Summer has been intensive

I have focused on the management of my bees and have left other activities aside, such as writing on the blog. We will see if there is any change to this now that the bedding down of bees for winter is finished soon.

Many experiences. A lott o think about and analyse.

 

Some of what has happened since the last post:

Brought home some dead outs to clean in February

Made wax foundation, fixed them in frames in February-March-April

Checked if the bees had food enough in March

Brout home some more dead outs in March

In early April I lectured in Austria: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4a1bvrVyHI

Cleansing flight of the bees in April

Supering of the strongest hives at the end of April

More supering in beginning of May, and more, and more supering.

In the last part of May began the queen breeding

Then making splits of the best colonies, which splits raised their own queens

Last of May, the harvest began

June 1, the extracting began (one month earlier than normal due to the hot weather).

In June, extracted boxes were put back on the colonies.

More queen breeding and filling of bees in mini mating nucs, etc.

In late June the first laying new queens

In July, some harvest again

In August all honey boxes above the queenexcluder were harvested. Some apiaries gave at least another half a box of honey in early August. Many colonies had quite some honey in the coming winter room

In mid-August, the completion of winter feed began with some sugar solution.

The amount of remaining honey for winter varies in the colonies, 5 – 25 kg (10-55 lb). All colonies got at least a some sugar solution so they will end up with about 30 kg (65 lb) of food for winter and the brooding in early spring.

Very little of mites this year, will do varroa level tests eventually.

See you!

Varroa resistant bees

– African bees are resistant to Varroa mites, or become resistant in about 5 years after the mite has come to their hives, in Africa and Americas

– Italian bees on an isolated island close to the cost of Brazil have showed resistance in the same way as Africanized bees in Brazil. But the varroa level has decreased slower.

– The original host of the Varroa mite, Apis Cerana, is resistant to the mite and is very similar to Apis mellifera (African and European honeybees).

– My Elgon stock is selected for varroa resistance since more than 20 years.

• When reinvasion sources are few or none.

• When varroa levels are tested regularely.

• When bee colonies are treated when the varroa level is above 3%.

• When queens in such colonies are replaced –

• Then Elgon bees in my area seems to become resistant.

 

AHB1, Africanized Honey Bees

Africanized honey bee . Photo: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida/Wikipedia 

 

Remy Vandame describes in this doctorate thesis in 1996 that he found the varroa level on worker bees to be 5%. And more than 3000 mites in total.

That figure is about the same as in another study in which Vandame also was involved in Mexico some years later.

The AHB colonies were not alone in the test apiary. European queens (EHB) crossed with AHB drones in a number of colonies were in the same area. Those had better performance concerning varroa infestation and virus problems compared to EHB in USA or Europe, but not as good as the AHB. Drifting and silent robbery during nectar droughts are strongly suspected to have happened, thus evening out the results somewhat.

In December 1991 in Brazil, AHB bees were reported to have a varroa level of 4% (ABJ Oct 1997)

 

EHB on Fernando de Norhona, outside the coast of Brazil

European honey bee (probably not on small cell). Photo: Wikipedia/Luc Viatour/https://Lucnix.be 

 

Italian bees on a small island at the coast of Brazil (latitude south 22°) has the same small amount of DWV as in honey bee colonies before the arrival of the Varroa mite. This virus seems to be the most dangerous virus connected with the Varroa mite. (DOI: 10.1038/srep45953)

In 1984 africanized colonies without queens were brought to the island. They were made into 20 colonies in which queens reared from 5 selected Italian colonies from California were inseminated with drones from a colony from Georgia, USA.

The number of managed colonies was at the most about 50, today maybe 30. Besides numerous feral colonies that together with the managed colonies form the bee population on Fernando de Norhona.

  • In November 1991 11 colonies were examined for varroa varroa level. In three of these about every second bee had a mite (50%). Average was 26%. Lowest about 9%.
  • In April 1993 more colonies were examined. Highest varroa level 39%, average 19%, lowest about 9%.
  • In May 1996 of those examined the highest was 25%, average 14%, lowest about 9%. No damaged colonies, no virus effects. Good producers, very nice bees. (ABJ Oct 1997)
  • In November 2012 the varroa level was found to be about the same as in May 1996, about 14%. (DOI: 10.1007/s13592-016-0439-5)
  • In May 2016 the varroa level was 1-2%. Mites in brood also lower compared to November 2012. (DOI: 10.1038/srep45953) Has the time of the year significance concerning the Varroa level on the island, as it has in other areas of the world. It is lowest in “autumn” whenever that is. Here it seems to be in April-May, with lowest Varroa level then. Highest Varroa level in Nov-Dec. Maybe the lowest and highest months are somewhat different. No one seems to have measured to find out yet. Then it’s most logical to compare the figures from Nov 1991 with Nov 2012 and April 1993 with May 1996 and May 2016.

One thing is evident, the bee and mite populations are isolated from reinvasion from outside.

No chemicals to fight mites and big agricultural crops are used, that can contaminate the colonies or lower the immune and defense systems of the bees.

Cell size (about 4.9 mm) from the beginning anyway was that of the Africanized colonies brought there.

The Africanized microfauna came with them as well. The first brood was nursed by healthy non-contaminated small bees that helped the new queens to epigenetically adapt to the new environment.

 

AHB2, African Honey Bees

African bee in South Africa. Photo: JMK/Wikipedia

 

When mites arrived in South Africa you could find colonies with huge amounts of Varroa, up to 50,000. No reports of big losses due to the mite were given, if any. In about 5 years both the Cape bee (mellifera capensis) a little quicker than 5 years and the Savannah bee (mellifera scutellata) a little slower were found resistant to the Varroa mite (Mike Allsop doctorate thesis 2006).

Today (2014) the varroa levels are low, and no miticides are used to control the mite. In May, which is autumn the average varroa level was about 2%. In spring, September, it was about 1.5%.

Total varroapopulation in average was in May just below 1000 and in September just below 200 mites. No DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) was found. DOI 10.1007/s10493-014-9842-7

No miticide chemicals are used or were used (more than a ittle in the beginning of the arrival).

No bees full of viruses are spreading DWV.

Cellsize is 4.7-4.8 mm.

 

EHB in my Elgon apiaries

Click on the picture to get it larger. My testapiary for small cell Elgon bees Dec 1, 2017.

 

In autumn 2014 three colonies were brought from an environment with higher mite populations in some colonies within 2 km to an isolated test apiary, at least 3 km (2 miles) to other bees. None were treated in 2014 and no DWV-bees were observed.

One colony was weak in spring 2015 and got one thymol pad (5 gr thymol). Two splits were made in 2015. In late June three colonies showed crippled winged bees (DWV). They hade varroa levels of 2, 3 and 7% and were treated with thymol pads. One colony with 3% varroa level showed no DWV and wasn’t treated. In August 2015 the Varroa levels were 0, 0,3, 0,3 0,3 and 3%. One weak colony that got a laying queen introduced late in the season died during the winter.

Two spits were made in 2016, one were made in 2017. 2017 was the third unusually bad year in a row and the apiary is placed in a forested area with low nectar resources.

Varroa levels in average during 2016 was 0-1,5%, during 2017 0-1%.

No treatment were used 2016 and 2017.

Cellsize 4.9 mm – http://www.elgon.es/resistancebreeding.html – Strategy A. Isolated apiary, treat above 3 % varroa level.

 

Resistance breeding in an environment with high virus pressure

In most western countries we have a high varroa and virus pressure. Probably the result of heavy use of treating the colonies against mites for many years. In the light of what varroa levels finally stops at naturally, according to the above experiences, 1-4%, and the experiences I have had the latest years with treating colonies with varroa levels above 3% and replacing the least good queens – I find this strategy a good solution to get varroa resistant bees in even difficult environments.

It may probably take a little longer if the new queens will mate with more than a few drones from susceptible colonies. But that doesn’t matter to much as a queen mates with in average 20 drones. The bad genetics will be weeded out quite quickly if you are keen in replacing the least good queens every year. 

Reed more on this link: http://www.elgon.es/resistancebreeding.html

Updated Elgon website

I have had this blog for some years now. And I had originally a website in both English and Swedish for many years, which were also not updated for many years. 1.5 years ago or so I updated the English variety. A month ago or so I updated the Swedish one, elgon.se

Now I have updated the English one again. I found an even better application with which I could make an even better so called responsive website without knowing one letter of coding for being able to make it myself. Responsive means it automatically changes when you use a device with a different width on the screen, for example a mobile phone or an iPad. I found this tremendous app on Appstore, named Wolf, for a very low cost.

The web address is almost the same as fro the Swedish one, the domain switches the letters to es: elgon.es

Maybe one article will be of certain interest for many. It’s the one named “Resistance breeding“. There I give the latest experiences concerning the new or modified strategies I have tried for some years now. I may well come back to them.

 

The robber screen prevents reinvasion of Varroa mites

Sibylle Kempf from Germany gives her thoughts about the use of robber screens when helping the bees to develop Varroa resistance. The apiary above where the hives are very close to each other is not one of hers. (If you don’t see the picture click on the headline so you arrive at the page with only this post.) The picture  shows a common way to place hives in Germany. It’s better if you can place them much further apart:

 

In nature, the bees would never live close to each other. To live as close as is often the case in our apiaries promotes disease and mite transmission and there will be big difficulties to find out which one are the better for making splits or queen breeding.

  My hives are spaced quite far apart compared to how many do it in Germany

 

Since none of us where I live have big areas for ourselves available, we have to think what would be helpful to avoid the drawbacks this create. I think a setup with a few meters distance and the entrances in different directions helps a lot.

 

The bees have killed a hornet that have dared to enter the hive. They have no problem getting rid and clean the hive of the dead hornet.

 

In addition, you can use devices to hinder robbery, obvious strong robbery, and so called silent robbery that you have hard times to discover, but can cause a lot of so called reinvasion of mites. Small entrances and a robber screen all year round have had no disadvantages to the air conditioning and traffic of my colonies even with so called closed boards (not screened bottom boards). Also I have seen that the bees have had no problems to pull out the dead, as you can see in the hornet picture.

 

 

I have put a box with brood frames (without the queen) above the queen excluder to make a finisher for the grafted queen cells. An extra entrance above the queen excluder help drones to leave the box. It also hinders silent robbing.

 

When making a queen cell finisher after grafting, you can use the robber screen on an extra entrance above the queen excluder for the drones which will follow the brood frames moved up there.

So you can easily put on the box on the excluder for a finisher without shaking off the bees. The bees can protect the honey easier from robbers with the robber screen on.

 

The robbery within an apiary is prevented with a robber screen on all the hives, even when making small nucs and splits and placing them in the apiary when there’s no flow.

 

I calculate that drifting is prevented by about 40% with this robber screen in place. I estimated this when comparing the lighter colored elgon bees with my grey carniolans. Not much mixing at all between the colonies, not even the drones drifted.

The robbery within the apiary is completely prevented, so it is also possible to place weak colonies, e.g. nucs and splits, very well protected.

If all beekeepers would use robber screens, it would also hinder my bees to rob hives of other beekeepers and thus hinder the spread of mites through reinvasion.

The only downside I have found is that bees could be easier taken by hornets and dragonflies. Sometimes they did not fly out, but stayed behind the screen when a hornet was hunting. But if the hornet went in, then the bees surrounded it and killed it.

I think I will put the screens with the openings sideways this coming season, to make it easier for the bees to leave return.

Resistance traits – VSH, VSHD, Grooming and more

Sometimes, the term VSH is used as meaning the same thing as varroa resistance. I think it’s helpful to clarify what VSH is. It is one of several resistance characteristics that affect the bees’ resistance to the Varroa mite.

VSH is not the same as uncapping capped brood cells with varroa inside and remove the pupae. It is one of a few different varieties of cleaning varroa invaded brood cells.

– VSH is opening (+ possible recapping, and / or + possible removing the pupae) of capped workerbee brood cells (not dronebrood cells) in which one or more varroa mites have entered AND the presence of offspring (children) to this (these) varroa mite(s) in these cells.

 VSH

As we see from the description here there could be different varieties of this trait. It isn’t needed that the bees remove the pupa for this behavior to de called VSH. It is enough that they uncap pupae with invaded mites with offspring. The bees may well recap it again. Uncapping is enough to disturb the reproduction of the mite. Is this difference in behaviour (recapping the cell and not removing the pupa) due to genetic difference?

– Uncapping and cleaning of capped workersbrood cells with varroa which have no descendants is not VSH.

– Uncapping and cleaning of dronebrood with varroa is not VSH. (But this is though also a valuable feature.)

– Other properties like grooming (removal and biting of mites from the body of other bees or themselves is an important feature, especially if the colony is reinvaded by mites.

– Resistance to viruses, for example in the form of good production of suitable peptides (short amino acid strings) which “eat” viruses is important.

– Reduced inclination for robbery is not VSH, but is a good feature, as it means less risk for reinvading/reinvasion of mites from bee colonies with increased varroa level and as a consequence thereof a reduced defense against robbery.

– Good defense at the entrance not letting foreign bees enter the hive prevents bees with mites on them from other colonies to raise the varroa level..

– Bees that return to their own hive and not to the neighbor’s (drifting) is an important feature to prevent the spread of mites within the apiary.

– Forcing virus infected bees to leave the hive is one way for the hive to get rid of viruses, it’s not VSH, still very good. The house cleaning bees treat virus infects bees like trash, bees with damaged wings (DWV) or worker bees hatched too early (grey bees crawling around, APV-types).

– There are I’m sure more traits that are important for resistance.

 

VSH is a good feature!

VSH can sometimes be confused with less good development for a bee colony. This depends most often on a queen not laying eggs very well. But if a VSH colony is getting a lot of mites through reinvasion from colonies with high varroa levels in the neighborhood (within a distance of 2 km/1.5 miles) the result may be a lot of shotgun pattern brood combs due to a lot of uncapped and cleaned brood cells to get rid of mites. The consequence will be a slower development of the colony. But as mentioned above a true VSH trait give room for the variety that the pupae are not removed but they are recapped after uncapping. And this can happen more than once. In such a case the consequence needn’t be slow development of the colony even if the varroa level temporarily is a bit high.

This is a good example of VSHD. You see clearly that pupae in drone brood are removed as brown cocoon residues are left. This is the first round with brood. Also we see uncapped drone pupae with purple eyes, and some cells with uncapping having started with holes in the capping. Click on the pictures to make it bigger

 

 More acronyms

Perhaps it’s good if more short names, such as acronyms as VSH, become common, names for different characteristics of resistance.

– With regard to the concept of Grooming, This term is well established. Bees have mites on their body and these are removed by other bees or themselves. We need no other term here.

– As far as VSH on drone is concerned, it is quite newly discovered and no special acronym is used as far as I know. VSHD = Varroa Sensitive Hygiene Drones.

That’s an important feature, maybe more important than VSH. The acronym VSHD could work well.

The mites are more attracted to dronebrood than to workerbrood. If a colony has 5-10% dronebrood in the brood area, as is often found in feral colonies (at least) and bees have a strong VSHD, the bee colony will not lose so many worker pupea (future valuable worker bees). Many mites will invade drone brood and will be cleaned out from this drone brood.

The Norwegian Hans-Otto Johnsen has shown (he is conducting such surveys and there is some notes about this in Norwegian bee magazine Birøkteren and on this blog) that bees more easily identifie mites in smaller dronebrood cells (6.2 mm) than in larger (7.2 mm), and clean out them from mites and pupae. Bees make smaller dronebrood cells naturally, the smaller the cell size is for workerbee cells. This is probably an important characteristic that small cell size provide. The drone cellsize is naturally 6.2-6.4 mm when the bees live on 4.9 mm worker bee cells.

These acronyms may work

ED  for entrance defense.

LR  for low robbery.

LD  low drifting.

VP  for virus peptides.

VB  for trashing virus infected bees

– If you have suggestions or comments don’t hesitate to share them, for example concerning more resistant traits. Maybe you have ideas how to measure resistance traits? Maybe the best selective tool is just measuring the varroa level a few times a year?

Proven experience

An expression often used is “according to science and proven experience”, for example when we want to give authority to what we have chosen to do or when we argue for something (or against it). In the previous post on this blog I made a comment on what science is and who is a scientist. The second part of the expression, proven experience, is worth commenting on as well.

Knowledge is always imperfect, dependent as it is on previous knowledge, which also is imperfect. That’s why science says:

“This is true, as far as we know today”.

The science knowledge is coming from following the scientific rules in making tests and discussing the results, often with statistics.

“Proven experience” is knowledge obtained through other means than scientific tests, often from experience during many years getting the same results when doing things the same way. Is it false knowledge or bad knowledge? Of course not. That’s why it’s used by scientists, and used others as well.

If for example no advice would be given concerning anything until you had scientific tests confirming methods or descriptions, not many advices would be given. And not much would be done if there were nothing done until science had to say anything on the topic from relevant scientific tests.

There is much that is not confirmed or contradicted by science that concerns what we do in everyday life. And yes, many things we do may be completely or partially incorrect. And even advices we follow from scientists change after a number of years, sometimes radically,  when they and we know better. This is also the case with proven experience.

When it comes to scientific tests, after some time we may realize that tests done are designed with lack of knowledge concerning some important facts. If these had been known the tests had been designed differently and results had maybe been different.

Sadly, sometimes also scientists (as all other types of people) have been revealed to cheat. (Why do people cheat anyway?) One way of doing this is to consciously design a test so that you most probably will not get a clear result. With bees and varroa tests you just keep what you call control colonies and test colonies enough close to each other (within 2 km [1.5 miles] from each other) and let the mite populations raise high enough. Reinfestation between these colonies will more or less even out varroa populations. As a result, you will find it more difficult to see differences in varroa resistance traits between bee colonies.

Scientist or not a scientist

Science is a method of how to investigate the world.

The scientists work according to scientific rules. Those who work according to those rules are those that can be called scientists, whether they have an academic degree or not. What is not so often realized is that you can have degree and anyway not work scientifically. And you can lack a degree and anyway work scientifically.

You get an idea how things can be connected and explain some phenomenon. You form a test to try to confirm it. If it’s already a “good” idea, or after the first confirming test you can call it a hypothesis. You go on with other tests to confirm or reject the hypothesis. The hypothesis can then be so well grounded that you can call it a theory.

 

What is a scientific theory?

(Information retrieved from the Chemical Resource Center (KRC) in Sweden)

A scientific theory is a well-functioning model, which explains a natural phenomenon. A scientific theory is not rejected because it does not “envision it”, it is rejected only on experimental grounds. We say that the natural sciences are empirical, ie. They must work in experimental situations.

What characterizes a scientific theory? How do we know it’s a scientific theory? The most important criteria are that it is

  • Falsible. Ie It must be possible to find experiments that contradict the theory if it is incorrect.
  • Predictive, ie Results can be predicted, which is called prediction. It should be possible to make predictions about the future based on it.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a scientific theory from a pseudoscientific theory. Then there are some things that are worth checking out. Pseudoscience is characterized by

  1. Belief in authorities
  2. Lack of repeatability
  3. Hand-picked examples
  4. Dismissal of contradictory facts
  5. Non-falsible theories
  6. Inadequate explanation value
  7. Ad hoc hypotheses – customize the hypothesis to explain a particular phenomenon

The scientific method only works with what can be observed in the natural world. It though doesn’t say other objects can’t exist.

Many scientists today embrace the philosophy of naturalism, which is not science. According to naturalism cosmos consists only of objects studied by the natural sciences, and does not include any immaterial or intentional realities.

The scientific method does not take any stand if there are any additional ways than the scientific method to obtain knowledge.

The philosophy naturalism says that the reality can not involve any immaterial or intentional realities, for example a creator outside the world.

Scientism is another philosophy that goes one step further and says there are no other ways to obtain knowledge than through the scientific method.

What is often forgotten is that according to the scientific method, the answers that you get are dependent on knowledge of today, what you have perceived about the world so far and how your tests are designed with these facts as a base. So the answers we get today are not 100 % truth, they are the most probable truth depending on what we know today. When knowledge increase, the most probable truth may change to something else.

Resistant bees in Wales

In north Wales, there is a group of beekeepers that do not treat honey bee colonies against the Varroa mite. They havn’t done it in years. Winter losses are lower among their bees than with those who treat. Here is a video made about them: https://vimeo.com/157019200

Dave was probably the one who was the first to stop treating. Then Pete stopped. He is a bee inspector. He had a lot of losses initially. He knew there were feral (wild) bee colonies. He observed that they stopped giving swarms when the Varroa came, but all feral colonies didn’t die. Some lived on, and after 3-4 years, they began to give swarms again.

Clive stopped to treat because Apistan stopped working in 2004.

Pete now focused on capturing swarms from feral bees. Then his bees survived better. Others split the colonies that survived Varroa best and had small Varroa populations. They provided new beekeepers with such new colonies. And the number of treatment free beekeepers grew.

Many of them don’t feed sugar but let them live entirely on honey. They keep the number of colonies in apiaries low. Pete has maximum 5 in each apiary. With his 60 colonies he harvests his 2 tons of honey to serve hos customers.

In 2010, they began to wonder how big the differences in losses were between those who treated and the treatment free beekeepers, so they asked around. The first line of numbers in the table is from the winter of 2010-2011. The last line is a summary of five winters.

Conclusions from the video:

  • The treatment free beekeepers group dominant their area with their bees
  • They cooperate with the feral bee population in the area
  • If you make splits, make it from the best colonies and let the bees make new queens.
  • Take swarms.
  • The colonies that are not fit enough die (or are requeened, if not by the beekeeper, by the colony itself).
  • No mating station with sister groups producing drones is used. All survivors are producing drones for mating with virgin queens.

Treatment free focus in Germany

 Besides detecting mites in brood and clean them from there, grooming mites from each other and bite them is also an important trait for bees fighting mites. Here a mite that has got some legs bitten. It will soon die after such treatment.

Treatment free focus in beekeeping is a growing movement in Germany, like in many other countries. This can be done in harmony with the legislation in almost all countries, if not all. Most legislations require treatment against the varroa mite, so people have come to think that they must treat every year to follow the law.

Now many have discovered that prophylactic treatment (before it’s actually needed) is almost never required, if anywhere. This means that to be able to be treatment free and keeping the law, you need to monitor the varroa level. If it’s below the threshold level, the mites create no problem for your or your neighbor’s bees, and no treatment is needed (yet?). The threshold level recommended by authorities is today in a climate similar to ours (Canada) 2% (two mites on 100 bees) in May and 3% in August. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/inspection/bees/varroa-sampling.htm An IPM PP-presentation from the university of Delaware: http://alturl.com/ed92e is focused also on developing resistant bees and management methods. You can find threshold values of 5% for the middle of the summer from universities in America, but that is probably to high for bees with weak resistance traits.

If the varroa population is above the threshold, the conclusion is that you have to take action to help the bees lowering the mite level. This can in many cases be done without treatment chemicals (drugs, essential oils or organic acids), but instead with other means. Monitoring can be done through checking natural downfall, looking for DWV bees (virus damaged bees) in front of the entrance or on brood combs, doing alcohol washes or sugar dusting. An effective treatment without chemicals – oils, acids or drugs – is removing capped brood, worker or/and drone. This of course effects the growth of the colony, but you can get a much worse effect by doing nothing at all. Also making artificial swarms is a way of preventing mite growths.

An important reason why you want to avoid the use treatment chemicals is that these interfere with the bees’ epigenetic adaption to rid themselves of mites.

This should be followed by replacing the queen in colonies with the worst problems with a queens bred from a more resistant colony. Also it’s important to let resistant colonies produce splits as well as a good amount of drones for the virgins to mate with.

Two beekeepers in Germany who work together according to these principles are Stefan Hutterer and Sibylle Kempf. They are active in a beekeeper group and on forums. Sibylle also makes many good comments on my blog. Here they give us reports from their season of 2017.

The story of Stefan

I´ve been keeping bees for 10 years now and decided in 2012 to regress one hive to small cell (SC) comb with the help of plastic comb (Mannlakes standard plastic comb https://www.mannlakeltd.com/shop-all-categories/hive-components/frames/plastic-frames/standard-plastic-frames ). That worked well, but the pure bred carniolans which I had could not follow the imprint of the cells on small cell wax foundation. Plus, which I think is important, they used no propolis. They were very susceptible to pests and diseases too.

The carniolan bees couldn’t follow the small cell pattern on the wax foundation and made a messy construction.

I wanted to be treatment free but I realized that in the end the only way to reach this would be to use a bee that had traits that had showed more success in this area.

2013 I ordered my first elgon queen from Josef Koller without expecting too much. I was curious how they would perform. This first Elgon colony survived winter very well and built nice 4.9 mm cellsize (SC).

A perfectly drawn SC wax foundation by an elgon colony

I think it’s important that bees do produce propolis to help them stay healthy. Here’s some applied on the top bars fo a mix of wooden and plastic frames in an elgon colony.

Mating apiary with Stefan. Apideas placed 4 and 4. Drone producing colonies in the traditional type of bee house.

I bred some daughters, thus making F1-colonies as they mated with carniolan drones and introduced them in Carniolan nucs. The more new bees that hatched in these nucs, the more they became lighter in color and less grey. I was impressed by the gentleness of the bees, and at the same time different in comparison to the carniolans as they were very defensive towards wasps and foreign bees and watched the entrances ferociously. Still, working with them was nice.

They started making brood later in spring than the carniolans, but I never had an elgon colony isolated from stores in winter or starving. They know how to househould with their food resources.

An elgon comb where the bees have uncapped cells with worker pupae as a way of fighting varroa.

2015 I got two pure bred elgons from Erik Osterlund in Sweden through a couple of friends, members of the ResistantBees Forum of Stephan Braun, La Palma. Now, 2017, I have only treatment free small cell bees except two large cell (LC) Carniolan hives.

I´m living in an area flooded with carniolans and I´m not isolated. This will not change. I also keep survivor colonies of unknown origin in my beeyards, but I know that I must propagate the best genetics to stay being treatment free.

So I breed every year from one or two pure bred elgon queens and shift all unsuccessful queens to better ones. I therefore this season bought two elgon queens directly from Sweden with the intent to use them the coming season.

Stefan Hutterer

Struggles for survival

My friend Stefan Hutterer and I started to work together and use the elgon bees because we realized they are less susceptible to diseases and are fighting more ferociously against the mites. They are more gentle than the imported Apis mellifera mellifera (AMM) we tried, and bring in more honey. These traits will hopefully convince other beekeepers to try treatment free beekeeping too.

A nice brood comb in an elgon colony.

A pure elgon queen mated with local drones giving a F1-colony.

To get elgon genetics in our beeyards, we purchase pure bred elgon queens, now directly from Sweden and breed virgins which are allowed to mate with drones of our local adapted bees, which are the carniolan crosses mostly but some buckfast combinations, and a growing number of elgons. So far the elgon crosses keep their good traits but we plan to introduce pure bred queens with not too long intervals. Stefan has kept elgons now for 3 years.

We want to flood our areas with our drones and give nucs to people working with us through our forum www.vivabiene.de

A workshop with our treatment free beekeepers group. We are producing small cell wax foundation with the help of mold parts bought from here: https://resistantbees.com/shop/index.php?id_category=7&controller=category&id_lang=5

We are trying to use foundationless naturally drawn comb to have locally produced clean wax. The elgons promptly built small cell natural comb in the brood area. The carniolans were not able to do that very well, probably because they are being bred on an unnatural cell size of 5.4 mm in the brood area for a long time.

Some members in our group will use well built small cell comb to regress the local hybridized colonies down in cellsize and try natural comb later.

I had big losses in winter 2016/2017. I went from 14 hives to 4. Four of the losses were the result of mite infestations. The others were due to bad matings and isolation of the cluster from food stores.

I went on and made splits from the survivors. Now in the autumn of 2017 I have wintered 12 hives. I got one colony from Stefan. Another one is a swarm with large cell (LC) bees I caught, which I now regress treatment free to small cells (SC) in my garden. My SC colonies are placed in apiaries with only my SC bees. Besides the LC swarm 4 are of the AMM mother line, 5 Elgons and 2 carnica crosses of survivor type.

Stefan has never had a crash. His losses are average, compared to both treatment free and treating beekeepers in his area. When he himself had both kind of bees in the past, small cell (SC) treatment free and LC treated with acids, he had about the same amount of winter losses in the two groups. Now he has changed to only SC treatment free. He is a very skilled beekeeper and has avoided some problems I have had as the inexperienced beekeeper I am, but I’m learning quickly.:)

I realized, that making strong splits with a lot of capped brood and a laying queen are “mite breeders“ in our environment, so I have tried other methods to make new colonies. This year I made small splits when doing them with laying queens and gave those only a few brood combs and some with food. Splits without an egglaying queen but with a virgin queens or a ripe queen cell were made strong. All splits got robber screens in front of the entrance to prevent robbing. When splits are placed in the same apiary as the one the bees were taken from all field bees flew back to the mother colony and left them defenseless against robbery. But the robber screens are good help against robbing.

Robber screens prevent robber bees from other colonies to interfere when introducing a new queen in a nuc or split.

May 16, I made a small split with my F1 elgon queen (pure elgon queen mated with local drones) I got in 2016. In the “middle” of the broodnest with 3 brood combs (no drone brood on those) I put a foundationless frame with just a starter strip of foundation. I was happy to see that in the middle of the comb they built naturally almost perfect small cells.

The small elgon split made small cells in the middle of a foundationless frame, which area the bees used for brood.

I have also had too much space during winter for the bees. I will change that. The bad matings were a result of the unfavorable weather situation in 2016, so I have to watch more carefully the time for breeding new queens and having them mated. There must be enough high temperature and enough amount of mature drones.

Beekeeping situations always change. To have success you must adapt to the needs of the bees and what nature tells you and develop a sensibility for this. This is hard work for me but when I see the beautiful elgon bees and the dark feral looking ones I have, the descendants of the AMM and still some carniolan crosses survivors I have, I enjoy every day learning from them.

After the colonies had been allowed to keep honey for winter stores Sibylle was able to secure a small crop for herself.

Sibylle Kempf in one of her apiaries.

The small harvest of honey I took after leaving the bees enough of their own honey for stores is a most wonderful compensation. Thank you, bees.

Sibylle Kempf, 4th season treatment free beekeeper

A good report on Elgon bees

I have just returned home from the annual meeting of our local bee association. Susanna Kivling spoke about the Beescanning project, beescanning.com  We were also discussing to establish an Elgon mating place for queens of the members. The best report I got after the meeting from Arne Andersson who got two queens from me last year of the line H131. He treats all his colonies every year for varroa. So he treated these two Elgon colonies with sublimating oxalic acid (“heat-steaming”) some time ago. He decided to treat them again with trickling oxalic sugar solution as he got so few mites from the treatment. These two treatments gave together two mites each from the two Elgon colonies. Another type of colony close to them dropped altogether 1000 mites. Cellsize? 5.1. I hope the Elgon colonies survives the two tough treatments so I can consider grafting from them next year.:)