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Greetings everyone!

I've been encouraged to create a post to share with everyone on some of what I've been attempting to find and stabilize some mite tolerance and resistance in bees here in Central California. Given the time of year, it seems like a good day to start the discussion and start sharing what I've seen and garner the discussion on developing a pseudo breeding model that might be effective in a high density area of commercial bees. I'll try to keep it as chronological as I can and detail as best I can what's been done and what bees have been tried. I will preface, I will name names, describe my personal experience with said bees, and be as truthful and honest as to what I saw or am seeing. I also do not mean any disrespect to anyone I've gotten bees from as most or all of them have been good bees as far as typical commercial/hobbyist traits go but the main point of discussion will be how well they fared with mites.

Secondly, I will describe our landscape, it's fairly heavily used for mainly agriculture. I do have a few hives in an urban setting which fare somewhat better as far as forage goes. Typically though, our dearth can start as soon as almond bloom is over if there isn't much wild mustard or radish blooming. Where I keep the bees there isn't much fruit tree production either, so no cherries, plums or citrus, mainly almonds, walnuts, and pistachio, with almonds the only one being any value to the bees. Mustards and radish will carry into April if they're not sprayed out but then farmers start working their fields and planting. Mainly it's tomatoes, field corn, alfalfa, hybrid sunflower seed production, and some safflower. The alfalfa is rarely of any use to the bees as it's cut 6-8 times during the season and doesn't get to bloom very much or for any extended period of time. If I'm lucky, vetch carries into May somewhat and then hopefully I get some starthistle in June/July but it's getting very dry and hot by then as well. After that it's pretty much a dearth August - December depending on the weather and area, but where my bees are at, it's pretty slim pickings. Also keep in mind, there's 3 commercial yards within a quarter mile area with 30-40 pallets each yard. They are moved in and out for pollinations so they're not always around during the season, but typically they show up at the end of July and stay through January and might be around sporadically March - June.

In the end though, what's the goal of all of this... I'd really love to find some genetics that work well here in Central Valley California for resisting varroa mites. So far it's been very challenging as our mite pressure is very aggressive in terms of growth and virus pressure. Part of it has to do with lack of quality forage throughout the year though. I think the stress from robbing pressure, the heat in the summer, and nutrition take their toll, especially on the longevity of the lives of the worker bees. I do think there's a light at the end of the tunnel though, it may take some time to get there butI'm always up for a good challenge.

I'll post more as time permits, I'll give a little detail on my background and education then move right along into the bees of where I started and where I'm at now.
 

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:applause:

i've been following your posts with great interest jrg13. your location certainly has a plethora of challenges for the bees and therefore provides a good opportunity for running comparisons.

this is valuable work and i'm looking forward to what you have to share with us. thank you for taking the initiative to dedicate a thread to your field trials!
 

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/me grabs some popcorn and a drink and sits back to watch.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Well, lets get back to it. So, a little about me... I grew up here in the Sacramento area, graduated UC Davis with a degree in genetics. Always had an interest in insects and wildlife etc.. could've been an entomology major just as well. Career wise, I started working for a biotech rice company right out of college. I was part of the molecular breeding group, I managed all the plants, ran the nursery, made a lot crosses as well as the lab work side of things. PCR, southern blots, and DNA extraction. Not to get too detailed, but got laid off after 4 years, ended up with Seminis Vegetable seeds in 2004, which was bought by Monsanto in 2006, got laid off there in 2013 when they cancelled all the vegetable biotech, now I'm with Syngenta on the veg seed side managing the California breeding program for tomato after doing wheat for 2 years.

How did I get into bees... well, one of my favorite fruits are cherries. When I worked rice, our gh owner's family also had a cherry orchard next to the houses and we got spoiled with fresh cherries. They grew bings, brooks, raniers, and burlat was the pollinator. Anyways, at some point I had 34 varieties of cherries in my personal home 'orchard', but fruit set was abysmal. If I was lucky, I'd see a carpenter bee or a single bumble bee working a few flowers during the entire bloom. So in 2012 I had the bright idea to get a beehive to pollinate the trees and the rest is history...

Anyways, onto the first hive.... went onto Craigslist and found one of the many local Russian beekeepers with hives for sale and ended up picking up a double deep 8 frame with probably 14 frames of bees in mid March. He seemed like a nice guy, bees were decent, the only thing he told me to watch for was of course mites. Pretty sure he had been using Apistan, showed me which strips to get when the time came. Got the bees home, after about two weeks the neighbor noticed them and got all upset about them so I ended up having to move them to Woodland where I work to a friends property outside of town. My interest in the bee side of things grew pretty quickly, I was pretty much on youtube and beesource hours on end each day, which I still do. Made some good local friends as well, Ray Marler, Phil Hoffland (Honey-4-All), SoarwithEagles, and even the infamous Keith Jarret. I also jump into the chatroom most evenings and when I started back in 2012 some of the bigger names would be partake like Michael Palmer and the Fatbeeman himself. Fusion Power is also someone I talk to quite a bit on the bees but Ray was kind of my initial mentor and such. If I forgot to mention anyone, I apologize!!

Anyways, that first hive rolled along quite well, ended up being 4 deeps at some point, two brood boxes, two supers but the mites started getting noticeable in summer and I also picked up another hive in August from another Russian guy that was selling off his 100 hives or so. I ended up trying Hopguard that year on the first hive, pretty much found it worthless and when I put the strips in the bees got very upset and anything the excess fluid from the strips dripped on would end up dead, so if you happened to place the strips on top of your queen.... I knew the first hive was in trouble in late fall but the second hive seemed to be doing alright, but come December it was pretty much down to a few frames of bees and the original hive was down to a few hundred bees and the queen but was still limping along. I think part of my failure in the varroa issue the first year is I did not have a clear plan on what I wanted to do or how to approach it.

That being said, I certainly wasn't ignorant of the issue but I think I had the attitude of 'my bees can't be that bad' and by the time the realization set in that my bees were indeed that bad it was a little too late to do much about it but keep my fingers crossed and hope they make it to spring. At the same time though, I had already started the building blocks of implementing my strategy of bringing in some mite tolerant bees and seeing if they helped with the issue. Discussing options with the guys on Beesource, Glenn Apiaries seemed like the go to place for relatively affordable II VSH queens at the time, but unfortunately at the tail end of 2012 they announced their retirement and closing down the bee breeding program. They did have some breeders available still though and I did end up trying to get a split pulled in December to house one, but the nuc didn't make winter unfortunately. As discouraging and heartbreaking as that was I entered 2013 with plans of expanding and finding some bees that could survive without treatments for varroa.
 

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Following as well. I'm on the journey here in Indiana. Been a challenge. Been hard. Has been totally worth the trip.
 

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Hey thanks for posting JRG13 I didn't know all that about you. It's awesome having people on Beesource with qualifications in genetics and solid professional experience in the subject.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Not quite sure on the exact number left, but between 60-70, had about 80 at the high point of the year so not too bad so far for 2016 losses.
 

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Sigh, Glenn Mn-Hyg, my favorite queens ever (and I don't think its just misty nostalgia).

I heard from a couple sources that Tom Glenn has a retirement job running breeding for the Big O outfit... can anyone confirm?
 

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Discussion Starter #16
JW, haven't heard anything about that, but lets move onto 2013...

So, early spring 2013, the original have was barely hanging on but still had a queen and a couple hundred workers, but brood was still in stages of PMS. The second have had gone queenless during winter and was now laying worker. I searched on Craiglist and found someone who was selling his 4 hives for a good price as he had to move and coincidentally he was a Russian guy too. The hives were 2 Kona queens, 1 daughter from one of them and a queen from his buddy who had kept bees TF for 19 years in the area. He managed his mites with powdered sugar in the summer, no chemical treatments and said it worked well for him. The strongest hive was the daughter F1 which was in a single and about 9 frames of bees, the rest were all two deeps and a medium but probably 5-6 framers at the time, mid March. That was pretty much the last time I bought any actual hives or bees, from here on out all I've purchased are queens.
 

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So that's how 2013 started. I split the hives up between 3 locations, one replaced the lw hive, I shook it out, put the new hive in it's place, all the bees flew back and things got settled in. This was one of the Kona queens. The other Kona queen and the daughter went to Elk Grove and the one from the Russian breeder went to Weimar. All these bees were pretty good bees, but none had a lick of mite resistance in them. The guy who owned them previously must've known how to dust with powdered sugar really well is all I can say....

The daughter queen ended up getting superceded a few weeks in, I removed the first cell I found made a split, here's a pic ,
but 2 weeks later she was still getting replaced, so I pulled her into a nuc and made another nuc with a single cell and left the parent hive with nice cells to sort out. The original queen ended up just disappearing a few weeks later and emergency cells were made. The original hive ended up LW as well, not sure what happened there, I left the two cells and came back a month later expecting a laying queen, ended up with LW. So this is where I started collecting my germplasm of queens as well. I got a couple ripe queencells from Ray Marler, his queens at the time had some possible Strachan genetics and to fix the LW I picked up a couple queens from Honey-4-All. The virgin from the original queen ended up disapearing so gave that nuc a ripe cell from Ray and the LW hive got frames of brood for two weeks and when I placed the 3rd frame of brood in, I introduced a queen from Honey-4-All. I also made a nuc for a second queen I received from him. I also placed an order for 3 WSU queens at the time, I requested one of each of their Italian, Carni, and Caucasian line. At this point I was pretty happy, had some bees, was making splits, diversifying my lines and I then was able to collect a few swarms in early summer. A small three framer showed up at work, I was able to collect it easily, and then a co-worker heard what happened and she had a swarm in her front yard, and at some point a few weeks later I had a swarm that moved into the old equipment from the second hive I had bought at the house. The swarm from work was a nice striped queen, a mix of carni and Italian genetics most likely, the co-worker had a nice cordovan queen, lighter bees, here's a pic of her
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Never got a look at the queen that moved in, kind of testy bees, runny drippy, got a little defensive the longer the hive was open, pretty much just kind of ignored them. Here's the Italian WSU queen


Here's the queen that got mated from the cell I received from Ray

Here's my first queen that I got from the supercedure cell
 

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very nice photos jrg! my queens tend be colored up somewhere between the wsu queen and the one from the supercedure cell in the last photo. i've never seen a completely yellow one like that before.
 
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