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Bee Breeding in the Field: Part 3

The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 18

Back To Basics

With increasing problems of parasitic mites, secondary diseases, and scavengers within our domesticated honeybee hives causing considerable damage, while today’s controls of antibiotics, chemicals, and essential oils are more and more not effectively working, beekeepers should be asking –How did we manage to get ourselves into this situation on so broad a scale industry wide, not only within our own country, but around our whole global world? This feat, should be no easy accomplishment and yet it seems, as an industry, we have managed to pull it off! WHY?

What ever happened to basic biological beekeeping? How has deviation from thousands of years of beekeeping traditional practice caused it to virtually cease, within the short time span of approximately 100 years? It is a known fact that both honeybees and mites have been on this earth and have co-existed for many millions of years. Parasites cannot survive if they kill their host. Something has evidently gone wrong! Colonies of honeybees do not naturally succumb from Acarapis mite infestations with their accompanying secondary stress diseases, without cause and effect transpiring. Could today’s modern thinking of bigger is better, and negotiated modern bee breeding ideas and practices be the real culprits?

We have gone over honeybee comb size and ramifications, with instructions on how to retrogress colonies back onto a biological system approximating the feral in size. This is a necessary and mandatory step on the long way back to biological beekeeping. This industry cannot survive without being able to breed back and forth within the feral population, to recapture for our bees, lost survival and characteristic traits thrown aside, as our honeybees were artificially mutated bigger in search of “Bigger Golden Honey Crops,” which in the end were not to be found without the extraction from our industry of a huge price, – namely, possible extinction as a beekeeping industry.

Just as too big artificially beyond that designed by nature is wrong, so is too loose with artificial insemination. This is not to say that artificial insemination does not have a place within beekeeping, but that place has gone beyond permissible parameters, when beekeepers believe that they can actually select better for all attributes necessary to the survival of our industry, but end-up with the culmination we see all around us of industry disintegration instead.

If bee breeding as taught today, and bigger is better philosophy would work, beekeepers would not have today’s industry’s problems so devastating on a worldwide basis. Therefore, my husband and I stand on the principle that only retrogression back onto a fully biological system of beekeeping without the in-hive use of chemicals, essential oils, and antibiotics will overcome today’s ever increasing problems of parasitic acarapis mites (no matter what the species), their associated secondary diseases, and internal hive scavengers. That retrogression must be both physical pertaining to (1) the beekeeping equipment used; (2) the way honeybees are bred. We believe that our industry cannot have one without the other. Therefore, just as we have gone over retrogression of combs with accompanying shakedown of honeybees to resituate them and acclimatize them back onto a naturally sized biological system of beekeeping approximating the feral, we will now go over bee breeding. (Note: Bee breeding will be gone over as it relates to commercial levels of colonies. Hobby and Sideline guidelines should still be applicable, though modified in actuality because of fewer colonies.)

The first year of retrogression is extremely hard, for to succeed, the combs mandatorily must be drawn-out properly without blown-out cell patterns. Beekeepers will find that honeybees that cannot draw out comb properly will die or abscond. Most of this will be from acquired disease problems that will not clear up due to the misdrawn comb.

As colony numbers increase making the transition surviving their first critical overwintering and self-requeening by supercedure, beekeepers will find that their mental outlook will change from one of defense to one of offense in working field management strategy. Beekeepers should look at their first 100 hives successfully retrogressed and surviving their first winter as a milestone. Colonies found dead going into or coming out of their first winter by absconding or not overwintering, need to have their combs absorbed as a regular field management practice into surviving colonies still trying to retrogress, to make their retrogression quicker and easier, by having less foundation to draw out. This will give the colonies involved, still trying, an edge on turning critical brood cycles easier. It will also give colonies going into winter a chance to store needed honey and pollen in combs that otherwise would be in short supply.

Bee breeding is not recommended until year four in the field or until the number of colonies successfully retrogressed is approaching a minimum number of 500 colonies. There is reason for this stipulation. Beekeepers must remember that certain principles must be in place (objectives obtained in the field) to enable a successful breeding program to take place.

First, survivability must be obtained and demonstrated over the course of the preceding years of retrogression without the aid (crutch) of purchasing queens from an outside source; or the use of artificial insemination; or hands on grafting for new queens either virgin or mated locally (whether done by self or purchased).

Second, once survivability is gained and held; and the numbers of colonies are increased, variability comes into play as a part of field management. IT IS ONLY THROUGH THE ATTAINMENT OF SUFFICIENT NUMBERS AND VARIABILITY THAT BEE BREEDING BECOMES AN ATTAINABLE REALITY. AT THIS TIME. BEEKEEPERS WISHING TO RETROGRESS THEIR BEES BACK ONTO A NATURAL BIOLOGICAL SYSTEM MUST REMEMBER AND KEEP IN MIND, WHAT PRICE THE COLOR OF THEIR BEES WILL PLAY, AS TO WHETHER THEY WILL SUCCEED OR FAIL, BASED UPON LOCAL AND REGIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR MAINTENANCE OF DESIRED CHARACTERISTICS WHILE MAINTAINING THE ABILITY TO SURVIVE.

FIELD BREEDING BASICS: Honeybees can be controlled by working in harmony with their natural instincts. How honeybees behave, both individually and as a whole colony working-unit, depends upon the field temperatures and the weather conditions. Colony thermodynamics, which means working with nature’s natural temperature rhythms and climate as it relates to honeybees, controls the behavior of the colonies relative to brood-rearing, swarming, honey gathering, wax production, queen rearing, etc., throughout the year. Beekeepers can create an environment for their colonies to build up strong populations for breeding and honey gathering, etc., by working with colony thermodynamics and learning to remove adverse hive conditions through sound field management practices using retrogression back onto a natural biological system of beekeeping.

The queen is the heart of each colony. However, the life of each colony depends upon temperature. In cold weather, the honeybee activity slows-up and finally completely stops each winter. If the winter cold is too severe, the colony may die from cold or starvation. In warm weather, the honeybee activity increases up to a certain point and then colonies may die from heat. It does not take a very high temperature to kill an entire colony.

To manage honeybees successfully means, therefore, controlling their behavior with sound field management on a year-round natural biological program. Honeybees always react in the same way to the same conditions relative to temperature and climate. If beekeepers learn to understand how these conditions work relative to honeybees, then they can anticipate and control their behaviors within the framework of a sound year-round natural biological management program.

Queen breeding should rank as the most important activity in a sound program of biological honeybee management without the use of chemicals, antibiotics, and essential oils upon honeybees in the field. Queen breeding is simply an increase in the number of queens a beekeeper manages, thus increasing colony numbers. Yet, it is not merely a question of reproduction for numbers only. Breeding implies an improvement of the honeybee’s performance capabilities by the augmentation of the best attributes and the elimination of negative attributes, the final result being the production of colonies which are uniform in all aspects and have above average production performances.

Some beekeepers mistakenly believe that acarapis mite resistance (whether internal or external mites) must be bred for, having been told that the solution lies within the artificial control of internal genes of the honeybee. UNFORTUNATELY, THIS IS NOT TRUE IN REAL WORLD CONTROL OF THE PROBLEM AND ITS ACCOMPANYING SECONDARY DISEASES. So to explain this fallacy that acarapis mite resistance must be bred for, we will divide this section into two distinct parts, namely bee breeding and biological manipulative treatment for control of honeybee mites (basically retrogression explanation as to why and how it works). Since we are now going over bee breeding in its pure sense, we will continue, finishing up with the later towards the end. (Note: Let us now state, that commercial beekeepers wishing to see with their own eyes the field may do so. Several have already done so and we expect more will follow. It is important to see it to understand, so adaptation can be made for others to follow working their bees their own way, but following basic field management principles.)

Continuing bee breeding therefore, the major limiting factor of the start of queen breeding is the rearing of sufficient drones and nurse bees. Insufficient numbers of either will doom most operations attempting requeening to unsatisfactory results (the exception being breeding to raise the incidence of thelytoky). Beekeepers using colony thermodynamics relative to local area breeding cycles within the framework of year-round biological field management, geared to nature’s natural temperature rhythms and climate, can greatly improve overall colony performances in a period of 3-5 years. Beekeepers need to learn that queen breeding is progressive and retrogressive in results and can even hold status-quo, as in the case of cloning.

Beekeepers should know both the main flow-breeding and stress-breeding times of the year in their local areas. Main flow-breeding mainly hybridizes and/or breeds honeybees forward progressively, while stress-breeding when used at either the beginning or the end of selected breeding cycles can retrogress bee stocks, like separating oil from water (yellow bees from black bees), so that they may be re-hybridized again and again to re-infuse hybrid-vigor for increased colony production standards.


Signed: Dee A. Lusby, Amado, Arizona, USA