Learning and teaching


Hans-Otto Johnsen was very skilled already in his youth keeping old American cars and trucks going. That skill can be very handy for a commercial beekeeper.

For many years he worked as an expert on explosives, but he got poisoned by nitroglycerine and had to change his job for making a living, so he turned to beekeeping.

At the university

For a number of years he worked as a technician under Prof. Stig Omholt in Norway and at the same time developing his commercial operation. His experience from these years has helped him in developing his Varroa resistant bee stock.

HAns-Otto brood A good brood comb in one of his Norwegian type of combs before he switched to medium Langstroth size.

Quite soon he got to know me and wanted Elgon stock to work with. He imported quite a number of splits from me. He kept track of the Varroa levels in the colonies and stopped using any type of chemical to fight anything in the hives. He wanted his bees to develop their ability to survive, which they did.

Hans-Otto & Ed Ed Lusby and Hans-Otto discussing small cell beekeeping at a fuel filling stop on our way to one of the apiaries of Lusbys’ in the Sonoran desert.

In America

We travelled together several times to America and studied small cell beekeepers and wax foundation producers. Hans-Otto bought equipment and started producing wax foundation, small cell and large cell as well as different sizes of drone foundation. His mechanical and engineer abilities showed themselves to be very useful as he changed and improved the equipment, for example the cooling of the drum for producing rolls of uniform sheet for feeding the plain and foundation rollers. Also the setup of plain and foundation rollers needed according to his opinion more controls of individual speeds for different parts of the production process, which he included in the setup.

Hans-Otto and GAry Dadnt Hans-Otto and Gary Dadant discussing wax foundation production during a visit with Dadant’s in Hamilton.


He started to plan and set up different tests for looking at the effects of different cell sizes in brood combs and to produce virus free drones to mate with virgin queens. He saw that bees easier recognized (and removed) when drone brood was infested with mites when these cells were smaller, which they naturally are with smaller worker brood cells. He also saw that mites more readily infested the biggest drone cells.

He was involved in small cell tests, of his own and together with others. One can be found here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/hans-otto-johnsen/survival-of-a-commercial-beekeeper-in-norway/

Today Hans-Otto has research money from the Department of Agriculture in Norway.

Resistant stock

He developed his bees in quite isolated areas, but not totally isolated, so sometimes the bees were mated to carniolans, buckfasts and the native brown bee (Mellifera mellifera). He also worked together with Terje Reinertsen, another Norwegian beekeeper, very similar to him when it comes to beekeeping. They exchanged breeding material. Both of them have discovered that their bees teach other bees how to get rid of mites. It seems this ability to teach new bees is very important knowledge when developing a Varroa resistant stock.

Today Hans-Otto hasn’t treated his bees now for at least 12 years. The levels of mites are normally very low in his and Terje’s colonies and he never sees any wingless bees. In 2014 the bees of Terje were tested for Varroa levels by the Norwegian Beekeeping Association in preparation for planned research. (Birøkteren, vol 131, 2015(1), pages 13 and 24. The Bee Journal of the Norwegian Beekeepers Association.) The levels were so low it was difficult to calculate the reproduction rate.

When Hans-Otto moves his bees to the heather in late summer, for producing heather honey, his bees quickly pick up quite some mites. The natural downfall of mites will then be higher until about a month before the frost will make the bees form winter cluster. Then the downfall is almost zero again.

Book contribution

In 2010 Georgia Pellegrini (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Pellegrini) published her first book on natural food: Food Heroes (http://www.amazon.com/Food-Heroes-Culinary-Preserving-Tradition/dp/1584798548) She included a chapter about Hans-Otto and his focus on natural production of honey. For example he concludes that small cell bees are more biologically optimized than large cell bees. Thus research done with small cell bees are more reliable concerning what bees are and how they react naturally. In short, research results with small bees are more reliable.

In this context it’s interesting to notify that Norwegian wax is almost pesticide free.

HansOttoJohnsen An important part in his quality control is producing wax foundation as he thinks will be the best help for the bees.

Learning and teaching

Today we understand that adaptation of bees to fighting Varroa isn’t only selection breeding, natural or beekeepers’, for changing the DNA composition, but also epigenteic adaptation, the change of expression of the DNA as a result of changed environmental pressure on the bees. This turns the focus to the importance of locally adapted bee stock. Now research is going on with a third adaptation step, how bees learn how to deal with challenges and how they pass on this knowledge to other bees, worker bees to worker bees.

Hans-Otto caught a carniolan swarm of not resistant large bees that choose one of his swarm traps for their new home. After establishing this swarm in one of his apiaries he shifted its place with one of his resistant colonies. So this nonresistant colony received the field bees of a resistant colony. Afterwards they both behaved like resistant colonies.

One year he bough buckfast virgin queens not selected for Varroa resistance. He put them in splits made from his bees. The virgins mated in his apiaries. These splits were spread out in different apiaries of his. For two years they kept their colonies working fine and resistant to mites as good as his other colonies.

Now these two experiments absolutely are food for thought.

More than15 minutes of fame

Definitely Hans-Otto Johnsen is worthy of more than the 15 minutes of fame, one commentator thought was enough.

Wax in the nest

Rüdiger Dietrich made this comment to my recycling post earlier:

I have one question for the wax recycling, but didn’t found a way to post the question in previous contribution. Could you please so kind and arrange this contribution accordingly?
My question is: The goal for the own wax cycle is to have control about the ingredients of the wax, that would be otherwise (if you buy) equivocal as acids or pesticides could be inside the wax or may even come from african feral bee swarms, where these bees have to die just for the wax….
However, if you melt for instance honey combs that had rape honey or even rape pollen insight, then pesticides used from the farmer will be found in your wax as well, woun’t it? How do you control this problem?

Wax in the nest

Your question raises the need for dealing somewhat with this issue. Wax in the nest have a lot of functions for the bees. One of them is to take care of chemicals and even pathogens not so good for the bees and hide them in the wax. With feral bees sooner or later the colony dies for a number of reasons. The Wax moth will deal with the old wax and it will not be recycled as we do, or the bees will finally tear it down and build new wax combs. This is good as when the wax will be too filled with bad stuff it will leak back into honey and brood cells with larvae food and larvae.

We have seen reports of investigations of old wax combs in USA which are holding a lot of residues from agricultural chemicals as well as miticide residues. WIth small amounts in the wax this is not something to be very concerned about, even if we don’t like it. Let me take an example.

Maybe ten years ago foundation wax from organic beekeepes in USA that was recycling their own wax making their own foundation was tested for residues. About 2 mg/kg fluvalinate was found. How could that happen? Not miticieds were used in the operation. Actually the operation was treatment free and still is. But some years before this test a big pack of foundation was bought from a big wax dealer in USA. Of course the most probable explanation is that the Fluvalinate residues came into the operation from the foundation bought.

In spite of these residues the operation has been thriving as a treatment free operation and a big lot of honey that was exported was tested for foreign chemicals and none was found.

What I’m saying is that a small amount of residues is tolerable for the bees and honey. Even if you don’t want it and should do everything you can to avoid it. But you don’t want that wax for making hand cream and lip balm. And probably you don’t want propolis harvested from such colonies. But honey seems to be okey.

Wax for foundation and hand creame

Cappings wax is what you should use for making foundation and hand creame. Cappings wax is a mixture of cappings and the outer part of the cell walls. The bottom part of the cell walls are made with the help of wax from the foundation. The rest is made from newly produced wax by the bees. And the wax is usually clean, if the bees havn’t been contaminated with chemicals from farmland.

Also wax form foundationless frames and Warréhives and TBH is clean  if not contaminated from sprayed farmland.

Old comb’s wax

Wax from recycled old combs you use for foundation if you know it’s clean from pesticide residues. If it’s minor residues you can well use it for foundation as well. If it’s a lot of residues in the old combs you use the wax for making candles. when the wax burns the pesticides in the wax breaks down.

If you’re not sure about the residue content and you really want to know you can have it analyzed. Otherwise you can use it for wax candles.

Bees On Corn


This morning the bees flew heavily on flowering corn. I’m sure they were happy for the EU ban on treating seeds with neonics. It would have been no good for the colony with beebread made of pollen from corn grown from treated seed. How much bad that makes is discussed. It can’t do good though, especially together with a lot of other stress factor for the bees.

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.

Quick and cheap to small cellsize


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.


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.