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.:)
SB is a relatively new and dedicated beekeeper in southern Germany. She is interested in different kinds of bees and their place in the ecological system. I asked her to tell her story and her struggles helping her bees to survive and thrive on their own as much as possible without chemicals. She writes:
After watching wild bees for some years I wanted to have honeybees and took lessons given by an organic beekeeper. In the year 2014 I bought my first colony from him. It was a Carnica cross on natural comb, built by the bees without the help of wax foundation. They had been treated with oxalic and formic acid against the varroa. But they were sick anyway!
I tried to find a way out of this chemical strategy that seemingly didn’t help. I got some information on internet and started watching how bees defend themselves against illnesses. I don’t want to have them close to other bees. I tried to help them with sugar powder dusting to rid them of the mites sitting on bees. After treatment with formic acid in summer, they had a natural downfall of 30 mites per day. After sugaring the whole hive ten times with 2 days in between the natural downfall of mites were 5 per day. This involved a lot of work and still didn’t do the job. The bees had chalk brood too!
I measured cell size on their natural comb. It was 5.0 mm in the brood area, 5.4 in food area and drone cells began at 5.6. All honey was taken when harvested, so they lived on sugar syrup for a long time of the year. They died in february 2015, not having enough bees to warm the hive!
I had found some contacts through internet and was able to get 4 hives in 2015 which weren`t treated with chemicals for some years. One was of the dark bee Apis mellifera mellifera (AMM) , three were Carnica (Carniolans). I made some splits and wintered 3 of the AMM origin and 5 of the Carnica origin.
The former owner had a crisis being the victim of a migratory beekeeper whose hives most probably caused reinfestation bringing a lot of mites into his hives. He overcame this crisis combining the weakest of his hives, so they became strong enough to defend themselves. Some survived. In some of these he introduced a AMM variety of queens that had a reputation of being more resistant.
My aim was to follow Dee Lusby`s in Arizona way of beekeeping as much as possible (http://beesource.com/point-of-view/dee-lusby). Using small cell foundation, leaving with the bees enough honey for food, using so called housel position of the combs, what she calls unlimited broodnest and using no treatment (if possible).
All 8 hives survived winter, but in spring 2016 I had to eliminate one of them because its bees were too susceptible to virus (another than DWV). I have made some splits and have now in May 11 hives and high hopes. The bees are my teachers. I want them to survive.
I don’t do drone brood cutting as I want the mite to continue being a drone parasite in first place and not a worker bee parasite. I’m happy to see more and more of hygienic behavior against the mite, also in drone brood. Now also in the Carniolan crossings.
At last I want to quote Kirk Webster (http://kirkwebster.com):
“Beekeeping now has the dubious honor of becoming the first part of our system of industrial agriculture to actually fall apart. Let’s stop pretending that something else is going on. We no longer have enough bees to pollinate our crops. Each time the bees go through a downturn, we respond by making things more stressful for them, rather than less – we move them around more often, expose them to still more toxic substances, or fill the equipment up again with more untested and poorly adapted stock. We blame the weather, the mites, the markets, new diseases, consumers, the Chinese, the Germans, the (fill in your favorite scapegoat), other beekeepers, the packers, the scientific community, the price of gas, global warming – anything rather than face up to what’s really happening. We are losing the ability to take care of living things.”
We are at big risk losing the ability to take care of living things. Thank you everyone who is helping me to improve myself as a beekeeper.
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.
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 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|
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.
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.
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%).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I understand that sometimes it’s a good idea to get an idea of the infestation level of varroa mites in bee colonies. You can take samples from a couple of colonies in an apiary to get an idea when to treat. But my first concern is breeding varroa resistant bees.
I have never monitored the varroa infestation level in my colonies. I haven’t had time and I haven’t found any reason for it because I thought I had found a good compromise – treating with Thymol when I saw wingless bees on the hardboard in front of the hive entrance, checking every 10 days or so.
Good results up till now
I give a colony one or two pieces of dish wash cloth containing 5 grams of Thymol each when I see wingless bees crawling on the hard board in front of the hive. But this means I don’t treat every colony at the same time (hopefully some not at all in a season). This results in some colonies with higher mite loads not showing wingless bees yet. So these colony (-ies) will through reinvasion increase mite levels again quite quickly in those colonies recently treated.
But this way I’ve been able to develop more and more resistant bees and still produce a good crop. There have been a number of bees not producing any honey. Winter losses have been reduced from 30 % to 10-15 % (except the first year with varroa trouble when I lost 50 %).
The bees have been better chasing mites and remove infested brood. I’ve got good reports from for example Poland and Germany of low populations of varroa in colonies headed by Elgon queens, compared to other bees. And the VSH trait is becoming better and better. Daughters of my colony with the highest VSH % (80) gave colonies that in Poland dropped 2-5 mites after effective treatment while other colonies dropped more than 1000.
Thymol is useful but hinders total adaptation
I now have been aware that by having this regime I have a constant quite high varroa population in the apiaries as a whole, and thus probably a climbing virus pressure. In a way this is good as selection is done also on virus resistance.
How do I know that? Now when I’ve used the bee shaker somewhat this year I’ve seen that colonies may show wingless bees (DWV-virus) at low mite infestation. Such low infestation you didn’t expect them to do so, sometimes even as low as 2 % infestation (a daughter from a colony with high VSH trait [80%]! This experience and others similar, raise the question if very high VSH comes with higher susceptibility to viruses.). Wingless bees at 2 % infestation is totally different from a report I’ve got from a test further down in Europe. (There they normally treat effectively every year.) In that test where they didn’t treat at all, my bees didn’t show any wingless bees at 35% infestation while other bees had a lot.
How to explain the high infestation level in the test
Now I have to try to explain why my good bees could arrive at 35 % mite infestation. This is interesting and brings up another topic as well. The importance of memories of the worker bees (their knowledge how to chase mites), not only their genetics (and epigenetic history). My queens in this test down in Europe were introduced to bees that had not been selected the same way as mine, and those bees had been treated effectively every year. The bees could probably not chase mites as well as mine.
But of course the genetics from my queens would more and more influence the workers to build up a better behavior when it comes to chasing mites. When the bees have arrived at a good mite chasing mood they learn new bees born in the colony what they have achieved, more than what just come directly with the genetics. In Norway with Terje Reinertsen and Hans-Otto Johnsen experiences are achieved pointing strongly to this.
In an apiary where many colonies are non-resistant as in this European test, you get a mixture of all bees in the apiary through drifting and robbing. This is taking place more and more when the mite populations in the colonies rise. As it did in this test as the colonies were not treated at all.
In a situation when colonies are receiving a lot of mites from neighboring colonies, even the very best kind of mite chasing behavior is maybe not enough to keep mite levels low.
In the test apiary previous to this test, effective treating every year had kept the mite and virus levels low, so the mite population could grow much in the test without showing wingless bees – like in the beginning when the mite first arrives to an area. Then the virus levels are usually very low and there could be 10 000 mites and more in a colony without any signs of viruses (documented case in Sweden in 1987 when the mites were first detected on the island Gotland in the Baltic).
The bees in this test were on 5.5 mm cell size, while my bees are kept on 4.9 mm.
Also Thymol hinders total adaptation
I have talked to some beekeepers whose bees are totally treatment free since many years (Hans-Otto Johnsen in Norway, Richard Reid in Virginia and Myron Kropf in Arkansas). Their bees have now small populations of mites and are showing no wingless bees.
I have come to realize that also Thymol is a chemical that hinders the bees to fully adapt to handling the mites successfully on their own. It is in first place the epigenetic adaptation I have come to think of that is disturbed when alien chemicals (like miticides of all kinds) are present. Epigenetic changes take place when a chemical change occur due to environmental changes, like for example the presence of the mite. (But it should be said also that if you use Thymol regularly spring and late summer in a system not selecting better bees like I do, winter losses can be kept low. I know because beekeeper friends do like this.) Also Thymol like other miticides is lowering the immune system of the bees.
How do I then integrate these insights to go further in becoming totally treatment free?
A new strategy to try
I’m planning a new strategy, at least to start with in one quite isolated apiary. I have to stop using Thymol. First though I think I have to knock down the mites effectively to reduce the virus level. And then get a better control of the number of mites and take action without any chemicals if varroa populations are rising too much in colonies.
The role of the bee shaker
Here the bee shaker will play a role. And I have looked more into how Randy Oliver uses it. It’s much easier to shake a frame of bees into a bowl or pan and then with a measuring cup scope somewhat more than a deciliter (3.5 oz) of bees and pour them into one half of the bee shaker, half filled with alcohol (for example methylated spirit or rubbing[isopropyl] alcohol). Then screw it together and shake for a minute before reading the result. Compared to holding the bee shaker close to a frame side with bees and pour bees into it moving it slowly upwards, the alternative of Randy Oliver is quicker (at least for me). The next step is to test the VSH trait in the best colonies.
Start checking from one side in the uppermost box with brood. The queen hopefully will run to the brood if she is outside the brood area (probably not). The comb closest to brood you check so the queen is not there.
Turn the shaker upside down and continue shaking until all the alcohol has poured down. Lift it up against the sky and count the mites. This colony had 14 mites on 300 mites and it got two pieces with 5 gram Thymol each. It showed no wingless bees.
What I hated to do
So what I’ve done so far is something I hated to do. In one quite isolated apiary I used an effective chemical miticide (only this time I promised myself) in August 2015. I wanted to use something else than Thymol to give the bees a break from that chemical. And I wanted to knock down the mite population effectively to lower the virus pressure in the apiary. I collected the knocked down mites. (In the rest of the apiaries I plan at the moment to continue as before.) The colonies that had needed most Thymol earlier in the season had the highest downfall of mites. They got probably continuously reinfested from other colonies that happened to not show wingless bees while they anyway had quite high mite loads. The defense system of these quickly reinfested colonies was probably lowered by Thymol, which made this relatively quick reinfestation possible.
One colony that hadn’t needed any Thymol at all (and very little the year before) and still had given me 80 kg (175 lb) of honey with 20 kg (45 lb) left for winter dropped less than 200 mites. And this happened in this very bad season of 2015. This colony is of course a breeder for the coming season.
The new strategy
Next year I will in this new strategy apiary make splits from the best colonies and place them in the same apiary (or if the number is enough there, place in other apiaries). In the least good colonies in this apiary (those with highest infestation level) I will kill the queen and give them a ripe queen cell bred from a good colony in this apiary. I check the number of varroa (infestation level) with the bee shaker twice a season in all colonies in this apiary. Each time it will take about 5 minutes per colony. And I look for eventual wingless bees on the hard board in front of the entrances. Before the number of mites rise too high (whatever that is), or when I see wingless bees, I plan to remove all capped brood (worker and drone brood) once or twice with a week in between. I haven’t decided what to do with those brood frames yet. Any suggestion?
I ended the last blog-post saying that the season wasn’t completely over yet. That was very true. August has been our summer here in Sweden. And it’s not over yet, August and warm summer. Though the nights are chilly. But my wife and I are taking our daily morning swim in a near by lake, followed by breakfast at the shore, coffee and a sandwich.
Heather (Caluna vulgaris) yields honey this year in big parts of Sweden. In my area very good, even in areas quite far from places with lots of the plant. But in spite of this the total honey crop is the worst since I became a beekeeper 40 years ago.
But the colonies have changed appearance. Now they look very healthy and the winter room will be quite full of honey, not only from heather (a quite tough honey for wintering a long winter confined to the hive), but also from thistles, fireweed and golderod. And probably I will not use more Thymol than last year after all.
Why the VSH 80-daugter I mentioned in the former post had so much bald brood, I saw the other day, may well be due to a failing queen. She is not laying that much eggs any more. So there are fewer open brood for the mites to invade and thus not so many new healthy pupae that turns into new bees. And the strength of the colony declines. It’s a little late for the bees to shift the queen. They should have done that earlier. We’ll see if the colony will make it through winter.
Apiary where all supers above the queen excluder has been harvested. Most colonies are wintered on three square (12-frame) shallow langstroth boxes. Two colonies are wintered on two boxes Even with isolation dummy frames at the sides in both boxes). They are weaker than the others.
One colony in this colony needed Thymol against varroa now. The sign for me was wingless crawling bees on the hardboard outside the entrance. It got two pieces of dishcloth with 4-5 gram Thymol each (hopefully it will be enough, will check for this sign again in 10-14 days).
At the moment I’m harvesting all supers above the queen excluder. From some apiaries there is a quite good late harvest. From others not so good. But the winter room will contain a good amount of honey. Those colonies needing Thymol strips get it, not so many now. Most of the needy have got it earlier in the season.
I make notes. I’m sure you do to. How much is a good question. I made more notes as a beginner and quite some years after that. When I got well above hundred hives I began to question each kind of note and how much I could benefit from it. I wanted to save time, if I found it possible to skip doing some kind of notes.
For each year I use a fork binder. First I have a graph paper. On a horizontal line high up all the apiaries are numbered. On a vertical line to the left I make a note of the date, then an X for the apiary I have gone through that day. That’s the most important note, to be sure I don’t forget any apiary and to make sure it doesn’t take too long between my visits.
I have made a map in the computer in the Excel application showing each apiary. On the spread is the map to the left. On the opposite side a blank graph paper for making notes. In the very early season (still winter/spring) I make note of the colony strength, how many “comb gaps” the bees occupy. Then of the progress of the colony (putting on boxes). At the end of the season, very late autumn/winter, again how many comb gaps the bees occupy.
I only make a thorough check of a colony if it doesn’t develop as expected. I check for eventual disease, if it has brood (thus a laying queen), and eventual other things to observe. I make notes only of things that depart from the average or the normal. No notes for a colony indicates an average or a normally functioning colony. Also notes are made concerning hot temper, no brood, wingless bees. I make notes of how much thymol in grams a colony get and what date, estimated amount of honey taken in kilograms (it doesn’t matter if I do a wrong estimation with 10-20%, the estimation is for comparison between the colonies).
When the season is over I compile the notes and do stats. Then I make a first probable selection concerning next year’s breeders and which queens I will shift next year. The final selections are made during May and June the coming season. Here the notes are invaluable as I tend to forget some colonies that I discover again when I’ve done the stats.
Before May comes there’s often a hard winter ahead, and a tough spring. And the spring this year was really tough, which changed the preliminary plans a lot. But the winter had been mild.
The spring was very rainy and very chilly. May was the coldest since 1962 in Sweden. The bees had small opportunities to get enough of fresh pollen for their usually quick buildup. And proteins they need desperately for everything for their rapidly expanding colony to function properly.
My bees have a higher varroa pressure than most others maybe, to let the least good colonies reveal themselves. Due to the season the immune system (rather defense system as their defense against diseases are different compared to mammals) among other things didn’t work fully due to lack of proteins. Viruses showed up even if the varroa population wasn’t big.
Maybe I should have stayed cool and not used varroa treatment, I don’t know. Varroa treatment affect the bees negatively as well, but of course not as much as mites. When should I stop treating altogether? And how should I do it? Just stop at any moment or do it in a certain way? I don’t know.
I have used more thymol this season than last. The colonies with high VSH value (VSH 80% the best one, included) and their daughters, most of them, showed wingless bees and many dwindled. I was surprised and disappointed. How was this possible? Can high VSH-value mean less good other traits than VSH? Sometimes such phenomena can appear with strong selection for strengthening a trait, as such selection often is made with the help of inbreeding.
Anyway, when I should decide which queens to breed from I went through the notes and found some interesting colonies I hadn’t payed enough attention to. Those colonies hadn’t needed any treatment for two years. So I made a VSH test. The S241 colony had three mites of 103 pupae checked. Two of the mites had no offspring. The third had one white daughter mite and no male. The H101 had one mite of 110 pupae checked, with no offspring. The neighbor colonies of these two colonies had wingless bees and many were dwindling. Of course I bred from these two good colonies.
Quite soon afterwards the H101 showed a wingless bee. I had split that colony and put the big split with the queen in the same apiary as the “mother” colony. The split with the queen lost most of its field bees that way. Was that a cause?
The S241-split was moved to the home apiary and kept its field bees. The split grew fine and is now a big colony. All the daughters are doing fine and building fine colonies. Both S241 and H101 are colonies that have shifted their queens themselves, whatever impact that may have.
To sum it up. I had to change my breeding plans quite a bit for this year, after this unusually cold and rainy spring. But I think it’s important to make good notes and from them plan for next season. Then when next season comes you know what to change and how.
The VSH 80%-colony was a disappointment and I don’t understand that, yet. There are though a couple of daughters from it that are very interesting. Those havn’t needed any treatment and didn’t show any wingless bees. One has shifted it’s queen. The second are showing a lot of bald brood and spotty brood (cleaned out brood with mites?). The queen is laying well. It seems it’s fighting reinvasion of mites and doing it well. So good that the colony hasn’t grown and hasn’t given any honey.
This season is a disaster. The month of July has been the rainiest I have experienced ever. The honey crop is in average maybe 5-10 kg per hive (including winter losses and failing colonies) to compare with 25-35 kg for several years. And many colonies may need a good sugar feed to survive the coming winter.
But, the season isn’t completely over yet…
Jante verbalize the unwritten law that says that you can not stand up and think that you are better than others in some way. It’s a fictional law of a fictional Danish town in a novel by Aksel Sandemose in the book En flykting korsar sitt spår (A refugee crosses his tracks) (1933). The closest phenomenon in the English-speaking world is what is called The tall poppy syndrome.
2008, varroa and viruses
In spring of 2008, I had been told not to give advice to beekeepers how to combat the varroa mite. This is because I allegedly gave dangerous advice that caused beekeepers to lose their bees. The one who told me this, I had been told treated against Varroa mites only once a year trickling with oxalic acid solution in November and calculated to have 30% winter losses.
Shortly afterwards a desperate beekeeper called me in late April. He actually sought someone else he could not get through to. He asked for advice on how he would do to save his eight colonies from dying as they all showed wingless bees in different amounts. It is considered by some that a bee colony showing wingless bees is doomed to die and can not be saved. So what should I do? I was told not to give advice. But should I tell the person seeking help to let the bees die, or should I give the best advice I could? Deny a needy help, I could not.
– The mildest treatment against the already by viruses weakened bees, are probably in this case Apistan, I said, but you may not want to use that. (The mites had just arrived there and built a population and Apistan had never been used before.)
– No, said the beekeeper from east central Sweden.
– To treat these highly viruses weakened bees with acid is to lead them into death, I said. Oxalic acid could possibly have been used in November, but only really if one earlier in July/August had checked the colonies concerning the amount of mites and treated with something then if needed, so they are not weakened when Oxalic treatment comes in November/December.
– Do you know what Apiguard is? I asked.
– No, he replied, and did not know what Thymol was either.
– The best advice I can give you is to get in touch with Joel Svensson’s Bee Equipements and ask them to help you get Apiguard. Read the packaging how to use it, and apply it as soon as you can. Thymol, I think is mildest for the bees in this case.
In September the same year the beekeeper called med and thanked me for I had helped him. All his bee colonies had survived, even the most affected and vulnerable. He had also made a few splits and wintered 13 colonies.
I asked him how long time Apiguard was in the hives.
– All summer, he replied.
– Huh, I cried, but did you harvest any honey then?
– Oh yeah, was the answer.
– But didn’t the honey taste thymol, I asked.
– No, he replied.
Hmm, could it be possible? Maybe yes, maybe no. Well, you should not and need not to use Apiguard as this beekeeper did. But the most positive thing with this beekeeper was that the colonies recovered and lived. And the honey was safe to eat whether it tasted thymol or not. It was probably mostly this beekeeper and his family who ate the honey that year I believe. He certainly hadn’t a bumper crop.
The bees pollinated and did what they should. And the beekeeper was happy.
The second Sunday in March the temperature, wind and sun, together with filled intestines of the bees that had produced the heat for the winter cluster took these bees out to meet the sun. The main cleansing flight took place. What a relief!
Most often in Sweden you reach well into March before the main cleansing flight takes place. Now the colony has been brooding for some time, and this accelerates now. If the colonies started to make brood too early, for example due to a warm spell in January, or if you have Italians that have a hard times taking a break in brooding, this last winter was hard at them as winter never really came until February for two weeks. Those colonies have produced many Varroa and filled their intestines early because they have used a lot of food. The immune system is thus weak. Virus, Nosema and chemical residues contribute to the risk of defecating inside the hive, if there are bees left there. Many may already have left just flying out away from the hive (due to virus) leaving it sometimes empty of bees.
This winter should have been easy for the bees due to its mildness. But for many beekeepers that have trusted oxalic acid in late autumn and drone brood cutting in beginning of season (and just that) to fight the mite, this winter has been a bad experience. For a couple of years this concept may have worked okey. And the beekeepers, perhaps beginners, have thought they are safe.
But last year the longer brood season together with no or little checking of the mite population in July/August (mite population should not be too high then when the winter bees are produced), the mite population was too high when oxalic acid treatment came in October. The weakened bees then were still more weakened by the acid and overwintering became still harder. And it became even harder as the bees still had brood when the oxalic were used. Most mites were in that brood (that of course had well developed virus population by now) and escaped the oxalic. So it’s easy to explain the winter losses of such hives.
Now a beekeeper named Bengt Haglund just north of Stockholm have used thymol gel (Apiguard) with 25 grams of thymol in the gel in one small tray in spring. Upside down directly on the top bars, just above the brood. Next treatment was directly after late summer harvest. Another tray of Apiguard with the opening upward this time, between the two brood boxes. Winterlosses for five years in average 1 % for Bengt.
My goal is treatment free. I’m close. To get there I have chosen to use small cells, breed for resistance and use good quality natural food as much as possible. On my way to this goal I made the conclusion that I was about to loose almost all my colonies when the Varroa arrived. Therefore I treated, reluctantly, and lost “only” 50 %. The only season I have lost that much, in 2008-09.
So I used Thymol. But I don’t use anything until I see wingless bees. The virus causing it is the most common associated with Varroa mites. And I use as little as possible. I’ve found a piece of dishcloth with 4 grams of soaked in thymol is enough to start with, on top of the top bars close to the brood. Every ten days another piece as long as I see crippled wings. Strong hives might get two pieces at a time. Most hives get it in spring and later just after harvest. If there is some smelling left in the boxes when I harvest, it stays in the wax actually, and in the woodenware. The honey does not get any extra flavor (if it should it’s not unhealthy at all). Thymol residues are finally ventilated away.
Yes, Thymol kills microbes. But sometimes it’s better to have dead microbes and live bees, than dead bees and with them dead microbes. And Thymol is much less dangerous for me than oxalic acid – when making the oxalic solution, when handling it, when handling eventual fumigation and when handling equipment with crystals when cleaning up dead colonies.
But again, the goal is treatment free. And I’m almost there. Last year many colonies didn’t need any Thymol. Many got only 4 grams. Another lot 8 grams, and 12, and 16. A few more, and up to 40 grams at the most. Those that got 16 and more will have their queens shifted this year.
Winter losses for me up till now is about 5 %. Still some more % will not make it until May I’m sure.
Most colonies look very fine. And it seems I have several fine breeders to use. I’m happy the investment in breeding for resistance pays.
It’s been a very busy time for some time now. From about August 5 to August 25 all supers above queen excluder are harvested and honey extracted, the third removal for the season.
Those colonies showing wingless bees on the hardboard in front of the entrance have got one piece (about 4 grams) with thymol. On the next round those colonies in need of reducing the space for winter have gotten rid of the lowest shallow box, or/and outer combs taken out and insulation dummy frames instead.
The smaller cluster the more insulation. Normal strong colonies no insulation. During the same round the weights of the colonies are estimated, and then follows estimation of how much feeding with sucrose solution is needed to take the colonies to the first good flow next year (not just through winter).
Topfeeders are put on and feeding done through a couple of weeks. Feeders are opened to let the bees clean them for me.
Then they are taken home for storage. Another round to check the strenght and eventual more thymol and more reducing of the space. In both cases just a few colonies.
Yesterday I was done. Relaxing for a few days. Now is the time to go through the notes and summarize the season.