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.

 

Europe versus USA: breeding varroa resistence

Rüdiger Dietrich’s comment is so good I made it into a post of its own as well. Thanks Rüdiger!

As a German I have of course to answer to Eriks contribution “Breeding for Varroa resistance: Germany versus USA”…:-).

When commenting about activities in the varroa resistance breeding area I guess it’s better to compare Europe versus US. Otherwise it would be too bad for Germany…

I think the main drawback for Europe compared to US is that a funded continuous breeding program is missing. The US seems to have at least 3 – Minnesota Hygienic Stock (MNHYG), Russian Honey Bee program (RHB) and VSH program, which all seem to have shown valuable outcomes. Moreover, the organic beekeeping community in the US, e.g. Ed and Dee Lusby, Michael Bush, Dennis Murrel and others have been innovative and could establish treatment free beekeeping since many years. And this could be achieved with local bee races or no complicated bee breeding scheme!!! Their impact with small cells, comb distance, not contaminated bee wax etc. is not only logic and inspiring, it works as stated above.

Europe did of course some funded scientific investigation of Varroa and could contribute to the understanding of infestation mechanism in the 90-ies, e.g. grooming behaviour (Bienefeld, Aumeier, Thakur etc.) or VSH (Rosenkranz, Vandame). However, efforts seem to be sporadic and as already mentioned not continuous, to yield in resistant queens that are distributed via the beekeeping community.

Besides, beekeeping organizations here I can only comment on Germany with the AgT (Arbeitsgemeinsschaft für Toleranzforschung) http://www.toleranzzucht.de/en/breeding-programme/, try to connect and coordinate different breeders in order to achieve bees that combine favourable and varroa resistant traits. However, improvement ratios seem to be small up to now.

But in my eyes Europe could contribute significantly by activities of bee breeders. The idea to use already varroa resistant bees for breeding was first established by Erik Österlund (1989) and John Keyfuss (1993), who cross African bees into A.mellifera mellifera/Buckfast. John uses a Tunisian bee (Apis mellifera intermissa) and Erik Apis mellifera monticola from Kenya. The resulting Elgon bee is since a bee that needs less or even no varroa treatment. The same is true for Kefuss bees and he gain merits by bringing this topic into broad public interest with his “World varroa challenge”.

This approach was copied by Rinderer (RHB), who used Russian bees that lived since 200-250 years with varroa mites and hence, should have developed resistance traits. The same idea was practically followed by P. Jungels (Buckfast – Primorski mixes) and J. Koller (pure Primorski) (Primorski synonyme for Russian bees) in Europe, who contributed significantly by providing varroatolerant queens to the European beekeepers.

A guy that use local (carneolian) bees for his breeding program is Alois Wallner from Austria http://www.voralpenhonig.at/, who has bred since 1990 for bees that groom and kill varroa mites by removing their legs. The result is now a bee that kill nearly every mite (varroa killer factor 100). Additionally his bees express VSH behaviour and hence, bees need only few or no treatment with formic acid.

In my opinion one brave European guy need to be mentioned as well which is Juhani Lunden in Finland http://www.saunalahti.fi/lunden/varroakertomus.htm He managed in a brute force approach to breed varroaresistant bees, which are not treated since 2009. He used a strong selective pressure to achieve his goal and hence, other traits as gentleness or honey crop might be compromised.

So taken together, these efforts need to put on a strong base in Europe as well and both, the spread of “resistant genes” by suitable queens and by suitable programs need to be pushed and furthermore the usage of organic beekeeping principles that result in treatment free bees should be distributed. That includes the courage of not using treatments to outselect non optimal strains. Here the community in Europe is already on the way see http://resistantbees.com/ (Germany and Spain), but Europe should definitely speed up and learn the positives from the US. This is especially true for the scientific sector and funded EC programs.

Towards treatmentfree beekeeping

Why treatmentfree bees when you are not treatmentfree yourself?

Every stressfactor put burdon upon the bees and lower the immune system. You can’t hinder the farmer from using pesticides, but you can stop yourself. If you manage to do that, you give your bees a much better chance to deal with the remaining stressfactors, as neonicotinoids for example.

We all know we need resistant bees!

Feral bees on corn and GMO

Feral cornhouseSmal

A lot of discussion is going on which role neonicotinoides and gmo play for die offs and ccd of bee colonies. A poison is never beneficial, neither for bees nor for man (well, many are used as plant protection). And residual substances are more difficult to discover and many times not much less dangerous.

To be able to find the true truth we want the whole picture. Sometimes new facts don’t seem to fit into the picture you have endorsed.

I got this mail from Larry Garret in Indiana in the Corn, Soybeans and Wheat belt, where neonicotinoids and gmo are used overflowing. There he took care of a feral colony that local people told him had been there in the abandoned house for 7-8 years. Now the farmer didn’t want to drive around the house with the tractor anymore, so he asked Larry to rescue the bees.

The wax filled 146 liter of the 255 liter big cavity in the wall. He harvested 20 kg of honey and many buckets of wax. The longest comb was 244 cm. Cell size was between smaller than 5.1 mm to 5.3 mm. Drone cell size was between 6.5 and 6.6 mm. The entrance was close to the bottom.

This colony was thriving in spite of a lot of plant protection poisons. Remember the conclusion that die offs are due to a complex of causes. Evidently when some are missing the bees can stand the others better.

These bees didn’t get a massive reinvasion of pests and parasites from neihgboring colonies. They didn’t have to stand miticides or an unnormal big cell size. They lived on their own food and weren’t fed HFCS.

Were they Varroa resistant? We don’t know. But we learn somewhat about favorable circumstances from which such bees can benefit.

Bees suck fluid on corn

BeeSucksFluidOnCorn

For whatever it may mean – concerning discussion of the danger of neonicotinoid plant protection poisions – for bees in first place. Poision is never harmless, even if the harm it may cause to others than the target bug, vary quite a bit. During different circumstances.

One of the dangers for bees discussed is when the neonics are used as coating on corn seeds. When planting the kernels (dust) and during the time when the plants are small (guttation drops – water drops on the plants from within the plant).

During short periods under certain circumstances my bees were seen seeking moisture deep down in the axillaries of my homegrown corn (starchy corn as the type is used by framers). They are not flowering yet as can be seen. At this point you can speculate that the plant fluid is still toxic to bees, if the plant seed is treated with neonics.

It hadn’t rained for some time. The corn was not irrigated. They grow on a place where their roots can reach moisture.

If you have corn field close to your bees it may be good choice to give them a water supply of your own.

Quick and cheap to small cellsize

VaxningPlast

Do you want to regress your bees back down to a more natural cellsize in the broodnest? It can take some time and sometimes it’s a little bit tricky. Most often they fail to directly from what’s been most common for years now, about 5.4 mm, or 54 mm over 10 cells over the parallel sides. Down to what’s often talked about – 4.9 mm. There are many different stories. Without mentioning any other way down I go directly to the very quick and thus the cheapest way.

Mann Lake Ltd – http://www.mannlakeltd.com/beekeeping-supplies/page19.html –  has a standard frame, their cheapest plastic frame, a good sturdy frame, in yellow or black, in full depth Langstroth or medium size. It happens to be below 5.0 mm, almost 4.9 cellsize. And its cell walls are high enough to be very difficult for the bees to override. So – take your ordinary package bees or whatever bees and give them waxed PF100 (Full depth) or PF120 (Medium). They will follow the pattern and draw nice 4.9 (almost) combs. Anyway I havn’t heard of anyone who has failed yet. After a couple of broodcycles you can add wax foundation if you want to, or use foundationless frames if you want to try that. This beekeeper did that – http://www.eccentricbeekeeper.com/hives/medframe.html – he used glued popsickle sticks as starters for the bees to draw comb.

Fritt_Vaxbygge

You can use a mold to make your own foundation of 4.9, buy it – http://www.swienty.com/shop/default.asp?catid=1121   http://www.alfranseder.de/Foundation-Mold.html  – or make your own mold – http://www.resistantbees.com/guss_e.html – or buy a roller mill – http://www.swienty.com/shop/default.asp?catid=1120

You can buy wax foundation from Dadant – http://www.dadant.com/catalog/advanced_search_result.php?keywords=foundation&search_in_description=1&sort=2a&page=4 – another good source is Biredskapsfabriken in Sweden with low residue wax – http://www.biredskapsfabriken.se/en/lista.php?kid=14-33

If you live closer to Sweden than Mann Lake Ltd, you can buy their plastiv frames from here – http://www.hoglandetshonung.se/?page_id=58

Another good reason for using plastic frames or foundationless is that you can be sure the wax is (almost) residue free. Chemical residues can be problem if it it’s more than just a little. One of parameters behind the complex that kills our bees.

Plast49Yngel