More Varroa resistant bees

Darrel Jones lives in a rural area in northern Alabama. He is an enthusiastic grower of heirloom tomatoes, http://www.selectedplants.com/ Being a beekeeper as well is a natural fit with his gardening activities. Keeping bees treatment free was his goal from the time he first saw varroa mites in 1993.

Darrel Brandypeace Brandypeace, an heirloom tomato of Darrel Jones.

In 2004 he found a single feral swarm that showed significant varroa tolerance. He saw a lot of hygienic behavior and uncapped pupae with mites combined with very low overall mite numbers. It showed some unwanted characteristics as well with a high stinging tendency and yearly swarming. He concluded that the swarm was a combination of typical Apis mellifera mellifera with Italian bees. The bees flew at low temperatures and overwintered on very small amount of honey reserves.

Digital StillCamera A feral swarm

Combination partner

He purchased 10 queens of mite tolerant stock from Dann Purvis and used them as drone source colonies next year when he raised queens from his feral tolerant swarm. A couple of years he deliberately encouraged his new colonies to swarm planning they would stay in the vicinity and establish a good buffer of resistant drones for his virgins to mate with. He pushed more than 60 swarms into the woods.

Darrel Purvis

Darrel says there are many feral bees living in the forest around where he lives. And he catches some feral swarms in swarm traps every year. He could easily catch more if he wanted to.

Darrel natur Forest area in Alabama.

Breeding better beekeepers’ bees

There are about 100 managed colonies some miles east of him, but they are far enough away that there is no risk of interfering with the matings of his virgin queens. His conclusion is that they don’t interfere with the matings of his virgins. At least to any degree it matters.

Today he has 14 colonies in four apiaries. One apiary is far away (200 km) from any other bees including his own. This apiary gives him possibility to mate virgins somewhat differently or with an experimental drone source.

 

Bringing in external mite resistant stock

In 2011 he bought 3 queens from Mike Carpenter. Mike has been selecting for bees that groom and injure mites (Allogrooming, bees grooming each other from mites). Darrel wants to combine different varroa resistant traits in his stock and also reduce stinging tendency and swarming behavior.

He bought 3 queens from Bweaver in 2015. These bees are advertised as treatment free and from evaluation, are very hygienic. He found the resulting colonies to have good temper but they produced many swarms out of the normal swarming season.

The traits he is selecting for in his breeding are decent honey production with at least 60 pounds per year, very high mite tolerance, good quality honey, and overwintering with small clusters that build up very fast in spring. He selects against high tendency to swarm and aggressive behavior. He is not satisfied here yet, but working on it.

 

Africanized bees

Africanized bees are not currently present in North Alabama. Cold winter temperatures will prevent highly Africanized stock from surviving in his climate. They probably will be able to survive if crossed with bees that form clusters and winter well.

Bweaver is situated in Texas, declared as heavily Africanized. Their bees show significant introgression of traits but without the increased stinging impulse typical of Africanized bees. Darrel has decided to replace the 3 queens he bought from there, with his own stock, which winters better. He says Africanized bees have some good traits that could be exploited in combination breeding

 

Spreading the stock

His goal is to spread treatment free stock in the surrounding area. For this reason, he has sold a total of 25 colonies to 3 local beekeepers. They too are also keeping their bees treatment free. Darrel has an agreement with these three beekeepers to share stock when it comes to raising queens from the best breeders. In 2016, he plans to make another 10 colonies to start other beekeepers with mite tolerant bees.

 

Cell size

He uses standard Langstroth equipment with 11 frames (instead of 10) and 31 mm end bars (instead of 35 mm). He also uses small cell 4.9 mm wax foundation. He has a few colonies on 5.3 mm cell size and sees no difference in varroa tolerance or honey production. But the large cell colonies build up slower in spring. This is a bad factor for him and he doesn’t produce any more colonies on 5.3 mm.

Darrel Cellmätning How to measure cell size. You can do three ways on a comb, or foundation. Two ways diagonal as well as straight.

 

Infestation level

Darrel does not do any mite level checks. They are not necessary as he never has seen any big die offs or any bees with virus or wingless bees with DWV. He did check one random colony in 2014 to see how many mites were dropping naturally. Some other beekeepers had asked because they thought his bees were full of mites. This colony dropped 15 mites in 48 days proving them wrong. This makes a downfall of 0.3 mites per day.

 

Conditions and characteristics for Darrel Jones’ resistant stock

  • His area is relatively isolated from nonresistant bees.
  • A large population of feral resistant bees are established in the vicinity. This is quite a different situation compared especially to many European areas with bees.
  • He began with bee stocks that have excellent resistant traits.
  • He is not bringing in non-resistant bees in the form of queens, nucs, or colonies.
  • He is at most trying a few new queens from outside per year.
  • Small cell size is positive for colony build up but not necessary for resistance.
  • No treatments of any kind have been used for the last 11 years. Natural mite resistance in his bees is enough that they are thriving.
  • Yearly sales of honey pay all expenses to sustain his beekeeping activities.

 

 

A locally adapted Varroa resistant bee stock

Reid Hives

http://www.happyhollowhoney.com/

Richard Reid in a Virgina rural area in the US began with bees 1973. Beekeeping was simple, almost only it consisted of putting on and removing supers.

By 1995 all of his bees died due to the Varroa mite. He didn’t like drugs and didn’t use any in his colonies. A package bee colony he bought also died, after only two months. He couldn’t take more, dropped the bees, and devoted himself entirely to his construction business.

 

Survivors

After a number of years, he discovered that a few swarms had settled in a few stacks of supers. He went and looked at these wild bees sometimes and saw that they lived on. They lived and swarmed for 12 years unattended. After a few years he was encouraged and decided in 2008 to give beekeeping a chance again.

Reid feral12 One of the feral swarms settled in his stacks of supers.

There are no big farms nearby (thus not so much of agriculture chemicals) and some smaller beekeepers were at least 3 km (2 miles) away from his bees. So the conditions for healthy beekeeping was good.

 

Come back

He took care of the two feral swarms and began to expand the number of colonies using these, VSH, and Russian lines. He decided again not to use any kind of chemicals against Varroa. He didn’t buy any package bees or colonies from other areas (well, none at all). He multiplied his own colonies.

Reid SwarmtrapBox He also catches some swarms.
He bought however queens from different places which he believed to have resistance characteristics, VSH Carnica, Russian bees, and survivor bees from different places. He never monitored mite levels in his colonies.
Annual losses since 2008 have been between 10-15%, except after the winter of 2012-13 when 40% died. Each year, he had seen some wingless bees in some colonies. After the winter with the big losses he hasn’t seen any wingless bees. He has since bought fewer queens from outside and bred most from his own.
Every year he breeds from several “lines”, now about 18 of them. Queens are mated in his home yard. He makes many splits every year. Some of these get pupae of those he breeds. Some splits rear queens themselves.

Reid queen One of his queens.

 

Increasing

2015 he wintered 75 production colonies and 105 nucs. 30 of the colonies are kept in the vicinity of his home yard. There he keeps 17 of them. The nucs are also kept close in the home yard.

Reid Hives&Nucs Some of his nucs and production colonies in his home yard.

He has altogether nine apiaries. He wants to have at least 10 colonies in each apiary, but he hasn’t reached that goal yet for most of them. He is now aiming to increase his number of production colonies to 100 and the nucs to 150, as well as an additional 2 apiaries.
Regarding cell size, the great majority of brood frames in his colonies are Mann Lakes standard plastic frame with plastic foundation. (http://www.mannlakeltd.com/beekeeping-supplies/category/page19.html) The cell size on those are 4.95 mm. The rest of the frames in the honey boxes have a larger cell size. Some frames are started without a foundation. The intention is that the bees will build some drone comb there. He wants to flood the area with desired drones. But bees are also building fine worker brood in some of these frames, especially in the nucs.

 

Selling nucs, queens and honey

He split the nucs in the spring and sells one part with the queen, saves the rest to build up a new nuc. It’s usually used for a mating nuc or nuc production depending on the season.

Reid Brood One of the worker brood frames built by the bees without the help of a foundation.

He usually has a very good spring flow that will carry the colonies through the rest of the year, but there’s usually a dearth in the summer, which means the nucs may need to be fed sugar syrup to prepare for winter. 2015 he had so much spring honey production, he only had to feed about 20% of the nucs for winter.

He says that now he has enough resources so he can share honey between production hives and nucs. Thus he feeds less. He usually only feeds a handful of production hives (mostly new ones) to prepare for winter. The production colonies go through winter on large supplies of honey. Quite often he has extracted honey in April. You can say he uses his colonies as a honey storage.

 

Richard Reid’s locally adapted Varroa-resistant bee stock

• There are at least 3 km to apiaries with other bee colonies than of his stock.
• The area where he lives is not a highly developed agricultural area, so there is not so much agricultural chemicals there as can be the case in many other areas.
• He started with bees which had a degree of varroa resistance.
• In most brood combs, he uses small cell size.
• He doesn’t bring in colonies (such as packages) from outside the area with his bees.
• He splits nucs (with new queens from his breeder queens) to make more nucs, which later become production colonies or bees for sale. He also splits a few of the smaller, less productive, production colonies to create new nucs.

• He doesn’t requeen on a regular schedule. He has some colonies with queens finishing their 3rd and 4th season.
• The bad colonies die or have their queens replaced.
• He breeds after queens from many different lines each year.
• He tries each year just a few queens from other breeders.

 

Encouragement to all beekeepers

Richard Reid is one of several beekeepers who has managed to breed a varroa resistant locally adapted bee stock. Let us be encouraged by that and despite what some other beekeepers of all kinds say, that this is not possible. How can one be so ignorant to what others achieve? Make use of what you can of the experiences of Richard Reid.
When he started, he hadn’t many bee colonies, so even if you have few colonies you can do something.

Perhaps your circumstances are such that it is good to monitor mite levels in your colonies. There are various methods, for example the Bee Shaker (http://www.elgon.es/diary/?cat=85).

Don’t take it as a failure if you choose to use pesticides at times. Each of us decides what is appropriate for ourselves and our bees, in consultation with the laws of your country. A treatment that doesn’t involve any chemicals at all is to remove all capped brood (worker and drone brood) twice, a week apart. It is effective, weakens the bee population as well though, but not the health of the bees. The bad colonies get new queens as soon as possible.

Next season will always be better!

Feedback on Elgon queens

GM 243-daughter Karin is a new beekeeper. She got thrilled when I took the feral swarm from the wall in one of her houses, so she wanted to keep bees. And got a daughter queen from the feral swarm. She is very happy with that. GM in Germany got one daughter too to this swarm. It’s the one with him that has no mites in the natural downfall.

I make queens for my own beekeeping operation in first place. I make some more to share with other beekeepers, selling them in Sweden and other European countries. I appreciate feedback from those I sell to. I hope it can help me in my work developing the Elgon bee.

One of the beekeepers I get feedback from is GM in Germany (of some different reasons he just now doesn’t want to use his name). He got some queens in 2014 and some in 2015.

He doesn’t like to treat bees with chemicals and looked for alternative ways of treatment free beekeeping. He wanted to start with queens that probably had better resistance traits than average against the Varroa mite.

He has one apiary at his home. Also he has a couple of new places relatively isolated from other bees. There are some colonies of Carnica bees not far from his home apiary. And quite some Buckfast colonies about 1 km away. So his home yard is not isolated.

One of the Elgon queens he got in 2014 was very promising with lowest natural mite downfall per day and good vitality compared to all his other hives. He succeeded in getting a few daughters from this queen. The original good queen was lost in a pesticide incident in May 2015.

In 2015 GM got some more Elgon queens. He also catched some carnica swarms. He wintered 15 colonies in 2015. In his home apiary he placed many new smaller colonies. He placed his new Elgon queens and daughters of the best one from 2014 in splits in his home apiary. All colonies in his home apiary are established on small cells, 4.9 mm. None of the colonies here was treated with chemicals, organic or not, against the Varroa in 2014 or in 2015. In autumn in 2014 he made a capped brood removal (both worker and drone), but not in 2015.

GM says it’s essential in treatment free beekeeping to have an understanding of the resistance status of the colonies to be able to act at the right time in a right way. Therefore during the second half of the season of 2015 he counted the daily natural downfall of mites in his home apiary. Each month he counted the downfall several times. Of the resulting daily downfalls, he calculated an average for each month.

GM finds mite count of natural downfall to be a tool for judging the resistance quality. Other tools he finds valuable are looking at hygienic behavior concerning mites in worker and drone brood, eventual presence of wingless bees (DWV), ability to produce drone brood late in season and ability to draw small cell foundation (4.9mm) correct.

GM Bald brood  This is sometimes called bald brood, a type of hygienic behaviour. The bees are identifying capped brood with mites and uncap such cells, sometimes recap them and uncap again, sometimes keep them this way, sometimes clean out the infested cells. As can be seen there are pupae in the uncapped cells, one almost mature. Bald brood can be seen together with colonies showing high VSH%, also with colonies with lower VSH. VSH can maybe be seen as a special case of this kind of hygienic behavior, uncapping and cleaning capped brood cells in which a mite has offspring. This is a daughter colony of a colony with high VSH.

GM Utrensad puppa Observing cleaned out pupae is most probably a sign of the colony showing some kind of hygienic behavior towards Varroa mites in the colony.

GM focus on identifying the best colonies concerning resistance traits (for breeders next year), the loosers which will be requeened as soon as possible and the medium performers that maybe have a chance to learn how to fight the mite properly. Keep a special eye on those one he says, if they adapt well.

Average E1 (S241) E2 (S241) E3 (C243) E4 (F1 of 242) E5 (F1 of 242) C1 X1
Aug-15 1 6 0 2 3 10 1
Sep-15 1 24 0 4 2 11 2
Oct-15 1 3 requeened 0 15 1 16 4
Nov-15 1 13 0 8 1-2 14 2
Dec-15 1 1 0 2 1 5 1
Jan-16 0 0 0 1 0 6 0

The table is showing the average monthly natural downfall of mites, August-2015 – January-2016. E3 has a sister queen to the one in Karin’s hive.

About 25% of the mites from C1 (only from C1) at the end of December and January were lighter colored young mites pointing to brood in the colony. The table shows the monthly average daily downfall of mites from the colonies in the home apiary. (E2 was moved to another apiary and combined in late October.) GM used the overwintered Carnica colony, C1, to make many splits during 2015. This colony showed some DWV-bees (crippled wing bees) in early spring. They disappeared later, probably with the help of making many nucs and the appearance of drone brood. This colony also showed some hygienic behavior, uncapping brood with mites.

X1 is a swarm (looked like a mix of Carnica and Buckfast) he catched 2015 and hived on drawn small cell 4.9 comb. E4 and E5 have daughter queens of his Elgon queen from 2014. E1 and E2 had sister queens from 2015. E3 is a daughter (2015) from a feral colony in Sweden highly influenced of Elgon heritage.

You can speculate if the figures of E2 are a result of mites coming with the split from the C1-colony, from mites from the neighbor’s bees or less good genetics, or a combination. In any case the colony shifted its queen in late in autumn, and succeeded in getting mated in early October (maybe with Buckfast drones, as Buckfast colonies more often have drones later than Carnica)! The colony E2 was now small and was united with a small colony in another apiary. E2 had initially a few DWV-bees.

E1, E3 and E5 especially, seem to be interesting to watch the development of in 2016, test for VSH and maybe breed from.