Wingless bees and varroa level

Before varroan came there could be seen occasional bees with undeveloped/deformed wings in spring. Maybe it was the influence of DWV, Deformed Wing Virus. But it may also have been chilled brood. During the final phase of the pupa development to finished bee the wings are formed. Cold nights and too much of brood could maybe have caused undeveloped wings.

Today, one can probably assume that when you see a wingless bee, it’s DWV responsible. Varroa mites are paving the way for many viruses into pupae and adult bees that had not previously bothered bees. Moreover, these viruses multiply in mites. So today mites spread viruses more efficiently than when the mite had just arrived in Europe. Why that is so is another interesting discussion that probably involves the use of miticides.

 

The Bee Shaker

The Bee Shaker is a great way to keep track of the level of mites in the bee colony, especially in spring and late summer, so the amount of virus can be kept reasonably low by allowing people to fight the mite if it exceeds a certain degree of infestation. (If that is the strategy chosen.) A good benchmark that many use today is 3%, three mites on one hundred bees (9 mites in 300 bees/1 deciliter of bees).

It also means that to develop a bee stock towards better varroa resistance, you don’t treat against the mite, especially below a mite level of 3%, whenever in the season it is measured.

But if there are wingless bees in the bee colony? It’s usually a sign of DWV and thus too many mites. Here is the Bee Shaker again a good tool, to find out if there really is a high degree of infestation of mites when you see a wingless bee. If you decide to treat against mites if the level is high you might do it to prevent the spread of mites to other colonies nearby.

 

A colony with a wingless bee

Last year’s breeder queens seem to have produced many queens that have given colonies that control the mites quite well. One of these daughter queens was introduced to a colony that had problems with mites. Perhaps the biggest problem was virus.

This colony was quite weak in this spring and developed slowly, compared to the other colonies in the apiary. I concluded that I would have to check the brood nest to find out the cause. Maybe the colony was shifting their queen?

On a later visit to the apiary about June 20, I saw one, only one, wingless live bee on the hard board in front of the entrance. I then looked in the brood nest, but saw no more wingless bees on the brood frames. But the brood frames had a so called shot gun pattern with a lot of “holes” where you would have expected capped brood as the other cells on the comb contained capped brood. Many pupae seemed to have been removed by the bees. Most likely not due to inbreeding as the queen had mated in the apiary and the number Elgon colonies in the neighborhood was quite high. No trace of any brood disease could be seen so I concluded that a likely cause could be cleaning out of varroa-infested brood. Or could the bees detect virus in the pupae and remove it, without there being a mite in the cell, and remove the pupae?

Could that be the reason why the colony developed so slowly – that the bees were throwing out mites? How had they managed? The wingless bee could indicate that they had not done so well and that the amount of mites was big. Now it was time for a Bee Shaker test to find out the level of Varroa infestation. (Here you can read more about The Bee Shaker, its uses and possibilities: http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=809)

Here you can see a video clip when doing this test (sorry I’m talking my mother tounge Swedish):

The sample showed zero (0) mites! Then it’s no use to treat, There were far too few mites in the colony. Why had there been a wingless bee recently before the test?

VarroaVirus The brood frames looked less spotty and the colony stronger.

July 8 I was visiting the apiary again. Once again I saw a wingless bee on the hardboard. But now I knew the Varroa level was low. Still no use treating. I looked in the brood nest. The colony was a little stronger still and the brood frames had fewer “holes”. The bees look healthy. They were recovering.

Virus apparently remain in the colony for a while after mites are eradicated – by the beekeeper or the bees.

The bee shaker and varroa resistance

Skak botten 2lc One mite from 300 bees.

I understand that sometimes it’s a good idea to get an idea of the infestation level of varroa mites in bee colonies. You can take samples from a couple of colonies in an apiary to get an idea when to treat. But my first concern is breeding varroa resistant bees.

I have never monitored the varroa infestation level in my colonies. I haven’t had time and I haven’t found any reason for it because I thought I had found a good compromise – treating with Thymol when I saw wingless bees on the hardboard in front of the hive entrance, checking every 10 days or so.

 

Good results up till now

I give a colony one or two pieces of dish wash cloth containing 5 grams of Thymol each when I see wingless bees crawling on the hard board in front of the hive. But this means I don’t treat every colony at the same time (hopefully some not at all in a season). This results in some colonies with higher mite loads not showing wingless bees yet. So these colony (-ies) will through reinvasion increase mite levels again quite quickly in those colonies recently treated.

But this way I’ve been able to develop more and more resistant bees and still produce a good crop. There have been a number of bees not producing any honey. Winter losses have been reduced from 30 % to 10-15 % (except the first year with varroa trouble when I lost 50 %).

The bees have been better chasing mites and remove infested brood. I’ve got good reports from for example Poland and Germany of low populations of varroa in colonies headed by Elgon queens, compared to other bees. And the VSH trait is becoming better and better. Daughters of my colony with the highest VSH % (80) gave colonies that in Poland dropped 2-5 mites after effective treatment while other colonies dropped more than 1000.

 

Thymol is useful but hinders total adaptation

I now have been aware that by having this regime I have a constant quite high varroa population in the apiaries as a whole, and thus probably a climbing virus pressure. In a way this is good as selection is done also on virus resistance.

How do I know that? Now when I’ve used the bee shaker somewhat this year I’ve seen that colonies may show wingless bees (DWV-virus) at low mite infestation. Such low infestation you didn’t expect them to do so, sometimes even as low as 2 % infestation (a daughter from a colony with high VSH trait [80%]! This experience and others similar, raise the question if very high VSH comes with higher susceptibility to viruses.). Wingless bees at 2 % infestation is totally different from a report I’ve got from a test further down in Europe. (There they normally treat effectively every year.) In that test where they didn’t treat at all, my bees didn’t show any wingless bees at 35% infestation while other bees had a lot.

 

How to explain the high infestation level in the test

Now I have to try to explain why my good bees could arrive at 35 % mite infestation. This is interesting and brings up another topic as well. The importance of memories of the worker bees (their knowledge how to chase mites), not only their genetics (and epigenetic history). My queens in this test down in Europe were introduced to bees that had not been selected the same way as mine, and those bees had been treated effectively every year. The bees could probably not chase mites as well as mine.

But of course the genetics from my queens would more and more influence the workers to build up a better behavior when it comes to chasing mites. When the bees have arrived at a good mite chasing mood they learn new bees born in the colony what they have achieved, more than what just come directly with the genetics. In Norway with Terje Reinertsen and Hans-Otto Johnsen experiences are achieved pointing strongly to this.

In an apiary where many colonies are non-resistant as in this European test, you get a mixture of all bees in the apiary through drifting and robbing. This is taking place more and more when the mite populations in the colonies rise. As it did in this test as the colonies were not treated at all.

In a situation when colonies are receiving a lot of mites from neighboring colonies, even the very best kind of mite chasing behavior is maybe not enough to keep mite levels low.

In the test apiary previous to this test, effective treating every year had kept the mite and virus levels low, so the mite population could grow much in the test without showing wingless bees – like in the beginning when the mite first arrives to an area. Then the virus levels are usually very low and there could be 10 000 mites and more in a colony without any signs of viruses (documented case in Sweden in 1987 when the mites were first detected on the island Gotland in the Baltic).

The bees in this test were on 5.5 mm cell size, while my bees are kept on 4.9 mm.

 

Also Thymol hinders total adaptation

I have talked to some beekeepers whose bees are totally treatment free since many years (Hans-Otto Johnsen in Norway, Richard Reid in Virginia and Myron Kropf in Arkansas). Their bees have now small populations of mites and are showing no wingless bees.

I have come to realize that also Thymol is a chemical that hinders the bees to fully adapt to handling the mites successfully on their own. It is in first place the epigenetic adaptation I have come to think of that is disturbed when alien chemicals (like miticides of all kinds) are present. Epigenetic changes take place when a chemical change occur due to environmental changes, like for example the presence of the mite. (But it should be said also that if you use Thymol regularly spring and late summer in a system not selecting better bees like I do, winter losses can be kept low. I know because beekeeper friends do like this.) Also Thymol like other miticides is lowering the immune system of the bees.

How do I then integrate these insights to go further in becoming totally treatment free?

 

A new strategy to try

I’m planning a new strategy, at least to start with in one quite isolated apiary. I have to stop using Thymol. First though I think I have to knock down the mites effectively to reduce the virus level. And then get a better control of the number of mites and take action without any chemicals if varroa populations are rising too much in colonies.

 

The role of the bee shaker

Here the bee shaker will play a role. And I have looked more into how Randy Oliver uses it. It’s much easier to shake a frame of bees into a bowl or pan and then with a measuring cup scope somewhat more than a deciliter (3.5 oz) of bees and pour them into one half of the bee shaker, half filled with alcohol (for example methylated spirit or rubbing[isopropyl] alcohol). Then screw it together and shake for a minute before reading the result. Compared to holding the bee shaker close to a frame side with bees and pour bees into it moving it slowly upwards, the alternative of Randy Oliver is quicker (at least for me). The next step is to test the VSH trait in the best colonies.

Skak yngelrum Start checking from one side in the uppermost box with brood. The queen hopefully will run to the brood if she is outside the brood area (probably not). The comb closest to brood you check so the queen is not there. 

Skak deciliter Shake the bees into a pan or bowl. Scope up somewhat more than a deciliter of bees (3.5 oz)

Skakburk sprit Pour the bees into one of the halfs of the bee shaker, which is half filled with alcohol. Screw the other half tight on top. Shake it for a minute.

Skak botten1lc Turn the shaker upside down and continue shaking until all the alcohol has poured down. Lift it up against the sky and count the mites. This colony had 14 mites on 300 mites and it got two pieces with 5 gram Thymol each. It showed no wingless bees.

What I hated to do

So what I’ve done so far is something I hated to do. In one quite isolated apiary I used an effective chemical miticide (only this time I promised myself) in August 2015. I wanted to use something else than Thymol to give the bees a break from that chemical. And I wanted to knock down the mite population effectively to lower the virus pressure in the apiary. I collected the knocked down mites. (In the rest of the apiaries I plan at the moment to continue as before.) The colonies that had needed most Thymol earlier in the season had the highest downfall of mites. They got probably continuously reinfested from other colonies that happened to not show wingless bees while they anyway had quite high mite loads. The defense system of these quickly reinfested colonies was probably lowered by Thymol, which made this relatively quick reinfestation possible.

One colony that hadn’t needed any Thymol at all (and very little the year before) and still had given me 80 kg (175 lb) of honey with 20 kg (45 lb) left for winter dropped less than 200 mites. And this happened in this very bad season of 2015. This colony is of course a breeder for the coming season.

 

The new strategy

Next year I will in this new strategy apiary make splits from the best colonies and place them in the same apiary (or if the number is enough there, place in other apiaries). In the least good colonies in this apiary (those with highest infestation level) I will kill the queen and give them a ripe queen cell bred from a good colony in this apiary. I check the number of varroa (infestation level) with the bee shaker twice a season in all colonies in this apiary. Each time it will take about 5 minutes per colony. And I look for eventual wingless bees on the hard board in front of the entrances. Before the number of mites rise too high (whatever that is), or when I see wingless bees, I plan to remove all capped brood (worker and drone brood) once or twice with a week in between. I haven’t decided what to do with those brood frames yet. Any suggestion?

 

 

Changes again

I ended the last blog-post saying that the season wasn’t completely over yet. That was very true. August has been our summer here in Sweden. And it’s not over yet, August and warm summer. Though the nights are chilly. But my wife and I are taking our daily morning swim in a near by lake, followed by breakfast at the shore, coffee and a sandwich.

Bigård23ljung Heather

Heather (Caluna vulgaris) yields honey this year in big parts of Sweden. In my area very good, even in areas quite far from places with lots of the plant. But in spite of this the total honey crop is the worst since I became a beekeeper 40 years ago.

But the colonies have changed appearance. Now they look very healthy and the winter room will be quite full of honey, not only from heather (a quite tough honey for wintering a long winter confined to the hive), but also from thistles, fireweed and golderod. And probably I will not use more Thymol than last year after all.

Why the VSH 80-daugter I mentioned in the former post had so much bald brood, I saw the other day, may well be due to a failing queen. She is not laying that much eggs any more. So there are fewer open brood for the mites to invade and thus not so many new healthy pupae that turns into new bees. And the strength of the colony declines. It’s a little late for the bees to shift the queen. They should have done that earlier. We’ll see if the colony will make it through winter.

Bigård23A Apiary where all supers above the queen excluder has been harvested. Most colonies are wintered on three square (12-frame) shallow langstroth boxes. Two colonies are wintered on two boxes Even with isolation dummy frames at the sides in both boxes). They are weaker than the others.

Bigård23B The strongest colony in this apiary

Bigård23C One colony in this colony needed Thymol against varroa now. The sign for me was wingless crawling bees on the hardboard outside the entrance. It got two pieces of dishcloth with 4-5 gram Thymol each (hopefully it will be enough, will check for this sign again in 10-14 days).

At the moment I’m harvesting all supers above the queen excluder. From some apiaries there is a quite good late harvest. From others not so good. But the winter room will contain a good amount of honey. Those colonies needing Thymol strips get it, not so many now. Most of the needy have got it earlier in the season.

Changing plans

I make notes. I’m sure you do to. How much is a good question. I made more notes as a beginner and quite some years after that. When I got well above hundred hives I began to question each kind of note and how much I could benefit from it. I wanted to save time, if I found it possible to skip doing some kind of notes.

For each year I use a fork binder. First I have a graph paper. On a horizontal line high up all the apiaries are numbered. On a vertical line to the left I make a note of the date, then an X for the apiary I have gone through that day. That’s the most important note, to be sure I don’t forget any apiary and to make sure it doesn’t take too long between my visits.

Fork Binder A spread in my fork binder.

I have made a map in the computer in the Excel application showing each apiary. On the spread is the map to the left. On the opposite side a blank graph paper for making notes. In the very early season (still winter/spring) I make note of the colony strength, how many “comb gaps” the bees occupy. Then of the progress of the colony (putting on boxes). At the end of the season, very late autumn/winter, again how many comb gaps the bees occupy.

I only make a thorough check of a colony if it doesn’t develop as expected. I check for eventual disease, if it has brood (thus a laying queen), and eventual other things to observe. I make notes only of things that depart from the average or the normal. No notes for a colony indicates an average or a normally functioning colony. Also notes are made concerning hot temper, no brood, wingless bees. I make notes of how much thymol in grams a colony get and what date, estimated amount of honey taken in kilograms (it doesn’t matter if I do a wrong estimation with 10-20%, the estimation is for comparison between the colonies).

When the season is over I compile the notes and do stats. Then I make a first probable selection concerning next year’s breeders and which queens I will shift next year. The final selections are made during May and June the coming season. Here the notes are invaluable as I tend to forget some colonies that I discover again when I’ve done the stats.

Before May comes there’s often a hard winter ahead, and a tough spring. And the spring this year was really tough, which changed the preliminary plans a lot. But the winter had been mild.

The spring was very rainy and very chilly. May was the coldest since 1962 in Sweden. The bees had small opportunities to get enough of fresh pollen for their usually quick buildup. And proteins they need desperately for everything for their rapidly expanding colony to function properly.

My bees have a higher varroa pressure than most others maybe, to let the least good colonies reveal themselves. Due to the season the immune system (rather defense system as their defense against diseases are different compared to mammals) among other things didn’t work fully due to lack of proteins. Viruses showed up even if the varroa population wasn’t big.

Maybe I should have stayed cool and not used varroa treatment, I don’t know. Varroa treatment affect the bees negatively as well, but of course not as much as mites. When should I stop treating altogether? And how should I do it? Just stop at any moment or do it in a certain way? I don’t know.

I have used more thymol this season than last. The colonies with high VSH value (VSH 80% the best one, included) and their daughters, most of them, showed wingless bees and many dwindled. I was surprised and disappointed. How was this possible? Can high VSH-value mean less good other traits than VSH? Sometimes such phenomena can appear with strong selection for strengthening a trait, as such selection often is made with the help of inbreeding.

Anyway, when I should decide which queens to breed from I went through the notes and found some interesting colonies I hadn’t payed enough attention to. Those colonies hadn’t needed any treatment for two years. So I made a VSH test. The S241 colony had three mites of 103 pupae checked. Two of the mites had no offspring. The third had one white daughter mite and no male. The H101 had one mite of 110 pupae checked, with no offspring. The neighbor colonies of these two colonies had wingless bees and many were dwindling. Of course I bred from these two good colonies.

Quite soon afterwards the H101 showed a wingless bee. I had split that colony and put the big split with the queen in the same apiary as the “mother” colony. The split with the queen lost most of its field bees that way. Was that a cause?

The S241-split was moved to the home apiary and kept its field bees. The split grew fine and is now a big colony. All the daughters are doing fine and building fine colonies. Both S241 and H101 are colonies that have shifted their queens themselves, whatever impact that may have.

To sum it up. I had to change my breeding plans quite a bit for this year, after this unusually cold and rainy spring. But I think it’s important to make good notes and from them plan for next season. Then when next season comes you know what to change and how.

The VSH 80%-colony was a disappointment and I don’t understand that, yet. There are though a couple of daughters from it that are very interesting. Those havn’t needed any treatment and didn’t show any wingless bees. One has shifted it’s queen. The second are showing a lot of bald brood and spotty brood (cleaned out brood with mites?). The queen is laying well. It seems it’s fighting reinvasion of mites and doing it well. So good that the colony hasn’t grown and hasn’t given any honey.

Bald brood One of the daughter colonies to the VSH 80-colony is fighting hard against the mites and havn’t shown any wingless bees, not yet anyway. Maybe a breeder next year.

This season is a disaster. The month of July has been the rainiest I have experienced ever. The honey crop is in average maybe 5-10 kg per hive (including winter losses and failing colonies) to compare with 25-35 kg for several years. And many colonies may need a good sugar feed to survive the coming winter.

But, the season isn’t completely over yet…

 

 

More viruses due to cold weather

The weather has given the coldest May since 1962, 12 years before I started with bees. The bees have had a hard time getting enough pollen to keep up egglaying to reach optimum nectar gathering strength when summer comes.

In agricultural areas winter rape has given some nectar during the few hours with good weather. It’s still in bloom… In the forest small blueberry bushes which in many areas cover the ground has done the same. Now lingonberry flowers give nectar and pollen.

Pollen is essential as amino acid and protein source. These are used for almost every thing the bees need to function as they should, for example the immune system.

This year I’ve seen wingless bees in colonies with no big population of mites, eve if it’s somewhat bigger than it had been if the colonies had been treated with an effective miticide last year. I use thymol only when wingless bees appear, on the hardboard in front of the entrance or on the brood combs.

Nosema have probably also contributed to health problems with the bees this cold May, in combination with viruses and plant protection chemicals, it can be disastrous.

Now sun and mating temperature for honey bee queens came upon us the other day. Nature dried up. The hard boards appeared “empty”. Bees are working like maniacs. Nectar is filling the supers, even in the forest. It must be the lingonberries.

More Virus lingonblom To the left there is a Swedish blueberry plant showing some berry babies. Now lingonberries are blooming.

But happiness is not perfect. In most colonies there hasn’t been egglaying as it should this time of the year. The field bees that will fly to death will not all be replaced by hatching new bees. But if the fine weather will continue the bees may collect quite some early honey, in spite of the earlier bad weather. And here in Sweden we hope for a good amount of wild raspberry flowers.

My selection parameters

I have prepared for and selected for varroaresistance for quite some years. Last year I learned how to test a colony for VSH, a simplified method described by John Harbo, easy for everyone to use.

 DWV-bees on the hardboard

Before that I just allowed a mite pressure in the colonies until they showed virus problems. That meant in practice appearance of wingless bees, DWV-bees, either on the comb, but still easier, on a hardboard in front of the entrance. (Bees with very little resistance are though not quick in throwing out of the hive DWV-bees, or other virus-troubled bees.) You have to visit the apiary every 10 days or so, but a quick look will tell you, plus a look in the hive after opening the inner cover to check how the colony develops. No need to check down in broodnest unless you register something seems to be wrong.

Breeder candidates

Those colonies that keep going and develop normally without any symptoms, during which time no treatment has been done, they are of course then candidates for being breeders, especially coming spring.

 First breeder

In autumn 2011 I had three colonies that had been big colonies (not newly started splits during that year) without treatment for the whole season with no signs of varroa or virus. The winter and coming spring would tell which one, if any, or all, would be able to be used as breeder in 2012. That happened to be only one, H157.

Good to remember is that varroa first began to be a problem in 2008 with first bad winter in 2008-09 and 50% losses. Next winters no such losses.

Next years 5 breeders with VSH as most important

In autumn 2012 I had 11 breeder candidates. In spring 2013 I had at least 5 I judged I could breed from, but that year focused most on VSH. I had just learned to know I could.

I learned about VSH testing that spring in 2013 and did VSH-testing on three colonies.

 S120

One was a swarm that looked promising and nice. The mother colony was a feral colony in the wall of the dogtraining center, well within the area of my type of bees. The swarm showed 50 % VSH, half of the pupae with mites had mites without offspring. So even if this colony hadn’t been going for a whole season plus another winter without treatment I used it as a breeder in 2013.  I named it S120.

 K25

The second I VSH-tested colony had been a very small the year before and not really a production colony then. But it was in an environment with big colonies which needed thymol so I decided to test it and it showed 40 % VSH (4 pupae with mites had no mite offspring of the 10 pupae with mites found).  K25 it was named. But it was quite aggressive. I decided though that varroa resistance in this stage was more valuable.

 R137

The third VSH-tested colony was a walk away-split from a colony that hadn’t been treated for two years. It wintered with such a tiny cluster and still developed so promising and had such a good pedigree background I choose to VSH test it. Well, it wasn’t possible to get any VSH value as it hadn’t any mites in the brood. I was so amazed I decided to breed from it. And I named it R137, as I decided it was resistant, instead of H137.  It must have had a good resistance behavior, but resistance is complicated…

H109

The mother of R137, H109, of course also was used as a breeder due to its history, but she was old and layed 50 % drones in worker cells. Couldn’t really make any VSH test I decided. I grafted one time and killed her.

 M176

The fifth I used showed itself to be very old as well and fell off the comb and died just after taking her home in a small split. No VSH-test. That colony I had thought had a new queen that had past the test. But this colony with this the old queen, though good, had been treated every second year with 10 grams of thymol (very little actually relatively) during four years. M176.

Some observations

Why do I tell you all these details? To come to the point for my situation, soon, be patient.

Late in season 2013, S120 showed a couple of wingless bees and got 10 grams of thymol. K25 which really hadn’t had a real production season before it was choosen swarmed thee times in July in 2013! I have never experienced that before, ever. R137 has some peculiar traits. It supercedes its queen every year it seems. And some daughters do too. This year a few wingless bees were seen and it got 10 grams of thymol.

I never do regular swarm controls in my colonies. Usually about 5 % of my colonies swarm. This year many daughters from two breeders from last year 2013 swarmed, from S120 and K25. And almost all daughters from these breeders needed thymol. Some of the daughters of K25 were very aggressive. Remember all queens are mated naturally in the apiaries. The apiaries together form an area with only my type of bees.

Breeder candidates for 2015

BUT maybe it was worth it using the breeders that disappointed me. I must have genetic diversity in my stock. I can’t make queens from just one line (H157).

I have one daughter of S120 and one of K25 that are really outstanding in resistance, honeycrop (more than 150 kg (300 pounds)), very good temper and no swarming tendency. H109 has more than one good daughter. M176 as well. And then there are walk away splits with heritage from the first breeder chosen for resistance H157, which are breeder candidates for 2015. Maybe I will use as well the three breeder used this year, or two of them.

Breeders used 2014

The autumn of 2013 I had 36 breeder candidates. I could have bred from more, but I choose to breed from three this year 2014, of which two are sisters, daughters of H157. These are H112 and H105. H157 had quite some daughters worthy of breeding from.  The third breeder this year was L242. After using these three, in the middle of July I made the VSH test on them. In all three the infestation rate in the brood was about 5 %. H112 had a VSH value of 80 %. H105 – 67 % and L242 had 33 %. No treatment was needed for this year either for H112 and H105. L242 got 10 gram thymol late in season. L242 came from a quite isolated apiary with small reinvasion and was moved to my home apiary and probably got more reinvasion here. But all three are wintered very strong.

Maybe I will use H112 and H105 in 2015 as well, we’ll see.

Selection parameters

Now to my point. It seems under my conditions it’s better to focus in first hand on one whole season as big colonies during which no treatment should have been needed (including winter and coming spring), to select breeders. BUT then use VSH testing to tell you which one probably are the best among them, and get confirmation of their status. Of course the breeders must be good in other respects, good honeycrop, good temper and low swarming tendency.

VSH is a good tool for selecting for Varroa resistance, especially when there are difficulties  using anything else, but also as a complement when other methods are used.  I’m glad I can make VSH tests, in addition to the DWV-test I use.

Neonics and success

Bees visit corn for pollen, period. Bees visit canola for pollen. Bees visit potatoes for pollen (Danish tests). Bees visit a lot of flowers for pollen. Bees get what the pollen is enriched with. Neonics are not good for bees.

But honeybees have a very sofisticated way of living and can handle a lot of difficulties – if they’re not too many. One reason for that is the many individuals, in both adult and brood stages. They can sacrifice some brood for example when fighting varroa. If field bees die during duty due to plant protection spray, if it’s not too much, there are usually enough many new field bees replacing them. Solitary bees though may have a more difficult situation…

Why did this feral colony survive on neonic corn? http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=181

  • No or very little reinvasion of varroa mites – it was the only colony in the apiary and far to other bees.
  • No one robbed its honey and gave low value kind of sugar.
  • There was a variety of food sources which the bees could reach easily, at the end of fields giving pollen without neonics.
  • The bees built there own cellsizes and a good portion for brood was enough small in their situation, some of it smaller than 5.1 mm.
  • No one moved the bees around to different places.
  • No one put miticides or antibiotics in the bee colony weakening the bees’ own defense system.
  • The bees probably swarmed every or every second year, once or more, giving a break in rearing brood in the brood season, when they cleaned their nest from pests and parasites.

In this situation bees adapted epigentically and genitically and learned how to fight the varroa mite. They survived during this process because there was no reinvasion of mites. The mite population established on a durable level where viruses levels were not high. Thus there was no big help for nosema to thrive. And as the virus levels were low neonics didn’t increase the effects of the viruses that very much.

This colony then under these circumstances were Varroa resistant and could pollinate plants around it that needed pollination. The solitary bees in the area that didn’t live entirely on neonic treated plants survivied too and could pollinate plants, for the benefit of farmers and biological diversity.

So, the message to everyone involved, also chemical companies:

Focus on:

  1. Develope Varroa resistant bees and a plan to spread them among beekeepers.
  2. Make sure there will be enough neonic free pollen sources and nest places for solitary bees close to farm fields, ”wild plant areas”. This will ensure and increase success, crop and money for everyone.

 

Reading the hardboard

Board colony

One of the most important parts in my management system has become a simple thin hardboard in front of the entrance. The first thing I do when I come to an apiary is going reading them. They give a lot of info, important for eventual actions.

If the hardboard is empty of  dead bees, litter etc – it’s the best. Very often you find a few dead worker bees there. It seems this is of no concern.

If you find a dead queen there, the old one or a virgin, you know the hive is shifting its queen, with or without swarming. Even if the colony has had no problems with mites or viruses for a short time with the last of capped brood, you can find a few wingless bees. It seems in such a circumstance it’s of no big concern. But be careful and watch the colony carefully for eventual thymol treatment.

Board Queen etc A dead queen! Drones, some workers and one old worker pupa (to the right).

If you find a lot of dead bees. Even without wingless bees among them, I consider it to be showing the bees are fighting something. Maybe another virus than DWV.

If the colony has a lot of drones maybe due to a lot drone comb, they might start throwing them out in the middle of the season, or at least some of them. I’m not sure  sometimes how to interpret this. Sometimes it seems the colony has shifted its queen and now it’s laying and the bees have no need for many drones.

When you see white parts or whole drone pupae, the bees most probably are fighting varroa, throwing out pupae with mites. And this is a very good sign actually. Varroa mites should be a drone parasite and not a workerbee parasite. And the bees should identify them in drone brood and clean those cells with mites (that have reproducedand and have offspring) – VSH in drone brood, or just cleaning out drone brood with mites.

Board 2 Drone pupae, quite some. This colony hasn’t needed any thymol, yet anyway. And given a good crop.

The next step that I usually see among my bees after seeing drone pupae on the hardboard is seeing wingless drones there. No big concern at this stage. If the reinvasion is big, if there are some colonies not fighting the mite very well they will spread many mites to other colonies. For some colonies that may mean they will need help in fighting the mites.

Next step among my bees may be seeing young grey bees walking on the hardboard, but with ok wings. Maybe another virus than DWV. And the next step wingless bees, one or two to begin with.

Now the colony gets one or two pieces of dishcloth with thymol (5 grams each), but not immediately before harvesting honey. I take away honey first. If there will be more than 14 days to harvesting they get thymol. It’s more important to have healthy bees that pollinate well, than some more thymol in the honey you can’t taste and is of no problem for health for anyone – and a dying colony. I know out of experience.

The breeder queens have not tasted any thymol for at least one year. My stock is making progress.

MT-colony conclusion

I have shared the performance of this colony which had almost a box of plastic small cell frames and natural positioning of these frames (as the uppermost broodbox). Which also had a tough experience with mice living in the bottom box during winter.

It gave top crop the first crop of winter rape, dandelions and some raspberry. It showed no wingless bees this year early on as it did last year. But it had an old queen. So the colony decided to shift it’s queen and did. Now they showed a few wingless bees. I concluded that was due to the declining amount of open brood to enter for the mites, son inte last brood of the old queen there was enough concentration of mites to develop some wingless bees. But to be consistent with my way of working I gave the colony 9 grams (two pieces) of thymol dish pieces. Next time no wingless bees.

My impression is that the colony is not performing less good with plastic small cell and natural positioning. Thus the conclusion is that plastic small cell frames are not negative for the bees, neither what I call natural positioning. If any of these configurations are positive is difficult to say. An overall smaller mite pressure in the apiary and the area could be the explanation. Due to epigenetic changes that have improved the bees, or/and conventional selection has done its job with the genepool in the apiary/area. Also plastic small cell frames and natural positioning may have contributed. At least plastic small cell may have good influence as there are more cells for each comb, thus faster buildup.

First crop from the multitest colony

Last year I gave almost a whole box of plastic frames 4.95 mm cellsize with natural positioning, http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=384

This colony was a very nice colony, but needed some thymol as it came up with some wingless bees. It gave an average crop though. It wintered with the plastic in natural positioning as the upper third box full of honey. This was one of the few colonies I forgot to give the entrance reducer before winter so mice had created havoc in the bottom box. This seemed not to have set back the colony very much, unusual I would say. I thought about that: http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=392

March 30 this year it looked very nice, http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=404

MT-colony combs In the uppermost super the combs were capped almost to the sides.

In June I harvested the first crop. It gave the highest crop in that apiary, together with one other colony, mostly from winter rape and dandelions. Both difficult crops if you wait too long before harvesting. They both form crystals quickly and have a very low water content making the honey viscous. All four boxes above the excluder was harvested – 60 kg (132 pounds). No signs of varroa or virus, no wingless bees and no thymol given. Out of 9 colonies in that apiary 6 have needed some thymol, up till now.

MT-colony board All the four supers above the excluder were harvested

A very good sign is the relatively clean piece of hardboard (0.5×0.5 meter, 20×20 inch) in front of the colony. Reading the hardboard is very informative about what’s happening in the colony. A few cleaned out drone pupae, a few dead drones and worker bees.