A locally adapted Varroa resistant bee stock

Reid Hives


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.



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.



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.

Bee shaker for sale

Varroa Shaker_20160117_003

If you want to know the Varroa level in the bee colony this tool is handy. Twice a season can bee good if you use it for example in selecting your breeders. And which colonies need a new queen (high Varroa level). It’s quick and you get an answer directly in the apiary.

Now a bee supplier in Sweden has the Bee shaker for sale. He calls it Erik’s Varroa shaker. Maybe it’s too expensive to send it to US. But some beekeepers in European countries no too far from Sweden may be interested. If you don’t want to make one yourself. http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=660

You can communicate with the producer Bjorn Gagner through e-mail: bjorngagner@gmail.com Price is probably somewhere between SEK 100-200 + shipping (about EUR 15 + shipping).

You can read more about it here: http://www.elgon.es/diary/?cat=85

The shaker is meant for making a an alcohol wash test.

  1. Fill one of the 500 ml jars to 2/3 with for example methylated spirit or rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol.
  2. Take a frame closest to a brood frame, don’t include the queen! She’s most probably walking on a brood frame.
  3. Shake the bees from the frame into a bowl or pan.
  4. Scope with a measuring cup little more than a deciliter (3.5 oz) of bees and pour them into the jar with alcohol (the bees die☹)
  5. Screw the glued lids with the netting and the the two jars together and shake for a minute.
  6. Turn the jars upside down and continue shaking until all alcohol has come down into the former empty jar.
  7. Lift the cans above your head to the sky and count the number of mites on the bottom of the lower jar (which now has the booze).
  8. If it is less than 3 mites in May and 6 in August you will probably do nothing about the mites.
  9. If one decides to treat, you can use several methods. One method is to use thymol. Another to remove all capped brood frames (worker- and drone brood) twice with a week apart. The latter method is perhaps the one to prefer if you breed varroa resistant bees. Because then you interfere the least with the epigenetic adaptation of the bees to fight the mites.



Treatment select for increased reproduction rate

Varroa mites multiply in bee larvae. After they come out of the cell when the bee is fully formed, they sit on the adult bees and suck hemolymph.

It was observed many years ago that during the brood period of the bees, 2/3 of the mites was found in the capped bee brood cells while 1/3 was on the bees.

VarroaBin2 Varroa mites on bees. Many years ago 1/3 of the mites were sitting on bees while 2/3 was found in the capped brood. Today this has changed to 15% and 85%. (Photo: Anders Berg)

If the mites had been sitting longer time on the bees than they did, before they returned into a brood cell, a greater proportion than 1/3 had been found on the bees. If they had been sitting less time there would have been a smaller proportion found on adult bees. The shorter the time the varroa mites are sitting on adult bees, the faster they return into a new brood cell to reproduce. This would increase the speed of varroa reproduction in the bee colony.

It is thus from the beekeeper’s and the bee colony’s point of view desirable that the mites are sitting as long as possible on the bees, resulting in a slower development of the varroa population. So, if the proportion of mites had been ½ on the bees and ½ in capped brood, this would have been better than that found for a number of years ago when varroa mites had arrived.

In early December 2015, two professional beekeepers from the Spanish mainland came to the small island of La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, and lectured on the varroa problem (http://archiv.resistantbees.com/phoretische-varroen). One of them was Manuel Izquierdo Garcia, a biologist at the University of Seville. (Thanks Rüdiger Dietrich who drew my attention to this.)

30 years ago when varroa mites came to Spain, the proportion of mites on the bees was 1/3 and 2/3 in capped brood. During the past 30 years, the mites’ behavior have changed. You could say that during the 30 years of conventional treatment of bees to kill mites, the mites have responded by spending less time on the bees to accelerate their reproduction rate. They have also changed the place on the bees they usually sit, from the abdomen to the middle part of the bee.

The result of this change has resulted in 15% are found on the bees (previously 33%) and 85% in the capped brood (previously 66%).

VarroaYngel2 Mites are sitting shorter time on the adult bees. Thus you find at a given time 15% of the mites on the bees today and 85 % in the brood. This have increased the reproduction rate of the varroa population.

Increased treatment

This change has consequences for beekeeping. It explains why we in Europe have had to increase treatment to kill mites. There are examples of recommendations in several countries where the fight starts in spring and continues throughout the season. And anyway, or should one say, maybe sometimes also because of this, the bees have difficulties to survive.

Powdered sugar

Some types of treatment will also be less effective due to this change. Treating with powdered sugar, only kills the mites sitting on the bees. One must fight very often if powdered sugar should have any effect of relevance.

Oxalic acid

If there are still small areas of capped brood when one uses oxalic acid against the mites, the oxalic woun’t have the effect one wants. This becomes more relevant when climate change means warmer winters, as it will be more common with brood in winter times, the time when oxalic usually are used. It becomes even more important keeping bees that really have brood-free periods during winter, also for treatment free beekeepers.

Treatment is a dead end

It is becoming increasingly clear that it is a dead end using all kinds of chemicals against varroa mites. And it is with the increased reproduction rate of the mites more difficult to select resistant bees and get areas with treatment free bees – which is the solution.

Focus on varroa resistance

All this show how important it is to focus on producing as varroa resistant bees as possible and develop management methods without chemicals. It is important that all beekeepers understand the problem and are involved at least somewhat.

Every beekeeper can at least try to identify which of his or her bee colonies are the least good in resisting varroa mites and replace the queen(s) in those. The simplest way is to just remove the queen in such a colony and let the bees rear a new of their own. It is not the best method, but a start. Then you can make more steps in improving your bees, depending on interest and opportunities.