Cooperation in the Elgon area

Some years ago, varroa resistance had risen noticeably on my Elgon bees. Then I started to give away some breeder queens to the neighboring beekeepers. And they promised to graft from them to make new queens. In particular, Stig-Åke Gerdvall (board member of our association) and Peter Tesell (chairman). Radim Gavlovsky, who I began to cooperate with in queen breeding , took as many queen pupae and laying queens as he needed. This had of course also to fit into queen production for my own part and for the customers. The neighboring beekeepers in the local association already had Elgon bees, but now they were able to take part of the breeding successes faster and thus help to spread better drones in a more massive way in the area.  (Click on the pictures to make them bigger, then click on the back arrow in the browser to get back to the text again.)

Share it – it will contribute back

I had tried a similar strategy earlier and it worked. Then, queens were tried in varroa infested areas, before the Varroa arrived in my area. And I could bring back valuable breeding material in the form of pieces of combs with young larvae to graft from.

Less reinvasion – reduced varroa pressure

Obviously, good bee colonies in the Elgon are many enough and have now helped each other to keep down the Varroa pressure in the surroundings. Individual colonies with maybe too many mites have not been able to start strong domino effects by contributing too much of reinvasion of mites. Reinvasion brought about by more resistant colonies who silently rob those being richer in Varroa mites.

 (Photo: R Oliver)

Bee shaker test (alcohol test)

A couple of years ago, we also began to be more careful making bee shaker test and treat as soon as varroa levels were higher than 9 mites from 1 dl of bees, at least (about) 300 bees. Checked at least spring and summer.

The Elgon area

This has resulted in a very nice result. An area (about 15 x 10 km) in the center of the entire elgon area (about 50 x 10 km) which contains about 350 elgon colonies (in the center area) of good quality, and no other types of bees. Here, most of our queens are mated. Only about 50 of these colonies needed to be treated against varroa this year. There are probably more than 900 elgon colonies in the entire elgon area. Most of them has Thomas Dahl with 300. Johan Ingjald is increasing his numbers. There are several engaged new beekeepers going up in numbers.

Courses and support

Stig-Åke Gerdvall and Johan Ingjald (TBH-expert) hold beginners courses and queen breeding courses in our local association. They help the participants to get new good colonies, and to help them find good places to mate their new virgin queens. We have also organized a mating site for mini nucs which Peter Tesell manage.

Good figures

The annual losses are about 10% in the area. The harvests are good, and of course, vary with the availability of nectar in the various parts of the area. To the east, it is a problem to produce low crops due to the rich soils.

 

Regular meetings

We usually meet in Nov-Dec every year and talk about the season and planning the next. This year we are so many so we gather in a bigger locality in Hallsberg. Anyone interested is welcome. Four lecturers. Lessons from feral bees – R Gavlovsky, Knowledge from TBH and Warré – J Ingjald, Possibilities of the Beescanning app – B Lagerman, Tips for breeding resistant stock – E Österlund.  Cooperation works well!

 

Varroa resistant bees

– African bees are resistant to Varroa mites, or become resistant in about 5 years after the mite has come to their hives, in Africa and Americas

– Italian bees on an isolated island close to the cost of Brazil have showed resistance in the same way as Africanized bees in Brazil. But the varroa level has decreased slower.

– The original host of the Varroa mite, Apis Cerana, is resistant to the mite and is very similar to Apis mellifera (African and European honeybees).

– My Elgon stock is selected for varroa resistance since more than 20 years.

• When reinvasion sources are few or none.

• When varroa levels are tested regularely.

• When bee colonies are treated when the varroa level is above 3%.

• When queens in such colonies are replaced –

• Then Elgon bees in my area seems to become resistant.

 

AHB1, Africanized Honey Bees

Africanized honey bee . Photo: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida/Wikipedia 

 

Remy Vandame describes in this doctorate thesis in 1996 that he found the varroa level on worker bees to be 5%. And more than 3000 mites in total.

That figure is about the same as in another study in which Vandame also was involved in Mexico some years later.

The AHB colonies were not alone in the test apiary. European queens (EHB) crossed with AHB drones in a number of colonies were in the same area. Those had better performance concerning varroa infestation and virus problems compared to EHB in USA or Europe, but not as good as the AHB. Drifting and silent robbery during nectar droughts are strongly suspected to have happened, thus evening out the results somewhat.

In December 1991 in Brazil, AHB bees were reported to have a varroa level of 4% (ABJ Oct 1997)

 

EHB on Fernando de Norhona, outside the coast of Brazil

European honey bee (probably not on small cell). Photo: Wikipedia/Luc Viatour/https://Lucnix.be 

 

Italian bees on a small island at the coast of Brazil (latitude south 22°) has the same small amount of DWV as in honey bee colonies before the arrival of the Varroa mite. This virus seems to be the most dangerous virus connected with the Varroa mite. (DOI: 10.1038/srep45953)

In 1984 africanized colonies without queens were brought to the island. They were made into 20 colonies in which queens reared from 5 selected Italian colonies from California were inseminated with drones from a colony from Georgia, USA.

The number of managed colonies was at the most about 50, today maybe 30. Besides numerous feral colonies that together with the managed colonies form the bee population on Fernando de Norhona.

  • In November 1991 11 colonies were examined for varroa varroa level. In three of these about every second bee had a mite (50%). Average was 26%. Lowest about 9%.
  • In April 1993 more colonies were examined. Highest varroa level 39%, average 19%, lowest about 9%.
  • In May 1996 of those examined the highest was 25%, average 14%, lowest about 9%. No damaged colonies, no virus effects. Good producers, very nice bees. (ABJ Oct 1997)
  • In November 2012 the varroa level was found to be about the same as in May 1996, about 14%. (DOI: 10.1007/s13592-016-0439-5)
  • In May 2016 the varroa level was 1-2%. Mites in brood also lower compared to November 2012. (DOI: 10.1038/srep45953) Has the time of the year significance concerning the Varroa level on the island, as it has in other areas of the world. It is lowest in “autumn” whenever that is. Here it seems to be in April-May, with lowest Varroa level then. Highest Varroa level in Nov-Dec. Maybe the lowest and highest months are somewhat different. No one seems to have measured to find out yet. Then it’s most logical to compare the figures from Nov 1991 with Nov 2012 and April 1993 with May 1996 and May 2016.

One thing is evident, the bee and mite populations are isolated from reinvasion from outside.

No chemicals to fight mites and big agricultural crops are used, that can contaminate the colonies or lower the immune and defense systems of the bees.

Cell size (about 4.9 mm) from the beginning anyway was that of the Africanized colonies brought there.

The Africanized microfauna came with them as well. The first brood was nursed by healthy non-contaminated small bees that helped the new queens to epigenetically adapt to the new environment.

 

AHB2, African Honey Bees

African bee in South Africa. Photo: JMK/Wikipedia

 

When mites arrived in South Africa you could find colonies with huge amounts of Varroa, up to 50,000. No reports of big losses due to the mite were given, if any. In about 5 years both the Cape bee (mellifera capensis) a little quicker than 5 years and the Savannah bee (mellifera scutellata) a little slower were found resistant to the Varroa mite (Mike Allsop doctorate thesis 2006).

Today (2014) the varroa levels are low, and no miticides are used to control the mite. In May, which is autumn the average varroa level was about 2%. In spring, September, it was about 1.5%.

Total varroapopulation in average was in May just below 1000 and in September just below 200 mites. No DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) was found. DOI 10.1007/s10493-014-9842-7

No miticide chemicals are used or were used (more than a ittle in the beginning of the arrival).

No bees full of viruses are spreading DWV.

Cellsize is 4.7-4.8 mm.

 

EHB in my Elgon apiaries

Click on the picture to get it larger. My testapiary for small cell Elgon bees Dec 1, 2017.

 

In autumn 2014 three colonies were brought from an environment with higher mite populations in some colonies within 2 km to an isolated test apiary, at least 3 km (2 miles) to other bees. None were treated in 2014 and no DWV-bees were observed.

One colony was weak in spring 2015 and got one thymol pad (5 gr thymol). Two splits were made in 2015. In late June three colonies showed crippled winged bees (DWV). They hade varroa levels of 2, 3 and 7% and were treated with thymol pads. One colony with 3% varroa level showed no DWV and wasn’t treated. In August 2015 the Varroa levels were 0, 0,3, 0,3 0,3 and 3%. One weak colony that got a laying queen introduced late in the season died during the winter.

Two spits were made in 2016, one were made in 2017. 2017 was the third unusually bad year in a row and the apiary is placed in a forested area with low nectar resources.

Varroa levels in average during 2016 was 0-1,5%, during 2017 0-1%.

No treatment were used 2016 and 2017.

Cellsize 4.9 mm – http://www.elgon.es/resistancebreeding.html – Strategy A. Isolated apiary, treat above 3 % varroa level.

 

Resistance breeding in an environment with high virus pressure

In most western countries we have a high varroa and virus pressure. Probably the result of heavy use of treating the colonies against mites for many years. In the light of what varroa levels finally stops at naturally, according to the above experiences, 1-4%, and the experiences I have had the latest years with treating colonies with varroa levels above 3% and replacing the least good queens – I find this strategy a good solution to get varroa resistant bees in even difficult environments.

It may probably take a little longer if the new queens will mate with more than a few drones from susceptible colonies. But that doesn’t matter to much as a queen mates with in average 20 drones. The bad genetics will be weeded out quite quickly if you are keen in replacing the least good queens every year. 

Reed more on this link: http://www.elgon.es/resistancebreeding.html

Updated Elgon website

I have had this blog for some years now. And I had originally a website in both English and Swedish for many years, which were also not updated for many years. 1.5 years ago or so I updated the English variety. A month ago or so I updated the Swedish one, elgon.se

Now I have updated the English one again. I found an even better application with which I could make an even better so called responsive website without knowing one letter of coding for being able to make it myself. Responsive means it automatically changes when you use a device with a different width on the screen, for example a mobile phone or an iPad. I found this tremendous app on Appstore, named Wolf, for a very low cost.

The web address is almost the same as fro the Swedish one, the domain switches the letters to es: elgon.es

Maybe one article will be of certain interest for many. It’s the one named “Resistance breeding“. There I give the latest experiences concerning the new or modified strategies I have tried for some years now. I may well come back to them.

 

The robber screen prevents reinvasion of Varroa mites

Sibylle Kempf from Germany gives her thoughts about the use of robber screens when helping the bees to develop Varroa resistance. The apiary above where the hives are very close to each other is not one of hers. (If you don’t see the picture click on the headline so you arrive at the page with only this post.) The picture  shows a common way to place hives in Germany. It’s better if you can place them much further apart:

 

In nature, the bees would never live close to each other. To live as close as is often the case in our apiaries promotes disease and mite transmission and there will be big difficulties to find out which one are the better for making splits or queen breeding.

  My hives are spaced quite far apart compared to how many do it in Germany

 

Since none of us where I live have big areas for ourselves available, we have to think what would be helpful to avoid the drawbacks this create. I think a setup with a few meters distance and the entrances in different directions helps a lot.

 

The bees have killed a hornet that have dared to enter the hive. They have no problem getting rid and clean the hive of the dead hornet.

 

In addition, you can use devices to hinder robbery, obvious strong robbery, and so called silent robbery that you have hard times to discover, but can cause a lot of so called reinvasion of mites. Small entrances and a robber screen all year round have had no disadvantages to the air conditioning and traffic of my colonies even with so called closed boards (not screened bottom boards). Also I have seen that the bees have had no problems to pull out the dead, as you can see in the hornet picture.

 

 

I have put a box with brood frames (without the queen) above the queen excluder to make a finisher for the grafted queen cells. An extra entrance above the queen excluder help drones to leave the box. It also hinders silent robbing.

 

When making a queen cell finisher after grafting, you can use the robber screen on an extra entrance above the queen excluder for the drones which will follow the brood frames moved up there.

So you can easily put on the box on the excluder for a finisher without shaking off the bees. The bees can protect the honey easier from robbers with the robber screen on.

 

The robbery within an apiary is prevented with a robber screen on all the hives, even when making small nucs and splits and placing them in the apiary when there’s no flow.

 

I calculate that drifting is prevented by about 40% with this robber screen in place. I estimated this when comparing the lighter colored elgon bees with my grey carniolans. Not much mixing at all between the colonies, not even the drones drifted.

The robbery within the apiary is completely prevented, so it is also possible to place weak colonies, e.g. nucs and splits, very well protected.

If all beekeepers would use robber screens, it would also hinder my bees to rob hives of other beekeepers and thus hinder the spread of mites through reinvasion.

The only downside I have found is that bees could be easier taken by hornets and dragonflies. Sometimes they did not fly out, but stayed behind the screen when a hornet was hunting. But if the hornet went in, then the bees surrounded it and killed it.

I think I will put the screens with the openings sideways this coming season, to make it easier for the bees to leave return.

Resistance traits – VSH, VSHD, Grooming and more

Sometimes, the term VSH is used as meaning the same thing as varroa resistance. I think it’s helpful to clarify what VSH is. It is one of several resistance characteristics that affect the bees’ resistance to the Varroa mite.

VSH is not the same as uncapping capped brood cells with varroa inside and remove the pupae. It is one of a few different varieties of cleaning varroa invaded brood cells.

– VSH is opening (+ possible recapping, and / or + possible removing the pupae) of capped workerbee brood cells (not dronebrood cells) in which one or more varroa mites have entered AND the presence of offspring (children) to this (these) varroa mite(s) in these cells.

 VSH

As we see from the description here there could be different varieties of this trait. It isn’t needed that the bees remove the pupa for this behavior to de called VSH. It is enough that they uncap pupae with invaded mites with offspring. The bees may well recap it again. Uncapping is enough to disturb the reproduction of the mite. Is this difference in behaviour (recapping the cell and not removing the pupa) due to genetic difference?

– Uncapping and cleaning of capped workersbrood cells with varroa which have no descendants is not VSH.

– Uncapping and cleaning of dronebrood with varroa is not VSH. (But this is though also a valuable feature.)

– Other properties like grooming (removal and biting of mites from the body of other bees or themselves is an important feature, especially if the colony is reinvaded by mites.

– Resistance to viruses, for example in the form of good production of suitable peptides (short amino acid strings) which “eat” viruses is important.

– Reduced inclination for robbery is not VSH, but is a good feature, as it means less risk for reinvading/reinvasion of mites from bee colonies with increased varroa level and as a consequence thereof a reduced defense against robbery.

– Good defense at the entrance not letting foreign bees enter the hive prevents bees with mites on them from other colonies to raise the varroa level..

– Bees that return to their own hive and not to the neighbor’s (drifting) is an important feature to prevent the spread of mites within the apiary.

– Forcing virus infected bees to leave the hive is one way for the hive to get rid of viruses, it’s not VSH, still very good. The house cleaning bees treat virus infects bees like trash, bees with damaged wings (DWV) or worker bees hatched too early (grey bees crawling around, APV-types).

– There are I’m sure more traits that are important for resistance.

 

VSH is a good feature!

VSH can sometimes be confused with less good development for a bee colony. This depends most often on a queen not laying eggs very well. But if a VSH colony is getting a lot of mites through reinvasion from colonies with high varroa levels in the neighborhood (within a distance of 2 km/1.5 miles) the result may be a lot of shotgun pattern brood combs due to a lot of uncapped and cleaned brood cells to get rid of mites. The consequence will be a slower development of the colony. But as mentioned above a true VSH trait give room for the variety that the pupae are not removed but they are recapped after uncapping. And this can happen more than once. In such a case the consequence needn’t be slow development of the colony even if the varroa level temporarily is a bit high.

This is a good example of VSHD. You see clearly that pupae in drone brood are removed as brown cocoon residues are left. This is the first round with brood. Also we see uncapped drone pupae with purple eyes, and some cells with uncapping having started with holes in the capping. Click on the pictures to make it bigger

 

 More acronyms

Perhaps it’s good if more short names, such as acronyms as VSH, become common, names for different characteristics of resistance.

– With regard to the concept of Grooming, This term is well established. Bees have mites on their body and these are removed by other bees or themselves. We need no other term here.

– As far as VSH on drone is concerned, it is quite newly discovered and no special acronym is used as far as I know. VSHD = Varroa Sensitive Hygiene Drones.

That’s an important feature, maybe more important than VSH. The acronym VSHD could work well.

The mites are more attracted to dronebrood than to workerbrood. If a colony has 5-10% dronebrood in the brood area, as is often found in feral colonies (at least) and bees have a strong VSHD, the bee colony will not lose so many worker pupea (future valuable worker bees). Many mites will invade drone brood and will be cleaned out from this drone brood.

The Norwegian Hans-Otto Johnsen has shown (he is conducting such surveys and there is some notes about this in Norwegian bee magazine Birøkteren and on this blog) that bees more easily identifie mites in smaller dronebrood cells (6.2 mm) than in larger (7.2 mm), and clean out them from mites and pupae. Bees make smaller dronebrood cells naturally, the smaller the cell size is for workerbee cells. This is probably an important characteristic that small cell size provide. The drone cellsize is naturally 6.2-6.4 mm when the bees live on 4.9 mm worker bee cells.

These acronyms may work

ED  for entrance defense.

LR  for low robbery.

LD  low drifting.

VP  for virus peptides.

VB  for trashing virus infected bees

– If you have suggestions or comments don’t hesitate to share them, for example concerning more resistant traits. Maybe you have ideas how to measure resistance traits? Maybe the best selective tool is just measuring the varroa level a few times a year?

A good report on Elgon bees

I have just returned home from the annual meeting of our local bee association. Susanna Kivling spoke about the Beescanning project, beescanning.com  We were also discussing to establish an Elgon mating place for queens of the members. The best report I got after the meeting from Arne Andersson who got two queens from me last year of the line H131. He treats all his colonies every year for varroa. So he treated these two Elgon colonies with sublimating oxalic acid (“heat-steaming”) some time ago. He decided to treat them again with trickling oxalic sugar solution as he got so few mites from the treatment. These two treatments gave together two mites each from the two Elgon colonies. Another type of colony close to them dropped altogether 1000 mites. Cellsize? 5.1. I hope the Elgon colonies survives the two tough treatments so I can consider grafting from them next year.:)

Varroa resistant bees in Norway

It is positive that the research community is becoming increasingly focused on varro-resistant honeybees. The latest report comes from a doctoral student, Melissa Oddie. She has started an investigation why a Norwegian beekeeper’s population of bee colonies can be called resistant because, according to his information, he hasn’t treated his bees against varroa in at least 19 years. Their article is a pre-presentation before it is peer reviewed. It could be read and downloaded here when I was writing this: https://peerj.com/preprints/2976.pdf

The result showed that the varroa population of the test bees had a growth rate of 0.87, ie a decrease over time. While the non-resistant control colonies had a growth rate of 1.24, i.e. an increase of the mite population over time.

 

Positive details in the study

  1. One of the beekeeper’s own apiaries was used and its colonies were used in the test.. Thus, no queen was introduced to other types of bees in another place. The resistant bees and their queens were tested in their normal environment.
  2. The distance between the test and the control colonies were big, 60 km.

 

Details missing

  1. The name of the beekeeper. He had earned a place among the authors.
  2. The beekeeper has exchanged breeding material with another commercial beekeeper since 2004. This beekeeper has also not been treating his bees for many years.
  3. The number of bee colonies forming the resistant colony population is not mentioned.
  4. The cell size used by the beekeeper is 4.9 mm, ie small cellsize, for almost as many years as he did not treat against varroa.
  5. The cell size of the control colonies is also not mentioned. Is it also 4.9 mm or larger?
  6. It is not mentioned if there are other bees close to the test and control colonies. The test beekeeper has several apiaries. If any of them are near the test apiary, it would probably not affect the test. How many other type of bees could be found near the test and control apiaries (if any) is not mentioned and, if so, the distance to these bees. It is important for the reinvasion risk.
  7. Nothing is mentioned of annual losses for the years backwards for the test and control colonies. It may be of secondary significance and these figures may also not have been secured. However, some kind of data about of the losses at the beginning of the adaptation of the test bees could have been interesting to take part of. But the article is inspiring anyhow.
  8. There are also no tips for beekeepers inspired by their article to start developing their bees to become resistant. Of course, it is not a task of the test I understand, but some kind of comment about this has been positive since many beekeepers will certainly appreciate the article and be inspired by it. However, such advice I look forward to find in follow-up articles in bee magazines.

Varroa project 2014 –>

Click on the pictures to get better quality and readability

This test is accomplished and funded by LP:s biodling bee equipement supplier, Arne Andersson sideline beekeeper and Erik Österlund sideline beekeeper.

 

GOAL FOR THE PROJECT

The goal for this test is to see if it is possible:

  • to improve mite resistance in apiaries with 5-10 colonies,
  • to understand the impact of ”isolation” of 3-5 km (3-4 miles) to other beekeepers
  • to understand the role of small cell size in the broodnest
  • to see the role of differentiated treatment of varroa mites, that is treatment of only those colonies that exceed a defined varroa level

 

PLANNED MANAGEMENT

Avoid silent robbery

The colonies should be managed as similar as possible to a beekeeper that want to increase the number of colonies with an extensive management method. It should interfere as little as possible with the bees activities and avoid disturbing parameters, which could happen when you open the colonies often, like for example starting robbing in nectar droughts. It could be enough with silent robbery, a robbery activity that you don’t notice. That could be enough to destroy a test, in that the varroa populations are evened out

3% strategy

Therefore we decided to maximize the number of hives for the two main groups in this test to 10 hives (5+5). We also decided to make two or three alcohol washes with 1 dl of bees to monitor the varroa level during the season. When the Varroa level was higher than 3% we planned to treat with thymol. If it appeared wingless bees in or in front of a hive treatment was also to be performed.

Use of thymol

We decided to use dish cloth pads drenched with fluid thymol mixed with a minimal amount of rubbing alcohol (to lower the melting point of the thymol crystals) as treatment against mites when decision was made to treat. You can see how they are done and used in this article: http://elgon.es/resistancebreeding.html

Crop and feeding

If possible a harvest should be taken and sugar solution (or honey) fed at the end of season after harvest to ensure enough food for winter. The goal should be to leave a fair amount of honey for winter, if possible as much as you think your bees have got genetics to make it through the length of your winters.

Nucs and splits

Increase are made by making so called walk away splits that remain in the same apiary as the mother colony. These are allowed make there own queens, or supplied with mature queen cells made from a good colony in the apiary. This should also be the swarm prevention method.

Elgon and Carnica/Carniolan

We choose to use two different types of bees in the project. One type that has been selected for varroa resistance during many years, Elgon, that has been bred with this purpose since 1989. Another type that hasn’t been selected less, but in other traits are good, pure bred Carnica/Carniolan bees.

 

FITNESS

Increase of the number of colonies

The number of colonies wintered each autumn would be a way to measure the difference in success between the two parts (large and small cell size) of each main group, Elgons and Carniolans. To be counted in the increase would be the colonies that are brought out from the apiaries and the project, a kind of crop. What we measure will thus be the production of new colonies and survival of colonies to the next season, the difference of fitness. If colonies survive to the next season is not only dependent on the varroa and virus levels in the colonies, but also on other circumstances that influence the survival and how a colony thrive, for example other pathogens like nosema and quality of food like pollen throughout the season.

Start and number of years

Instead of starting the project with 5+5 colonies with each type of bees, we have choosen to start from a fewer number of hives and increase the numbers. And we plan to continue the project for at least 3-4 years. We have choosen areas for the test that are low in nectar and pollen sources. That’s also a reason why the number of hives are restricted to five in each part, which makes a total maximum for each type of bees 5+5 colonies, 5 small cell and 5 large cell.

 

CARNICA

Four Carniolan colonies, all of them being sister queens from a pure bred Carnica/Carniolan stock, were divided in two groups with 30 m between the groups. These groups were placed in a deeply forested area far enough from the Elgon bees. Here it was no farm in the neighborhood, like it is where the Elgon bees are placed. One group was established on Mann Lake’s standard plastic frame, 4.95 mm cell size. The other on Anel plastic frames with 5.5 mm cell size. Frame size medium (448 x 159 m). Hive type well insulated styren plastic boxes.

The Carnica bees 2014-2015

The Carniolan queens we received in 2013 were introduced into Elgon small cell (SC) colonies on 4.9 mm cell size shallow sized frames (448 x 137 mm). The Elgons are adapted to SC during many years and if nurse bees fed and born in SC should be of importance that criterium should then be met for this test. The Carniolans in their homeland could not draw and thus live well on ”SC”. Here they were adapted immediately through this process, but they could not draw wax foundation 4.9 well even though they lived well on 4.9. Probably because they were not genetically adapted to small cells. Mann Lakes 4.9 they could draw well. Probably because of the high plastic cell wall starters which they couldn’t remodel

In 2014 half of the Carniolans got only Mann Lake’s 4.9 (SC), half got Anels 5.5 (large cell, LC). During 2014 they were this way transferred to these two types of frames. Increasing cell size in the LC-group up to 5.5 was no problem either as they were adapted to 5.5 in their genetics before they came here.

All the Carnica/Carniolan colonies were treated with thymol in 2013, but not much, and in September 2014 after they were moved to their test destination. No DWV-bees were observed in 2014.

The LC part of the Carnica bees 2015

In 2015 in June the LC-group (both colonies) showed 6% varroa level and crippled winged bees, one colony quite badly. They both got one treatment with two homemade thymol pads with about 5 gr thymol each. The LC-bees gave no crop. The Varroa level had not increased again very much and was only about 1 %.

The SC part of the Carnica bees 2015

The SC colonies had 0.3% and 1% varroa level respectively. In beginning of June a so called walk away split was made from one of the SC-colonies. The new queen then of course mated to very closely related drones.

The strongest SC-colony gave a small crop.

In September the SC-colonies still had only around 1% Varroa level. None of the colonies got any treatment in the autumn due to the low varroa levels. The SC-colonies thus got no treatment at all in 2015.

The Carnica bees 2016

The LC part of the Carnica bees 2016

The weakest of thee LC colonies didn’t make it through winter. The second one looked fine in May.

The weather was then rainy and chilly for several weeks, and when the beekeeper returned in late May to monitor varroa levels, in the remaining LC-colony he only found some dead brood and a few dead bees on the bottom.

The SC part of the Carnica bees 2016

In spring 2016 the now three SC-colonies were doing fine, two of them though small in size.

In the three SC-colonies the varroa levels were 3-4% in late May and some crippled winged bees appeared. Thymol pads were applied in June. A walk away split was made from the strongest SC-colony. The weather was unfavorable and the other three robbed the split. It thus died.

In September the three SC-colonies looked fine and got no treatment. The bees superceded the three year old queen.

The Carnica bees 2016-2017

The three SC-colonies were moved to an apiary with better resources for nectar and pollen. Some more pure bred Carnica queens were received in 2016. They will be used to biuld up the test apiaries again. Daughters will be bred from these and mated in the apiary with drones from the survivor colonies of the SC bees.

The whole season of 2016 was bad in producing nectar and pollen. The colonies had a hard time growing in size. It was late in the season when complementary feeding in preparation for winter was done that they grew somewhat in strength. That was the reason these bees were moved to a better place for food.

All three colonies actually were weaker than wanted going into winter. Two colonies made it through winter. The third and weakest died. This colony had probably survived if it had been fed honey (or fondant) and pollen during the worst nectar- and pollen drought periods.

 

ELGON

Six Elgon colonies of two different mother lines divided in two groups with 3 colonies each were set up. These groups were placed in a deeply forested area with a small farm in the neighbourhood. The two groups were placed about 700 meters from each other. One group got Mann Lake’s standard plastic frame with small cells (SC), 4.95 mm cell size. The other got Anel plastic frames with Large cells (LC), 5.5 mm.

Two sister groups were used. One sister group consisted of 4 queens, 2 SC and 2 LC. The other sister group had two queens, 1 SC and 1 LC. Frame size is medium, (448 x 159 mm). Hive type with well insulated styren plastic boxes.

The Elgon bees 2014-2015

The Elgon groups were established with new queens in 2014 and transfered successfully to Mann Lake’s 4.9 and with big difficulties to Anels 5.5.

The queens in the LC colonies were very hesitant to lay in their large cells. One queen totally refused.The broodnest of that queen consisted of only two shallow SC-frames. The resulting colony was of course small going into winter in 2014, but it wintered together with the other two LC colonies in their test apiary.

Most of the colonies, SC and LC, were treated in 2014 with thymol but mostly only in May. So this Elgon test groups of 3+3 were not managed in regard to the Varroa mites, similar to the Carnica groups. In the Carnica colonies the varroa populations were evened out between them, by treating them with home made thymol pads in September 2014.

The Elgon test colonies were taken from different apiaries and the varroa level in the colonies were not known when they were brought to the test site in late August. Earlier in 2014 the colonies who had wingless bees were treated with thymol, in May that was.

The LC part of the Elgon bees 2014-2015

In spring 2015 the Elgon LC group continued to create problems as the bees protested against using LC combs for brood by supersedure their queens, probably in an adaption process.

In April before grafting time and any drones were flying one LC-colony was queenless. The new virgin queen had of course failed to mate and was gone. I combined the queenless colony with the mini colony (the one with the queen that had refused to lay but in the two shallows). This queen still refused to lay in any other comb than the two shallows, so I tried to fool them by giving them a couple of 5.3 mm cell sized plastic frames on each side of the SC combs. That worked. When the 5.3 were filled on each side of the 4.9 they started on the 5.5 next to the 5.3.

It seems it is the workers that prepare the cells for laying, not the queens that are deciding in which cells to lay. (This experience is also in line with what is written in old books from beginning of 1900, that when broodnest have 5.1 you could use 5.6 in honey supers without excluder as the queen didn’t lay in the 5.6.)

In late April 2015 the third (now the second as the other two were combined) LC-colony had a virgin. They were also trying to supersedure their queen. No drones available yet. So she failed. The colony got a queen cell in second half of May. That queen got laying. This colony had 5% varroa level in August and got thymol.

The first colony (former first and second combined) got a small piece of thymol (actually both parts that were combined got half a piece each) early in spring to help against eventual patoghen problems as they had different kind of problems (weak but queenright and queenless). This colony showed only 0.3% Varroa level in August and got no treatment.

The SC part of the Elgon bees 2014-2015

In 2015 the three Elgon SC colonies developed well. Splits were made from two of them. One failed, but finally got a laying queen very late in season. It ended up weak. It was lost during coming winter, the only loss of the Elgons. The smallest of the overwintered colonies had a queen that was laying badly. It was killed and replaced by a ripe queencell.

Four of the now five colonies showed crippled winged bees in July and had Varroa levels between 2-7%. Even the 2% colony showed a few DWV-bees telling me the virus levels in the colonies were quite high. One 3% had no DWV, the weak one mentioned above and it was the only one that didn’t get treatment.

Because the varroa populations in the colonies weren’t allowed to grow strongly (still there were enough viruses in 2015 after years of somewhat higher varroa and virus pressure in the Elgon apiaries of Erik Österlund), the virus amounts in the colonies decreased and also there was no silent robbery. And the varroa populations were evened out at a low level. Thus the situation now was much more comparable with the varroalevels in the Carnica colonies in autumn 2014

The Elgon bees had better nectar flows than the Carnica in 2015 and the Elgon colonies gave a good crop from the Heather in 2015. The average crop was about the same for both SC and LC colonies. In August none of the SC Elgons had above 3% varroa level. They had 0%-3%, and got no more thymol. No colony swarmed in any of the test apiaries.

The Elgon bees 2016

In spring 2016 one of the Elgons, the very weak one in the SC-group died (as mentioned above). Both LC colonies survived.

The LC part of the Elgon bees 2016

In the LC-group splits were made from both colonies. Weather was bad and one failed to produce a laying queen. It got a new ripe queen cell. The parts with the ”old” queens (from the year before) both superseded their queens, in line with experiences in 2015. This year they waited until beginning of summer when there were drones around. Maybe the bees had adapted somewhat to LC now.

The season of 2016 was very bad so no crop was secured from the LC-group. In spring the varroa levels were 0.3% in all four colonies (they became four after splitting in late May). In early September it was 0% – 8.6% – 0.9% – 4%. The two with highest levels were treated with thymol. The other two not. We can see that two colonies had very low levels of Varroa mites. This indicates a good genetic set up for Varroa resistance, also to be able to work with large cells apparently. The queens in the colonies with low Varroa level are sisters, mated in the test apiary. They are daughters to one of the colonies in the apiary, one in a split. The other as a result of supersedure in the mother colony producing this split.

The SC part of the Elgon bees 2016

The four remaining colonies in the SC-group gave a split each. Season was bad and two of the splits failed. A small crop was secured from the strongest of the colonies.

The two colonies with two year old queens supersedured these later in season. The 6 colonies all had 0.3% varroa levels in spring. In August the varroa levels were between 0-1.7%. As we had decided not to keep more than five colonies in each of the four parts of the test, colony no 6 of the SC-ones (the one with 1.7%) was removed from the test area. It wastreated with a small amount of formic acid to get an idea of the mite load and also test the shaker method. It fell 10 mites in a couple of days. The other 5 colonies remaining at the test site didn’t get any treatment.

The Elgon bees in the beginning of 2017

All four colonies in the LC group wintered well, in spite of that two of them were almost too weak, those that had had the highest Varroa levels and been treated.

One of the five SC colonies defecated a lot on the outside of the hive, though not much inside. They did not have a large amount of honey left for winter the previous autumn. And it was of good wintering quality. The winter before all colonies had had a large amount of difficult winter honey, from heather. The colony that died was the strongest and smallest Varroa level. It measured 0% on 400 bees. The was a good amount of food left in the hive after it had died. The colony had an old queen, and just a few meters there had been quite some traffic during late winter from a tree harvester. The other colonies looked fine, with almost no defecation.

Harvest and Varroa level 2015 and 2016 in SC and LC parts of the Carnica bees. The sites for Carnica and Elgon bees are not comparable as the Carnica site was didn’t have the same amount of food sources. Click on the picture to get it bigger and of better quality.

 

Harvest and Varroa level 2015 and 2016 in the SC and LC parts of the Elgon bees.

RESULTS

Losses

The losses in the Elgon groups have been quite normal, on the lower side. It has in percentage been higher in the Carnica groups, especially among the LC bees. The higher amount of losses can be explained by the low availability of pollen and nectar, especially during 2016. That’s why the test site for the Carnica bees has been moved. One conclusion is that during times with small amounts of available pollen and nectar a solution could be to feed the colonies fondant/honey and pollen to develop healthier and stronger colonies better adapted to survive winter.

The strategy of 3 %

The strategy to measure the Varroa level a couple of times during the season and use Varroa treatment (dish cloth pads, about 50 x 58 x 1.5 mm [2”x2”x1/16”], drenched in thymol) when/if the Varroa level is higher than 3 % (only treatmnent in these colonies, not in those below 3 %) has minimized reinfestation, maybe altogether. You thus get a true picture of the Varroa level in the colonies and thus a better selection of the most resistant colonies and the most susceptible ones. You could for example have expected that the different cell size groups had affected each other so that eventual difference in the varroa levels had evened out, especially among the Carnica bees as the two groups there were only 30 m apart.

Little need for Varroa treatment

Relatively little of Varroa treatment has been used, probably partly explained by the absence of reinfestation, no silent robbing. Most treatment has been used in the LC colonies of both the Elgon (2016 when reinfestation had been removed) and Carnica (2015, in 2016 there was no LC left) colonies.

The strategy of 3 % seems to have eliminated the need of Varroa treatment in the SC part of the Elgon bees due to elimination of reinfestation and enough good development of the varroa resistance with the Elgon bees.

This strategy has also lessened the need for varroa treatment to every second year with the SC part of the Carnica colonies and the need for treatment then has been small. Thymol in this context has been effective.

Cell size and fitness

In the LC part of the Carnica bees the need for treatment has been bigger probably because of a quicker development of the Varroa population. It seems fitness has been lower here probably partly due to the bad pollen and nectar availability. But fitness may also be lower because of other reasons. The Carnica LC colony that died in May did not die due to high varroa level. Lack of protein and/or other pathogens (like nosema) can be the cause. The Carnica test site is moved to a place with better food sources.

One can object to this conclusion of lower fitness for LC bees because the number of colonies are low.

On the other hand were all original queens in the Carnica group sisters and all colonies in SC and LC groups (Elgon and Carnica) are behaving consistent in this respect. And any difference in fitness between the two cell size groups among the Carnica bees should have been to the advantage of the LC colonies because the SC colonies had become inbred. Usually follows a lower immune system with inbreeding. Possible impact of this small distance would have been small(-er) difference in the varroa levels between the two groups due to evening out of the varroa populations. The 3% strategy, measuring varroa levels and treatment when it was above 3%, lowered the varroa populations enough to eliminate (totally or enough) the silent robbery.

In 2016 the only colonies that needed treatment were in the LC colonies of the Elgon bees. It should though be noted that with a stock of bees that have been selected for Varroa resistance it is possible to find colonies that are resistant also on large cells. Two colonies (with sisters queens) had very low levels of Varroa mites.

The honey crops, the bee strength of the colonies indicates, and the resulting number of colonies in the SC and LC parts of the stocks of bees indicates that it is no disadvantage to use small cells in the broodnest, rather the contrary.

 Summary of production of new bee colonies, increase in the number of wintered bee colonies. These figures could be seen as a measure of the vitality of the different cell size groups. There is a difference to the benefit of SC bees both in the E group (Elgon bees) and the C group (Carnica bees). Click on the pictures to get them bigger and of better quality.

 

Suggestion on a breeding program for increasing Varroa resistance in a bee population. The background for these suggestion is the results of this project, so far.

 

1500 Varroa Treatment Free

  South Dakota is Buffalo and Indian land in the northern part of the Midwest.

I talked to Chris Baldwin some time ago. He is a commercial beekeeper running about 1500 bee colonies. In summer his bees are closer to his home in South Dakota. In February they pollinate Almonds in California. After that they are going to east Texas for queen breeding and splitting. Focus in handling the mites is not eliminating the mites, says Chris. It’s eliminating susceptible bees.

 Beginning of November the bees go to Texas for winter. February 1 to California for Almond pollination. March to Texas for splitting and supering. May to South Dakota for honey. (Basic map illusttration: http-//d-maps.com_carte.php?num_car=5184&lang=en)

Chris hasn’t been treating his bees against mites for more than ten years. Last Coumaphos 2003, Only Oxalic 2004 and 2005. Nothing in 2006 and finally Thymol in 2007. After that nothing. He’s loosing bees yes, but not because of mites really. He’s keeping bees like bees were kept before the arrival of the Varroa mite. When he talked to another commercial beekeeper recently, his comment about Chris’ bees was that they probably could handle all farmers chemicals better as they didn’t had to deal with miticides as well in their hives.

Blacklisted

When he shares his experiences with others he is many times surprised of the response, or lack of response. Maybe some think he’s earning money on selling queens from his “pretended varroa resistant bee stock”. Maybe because almost all(?) scientists say you must treat against mites to get your bees to survive. But Chris don’t do that. He lives on his bees producing honey and pollinating crops.

There are so many examples now of treatment free operations for many years that we can write down a working plan to produce resistant stocks. It’s not telling the whole truth leaving out the growing number of treatment free beekeepers and their working plans for their success.

When he talks to scientists, many well known, about his bees, they look kind of strange in silence for a while and then walk away. They don’t show up at his yards wanting to investigate his bees and methods to find out more, as you would expect.

Chris has good references, the bee inspectors in his areas in South Dakota and Texas.

Once he had a columnist from a bee journal showing up asking and looking at his operation. I’m sure the readers would have loved to know more about how Chris is managing his bees. But he’s doing many things the opposite way to what many times is preached from the front.

No wonder he said to me he feels like he’s blacklisted. By whom and why, if that’s the case?

A bigger picture

After some additional communication with Chris about his operation the picture gets more clear and gives more food for thought. It’s really interesting and valuable to put his experiences and management system beside others’ to get a better understanding of our fascinating honey bee and what it means to us as an economic resource and understanding its role in nature.

California in February

Chris may well be the only big commercial beekeeper focused on pollination services that is treatment free when it comes too the Varroa mite. His bees are exposed to agricultural chemicals, drifting of other beekeepers’ bees into his colonies (which may well bring mites and pathogens of different kinds) and his bees visiting weakened hives to rob from (and pick up mites and pathogens).

It’s not difficult to understand that his bees might well have problems due to this. Pathogens like nosema, plus chemical residues from spraying of the almonds for example and extra mites and viruses picked up will make life hard for the bees when they go back east Texas in March after almond pollination in California.

  After pollination in California the bees go to Texas, here ready for supering.

Texas in March

The colonies return to Texas in late March. There they are supered for growth and maybe honey production. April flows in Texas are unpredictable.

Not all colonies went to California from Texas February 1 for pollination of the almonds. The remainder are scattered to out yards for buildup and also prepared for cellbuilding, which begins in early March in Texas. Nucs are made in March and April.

Africanization is not a problem in east Texas and his number of hives is big. So his drones dominate the air well. Also there are few fives from other beekeepers in his area.

 Preparing cellbuilders in early March with colonies that stayed in Texas when the main part went to California.

Securing cellbuilding

In a commercial operation every part in the system have to work good enough to make the system work and bring food on the table. One part that is maybe more critical than others is cellbuilding in the queen breeding part.

European Foulbrood has grown to a persistent problem in America. It may well bee due to increasing amounts of chemical residues in for example wax combs putting higher pressure on the immune system of the bees.

Chris will not have the chemical residues from miticides, which may well help his bees keep a better standard on their immune system than bees in other commercial outfits. Still he can during springtime at just the time of cellbuilding experience some problems from European Foulbrood. To be sure he will be able to produce the number of queen cells he needs, he gives the colonies involved some tetracycline in spring. That takes care of this problem efficiently. This is the only drug he uses.

 Colonies prepared for going from Texas to South Dakota for honey production during summer.

Summer in South Dakota

Colonies that have collected enough of honey for a food reserve are shipped to South Dakota for the clover flow, starting early May. Or they may stay in Texas longer for the Chinese Tallow tree bloom. It is often a difficult decision which will give the best flow.

 After harvest in October iSouth Dakota. Honey supers are removed.

Winter in Texas

Harvesting of honey may begin in July and go through October in South Dakota. The bees are fed if necessary, then shipped to Texas early November, hopefully before the first blizzard in South Dakota.

 544 colonies loaded for transport from South Dakota to Texas in November. Another 544 colonies are waiting to be loaded.

Annual losses

During summer about 20% of the colonies are lost due to queen problems. At least partly these queen problems may come from the rough circumstances in the pollination services environment. Pathogens and chemicals picked up there. In January the die offs are taken care off, as well as the bees alive. If necessary colonies are fed. Winterlosses and losses experienced after the almonds in California can together be 10-20%.

This makes a total annual loss of about 40%, which these days is the average in America, wheather you treat against mites or not. Quite some years ago now Chris had a “CCD-year” with 70% losses. But weather was favorable and he could recover colony numbers from remaining colonies in one season.

40% losses is a little too high, but up to 30% are okey for Chris in his management system. Actually some amount of losses are more or less needed to weed out the worst colonies and multiply the best to improve the stock continuously and keep the numbers stable. Also to minimize the swarming through making nucs. He is not into selling colonies or queens. He gets his income from pollination services and honey production.

Hive configuration

Beekeepers love to discuss different details in their management system. One is the hive configuration. And you can have quite animated discussions going on concerning how good or bad this or that part is, for example 8 or 10 frame boxes and medium or Langstroth boxes. What you many times forget is that each part of a management system, including the hive configurtaion’s different parts, is a result of this whole management system in which each part fits well enough for the beekeeper. If you change one part, you may have to change also other parts to make the system work well for you. And special circumstances for you may play a role why you have chosen the solutions you use.

Chris Baldwin uses a 10-frame system with a shallow box (5 & 11/16”; frame 448 x 137 mm) on the bottom. It is always there. It’s kind of an expansion space which the bees use as they want, more or less without control from the beekeeper. The bees remodel, tear down and build back, the combs in the frames there. Sometimes they are bad in shape, sometimes a lot of drone comb, sometimes good looking well used by the bees.

The next box is a Langstroth deep with 9 combs (frame 448 x 232 mm) and a plastic division feeder. It’s tight, but that keeps out burr comb. When moving combs the feeder is first taken out to make space for easier handling. This is the broodnest all the time. Then comes the queen excluder. The supers are normally 8 combs in 10 frame deep boxes and medium boxes (the latter frame 448 x 159 mm) with metal spacers. Almost no plastic combs are used, but wired wax foundation in wooden frames, since many years.

The bees

Colonies can grow very big on this set up. His bees uses the combs for brood efficiently. They are much more conservative, frugal with food reserves, than common Italians in America. He has always liked the darker kind of bees, Caucasian and Carniolan types. Today he has all colors. He started selecting among his bees creating his own stock many years ago. When the Russians came on the scene he started buying breeder queens of those and they changed the game concerning Varroa resistance. He refers to his friend Kirk Webster having the same experience using Russians.

Old combs

He uses no system for wax renewal. Well, he does in a way. After the queen breeding and nuc season is over, when a colony dwindle, for example looses its queen or having a failing queen, he doesn’t have any queen cells to save such colonies.

Broodnest boxes, deeps and shallows from these failing colonies go on top on other colonies as honey supers. After harvesting these boxes are extracted separately. The uncapper has adjustable cutting depths. When extracting brood combs he sets the uncapper on the deepest cut settings. It really cleans up the oldest nastiest comb.

Many of his brood nest boxes stay out in the field for years, but a certain number do get extracted and thus cleaned up quite a bit. He only cull combs that look horrible or have broken frames. Most of his combs are more than forty years old.

Nucs

He in first place uses the extracted brood combs when making nucs. He starts the nucs with three good deep brood frames and fills up the box with extracted deep combs and maybe a food comb. This box is put on a shallow extracted box. The nuc gets a ripe queen cell and maybe a good feed.

Broodnest

This hive setup, which has a smaller brood nest than many others use (many use two deeps), works fine in his management system. As annual losses are somewhat high (which is the “normal” average in America) many nucs are made. Still the colonies have time to grow to be strong enough for both pollination and honey production. And this is done just perfect with this 1 and ½ box broodnest setup. When he moves hives, he can take a bigger number, 4 stories with 4 hives on a pallet, 544 on a truckload.

Cellsize

Chris doesn’t really care about cellsize. If he did he maybe would have to change management system when it comes to wax renewal. He hasn’t found any reason for using more labor in this part of his beekeeping.

So what is the cellsize in his combs? Today when he buys wooden frames with plasic foundation (these are cheapest and quickest to get at work into the system), most common is 5.4 mm, to begin with. Forty years ago who knows, maybe 5.2 mm was what was bought, (sizes 5.1-5.6 was available). But during the years cell volume has shrinked of course due cocoon residues. When old combs have been cut down, the cell bottoms have been left untouched. The parts of the combs closest to the midribs are “smaller cell” still, by the added cocoon residues. But the compactness of a real small cell comb is not there (more cells per area unit).

Living life

Beekeeping makes you nature focused and Chris often observes wildlife while working the bees. Deer, antelope, hawks, eagles, owls, praire dogs, coyotes, pheasants, grouse, badgers and so on. He once saw six bull elk out on the praire. At another time a golden eagle carried off a coyote. The land in South Dakota isn’t as flat as it appears many times, but it’s so treeless that you often can see horizon to horizon.

What about next season then? Weather comes up differing with cold and heat, drought and rain. And we need rain too besides sun. Next season will always be better!

Chris Baldwin is doing his share in putting food on the table in US through his bees’ pollination services, and yes, somewhat also on many other tables around the world that import almonds.

Reworked website with new info

Hello dear beekeepers!

I’ve been reworking my old website. not my blogs. The English part became ready enough to be published and I launched it on http://elgon.es

elgon-website

There are quite some new material there. In the article “Resistance breeding” some of the experiences from 2016, very positive and quite important experiences. On that topic there will be more info later on.

This website is so called responsive, which most are these days. It means that it automatically adapt to different screen sizes, down to that of a cell phone. It’s made with and easy working and free app called Rocket Cake.