I don't understand this dispute, because I don't see how it applies in what we actually DO do with the bees. I'm looking for practical applications. Mike, what do you DO with your bees?
It seems like there's lots of opinions, and opinions about opinions. The sticky just carves out some space for discussion. If it sets high standards, I think we can fudge it, in what we DO, but that doesn't make the standards irrelevant.
And pests and diseases come into the picture. One option is to try chemical treatments. Which seems simple, but they can mess up other, more 'natural' ways for the system to adapt. So for people who don't accept the "easy answers," there are some who say we can and should skip the chemical treatments. That doesn't mean do nothing, right?
Mike, you seem to be saying that if we focus single-mindedly on raising 'fitter' bees, other issues will fall by the wayside. Maybe I've don't understand. But if that's sort of right, can you explain the basic steps involved that take us in that direction? The practical question for me is — How?
I've got three hives. I'm not up for chasing feral bees, if there are any around here. I'm in a Beek Guild that is talking now about improving the level of our stock, generally. So what are the practical steps we can consider?
The point is this: I want to select bees that are good at managing mites, and the only way I'm going to find out which ones fit the bill is to not cramp them and not artificially brood break them.
Doing anything else will ruin the assay system.
If, worse, I systematically split in order to control varroa for them then I've removed the pressure that would tell me which are resistant, and, worse, I've maintained those that are not resistant. They are now free to multiply, spreading around exactly the genes I'm trying to replace in order to raise resistance. There is no difference (in terms of undermining resistance) between that and chemical treating.
That is the most important part.
Take away natural selection, and fail to replace it with a system of human selection that is as effective at ensuring the fittest reproduce in the greatest number, and the result can only be declining health.
Its also necessary to fulful the aims of this forum: "bees [that] cope with disease on their own."
Yes, its 'unnatural'. Anything you do is unnatural, by definition. The important this is to do those things that Nature would be doing anyway, but quicker, and without the waste. (Nature is extraordinarily wasteful)
So yes, raising resistance does mean that, in your words, "other issues will fall by the wayside". It is also the root subject matter of this forum ("bees [that] cope with disease on their own.")
Getting free of treatments - getting to the stage where 'bees can live without our help' therefore involves raising their inbuilt resistance to varroa. This is fairly straightforward in theory, often harder in practice - there are variables that make a lot of difference.
There isn't another way to achieve that goal - or another way to move toward it. Selective propagation is everything - though whether its you the beekeeper doing it, or a bee breeder, or natural selection in a feral population doesn't really matter. A combination of those three is probably best.
But there is no other route. Everything else is just noise.
Mike, how about spending time talking about the experiences you are having right now with your bees and what you're learning from them. Perhaps taking a break from theory and spending time on actual beekeeping, we could all relate better.
A lot of what I've learned so far moves me in a different direction, in the sense that there isn't one hoop to jump through and then everything is fine.Selective propagation is everything - though whether its you the beekeeper doing it, or a bee breeder, or natural selection in a feral population doesn't really matter. A combination of those three is probably best.
- Varroa came, chemical treatments worked for awhile, then they didn't. New chemicals worked, then they didn't.
- Three packages of bees I got all superseded their Queens within weeks, so now I have 50% local genetics. If I choose the best among them (how?), I still lose 1/2 the genetics every new generation.
- Most Queens (in the U.S.) are bred from a handful of mother-Queens. A lot of the local stock got wiped out during this past winter, and "everyone" is getting new packages from the South, again.
I'm not saying you have it wrong, but it seems like we're on a treadmill that we have to keep walking on. (And that's okay.) Lots of things moving and changing. Humans developed breeds of cattle, horses, and chickens over the centuries, even thousands of years, and I think with industrial agriculture we're losing a lot of the diversity within breeds. That model worked while the world was more stable, but I'm asking, is that a model that will get us to a place where we can finally rest?
I think we suffer by comparison with what seems like the Golden Age of beekeeping which we had, according to lore, for maybe 50-60 years in the last century. Mike, I have an idea of what "husbandry" is. (I looked it up.) Is that a quaint idea now, or is it an approach that can get us through the beekeeping troubles we're having nowadays?
Obviously, I didn't look very far, on the topic of "beekeeping husbandry."
I did not realize that in British Beekeeping, it's a big thing, with a General Certificate available to beekeepers who have three years of experience under their belt. And if that's not enough, you can get an Advanced Husbandry Certificate.
The documents that attach to those pages are pretty interesting too. I realize on the one hand that "husbandry" in that context covers the whole gamut, but then I wonder what slice of that approach do you mean when you use the word, Mike?
We can talk about the long history of animal husbandry, but with bees,it wasn't so long ago that beekeepers had to destroy a colony to harvest honey. Swarminess was considered a virtue, because swarming was the way beekeepers made increase. You ignore that history when you attempt to prevent swarms, either natural or artificial.
Ray--1 year, 7 hives, TF
[QUOTE=rhaldridge;1075980]We can talk about the long history of animal husbandry, but with bees,it wasn't so long ago that beekeepers had to destroy a colony to harvest honey.
I don't know the history, but Manley talks about starting his life as a beekeepers by 'driving' bees from skeps, paying sixpence for the resulting 'swarms'.
I'm also making 4-8 hive outstands in what I consider to be worthwhile places. And developing three dedicated mating sites.
The outstands and home hives will be production colonies, which I'll evaluate for breeding stock.
So I'm developing a breeding apiary aiming at producing varroa resistant bees for sale, with a touch of honey production on the side. The goal is that this supplies about a third of my living, taking about a third of my time.
My experience right now is that almost all colonies overwintered through the wettest winter on record (and probably the windiest too) and I understand why the 5 that failed did so. All look good - lots of pollen coming in, only a very slight touch of dwv from a couple of colonies. The older and larger ones remain competitors. One that has always struggled still struggles.
What am I learning? Small late colonies can come through mild wet winters on almost no stores; more comb and stores = faster building (of course); evaluation for selection purpose continues to be a puzzle but I think I've thought about it enough to be happy that I'll make the right sorts of choices. Thriving older hives will be the best evidence of resistance.
I'm sure there's lots more, but that's the sort of stuff that occupies my mind just now.
Mike Bispham: "So yes, raising resistance does mean that, in your words, "other issues will fall by the wayside". ... This is fairly straightforward in theory, often harder in practice - there are variables that make a lot of difference."
A) Access to bees with the right genes
B) Proximity to bees with the wrong genes.
You can look at this from the perspective of 'initial genetics' and 'maintaining genetics'.
Initial Genetics Factor:
If you can get hold of resistant bees, and you can maintain their resistance, you're well placed
If you can't get hold of resistant bees, and have to raise your own its all much harder
If you are near resistant bees, and have good genes flowing in, its easier
If you are near systematically treated bees, then even if you can get hold of good 'uns, you will have to take strong steps to keep them that way. (My position)
The Big Thing you have bear in mind, the underpinning of traditional husbandry, and 'having bees that can cope with disease themsleves' is this:
Populations of living organisms respond to environmental pressures. One of the most important parts of the environment is the predators that are determinedly targeting your energy! There is a constant evolutionary 'arms race' between predator and prey; and each must evolve to stay ahead of/stay with its partner.
Stop that evolution in the host, and the predator starts winning.
Natural selection for the fittest strains takes care of that in nature.
Human selection for the fittest strains does that in traditional husbandry
If neither are happening then the predator will advance. As sure as night follows day, as sure as animals need oxygen: populations have to undergo selection to stay ahead of their predators.
Many people find this too complicated to follow, or too abstract to rely upon. But it is a reality. All organic husbandry always has, and always will, relied on good 'population husbandry'. You have to 'put only best to best' to maintain health. Routinely, systematically. Or else.
So while there may be more than one hoop to jump through, this one is certain, compulsory, in all circumstance, everywhere, always.
Or, you can rely on treatments. Bear in mind that unlike other stock, bees mate openly - so the treatments will feed poor genes back into the breeding pool, making more poor bees. And the predators the treeatment target will develop - adapt, evolve - resistance to the treatments.
Last edited by mike bispham; 03-21-2014 at 04:46 AM.
As to 'husbandry': the uk beekeeper's model is the 'veterinary' approach used by all kinds of husbandry nowadays - but without the 'population husbadry' that underpins health everywhere else.
While the 'veterinary approach' largely works with closed mating systems, with (opem mating) bees its a disaster - the treaments rapidly become addictions.
Its that trap we're trying to get away from here, by having 'bees that can cope with disease on their own'
I try to speak separately about 'individual husbandry' and 'population husbandry'. They are very different things. In 'traditional husbandry' the latter formed the foundation of animal health, and the former was used to help maintain income.
In tradional husbandry all less healthy individuals are strictly kept out of the breeding pool. Sires are the very strongest individuals only - your prize bulls.
This is not for fun: its necessary to remain competitive. The best breeder is the richest farmer. Its about both health and productivity - and recognises that the two are intimately linked.
Amateur beekeeping has never really gone in for strict breeding. It didn't need to - bees were kept healthy enough in the large feral/wild populations, and - well it was only a hobby. Lose the ferals, and the need changes hugely. Get the population addicted to human help and the ferals won't survive anywhere near treating beekeepers. Now its a very different picture. The populations are sick, and the sickness is perpetuated by beekeepers. We're trying to break the grip, the cycle, of treatment - more treatment-addicted bees, by raising bees that can cope with the predators on their own. That requires dumping the veterinary approach (what the UK beekeeper education industry calls 'husbandry') and applying the methods of traditional husbandry.
Last edited by mike bispham; 03-21-2014 at 04:39 AM.
We're talking about raising more resistant stock, locally, but really we're just getting started and most of us are still going for what's easiest — commercial packages. The guy who hauls them up, by the truckload, is a nice guy, long-time beekeeper, well regarded, and I'll sound like a crank if I object too loudly. There's very little local production in place, so what's the use?
So to go back to one thing you said ...
What strong steps can I take? Or is this really a "we" thing?If you are near systematically treated bees, then even if you can get hold of good 'uns, you will have to take strong steps to keep them that way.
Beekeeping - a form of magic that weaves together two elements: wood and bees.
For me, thinking of traditional husbandry, I imagine the Germanic tribes with their cattle, encroaching on the Roman Empire, and then centuries and centuries of local breeding. It doesn't seem like we've got that kind of time now. I realize we have "modern husbandry," developed in the 1700s, which accelerates the process. But that also has changed a lot in the last fifty years, to artificial means with a radical narrowing of the genetic pool for many commercialized species.
Techniques such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer are frequently used today, not only as methods to guarantee that females breed regularly but also to help improve herd genetics. This may be done by transplanting embryos from high-quality females into lower-quality surrogate mothers - freeing up the higher-quality mother to be reimpregnated. This practice vastly increases the number of offspring which may be produced by a small selection of the best quality parent animals. On the one hand, this improves the ability of the animals to convert feed to meat, milk, or fiber more efficiently, and improve the quality of the final product. On the other, it decreases genetic diversity, increasing the severity of disease outbreaks among other risks.
Beekeeping - a form of magic that weaves together two elements: wood and bees.
I'd avoid bringing in any more bees with dubious qualties, try to bring some with known or suspected resistant qualities. And gear up for making increase. You want to make more bees than you need so that you can let them alone and see which ones are better without losing them all. From the better ones make more, and replace the queens in the worst. (We'll talk about evaluating - 'assaying' later)
That's the basics - you have to get your head round your own logistics plan.
Yes, planning to work with others is a great idea. Be open about what you are setting out to do and others may be inspired to join in the effort. Then you can learn from each-other, swap good genetic material, make up each other's losses and so on.
Last edited by mike bispham; 03-21-2014 at 11:43 AM.
Yes, loss of genetic diversity can be a problem. But its one we can largely ignore, because bees mate so widely. Unless you really are dominated by that one flow of constant genetical uniform bees. But in any case you'll be wanting to bring in bred resistant strains, and source ferals, so you'll be improving the local diversity constantly - or at least till you're happy you have a good local strain.
Swarminess was considered a virtue, because swarming was the way beekeepers made increase. You ignore that history when you attempt to prevent swarms, either natural or artificial.
Any way, you could check out what Eva Crane has to say about swarm beekeeping, and also what she says about driven bees. Driving bees was not a particularly reliable way of preserving a colony, because bees were reluctant to leave brood, and without movable frames, it was far more difficult to relocate brood combs.
Ray--1 year, 7 hives, TF
Watch this Mike
44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).