Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes
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  1. #1
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    Default Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Randy Oliver published in the September issue of American Bee Journal his method for performing an alcohol wash on all of his colonies of bees. His objective is to find and breed from colonies that have extremely low mite levels. A short summary of the method is to take mid-summer alcohol washes, identify the colonies with very low mite counts, also identify the colonies with very high mite counts, move the low count colonies to breeding yards, and treat the high count colonies to prevent mite bombs from collapsing and spreading mites to other hives. The hives being measured were set up as spring nucs and have had at least 3 months for mites to increase.

    Randy is not using the USDA method for identifying VSH colonies The USDA method is to uncap cells to find total number of mites in cells and number of non-reproductive mites. The ratio of mites that are not reproductive relative to the number that are reproducing determines how many VSH alleles are present in the colony. This chart shows the relationship.

    % non reproducing mites | VSH alleles | VSH %
    100 | 4 | 100 (these are the goal, 100% VSH bees)
    67 | 3,5 | 87,5 (these are high value breeding queens)
    50 | 3 | 75 (these also are breeding material, but will take more work to stabilize the traits)
    33 | 2 | 50 (any less than this has little breeding value)
    25 | 1 | 25
    20 | 0 | 0

    Since many beekeepers on this forum are familiar with arista, here is a link to a document describing the methodology.

    https://aristabeeresearch.org/wp-con...1-feb-2015.pdf

    Now my question for you is this. Randy Oliver is trying to identify colonies with very low mite counts. The USDA method identifies colonies with high percentages of non-reproductive mites. Is Randy Oliver actually identifying VSH colonies? Or is he finding some other trait(s)? Can you spot the weaknesses of his method?
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    I have some questions:

    - Is it possible to check the VSH trait in a hive with low mite count when too few pupa are present?

    - Are bees able to detect virus levels in the pupa and remove those even without a mite in cell or with low counts?

    - Virus apparently remains in a colony for a while after mite are eradicated by beekeeper or bees.

    - Effective treating every year keeps the mite level low and also the virus level,
    so the mite population in a tf hive grows first without showing a high level of virus disease, later this level gets lower and lower when virus spreads.

    So he will probably breed bees which are susceptible to virus at a low mite count. The time of evaluation is much too short. IMHO.
    Perhaps he will find a trait like mite biting.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post
    Can you spot the weaknesses of his method?
    No. Go ahead and spill the beans.
    "Every viewpoint, is a view from a point." - Solomon Parker

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post

    Now my question for you is this. Randy Oliver is trying to identify colonies with very low mite counts. The USDA method identifies colonies with high percentages of non-reproductive mites. Is Randy Oliver actually identifying VSH colonies? Or is he finding some other trait(s)? Can you spot the weaknesses of his method?
    Why would he want VSH? No one has ever shown it was of any value in commercial honey bees. Seems like something to select against.

    I see no weakness in his method.

    As an aside I recently asked him what he considered the minimum number of hives needed to have an effective population size for breeding for mite resistance and standing a chance of making progress in a reasonable time. His answer was 1000 colonies.

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    He is selecting for a condition not a trait. The condition is the number of phoretic mites in the colony at a specific time. That condition can be the result of a number of factors including the genetic characteristics of the bees but also non genetic factors. If he is successful great. Lowering mite levels in the colony should be beneficial regardless of the traits being selected for. The weakness is that he could be wasting his time if the mite levels he is measuring are not associated underlying genetic traits of the bee or only weakly associated. Selection only only works for heritable traits that are associated with lower colony mite counts. I have not seen the article so I don't know if he knows whether mite counts measured by alcohol wash in 3 month old colonies are highly heritable.

    According to the chart presented by Fusion Power the presence of 4 hygienic alleles results in 100% non-reproducing mites. That would seem to be pretty good. But maybe that has no value in commercial beekeeping.

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    A single test with low mite levels does not prove nearly as much as 2 or 3 tests over a period of months each of which shows low levels. He is retesting the presumed mite resistant colonies. This provides a much higher level of confidence the colonies selected for breeding are actually showing resistance.

    The weakness with this type evaluation is that the starting number of mites is unknown. A nuc that starts with 1000 mites could double 3 times with the result it tests as a mite bomb with 8000 mites just waiting on hive collapse to spread mites far and wide. Given that the hives from which the nucs are set up have variable numbers of mites, the predictable result is that the nucs will also have variable numbers. With his treatment program, it is highly likely that some nucs are set up with very low levels of mites. These nucs might still have very low numbers of mites when tested yet not be mite resistant to any measurable degree.

    One way to overcome the variability in starting number of mites is to use mite challenge tests. This involves placing a known number of mites into a colony and watching to see how the bees handle them. Performing challenge tests with 1000 or more colonies would be very time consuming. Presuming the mite counts identify 50 or fewer colonies with very low mite counts, it is much more feasible to move bees and/or brood from highly infested colonies into the possibly resistant colonies and then check a few months later to see if mite counts grow or are reduced. Reference material on this method is available from the USDA publications linked below. Kefuss also published a few articles describing use of mite challenge tests.

    There is also the factor that some colonies might rob out a mite bomb while other colonies are genetically averse to robbing. The robbing colonies could pick up a huge load of mites in a short time while the non-robbers would stay relatively stable. He may be selecting for non-robbing colonies instead of truly mite resistant colonies.

    RC, preformed opinions are of little value in breeding for traits with as much variability as mite resistance. Randy Oliver has repeatedly published that he integrated hygienic and VSH bees into his operation. There is very little doubt that he is working with bees that express VSH to some degree. My bees express a high degree of VSH though I have not measured it directly. The evidence is in brood removal patterns in the hive.

    https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-a...-publications/
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Yes, Randy doesn't know what the mite levels are to start with. But I think it's a safe assumption to make that mites existed in each of the nucs. Removing from the breeding pool the colonies that ended the 3 month time period with high mites doesn't prove that the low mite number colonies are mite resistant, it just proves the ones removed were not mite resistant. And constantly moving toward mite resistance (ideally) at that point in time.

    VSH is selecting for one particular trait: the Varroa Sensitive Hygienic trait. When you uncap cells and find varroa that haven't reproduced, you're showing the trait is present. The hope, and probably a good one, is that the trait connects to a lower mite count over a progressive period of time, or that the mites don't become more dangerous later on. VSH hives will typically leave a percentage of mites alive to breed. If a larger and larger percentage of varroa carry progressively more dangerous viruses, VSH may not be the solution (although I think we're likely heading down a weird path of doomsday at that point anyway).

    Instead, Randy isn't selecting for a particular trait. He isn't even selecting for hives that work with, or work against, varroa. He's selecting for colonies that have low mite numbers. For whatever reason. And he doesn't know what that reason would be, as he expressed in his earlier articles. It could be the ability to raise the hive temperature slightly, killing the varroa. Or it could be a pheromone issue, as with Apis Cerana, where the infected larvae commit pheromone suicide (for lack of a better term). Or it could be a VSH/Hygienic issue. Or a grooming issue. Who knows. At this point, I don't think Randy cares. He wants colonies with consistently low mite numbers, then finding out what they did to get there.

    But his fallacy, from my perspective, is that the varroa/bee relationship isn't internal to the hive only. It's external. So you need to assume mite migration is standard for all hives. Which I don't think you can do. Mite migration may be so small of an issue that he doesn't need to account for it. But I don't know. I don't think mite migration has been studied very heavily.

    But what he's doing is the same as all alleged successful tf beekeepers did/are doing. They claim to have mite resistant bees. When you ask why (why it works for them at their location but doesn't work for others at other locations) they all say "I don't know." Could be different genetics, could be different locations, could be different environments, could be different neighbors, could be more/less virulent or more/less reproductive mites. Who really knows. So many factors at play.

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    I think I prefer my methodology, not to say this wouldn't work though, but using nuc's doesn't seem like a good starting place for evaluating commercial settings either though. I'm planning to have them build up to doubles their first year, fall treatment to hopefully equalize/minimalize mite populations, then start evaluation the following spring but that's just me.

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Agree with the comments in the last several posts and a lot of those ran through my mind also.

    What Randy is doing is basically the bond method, but instead of letting hives die he is seperating them. The fallacies pointed out in the previous 3 posts apply equally to anyone using the bond method. Bond, is a fairly blunt and simplistic tool, yet some people claim success with it, swear by it, or even claim it's the only true way.

    At least by seperating hives instead of letting them die, you don't get a rolling mite bomb effect, which in a bond apiary could overwhelm some hives that otherwise should have made it.
    "Every viewpoint, is a view from a point." - Solomon Parker

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Well so far the errors Randy is supposed to be making illustrate the authors who claim these are errors do not understand his program. I will admit Buzzkill makes a valid point about heritability or lack there of but the only way to find out the answer is do the experiment. One thing you should remember is Randy is not in the honey production business. He is in the almond pollination and nuc production business. If you want to make honey his queens may well not be the best pick for you.

    By the way, I have told Randy I think he will find he can make a bee that is better at dealing with varroa, but not a bee that can go TF consistently. I have also told him those traits will be lost very rapidly in the hands of any back yard bee keeper, myself included. Actually, the biggest weakness of his program is timing. In another ten years he would stand a far greater chance as in ten years it will be practical to do a full DNA on each interesting queen and start to do some meaningful things such as SNP or micro-satellite correlations that can guide us to specific interesting genes or gene control regions. When you can do those things you also need to forget open mating and start to think a lot about single drone II to make optimum headway.

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    Agree with the comments in the last several posts and a lot of those ran through my mind also.

    What Randy is doing is basically the bond method, but instead of letting hives die he is seperating them. The fallacies pointed out in the previous 3 posts apply equally to anyone using the bond method. Bond, is a fairly blunt and simplistic tool, yet some people claim success with it, swear by it, or even claim it's the only true way.

    At least by seperating hives instead of letting them die, you don't get a rolling mite bomb effect, which in a bond apiary could overwhelm some hives that otherwise should have made it.
    I wonder why we felt the need to rename "natural selection."

  13. #12

    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Cryberg View Post
    Why would he want VSH? No one has ever shown it was of any value in commercial honey bees. Seems like something to select against.

    I see no weakness in his method.
    Iīm confused. Do you think mite numbers are important or not?

    Randy is doing IPM.


    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Cryberg View Post
    You are not doing IPM correctly so it does not work. It is not mites that kill bees. It is viruses that mites transmit that kill bees. So what you want to watch is what is your virus level and treat the mites when the virus level is high. It is easy enough to know what the virus level is doing. Just look at the hive entrance and ground around your hives. Obviously some hives tolerate very high mite levels and others do not. Requeen those that do not tolerate viruses and get the mite level down to the starting point.

    It is interesting how virus levels go up and down from year to year. I wonder why? Last year I would estimate my virus level was 10X what it is this year. But even with the higher level last year I had excellent winter survival with only four losses out of 31. Maybe those four were the ones contributing most of the virus ridden bees I saw? The year before last was a low virus year like this year.

  14. #13

    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    What Randy wants to do is what Erik Österlund does for some time now with much success.

    But he watches Virus effects too and evaluates established hives.

    And he started to work with people trying different locations and circumstances, like being isolated from other beekeepers or not or different hive constellations or different densities of colonies. ( For example my group, we take part with original queens now).

    And he adapts his strategies to the observations he makes and changes them if needed.

    In our european conditions this is the path to go. A separate path from the commercial arrangements of US commercial beekeepers which will never correlate with a natural beekeeping.

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Well so far the errors Randy is supposed to be making illustrate the authors who claim these are errors do not understand his program.
    I don't see "errors" mentioned until this line. IMO, Randy is not making any "errors". There are some weaknesses with his method. The question to ask is whether or not he will do something to tighten up the selection process. I am certain that other traits besides VSH are important with my bees. The path he is currently taking will identify colonies that maintain very low mite counts which should correlate with more than just VSH traits.

    If I had gone to the trouble of identifying @50 colonies that have very low mite counts, I would probably set them up in an isolation yard and manage them for a year to see how many maintain low counts through winter and into the next year. Then I would breed from the colonies with the lowest mite counts over an entire year. This would eliminate any colonies that are not truly mite resistant.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Which sounds similar to what Randy will be doing.
    "Every viewpoint, is a view from a point." - Solomon Parker

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post
    I would probably set them up in an isolation yard and manage them for a year to see how many maintain low counts through winter and into the next year.
    If you have access to an isolated yard, props to you. I would suspect 99.9% of america doesn't have access to one of these yards. Usually another beekeeper is within flight distance (hobby or commercial), or some form of a feral hive lives within a 6 mile radius (if a queen can, doesn't always but can, fly up to 3 miles away to mate and if a drone can, but doesn't always, fly up to 3 miles away, that requires a bee free zone of 6 miles in any direction), which covers OVER 72,000 acres. That's huge.

    For those that don't have access to 72,000 surrounding acres of bee free land, then you not only need to select for your low mite count colonies, but you need to select for your apiary too. I have 4 outyards. Some do better than others, naturally. About 4 years ago I had a gangbuster outyard that all of a sudden started producing half the honey crop it usually did. I thought it was just a bad year for that micro area. Then I started seeing mite explosions, despite my treatments. I couldn't understand what was happening. I had never seen that before. Efficacy rates were good, and 3 weeks later I had huge mite counts. Attended a local BBQ at the firestation nearby and was chatting up bees only to find out 1/4 mile away from my outyard a farmer decided he'd get into bees and bought 50 nucs (when a normal yard in this area will support 8-12 hives). I didn't find the guy, but I suspect he let several crash from mites. It explained my low crops and high mite counts. I stuck it out, and last year I was back to normal (either the other guy figured it out or lost out, I don't know).

    My point is that some yards produce honey better than others, and some yards have worse mite migration issues than others. And it changes from year to year. If I chose that as my "isolated" yard (which it had been, relatively speaking, for the previous 5 years), I would have lost most of the genetics as I bred against the high mite count hives. And probably lost quite a bit of genetics along the way.

    So when you move your breeder hives to another yard and continue to monitor, if you see changes in mite numbers is it the genetics or the yard that changed?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post
    Then I would breed from the colonies with the lowest mite counts over an entire year.
    But you don't breed queens over the entire year. I wish you did. It would make things so much easier.

    Nearly all of my colonies will show very low mite counts in March. If I attempted to select breeding material then, I'd be lost (most show 0-2 mites per 300 bees at that time). In the fall, my mite counts vary widely from yard to yard, but usually more due to mite migration than genetics (I think, perhaps naively). The two time periods that are very telling to me are 1) during the peak of the honey flow, around mid May, and 2) right after the dearth hits around early August. The first shows which hives allow mites to outbreed the bees. The second shows which hives allow mites to hide under cappings. At best, I can select a colony that has low mite counts during both these time periods around August. But its too late for me to breed quality queens then (my best queens come in April), and if I tried to breed my queens then I'm taking a big risk that they'll mate, return, and lay in time for me to prep them for winter. So my better bet is to select the best breeding material but wait till the following April (when I can take into consideration BOTH honey production and mite numbers) and breed from last year's best queen, ASSUMING she overwinters and nothing else comes up that removes her from the selection pool.

    I currently operate around 50 colonies. Say I take my top 33% of honey production as my breeding material (16). Say I take my top 20% (which is a fairly large percentage here) as my lowest mite numbers in May (3). Say half of them (still REALLY large selection percentage) still have low mite numbers in August (1.5). Say I then have a 30% winter loss. If I'm lucky, I have a queen in February (that may swarm, or may be superseeded by April, in time for me to breed from). If I'm not lucky, I have to wait till next year to take new numbers and reevaluate. What do I do in the meantime (because I need to rear queens in April for replacements and splits anyway)? Select a queen that I know is not mite resistant. Creating an endless cycle.

    For me, I'll sit back and watch because I don't have the resources to participate meaningfully. I hope others (Randy) do.

  18. #17

    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Specialkayme,
    very good post, thanks.

    You can only achieve something in a local group and everyone of the members having a number of beeyards. Exchange breeding material.

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Quote Originally Posted by SiWolKe View Post
    Exchange breeding material.
    That assumes those you're exchanging breeding material with are selecting for the same traits you are. It also assumes they are applying the same selection pressure (or greater) you are. Coordinating between two or three people isn't that hard. But when you're using a pool of people to get 2,000 colonies, and most have under 40 colonies each, that requires 50 participants. That's a very large number of beekeepers to coordinate breeding selection criteria. If 10 of those select for gentleness over honey production, or brood size over varroa levels, or pollen collection over overwintering ability, it skews all of the numbers drastically.

    Lets say, just for explanation purposes, that I start off with a population size that is exhibiting 0% desirable qualities (call it varroa selection). I introduce a queen that is varroa resistant. Lets say that first generation now shows a 20% desirable quality level. Now lets say each successive generation is able to recapture the same percentage of desirable quality level as the parent colony PLUS 20% of the remaining level. That would make year one 0%, year two 20%, year three 36%, ect. I would consider 97% to be a good target. Do you know how long it will take to get to 97%? 17 years.

    Personally, I think 20% is high. If we change that to 10%, the time period grows to 35 years.

    But lets say that I am able to hit my 20% number, and lets say that I decide to exchange breeding material with one other person. That person is able to hit a 10% number. Know how long it takes me to hit 97%? 23 years (better than 35, granted). If I increase that to three people, I'm at 20%, person two is at 10%, and person three is at 5%, it would take me 30 years.

    Unlucky for me, I don't have 30 years to work at this (I'll likely still be around, but tropilalaps will likely be killing our hives by then). Lucky for me, breeding doesn't exactly work like those simplistic numbers

    Exchanging breeding material works well if you can find someone who is more successful than you. But then you're pulling their numbers down if their taking your breeding material. So in that case, why not sit back and wait 17 years for the big guy to figure it out, rather than try and participate and drag the number down to 23 or 30 years?

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    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    You know the old saying that say people can look at you and think you are dumb or you could open you mouth and prove it. Oh well, here goes. Every one keeps saying that wider genetics can water down your progress. Then time lines are put on what might be accomplished. I would say that if the ability to handle mites came down to one gene and that gene was present, then it would be the pressure put on that one gene that would make it come to the fore front no matter what else you added, IE, calmness, honey prodution, lack of swarming.

    When I say, I say this, I don't mean I know but just that it seems common sense in my mind with what I know now. So it would be in my mind that no matter what other trait you added to the picture, if there were mite pressure and a drone with the one good gene was part of the breeding, the pressure would give that gene the advantage to express its self.

    The one small studie I saw where they were keeping managed bees close to other managed bees and having success by just leaving the pressure on the test bees seems to bear this out. I don't think I can find that study but a link was posted on one of these threads not too long ago.
    By the way, I just throw this out there cause I know I am a dummy and subject to just wishfull thinking and that is how I am managing my bees right now.
    Cheers
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  21. #20

    Default Re: Randy Oliver's September article on alcohol washes

    Specialkayme,
    I started a forum to find a group which has the same goals like me, these goals are humble, we want the survivability of some hives to expand again after crashes which happen now and again, and a little honey surplus.
    These people I found.
    We have + - 100 hives among us and there will always be some colonies left which are treatment free survivors to breed from.
    The selection breeding in our not isolated bee yards is more a hobby, we are aware of the disadvantages and know we have to introduce a pure bred resistant queen now and then.

    So let the commercials do their thing and the hobbyists try other paths.
    I believe this two world may exist side by side, the commercials doing artificial insemination, the others open breeding.
    ( By the way our commercial mating places are 5 km isolated and drones and queens are flying up to 10km for mating, so this is pure bred stock?)

    Here in europe we have made the wild honeybee extinct and what came after is livestock. Unnatural kept and bred livestock, nothing else, and so susceptible we need to control every disease and pest just as with other livestock.

    So what do we know how bee colonies will fare if we just let them be as wild honeybees? Would they suddenly develop resistance, live with decent losses like every natural insect does, with good and bad years?
    And if everybody does this, not only some scientists who are so isolated they want to import mites?

    The alcohol washes, do we know how such disturbances act on the bees? Oh yes, 300 bees, nothing! Every months 300 bees! Nurse bees and foragers, every time the colony has to rearrange.
    Itīs my opinion that a colony is not just bees with queen, itīs a microcosmos, a unit!

    How do we know what our managements do to the bees welfare? It`s not just genetics or the environmental influences of pesticides and such, but we like to have control as in a technical world.

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