„Like senator Cato, I will repeat: To overcome the varroa problem there is no other solution than stopping treatments. How many years will it take, until we understand this simple truth?“
Lunden is struggling for 12 years to get resistant bees. He is working with normal sized bees. If I read his report I am very glad to have followed the experience of Ed&Dee Lusby with small cell bees in our beeyards. Very often he seamed to be lost in his battle. Ed&Dee Lusby give us a complete treatment free beekeeping system with 30 years of experience, what is unique worldwide. I copied this system for 12 years now with over 300 hives and I can say that it works.
You can see in his report how incredible grueling is a fight against Varroa mites without guidance. But all respect to Lundens work.
Below you can see is the experience of -> Lunden, Finland.
Varroaresistenzzucht in der Lunden Buckfast Imkerei, Finnland
„Wie Senator Cato schön sagte: Um das Varroaproblem zu lösen, gibt es keine andere Möglichkeit, als mit den Behandlungen aufzuhören. Wieviele Jahre wird es dauern bis wir diese einfache Wahrheit verstehen werden?“
Lunden kämpft nun seit 12 Jahren für resistente Bienlen und arbeitet mit normaler Zellgröße. Wenn ich seinen Bericht so durchlese, bin ich absolut froh den Erfahrungen von Ed&Dee Lusby mit kleinzelligen Bienen gefolgt zu sein und diese an unseren Bienenständen umgesetzt zu haben. Ed&Dee Lusby geben uns ein komplettes, behandlungsfreies Imkersystem an die Hand, das auf 30 Jahre Erfahrung zurückgreifen kann, was weltweit einzigartig ist. Ich kopiere dieses System von Ed&Dee Lusby nun seit 12 Jahren und kann sagen daß es funktioniert.
Man kann sehen wie unglaublich zermürbend so ein Kampf gegen die Varroamilben ist ohne eine handfeste Anleitung zu haben. Aber alle Hochachtung an Lunden.
Weiter unten ist die -> Erfahrung von Lunden, Finnland beschrieben.
Cria de resistencia a la Varroa en el apiario Buckfast de Lunden, Finlandia
„Como senador Catón dijo y lo voy a repetir: Para superar el problema de la Varroa no hay otra solución que detener los tratamientos ¿Cuántos años tardará hasta que entendamos esta simple verdad?“
Lunden está luchando hace 12 años para obtener abejas resistentes. Él está trabajando con las abejas de tamaño normal. Cuando leo su informe estoy muy contento de haber seguido la experiencia de Ed & Dee Lusby con las abejas de celdillas pequeñas en nuestros apiarios. Ed & Dee Lusby nos dan un sistema completo de apicultura sin tratamientos con 30 años de experiencia, lo que es único en todo el mundo. He copiado este sistema desde hace 12 años con más de 300 colmenas y puedo decir que funciona.
Aqui puede ver lo increíblemente agotador que una lucha contra el ácaro Varroa es sin tener un manual práctico. Pero todo el respeto a Lunden.
An updated summary
The first Varroa was found in September 1996, a great chock, that turned into passion.
Finding Varroa explained the troubles, which these first-hit places had had in the previous years. The treatment of Varroa was done by formic-acid from the hive bottom in the first years. The acid was impregnated into soft tissue on a plate. Lucky enough, the difference of the Varroa numbers dropping into these plates was the thing that woke my curiosity.
By 1999 Varroa had spread on every bee yard.
Beginning of the breeding program
A two way breeding program was started 2001.
Part one: The treatment of Varroa was changed into once-a-year oxalic-acid dropping in late October, and the amount of treatment was to be diminished each year by 5 ml. Year 2001 38 ml was given to each hive, 2005 it was down to 18 ml. No other treatment was given even it was needed. The oxalic-acid dropping is very effective, about 95%, when given on the bees in broodless period. It’s a 3% sugar solution: 100 ml water, 100g of sugar and 7,5 g oxalic-acid.
Because, in the beginning the mites were not evenly divided between the hives and the bee yards. Absolute evenness is very hard to achieve without package bees. Because of this I thought that stopping treatments totally at once would give me wrong results. I was not sure, that the right hives would survive. When the treatments were little by little diminished, I gave Nature some time to adjust. And besides, with treatments I got very easily valuable information about the amount of mites. (Of course mites could be counted from bee samples, but I considered it to be a bit laborious.)
Part two: One bee yard with 70 nucleus hives with 6 shallow frames each was established in July 2001, and these so called “mini-hives” are not treated at all. By now a lot has happened in these hives during the years, but it has been a totally closed system: no bees or brood has been into or out of this yard. The mini-hives were later 12 shallow frames, because of the wintering troubles of the 6-frame nucs. (In Finland the winter of bees lasts for 6 months and there can be temperatures down to -35 and a period over 10 days with -25 Celsius.) Now the mini hives are sc. Mini-Plus hives.
In 2001 I got the first Primorsky queens from Josef Koller in Germany. Primorsky -bees originate from the Far-East area in Russia near Vladivostok, and they were taken to USA by prof. Rinderer. From USA there was export to Germany and many European breeders started working with these bees. They vary in appearance, from mixed orange to grey, Carniolan like bees. My main stock is Buckfast.
The program has worked surprisingly well so far. The survivors of the mini-hives have been used as drone-mothers in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The survivor-genes from the mini-hives have been spread into the 150 normal honey producing hives. In october 2004 the oxalic –acid treatment dropped 10 to 7200 mites from one hive, in the 2005 autumn from 7 to 1500. Is this progress? I don’t know.
The number of mites dropped with treatments 2005 was from 7 to 1500, but the efficiency of the treatment is not known. I have some idea, that with strong hives the effect of 18 ml/hive might be under 50%. There is also some evidence of other changes: Bees may have changed a bit more aggressive. There are also hives, which are not gathering nectar as well as you would expect from their strength. Has the selection taken its toll?
There are still 4 years to go until the treatment is totally over. I’m optimistic, that this time is enough. New tested bee material, such as the SMR bees, would be very helpful. Import from the USA is however forbidden. On the other hand this kind of work must be carried out with various bees in various places on Earth to keep the genetic diversity as large as possible.
The situation of the mini-hives got dramatically worse in July 2005. Viruses, which tend to follow Varroa with waves, made a new hit. Now there are only two nucs, which might, with some luck, be alive next spring. If they all die, a new experiment will be set up. Of course there are some sisters of these last two survivors in the normal hives; they are the second best choice to be my breeders in 2006.
The information of the breeders has been published in the Internet: www.buckfast.de -> Links -> Pedigree-Archive -> Juhani Lunden
http://perso.fundp.ac.be/~jvandyck/homage/elver/pedgr/ped_JL_2010.html (revision of the original article)
Swarming has been reported as the worst negative thing in Primorsky, but I can’t agree. We have had only one Primorsky mother, whose daughters swarmed quite a lot (R39, Pedigree 2003). From my point of view minor susceptibility to chalkbrood and AFB(=American Foul Brood) are the most negative things about Primorsky. The gentleness is easy to breed back after we have concurred Varroa.
Matings are done with two isolation apiaries. Isolation apiaries are tested to be very sure: mating hives are taken to these places without drones, there are no laying queens in 3-4 weeks. There will be more instrumental insemination in the coming years. This is because the risks are getting bigger: one wrong choice, one drone-line that is not working as expected, would be a big hit back.
There is some new bee-material, which has been tested in the recent years: EA68 is a queen originating from Colombia, South –America. R113 is a new Primorsky queen, mated with Elgon –drones. The Elgon is a Buckfast line, which has its origins in the African bees Monticola and Sahariensis mixed with Buckfast.
(Some revisions made 3.4.2010)
As I feared, all the mini-hives of the original experiment from 2001 were dead. The good news is, that bees seem to have wintered very well in the normal hives, only 2% losses. The one experimental Mini-Plus –hive survived the very long winter too. This makes it easier to start a new experiment. Hopefully the mites have wintered well too.
The “Reduced treatment program” is starting to take its toll. It seems clear, that the 18 ml oxalic acid treatment late October 2005 was working just as ineffectively as planned. Today about 3% of the normal honey producing hives are dying because of varroa.
One bee yard is left untreated, the rest will get 13 ml of 3% oxalic acid sugar solution. With this I will get valuable information of the amount of mites of the various sister groups. The mini-hive experiment is now history, all hives (except 3 Mini-Plus hives) are wintering in 24 shallow Dadant -frames (140x448mm).
The treatment with 18 ml oxalic acid was not enough for the very strong hives of the autumn 2005! The efficiency was probably somewhere between 50 and 80%. During the summer 2006 this was obvious: if the acid treatment dropped over 500 mites in the autumn 2005, most of them did not survive the summer 2006.
Let’s take an example: There is a hive from which it was dropped 500 mites in the autumn 2005. If the effect of the treatment (18ml) was 50%, then there would be 500 mites left in the hive. From these 500, there would be left about 250 mites in the spring (Finnish research about the winter losses of mites). In July these 250 mites could have multiplied to about 2000 mites. Is this the lower limit where you can see visually troubles in the hive?
When almost all hives, from which 500 or more mites was dropped, died during the summer, I presume that the mean efficiency of the treatment was nearer 50% than 80!
The treatment of 2006 was done with 13 ml oxalic acid sugar solution in the 7.- 8. November. So the treatment was reduced again, as planned, down with 5 ml and almost 30%.
The hives were however not as strong as in 2005. So my assumption is that the efficiency could be around the same, 50%.
Now I was looking for hives, from which it would drop less than quarter of the 2005 mite count. Why? Let’s take an example: There is a hive from which it was dropped 200 mites 2005. With the assumption of 50% efficiency, there would be left 200 mites in the hive, from which about 100 left in the spring. If from this hive it is dropped 50 mites (50 left), the population growth of Varroa would be zero.
We actually did find some hives, where the number of mites had dropped even 90% or more! This means that there would be no growth of mite population during the summer 2006. And it was even more exciting to find pupae drawn out of the cells in the hive bottom of one of these particular hives.
There was also one line (=group of sisters) in which almost all queens showed ability to drop the mite count lower than in the previous autumn. For a breeder this information is very important, because when something like this happens within the whole line, it is a pretty sure sign, that hereditary factors are involved.
The spring inspections have been done, and some bad news have to be told.
There total winter losses are 20% at the moment, when the strongly weakened hives are counted. Plus that, it seems clear, that even more hives are suffering from Varroa, because they are angry and not building up like they should.
Luckily the line, which was planned to be the droneline 2007, is going strong.
There seems to be a connection between the dropped mites and the fitness of the hive, but there are also many heavily infested hives, which are perfectly normal and looking good. It has been clear to me for several years, that in order to breed a bee, which is Varroa resistant, the ability to withstand great numbers of mites is evenly important. This is because, for the average commercial beekeeper, the shortage of time makes it impossible to know all the time, how heavy the infestation is in each hive.
I have now seen the first hives, which are throwing wingless or otherwise disabled bees out. There is typically about 100 bees crawling in front of the hive, some seem to bee healthy (are they the “cleaners”?) but very many of them have distorted wings or very little wings at all.
On the other hand some hives seem to be making small miracles: in May there were mites crawling in the backs of the bees on comb and these hives were typically very angry and restless. Now some of them have somehow overcome the load of mites and they are catching up other hives in development.
I have also seen for the first time bees uncapping numerous cells on the same comb, which have very young, just capped larvae. Earlier the uncapped larvae have been older, just prior hatching (brood with dark eyes). It seems to me, that this is progress: bees have to react as soon as possible to Varroa.
First collapse of a whole yard has occurred. The hives are not doing well, partly because there has been 164 mm rain in the last 24 days. Now the question in my mind is: will there be enough bees to make nucs? About 40 hives are lost, 40 nucs should be done.
Some hives are showing the ability to open very young (capped) pupa.
Terrible summer! Honey crop was well under normal, because of too much rain in July. One third (33%) of the hives died during the summer because of Varroa infestations. Only a very small amount of nucs were made because of the endless rain and general weakness of hives.
Three whole bee yards have collapsed and all yards have at least one collapsed hive. So the pressure of mites is pretty much equal everywhere.
Some miracles have occurred, too. Changing the queen seems to be astonishingly refreshing to the bees! The change in the general behaviour of my bees is clear, too: If you look at them on the combs or in the entrance, they seem to be alert and move themselves and their wings more than my bees say 5 years ago. They are not necessary angry, but I have to admit, that I’m using gloves every now and then, which was not the case before Primorski -crossings.
Some Carnica -hives are doing well, they certainly are tough bees! Has this something to do with their ability to withstand brood diseases? I took some grafts of one of the Carnica -hives and crossed them with my drone line in Haukkamaa -isolation apiary. This Carnica material, which is originally German, is making quite a lot of brood. Sometimes this type of hives (with big brood areas) look very nice for a very long time, until total and sudden collapse. Especially this is true with some F1 –crossings. But in this situation I have to be quite open-minded: the genes for the varroatolerance are hidden, and you have to look everywhere. These Carnica bees have lots of heterosis in them. The heterosis –effect may not last forever, but it surely helps you when your bees are dying!
One result of my tests: 28 ml of 3% oxalic acid sugar solution is the amount for an avarage hive needed for a 90% effeciency.
2003 28 ml (dropped about 100 mites)
2004 23 ml (dropped about 100 mites, so the mite population had not grown at all in one years time)
2005 18 ml (dropped about 300 mites, so the efficiency of 23 ml was not enough)
2006 13 ml (efficiency somewhat over 50%) some hives were lost in summer
The treatment for 2007 will be 8 ml. 33% of the hives lost
16.11.2006 I wrote:
We actually did find some hives, where the number of mites had dropped even 90% or more!
Now I have to tell, that in all these cases, the hives had changed their queens. So this was a warning for me: do not make hasty conclusions. As Brother Adam said: “In our breeding program, there is absolutely no place for chance” There is a huge amount of wisdom in these words.
Situation has gone worse; about 20 hives were carried home during the autumn 2007, dead or half dead. Up to 50 % winter losses in spring 2008 are quite possible. Big questions at the moment are: Are there enough survivors to make up the losses? Are the survivors able to build up in spring? The efficiency of the 8 ml treatment was studied by bee samples, and it turned out to be, at least in some hives, well under 50%. In some hives there are still about 1000 mites wintering with the bees.
Calculations from the data of the years 2003-2007 shows that the breeding work has gone forward: Varroa is able to multiply with the factor 5, in one year’s time. Normal factor in Finland is 10, that is: 10 mites in spring will be 100 mites in the next spring. Please note: roughly about half of the Varroa population dies during the harsh Finnish winter. Of course these are average figures, and there are hives which are worse or better.
It was a surprise, that the hives which died during the spring and summer 2007, had in average the same number of mites in autumn 2006 as did the survivors. This can tell two things: either the efficiency of the 13 ml treatment in 2006 was very variable or/and there are very obvious genetic differences (variation) among the hives.
Anyway, more variation is needed. And for the coming summer this means, that we will most probably see free mating in all hives.
Winter losses are about 40% at this moment.
All pure Carniolan hives are dead. It seems that they managed to fool me: in the autumn there were only small signs of some Carniolan hives getting weaker.
This has happed earlier too. Some hives seem to ignore the presence of mites. They breed like nothing special is going on. Then the collapse comes suddenly and surprises the beekeeper.
The losses are only somewhat smaller in the treated hives (8ml of oxalic acid, efficiency under 50%) than in the untreated Mini-Plus hives, which is not surprising. When the efficiency of the treatment is under 50% and some hives still had about 1000 mites after treatment, the losses cannot be avoided.
All hives have been cut into nucleus hive: If the hive was a 3 story hive, I made 3 nucs of it, if it was a 4 story hive, then it was made into 4 equally strong units. All hives were first carried to a different location, to help to equalise the distribution of foraging bees. All nucs got the same amount of brood, about 4-5 fames each.
Most of the nucs got a ripe queen cell: only the best breeder queens were saved and these breeder were gathered to their own yards.
This operation was made to make up the hive losses. The total losses were about 70% in one year(summer+winter). It also gives the bees a needed brake in brood rearing; Varroa is now much smaller thread to the bees’ wellbeing. (added 28.10.2011: Normally there is a laying queen in my hives all year round. She can lay eggs as much as she wants.)
The queens will be mated freely in my area. It is well dominated with our own drones. All hives have unlimited possibility to raise drones. Free mating in 2008 will insure a maximal genetic diversity in the stock.
This is a huge change in my beekeeping: For the last 13 years, in all my hives, I have had queens, which were mated in isolation apiaries or were inseminated. As a general rule free mated queens have not been tolerated: they were changed immediately. The matings in these isolation apiaries have been sk. “sistermatings” in most cases during 1995-2007. The queens in drone hives have been sisters.
Matings got place very rapidly and most of the hives have already capped brood! The broodless time was less than a week. Is it enough?
22 litres of winter sugar solution was given between10.8.- 5.9. Before the last portion was given, all hives were weighed and the amount of sugar was regulated according to hive weight. Hive should weigh about 50kg.
Most of the hives seem to be in good condition, however there is in average one collapsed hive in each yard. This is near the optimum: mite pressure is high, but most of the hives seem to cope. However, there can be surprises before spring. Summer was very rainy and cold and this can also have an effect.
There are occasional wingless bees in the hive entrance, sometimes pupae. Some hives are getting stronger quite slowly, but this can be a trait of the stock.
The hive weights are about 40-45kg in average. Normally they should be about 50kg. This is a bit alerting, but there is many factors affecting: Bees were fed 3-4 liters less than last autumn, there is also maybe a little less honey in the hives, there is much less pollen in the hives and there are much more new combs in the hives than last year. Lack of pollen also affects the weight of individual bees.
As I reported in 22.9.2008 there are collapsed hives all around my bee yards. However, I now noticed, that in Ruovesi, where I’m nearly the only beekeeper in my area, the most severe situations are in the two remotest bee yards, south and north. Is this a coincidence? Could it bee a sign of lack of drones in there yards, or that the matings took place mostly with drones of unknown neighbouring origin?
The isolation mating apiaries will be in use 2009, but there is still the question, whether I should use one drone line or a “mix”? Spring will hopefully bring the answer.
My last treatment against Varroa was made, according to the plan, with 3 ml of oxalic acid sugar solution. This amount is so small, that it is merely just like taking a sample of the bees. I have made some experiments and come to the conclusion, that 3 ml of oxalic acid is divided among about 1500 bees. So 3ml OA can kill about one tenth of the mites in the hive ( if the winter cluster is 15000 bees).
The infestation rates were between 1,5 – 25%. The average was about 6 %, which is little less than last year. At this point I estimate the winter losses to be about 20%.
It was interesting to notice, that when my opinion of the optimum loss of bees is about 30% annually, the Purvis Brothers in the USA say the optimum is about 50%! In America everything is big…
Wintering is going on as normal, I hope. To be honest, I haven’t a clue. One very good way to measure this is weight: if the food consumption is more that 2 kg during the winter months (October-March), something is badly wrong.
Overwintering went as expected: the total loss was about 20% of the hives. In this number I include the strongly weakened hives. The mouse guards were removed 31.3. and 1.4., a free passage for the cleansing flight was ensured. Some hives got one or two extra frames of feed, full and clean frames from the dead hives are used for this purpose.
It was interesting to notice the difference in the behaviour of bees at this moment. Some hives were more actively moving around and some behaved nearly as dead: you really had to look twice to be sure that the bees were actually alive. The free mating of the young queens last year, which was exceptional, will probably bring along some other surprises as the year goes on. More variation will always bring more surprises, good and bad.
The total winter losses 2008-2009 are 25%, and this figure contains all the week hives which were united to one bigger ones. During this experiment all hives must be treated equally. Therefore I cannot unite a colony to the colony next in line, I have to take the week ones home.
The infestation rate of the living colonies is now about 2-3%, the dead hives had about 7% infestation rate in the autumn. On average, counted from all hives, the bees do not manage an infestation rate above 5%. This result is a conclusion of the winter losses in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.
If the mite infestation levels are going to be more than double after the summer (compared to the situation in last autumn), there is a good change, that I will not be a beekeeper anymore in the year 2010.
The situation has gone a little worse during the month and a half since I last wrote.
One of the last year’s breeders (109), which daughters are among the best ones at the moment, collapsed in two weeks time in the middle of June. This was totally unexpected, because the last time when I made notes about it(109) I wrote: “ 109 (and 147) are way above other hives in this yard.”
At this date, there are in average one hive in each yard, which is not getting any stronger or is getting weaker. The rest are very strong.
In a way the situation is near optimal: the hot weather (29 C today!) makes the flowering earlier and faster, so there will be lots of time to make nucs after the main honey flow. The nucs need to be done in the second half of July.
One minor setback was that Kurjenkylä mating station cannot be used this year. Other beekeeper has brought 2 hives nearby!
Unusually many dronelayers have been found. Other beekeepers have reported the same, so the reason is not mites, but the rainy weather in 2008.
biting of the bees has increased clearly, they land on you hand and pull your hair
the virus tolerance of the bees is an important trait and genetically dependent (2007 I introduced one Italian queen, 3 weeks later there came out wingless bees)
strange mid-summer angriness has been a phenomena over the last 3-4 years, this year the bees came nearly impossible to manage in early July, by August they calmed down significantly
guarding in the entrances has increased, queen leg problems have increased too?
The nucs could be made as planned. At this point its not clear how many of them will make it, but I’m happy to announce that we are among the first beekeepers on Earth, who have stopped treatments (and done this with normal sized cells(5,3mm) and without Africanized bees and the queens lay eggs during the hole summer in our hives).
The 2008 freely mated queens have been left in their hives, if their hives are looking all right.
Inseminations don’t work properly with the small European mating hive Apidea. This is maybe because the temperature is not high enough.
American foulbrood has been found the usual amount, 2-3 hives. Treatment: shaking to foundation.
50 queens were sent to various beekeepers in Finland, Germany, Austria and Luxembourg. They are all put into hives, which are not treated.
The situations on our hives did not markedly change during the late autumn.
The infestation rate of dead bees (taken from 7 hive bottoms) was between 3 and 27%, the average was about 11%. This is a bit alarming, but hopefully these dead bees have more mites than the bees remaining in the cluster.
The winter losses are 20,8 % at the moment. A bit surprising is that in Orivesi and Juupajoki regions, the losses are over 50%, but in Ruovesi (50km north) just above 15%! Huge difference! Both areas have the same bees, same hives and same things done at the same time. Are there so much more other beekeepers bees in the neighbourhoods in Orivesi and Juupajoki, which could make the difference?
There are also quite a lot of weaker hives (15%), some of them will dye, but some will hopefully be all right.
One or two possible drone lines have to bee further checked in the spring.
One thing has come clear: Making nucs does not save your bees. It will give them more time, but it will not save them.
Last summer I had one Carnica –Buckfast crossing (F1), which was doing quite well for a long time. Then there seemed to be some kind of troubles coming, so I divided the whole hive into 3 equal size parts the end of July. The idea was that the new queens would give new power and the mites are also divided. This idea did not work: they are all dead now.
Making nucs will help the bees against Varroa, but how much? Lets make some calculations: Let’s assume that there are 100 mites in April and that they multiply 4 times in one summer. There will be 200 mites in July (3 months breeding time for Varroa) and 400 mites in October. If we split the brood in half in July, we will end up with 100 mites in the nuc and 100 mites in the mother colony. They will both have 200 mites in October. And if the winter kills 50% of the mites, in next spring the situation has remained the same: 100 mites in all colonies.
The winter may have numerous effects, too. It just may be that the long winter in Finland favours bees which “fly to their death”, if they have mite/mites attached to them. It could be one trait among others. I have some observations, that there is much less mites in the bees in spring, than on the hive bottoms during the previous autumn/early winter.
Only about 30% of the hives performed normally and made a good honey crop.
Once again the hives were extremely angry in the beginning of summer (one month earlier than last year!?). All hives were almost impossible to handle even with good protective clothing, but after that short period of time they are behaving normally. The interesting thing here is that last autumn I sent queens to 8 beekeepers for a test. These hives were not treated either, but the mite levels were very, very low. These beekeepers have not seen anything unusual; the hives are “behaving absolutely normally”. What is causing this period of madness? One hypothesis is that the hives react to the mites and become angry. Then they throw out the mites and calm down.
Nucs were made from every hive as much as possible, but still there will be less hives to overwinter than last autumn. This is a huge disappointment.
There are several reasons why this breeding for varroa resistance is so difficult.
The traits, which cause resistance, are not known. This fact makes survival tests the only (and hard) way to make progress.
The genes, which cause resistance, may be recessive. There has to be survival genes both from mother and father side to make the colony resistant.
There are probably very many genes which are needed to make a colony resistant.
The collapsing hives die so quickly, that in practise there is not enough time to react. In our bee yards the collapsing hives are standing in their normal places until the very end. We carry home only empty boxes. This is why the mite pressure to the remaining hives is huge, especially when most of the hives are dying. Still in many cases there are hives which stay alive as the only hive in the yard.
The new queens are always reared from old mothers and every measure is taken to prevent the loss of genetic variation. This means, that new queens are sometimes made “just in case there is something good in this mother”.
Hives are now put on “winter-mode”. This means there is a paper protecting from winds and mouse guards in the entrances (In my hives there are two entrances, one to the front and another to the rear). There was on average little more than one collapsing hive on each yard. Collapsing hive means a hive with couple hundred or thousand bees. These hives have lost most of there bees during the autumn, because in August they were looking good when winterfeeding was started.
Looking back, it seems now, that the minimum honey crop was harvested in 2008. Honey crop is eventually the only measure of success in beekeeping. There is no point counting mites or looking for ability to clean cells. If you only get a good honey crop, it’s all that matters.
The first test results came from MTT, The Finnish Agricultural Research Center. There are 4 test hives left (10 originally) in their experiment, and the result was, that in two hives the mites had not reproduced in one years time, and in the other two the mites had 10 –folded in one year. Oddly, the good hives were in a yard with only 5 hives, and the bad hives were in a yard with more than 10 hives. It comes more peculiar, when the mother lines are considered: the good hives were daughters of 85 and 25. The bad ones were daughters of 147 and 25. But 147 and 85 are sisters, so the genetic composition in the two yards is almost identical.
The winter losses were staggering, almost 70%! It is quite clear, that I won’t be producing much honey this year. Hopefully I will be able to get some 50 new queens into new nucs for further testing. I’m happy if I’m able to get over 100 hives for the winter.
Situation is at the moment very critical.
I have totally forgotten to tell about the news from Europe: Paul Jungels in Luxembourg got 8 test-queens 2009. They were of two different lines, 25 and 85. The 25 daughters were all dead spring 2010, but about the 85 –line Paul writes in his Pedigree that “These queens do not need any varroa treatment”
And to be sure: Jürgen Brausse from Germany got 6 test-queens. He writes me, that one of the daughters of 85 (he got 2) is the best and surviving. Both Jürgen and Paul are about the best bee breeders in the whole Europe that I know.
But back to business!
For some reason the bees have been behaving very well the whole summer. There has been no aggressiveness like there has been in the previous years. This aggressiveness quite probably relates to the number of mites in the hive, because the Finnish test-beekeepers do not report anything special.
Working with the bees in the beautiful Finnish summer has been a pleasure. There has been only two hives infected with AFB and most of the surviving hives are getting stronger and making honey. This is a bit surprising, because I tested all the possible breeder hives (hives that got a queen born in 2009) and the result was that there was in average about 17 mites in 300 bees. They had 6% infestation rate! I used the Marla Spivak dust-sugar method, and the bees were taken from the first frame with capped brood in May. Would there be more mites on this particular frame than in the hive in general?
Big winter losses were partly because there were unusually many drone-layers. Maybe 5-6 times more than normally. The shortage of good quality drones in my mating yards 2009 and 2010 is the obvious reason. High Varroa infestation in the drone-hives is needed for the fast development in breeding, but downside of this are the drone-layers.
My bees used to develop much faster. I remember thinking, in the good old days, that it took just a little more than 3 weeks from the willow blooming until there was a need for new boxes in the best hives. This year it took almost 6 weeks. Yesterday (15. of July!) I opened two hives for the first time this summer: They had survived the winter. I could tell from the weight that they had enough food. I opened them just to see if the queens needed to be replaced, but no, the bees seemed to be happy with their young queens. Surely slow bees.
Today I checked the mite infestation levels in my breeder hives. The result was surely a BIG surprise: in only one hive the infestation rate was higher now compared to what it was in mid May. The rest had fewer mites now compared to what they had in mid May, in some of them the infestation rate had dropped to one tenth! The hive which had more mites was a hive which survived in a yard were other hives had died, but the queen was raised by the bees from their previous queen and it was free-mated in an area which is in the edge of my beekeeping area. This queen was “a joker”, a wild card, a thoroughly considered risk, I took crafts from it just to have some comparison and some new variation.
The tests were made just the same way: 100 ml bees were taken from the first frame with capped brood. I use two tablespoons of dust sugar. This surely explains why the bees have been so calm (look at my report 16.7.2011).
Nucs have been developing quite ok. I prefer seeing bees which have a bit smaller brood nests; a big brood nest is very often a sign that there is something wrong.
As I had such huge losses last winter, there were lots of good frames full of winter food, so I recycled them back to bees. This way I´ll save some money in the winterfeed.
16.10.2010 I wrote:
“Looking back, it seems now, that the minimum honey crop was harvested in 2008. Honey crop is eventually the only measure of success in beekeeping. There is no point counting mites or looking for ability to clean cells. If you only get a good honey crop, it’s all that matters.”
Unfortunately this was not the case. The honey crop in 2011 was “all time low”. It seems that the observation of Kirk Webster that there will be two major crushes after stopping treatments before the situation is getting better, may be valid.
The bees were sitting very calmly in their winter nests when the mouse guards and wind protecting papers were mounted. They were not particularly big, some quite small ones too, but the calmness was impressive. It’s always a good sign, when bees are sitting nice and quiet in cold weather. The smaller brood nests were also the reason why I could not make as many nucs as planned. I’m overwintering fewer than 100 hives, which is less than the goal (see Update 5.6.2011).
In September there was a contact from Basel University in Switzerland to make cooperation in a study for the genetic background of Varroa resistance. I promised to help. Hopefully they get it financed.
There has been no cleansing flight, but all the hives which I have opened so far are in good condition.
There has been no proper cleansing flight yet. We still have 40 cm snow! The weather has been very cold lately, but before the cold came, I removed the mousegards and checked all hives: winterlosses less than 10%.
I wanted to make this update because I got some new results from one of my test beekeepers in Finland. Toivo Koskinen has been co-operating with me for a long time. I really appreciate his knowledge, skills and scientific attitude. Toivo has got some Primorski from me earlier, and he has one really remote area to make the testing. Now he has tested the 4 test queens from 2009. (It was his idea to put some control hives in the yards. No other testbeekeeper bothered.) All hives had had a full mite treatment 2008 and earlier. The test queens were put to hives after the old queen had been removed. The control hives raised new queens for themselves. This difference in the beginning of the test shows in mite numbers. The test queens hives had 10 times more mites than the control hives in the start of comparison. The mites were monitored from hive bottoms, and it was taken care that no ants were present. If we look at the change in mite infestations from the autumn 2010 to autumn 2011, we come up with the following results:
– the infestation in test queens hives had increased in average from 4,9 mites per day to 8,1 mites per day (= +1,65x)
– the infestation in control hives had increased in average from 0,4 mites per day to 2,9 mites per day(= +6,32x)
– one test hive had to be treated in the fall 2010 because it had too many mites (with treatment dropped many thousands, uncountable)
– as consequence one test queens hive was also treated with oxalic acid (60 mites dropped with treatment)
– Among the test queens hives there was one hive (1/4) in which there was no increase in mite numbers at all.
These results are pretty much what I expected from 2009 queens. It is impossible in less than 10 years’ time to breed from various, unknown components, some of which are recessive, a 100% resistant bee stock. There is simply not enough time for the fixing work. In MTT Research Centres results (update 13.11.2010) there were also some queens, which showed no increase in mite numbers in one year’s time. In this respective the results are equal.
The main honey crop has just begun. The hives are in good condition, some drone layers and superseding hives more than I wanted. Bees are acting calmly and there are no visible signs of varroa, but in drone brood it is easy to find. One exception: The queens from Jürgen Brausse from last summer have in the last few weeks turned aggressive. I have also measured that they might have some higher mite numbers than others. This is somewhat strange because this material is mainly my own. Jürgen sent some queens which were daughters to my queen from 2009. The insemination was done with material where there was some Anatolian blood.
My thoughts have turned to the next step: How to move this material to other beekeepers? It’s going to be tough. If a beekeeper wants to stop treating, the only way is to change resistant queens in all hives. Because it’s quite a demanding and expensive task, very few will do that. Instead they buy one queen and have a look. If they are still treating, it’s ok, but if they stop treating, and for instance breed new queens from the purchased one, it’s going to end up with disaster. The new queens will mate with unsuitable drones and they do not have the wanted qualities.
In this breeding effort it has been hard, because it’s not enough, that you have one quarter of your hives resistant; you will end up losing them all it you are not skilful. If half of your hives are resistant, you have a good chance of surviving for some time, but only if you have control of mating of your new queens.
Epigenetic factors might be one explanation in varroa resistance. Genes turn on as a consequence of mite pressure or other factors. This might also explain why there have been so many disappointments when new queens have been bought with big hopes. If the conditions in the new place have been vastly different, the genes turn off and bees lose their ability to withstand mites.
Last time I wrote, the main crop had just begun from raspberry. It lasted 5 days… This year is going to be the worst honey year in my beekeeping history (36 years), if measured in average crop per hive. However, if we look at the total amount, I´m going to harvest more honey than last year. This is important: Honey crop is the only real measure of the success of resistance breeding.
I have earlier written about how slow my bees are in their development, when compared to earlier years. This year this has become even clearer: It’s nowadays harder to make nucs, because the hives have smaller brood nests and because they need more time to develop. And if the weather is unfavourable, like this year, you have to be careful to get the nucs strong enough for the winter. You remember that the winter lasts here in Finland 6 months. Drone layers are the biggest problem at the moment. Despite difficulties, there are more hives going to winter than last year.
The first Lundén Resistant Queens were delivered to Europe and America.
The hives have been prepared for winter. They are not as strong as they were last year, but even the small ones are sitting very tightly in the cluster. Many of them look like dead. This is always a good sign; the reason for their weakness is not mites or any other disease, but the lack of pollen. The summer and autumn were very rainy, 2-3 times normal amounts of water. Big areas (about10%) of field crops were not harvested, which has not happened for decades.
Drone line for 2013 has been selected. B147 has a lot of unrelated genes with my present main stock. There is a lot of new material, including VSH, for grafting, too. So there are hopes that many new lines will be born next year.
Winter losses were a bit bigger than expected, about 37%, this including drone layers. Spring came slowly, but then it suddenly turned into summer and very hot weather in end of May. Bees have difficulty to keep up with the blooming of flowers. In fact raspberry, the most important honeycrop in our region, has just started!
Infestation rate (mites/ 100 bees) is from 2-7%. (Powder sugar testing)
Breeding for varroa resistance will make the hives smaller and slow down their ability to develop. That why nucs have to be made much earlier. This will have a negative impact on honeycrop, but as they say: you can´t win it all.
The year turned out to be a very peculiar one. Flowers bloomed too fast and the hives were small in the beginning. As a result of this the honey crops are not satisfactory. In our case it was even so bad that the median hive (hive in the middle) produced no honey at all. The best 50% of the hives produced a normal crop for this year.
I have had some fears, that inbreeding is slowly having an impact on our stock. But because the stock has changed its character and is making much smaller hives nowadays, and they all are taking out brood, it’s hard to say, when there is inbreeding in case. There is however one sign, which has made the alarm: this year there has been quite many hives, which have a free mated queen AND they are the best hives on their yards. This has not usually been the case previously.
First twelve years I spent on making the stock resistant to Varroa. I have the feeling that I need at least 12 more years to make it gather the same amount of honey it used to do. I hope I´m wrong.
By the way I got the third report, that this Lundén Resistant -stock withstands mites in another country: Ezequiel Reyes Ordaz, a beekeeper with 600 hives from Mexico, wrote, that some daughters of my queens, even when free mated and not treated, produce more honey than his normal treated stock. The earlier reports of resistance of this stock came from Luxembourg and Italy.
Hives look good and they have no visible symptoms of Varroa. Only 2 hives of one line had some disformed wings in early august, but generally the hives look like they used to look 15 years ago. They are not as big, but big enough.
These wingless bees were daughters of the line 153, which is by half imported material. This is typical: imported bees have not adjusted to the viruses of the new home country. And, this is intersting, more queens were killed by the bees from this same line (153) when putting them into the nucs. This has happened before, too. Bees seem to know which queens are genetically good and which are not. The weak lines have more losses when putting them into new hives.
Many years I have been forced to make the maximum amount of nucs, desperately trying to maintain the number of hives. Now it seems, that its time to change that. All these years I have realized, that making 1 nuc of this hive and 3 nucs of the next one is making a huge error in my results. But I have had to. In summer 2013 one nuc was made of each hive, if it was big enough. This will favor the smaller hives, which are big enough to make a nuc. On the other hand it is making an extra test on the bigger hives, because they lose, in relation, less mites than the smaller ones. I think this change will make my breeding system more presice.
Some surprises did happen over winter. Although we had an exceptionally mild winter, the winter mortality is 17%. In addition to that there are some hives, which for the most part, were weak already in autumn 2013, when I made the last check. I then estimated winterlosses can be up to 20%.
Being a beebreeder I always get some extra losses because of old queens. If I have a three or four year old queen, which has not been used in breeding yet, she will always be overwintered. It is a risk, but surviving my beekeeping methods, makes her a real survivor and a natural death is a thank for that.
After a fairly good spring there has been record cold weather. Snowstorms in June are no big deal in Lapland, but I don´t recall of experiencing one here in Southern Finland before 2014! New unmated queens are sitting in mating nucs waiting for the weather to get better. My stock is developing so slowly nowdays, hives consume less, so I have not been forced to feed my bees, in fact they all have good stores. They simply refuse to die, but unfortunately a big part of them is making unbeliavable slow progress.
Varroa infestation levels were quite high in early June, up to 10%, and bees somewhat angry, but they calmed down in the end of June. Some of them are workable without gloves, some not. Some of them come and start walking on your fingers, which makes it quite tricky to work without gloves, even though they are not stinging.
After several years without any troubles with bears we lost three hives this spring.
One hive is having serious AFB.
Many beekeepers have asked about my work and some of them have called this scientific breeding effort. Noup, I’m only a very stubborn beekeeper, who has decided to stop treatments. That’s all.
This page will be updated regularly, we’ll keep in touch!