N.H. beekeepers ask for help tracking honeybee deaths over the winter

  • Martin Marklin looks over a dead out hive at the apiary on the property of Der Markt at Marklin in Contoocook on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Concord Monitor — GEOFF FORESTER

  • Martin Marklin points to the dead our part of the hive on the left and other side to the right, the hive is still thriving at his hive in Contoocook on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Concord Monitor — GEOFF FORESTER

  • Dead bees with the queen in the middle that has the red dot at the Der Markt at Marklin apiary in Contoocook. GEOFF FORESTER

Concord Monitor
Published: 3/30/2019 10:46:55 PM
Modified: 3/30/2019 10:46:56 PM

The New Hampshire Beekeepers Association is expanding its efforts to understand why the state’s bees are dying over the winter.

The group opened its annual winter hive loss survey, now in its third year, last week and will continue to collect data until the end of April. The survey typically asks participants how many hives they had in the fall versus the amount remaining in the spring, and what caused hives to fail.

The results weren’t great last winter, with 58 percent of the state’s hives not lasting through the winter. It was a 7 percent decrease from 2016’s death rate. A definitive cause remains elusive — mites, starvation and moisture problems topped the list — but as more beekeepers participate, a clearer picture may develop.

The association also is asking beekeepers to submit to their dead bee autopsy observations using a process developed by the New Hampshire Honey Bee Diagnostic Network.

The network, a partnership between the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension and the Beekeepers Association, was founded through a three-year Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant. It’s made up of volunteers trained to diagnose causes of death in honeybees.

One of the network’s initial goals was to train people to spot nosema, a parasite that lives in the digestive tract of bees and eventually can cause a hive to weaken and collapse. Although the disease is relatively widespread in the country, nosema hardly showed up in the NHBA’s previous surveys.

This year, the network was expanded to include citizen science projects for collecting data on “deadout” (a dead hive) observations and on monthly testing for the parasite varroa mites, according to its website. They are providing a checklist that beekeepers can follow to diagnose the mites. The checklist and FAQ can be found on the network’s website which can be submitted online, via email or through the mail.

Lastly, the association is launching a multiyear initiative to promote healthy hive management.

The N.H. Healthy Hives campaign will focus on different management themes each year; this year will focus on varroa mite testing, another scourge of honeybees. Participants will be asked to do monthly checks for mites and nosema spore counts and record the results on a spreadsheet. They’ll also be asking if the hive swarmed and whether beekeepers treated the threats.

Martin Marklin, who owns several hives around Hopkinton, N.H., and behind his Der Markt store in town, said understanding deadouts is one of the more important things beekeepers have to do when tending their hives.

“The question becomes, what caused the hives to not be able to overwinter,” he said. “Was it a lack of food storage? Namely, maybe we didn’t leave enough honey on the hive? Or were there other stressors, such as nosema, dysentery, varroa mites?”

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