going to have on our web page a long series of climate change, bees, beekeeping, and beekeepers, and what's going on. We'll have a lot of input there and what it's going to mean for you, whether you're in California, North Dakota, or Southern Florida, or Maine, there isn't a beekeeper who's going to not be affected by this.

Jeff:I agree and we're seeing it right now around the world.

Kim:Four inches of snow on the ground yesterday, 50 degrees today.

Jeff:That's standard March in Ohio, Kim.

[laughter]

Kim:We'll see.

Jeff:Yes. All right, well, we'll look forward to that series and that'll be on our website and our blog pages. We'll have more about that once released.

Kim:We'll mention it when we're on here when a new one comes up. We're looking at about one a week, hopefully, to go on for quite a while because there's a lot of stuff to look at, so stay tuned and tune in. Jeff, I got to tell you, this discussion with John was interesting, informational, and I always enjoy talking to him.

Jeff:Absolutely. We've both known John for a long time and he is a wealth of information, feet on the ground in the bee industry. I enjoy having him on the show and look forward to having him back.

Kim:Yes.

Jeff:That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcast or wherever you download and stream the show. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on the reviews along the top of any webpage. We want to thank our regular episode sponsors: Global Patties, Strong Microbials, and Betterbee for their longtime support of this podcast. Thanks to Blue Sky Bee Supply and Northern Bee Books for their generous support.

Finally and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to leave us questions and comments at "leave a comment" section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.

[01:02:03] [END OF AUDIO]

Louisa CartwrightProfile Photo

Louisa Cartwright

Marketing manager

Social media manager for Northern Bee Books and IBRA. Horticulturalist and beekeeper with my partner down in the deep South West of Cornwall, England!

John MillerProfile Photo

John Miller

CEO Miller Honey Farms

Miller's Honey Farms, Inc. is a family run beekeeping business of over 123 years in beekeeping providing pollination service and honey production.

John is an active advocate of honey bees and all pollinators, including the Nature Conservancy and several state beekeeping organizations. John currently serves as CFO for Project Apis m. and a board member for Bee Informed Partnership and a board member for a local economic development association. John is also a two-term chair of the National Honey Board

John is also the highlight and subject of the book, "Beekeeper's Lament" by Hanna Nordhaus and a partner in En-R-G Foods, manufacturers of honey-based energy and protein bars, and chews bars sold under the name of HoneyStinger.

You can read John's monthly column in Bee Culture Magazine!