I hope you will keep on going. I'm at about 2/3 survival rate in my own yard the last couple of years. That is about the same rate as yours.
The bright spot is finding one line of bees that keeps on going. I have one line of bees that is now 6/7 over the last two winters. A mentee beekeeper is now 2/2 last year, and 3/3 this year with that line of bees.
Find the good ones and breed from them.
What survival rate would you consider acceptable?
First off, I am sorry to hear that your overwintering efforts have been disappointing thus far.
I do hope you are able to find a strategy that allows you to keep bees without treatments and still have an acceptable return on your investment.
That said, I would certainly understand if you ultimately determined that some sort of chemical intervention might be required in your situation. In such a case, I would expect that your TF efforts will provide you some unique perspective as to how to approach the treatment regime.
If nothing else, you could adopt the Randy Oliver model of carefully monitoring mite levels, treating only when necessary and breeding from the colonies which exhibit the most resistance promise year-over-year.
Several new videos have been posted from the recently concluded 'National Honey Show' which are directly applicable to the general approach and ethos of local adaptation and its' implications for colony success.
On this theme, Mr. Jo Widdicombe, current President of the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA) presents a talk entitled, 'The Principles of Bee Improvement':
It should be noted at the outset that Mr. Widdicombe comes from the perspective of an unabashed proponent of improvement and preservation of the remaining native British bee genetics, but his talk is more generally describing both the benefits and mechanics of local adaptation, couched in his own experience with AMM. His overarching message is thus:
Natural selection is one part of the story (survival), but artificial selection is the other part of the story (beneficial traits). Our efforts need to strike a balance between diversity and homogeneity to produce a population of bees which are both hearty and productive. He defines this paradigm thus, "A community of bees should be sufficiently out-bred to be vigorous and disease-free, but sufficiently in-bred to remain true to type."
He also makes the point (that MSL has already made many times) that breeder queens are key to our improvement efforts- not only as the base for your future queens but also for the drone mothers they become.
Looking for space in between for the guy with 5-50 hives. Can we find a workable, reliable system that consistently allows us to enjoy our hobby and make enough honey to keep our spouses happy :-)? Without buying replacement bees every year or two?
Last year I started (restarted!) with one swarm in May and split to 5 hives by September. 4 remain alive, one starved out. Plan for this year is to split the surviving colonies and get 15-20. Winter with a bunch of these in nucs or smallish colonies and repeat, aiming for 20 going into winter, consistently.
I can stand 50% losses as a hobbyist. Hopefully that is a bad year, and have significantly better results most years. So, splitting hard, making plenty of replacements, multiple brood breaks in at least some colonies that I hope to winter, and a few colonies allowed to grow and make honey.
To that end I am spending the winter making 5-frame deep nucs. I have 15. Along with my deep and medium boxes I can get to my 20, all going well.
I am not anticipating any giant gains from genetics to change this calculation. Big guys will treat, little guys will get washed out, and hobbyists will be stuck in the middle having to come up with a program, treatment or not, that keeps the enjoyment in the hobby.
So for this comment "I do hope you are able to find a strategy that allows you to keep bees without treatments and still have an acceptable return on your investment." My "beeding" Apiary of 9 is down to 3 , and we have a month to go yet prior to any nice weather. So I am thinking I will have 2 hives remain.
I have to face that these are likely the "lucky" 2 as these last 3 had the brood break while the others did not. I see other TF keepers are "grafting" from 2 year old survivor queens. So the reality I face is I have Zero 2 year old queens in the breeding yard , A mile or 2 from this yard a new "bee club" has formed. I may go there to see where they are getting bees from but the influx of new bees apparently changed my land scape. I have some bees left but all are 8 month old queens from summer splits. As far as return on Investment This "hobby" has been a loss for several years running, IE there is no return. So I am up against buying bees which I really do not like or killing mites. The infamous rock and a hard place.
So I understand the brood break, shook swarm, queen trapping, drone brood removal, and several other operations, but at some level this IS "treatment" And if I go there then to me OAV in the fall to get from 30-50% survival to 75% in not conceptually different. Fortunately I now have several places where I have bees so I plan to do different things at different yards, At least I can eliminate the buying of bees every year. Coming up with TF stock, we will need to wait and see. The far yards will be TF due to the travel time so I will have a proving ground. But to play at all one does need live bees. I appreciate your input and do enjoy reading your posts
GG; I haven't followed every twist and turn here, so I might be asking what is already answered. Do you feel you are getting a high influx of other keepers mites in your locations? If so that is starting you off with a disadvantage that may be hard to overcome. I think isolation is at least partially an enabling factor in most truly treatment free experiences.
Just being in a far tougher wintering geography tilts the playing field for you too. Big difference in having ability to survive two months winter with the mites compared to needing a four or five month survivor bee. I think it is not the cold per se but the length of mite exposure time without replacement brood. More damage to the fat body reserves that the nurse bees need to produce the first rounds of do or die brood for the new season.
Optimism for the development of local adaptation has to be within the realm of the possible.
The feeling is mutual, and I have learned much from your helpful input along the way. Thank you.
I do appreciate the genetic situation you are in and I am certain I would (and maybe will?) consider implementing many of the strategies you are discussing if I were (or find myself) in your shoes.
I suppose the only other option you could consider would be the importation of close-mated queens and a strategy of regular queen renewals until the prospect of a resistant genetic base manifests itself?
Regardless, I do hope you will continue to have the luxury of experimenting with various treatment and/or chemical-free approaches to see if there is a sustainable approach that will work both in your area and in support of your management goals.
Also, I depend upon you to keep me from running off the rails down here, so I do hope you will continue to post your experienced insights when I am planning on doing something ill-advised!
An Inescapable Challenge', Brother Adam looked into the future of bee breeding and concluded, "On the basis of the findings and experience gained in breeding the honey bee since 1916; also the knowledge acquired to the genetic possibilities at hand, I feel confident that in the course of time a honey bee fully and effectively resistant to the Varroa mite can be developed."
He based this assertion on at least two tenants:
1. Biological lifeforms in general demonstrate internal genetic mechanisms and adaptive responses to external pressure which promote survival.
Brother Adam notes, “It is now generally recognized that breeding plays a determining role in the fight against disease in both the animal and plant world.” [p. 66]
2. His own experiences with the tracheal mite gave first-hand experience with the genetic possibilities for disease resistance.
“I have no hesitation in setting out my experiences about the possibility of breeding as a means of combating disease.” [p. 68]
Succinctly, Brother Adam saw careful selective breeding as the key to unlocking latent genetic responses to the varroa mite. He hypophorically observes:
“Is it possible to combat diseases of the honeybee by means of selective breeding? I am able to give an unqualified affirmative.” [p. 76]
Concentrate on what you already know.
1) Brood Breaks. in general have some benefit. in good years seems that large % of folks with bees can get by just performing a break. Downside is that the mite cycle does usually catch up and eventually takes out a good % of bees if this is the only strategy in use.
i'd say experiment with 2 breaks and see how it goes. i have done so a little and didnt see initial benefit. BUT wouldnt write it off until i had done it over many seasons with a substantial colony count.
one natural downside of 2 breaks is that one can end up occurring in fall. i do have lots of experience with august/september mated queens and none of that is good. but if thats the only way you can keep them alive you may still want to do it
2) young queens generally win the mite war relative to older queens. i only look to keep a percentage after the 2nd winter as drone mothers or breeders. it probably would make sense to keep larger % of older ones for a gene selection pool but when the options are limited by equipment resources i've found it more useful to keep the young ones as you know they will survive at high rate given they were made into nuc and got that brood break.
3) its only getting tougher and tougher to find isolation. the colony count has become pretty high in the state. even if you can straddle the areas where the big outfits are, there is someone with a backyard package behind every tree. if you dont have the colony count to get some control on your environment, you probably gotta concentrate on constant addition of known quantities like your russians.
I recently had the opportunity to watch the excellent four-part video series currently being discussed over on MSL’s ‘A Shift in Message?’ thread.
Mr. Ralph Büchler, Director of the bee research department at the Bee Institute in Kirchhain, Germany presents a broad-reaching and biologically-driven treatise on selection for varroa resistance.
While I can’t hope to do the videos any justice in a single post, here are a few of the most thought-provoking concepts presented in each video:
Varroa Resistance Characters and Selection Protocols (Part 1 of 4)
1. Bee breeding approach and management concept have to go hand-in-hand.
2. Resistance is not a single character response. It is much more complex (attached image).
3. The most important factors are likely behavioral (i.e. hygienic responses).
4. The single-most important factor may be SMR (suppressed mite reproduction). Mite reproductive success is on average 80-90% in standard stock and 50-60% in resistant stock.
Environmental Adaptation of Honey Bees (Part 2 of 4)
1. Local adaptation is crucial (2x better survival than imported stock).
2. Colony health and vitality should be top selection criteria.
3. The beekeeper is the single-most important environmental factor.
Sustainable Varroa Management (Part 3 of 4)
1. A 10% brood infestation is the threshold where it becomes critical to most colonies.
2. Appropriately-timed artificial brood breaks showed statistically-equal varroa control efficacy as compared to standard chemical paradigms. Side-by-side mite development graphs are presented starting at the 53:00 mark.
3. Colonies with inherent resistance in non-treated settings have an outsized impact on the regional gene pool due to their ability to successfully raise healthy drones.
Understanding Bee Colony Biology (Part 4 of 4)
1. A healthy colony left to its own devices might produce 2 queens in a year versus 20,000 drones- natural selection is impelled by drones.
2. Disease is the main driver of selection.
3. Colony health is not defined by the absence of disease but rather by a stable balance.
4. Our management efforts should seek to support disease antagonists (i.e. bacteria and other parasites) which co-exist symbiotically with honeybees.
Complex Resistance Background.jpg
Last edited by Litsinger; 02-07-2020 at 12:49 PM.
1)All of what is left for me this year, had a major brood break, most were splits waiting on a Queen to hatch and mate.
2)This year unlike last year, every once wintered queen is gone, only the new ones are left, Last 2 or 3 winters I have had similar survival rates for 1.5 year old and .5 year old queens. I have used the 2 year surviving queen to split from as I had hoped they were "better" I was looking at long life as a good trait
3)Isolation ,,That is the truth, more back yard keepers popping up every year.
I watched the presentation of Ralph Büchler at the England meeting and , seems some things to try around the brood breaks. (3 of 4)
So In your opinion what is the issues with the late Queen mating, prevalence of package Drones or the lack of flow , heat ?
In michigan what is the last week you use for "mating" before the quality starts to dip?
Thanks for the comments
Thanks Russ for the cliff notes, hopefully enough of a tease to prompt folks to watch
I would recommend folks just watch them with an open mind, some bee characteristics , built up for centuries are discussed and the way to "work in Harmony" with the natural cycle, Might be,, not allowing the swarming,, is "Treatment"
Do take the time to watch.
i think its not having enough appropriate age drones. maybe result of the dearth periods in summer when they curtail drone production? but just speculation on my part.
to me the dip seems to start in august but by time hit late august i really dont want to be in position of needing to keep anything mated then. however, if it was what needed to do to winter, could make it work.
"Any stock improvement program that is expected to give practical results for beekeeping industries must have three components:
- field tests under natural conditions
- geneticists making genetic decisions
- commercial production of the improved stock."
VSH breeders must evaluate their work "under natural conditions", that is: without treatments.
I got my book from Amazon some time ago and was just wondering because it is a library book. Is it common practice to make some kind of markings when a book is removed from library use? In Finland they always get stamped "removed from library use". In this copy there is nothing? Or am I holding stolen property?
The W.R. Banks Library Prairie View A&M University Libraries, Prairie View Texas TI446
Last edited by Juhani Lunden; 02-13-2020 at 12:38 PM. Reason: geneticist not genetic
Yes, but the TF "field test" is very, very common among TF beekeepers....
the other 2 points on the list are what is holding things back.
the quote should read "geneticists making genetic decisions" geneticists as in people, "The hand of Man" as Brother Adam put itgenetics making genetic decisions
The internet is instant, and the internet is often wrong-Kim Flottum
I am curious what has been happening with breeder material in recent times on vsh bees. i know the history of how they got to current point but i'm guessing a certain percentage are following along field tests line but part are likely also being selected under laboratory conditions.