Crazy ideas are sometimes the best ones, they say. Lending beehives to spread varroa resistance genes is definitely a crazy idea.
The formula is simple: I lend you a varroa resistant beehive for free if you agree to take care of it, and to raise 10 daughter queens from it.
No matter how I think of this project it looks crazy and unprofitable. But I am more than excited!
The core problem in spreading varroa resistant bees is the lack of credibility. The critical mass is so far away. Critical mass of beekeepers showing interest and willing to take at least some risk, the first steps. We need beekeepers with a vision, we need beekeepers working together. That is exactly what we have now!
Here they are:
On Saturday 29th of May the dawn breaks out sunny. Two days earlier it was rainy when my nephew Arvid and I moved hives. The beauty of an early morning is astonishing, rising sun and mist.
Out we went with the home yard hives and came back with the hives for lent. We placed them temporally to sit on the pavement near our home. On Friday I checked all hives that they had a queen and made some equalization, moved brood frames from one to another. Some hives got an extra food frame.
On Saturday morning I woke up at 4 am, had some breakfast and started the transport preparation. Three hours later it was time to hit the road.
In Kuru Veli-Mikko and Jenni Leinonen were already waiting for me. I was late. Trailer full of bees and the road full of springtime potholes is not a good combination…
“Here is your new hive, couple supers, equipment for a nuc, feeder, foundation, landing board…” Amazing buzzle, when you think of it, all the pieces of a beehive. Easy to miss something. Especially when the lease holders all have different frame size than I. 10 frame Langstroth is the most common one, Farrar (168×448) is very common too.
Next stop was 130 km south, I phoned Ari and urged he could estimate with Google Maps how long my journey there would take.
When arriving at Koijärvi, Ari and Aleksander were ready on our meeting point, in fact the whole day went as planned, and 720 km later I was back home at 8 pm, tired, with empty car and trailer.
With Claude and Ismo we had so much to talk, that I forgot to take the picture. Claude fortunately sent me a picture after his hive was in place in Lieto.
Janne and Kaj placed their hives in the same apiary.
Johan demonstrated his hive lifting tool, pretty cool!
With Timo we had a cup of coffee and sandwich (Timos treat, thanks!), here he is signing the lease paper.
The last stop was in Kärkölä with Pertti (on the left) and Kalle. In this picture most of the set can be seen: hive closed with a net, two supers (one with food and the other with foundation), feeder and gear for a nuc.
What a great team we have! This first summer will most certainly bring us surprises. Maybe something unexpected, maybe some major problems, but hopefully some moments of joy and learning, too.
How much would you pay for using Google or Facebook? Today these two have become so vital for most of us, that we would be happy to pay something.
In the beginning of their story, it was different. Their success, rapid growth and acceptance would not have materialized without the concept of free usage.
What about if we should apply this same principle to varroa resistant bees?
I challenge all varroa resistance bee breeders to find a way to spread their best resistant material without cost to non-commercial use. Here again we copy Google and Facebook. Want to get some advantage of their core business, be ready to open your wallet.
There are multiple ways to do. It is about finding a concept which suits the breeders needs, demand of material and other factors.
For example: Organize a grafting day. Set a time and place, and all those who have made a reservation get a piece of comb with suitable age larvae for free. This was my favourite for a while, but there are couple of things which changed my mind. I have once had a day like this. About half a dozen beekeepers from a distance of 100 km checked in. They had to pay for the larvae, but despite of that, just a few of them succeeded and nobody became a true user of my stock.
It may be, that commercial beekeepers are too busy during summer, or the demand of their material would be too big, that a grafting day is impossible to organize. But for a semi-professional it may be a different story. The worst scenario with a grafting day is that a handful of curious resistance deniers make bunch of queens and when these turn out average bees they give up. What we look for is permanent influence.
Treatment free Finland by 2035
We need beekeepers who are willing to commit, and we need education of beekeeping skills. Grafting day or 48 h queen cells may be the way for someone, but I think there is need for more. I had several things on my list:
- Need for a group of co-operating beekeepers, with true interest in varroa resistance
- Need to reduce my own honey production (!)
- Need for bigger breeder queen daughter series
- Need a follower of my work
- Need to be able to concentrate more in insemination and/or teaching
From these stand points, I came up with the idea of lending hives for free. Whole hive and all gear with it. Lenders sign a paper in which the most important point is that every lender agrees to make at least 10 daughter queens and a nuc and to report once a year.
I´ll come back with a repost when spring comes, and transport of hives begin.
Juhani Lundén 9.4.2021
Why is this so difficult?
Why do beekeepers say Buckfast is a hybrid, even though it has been bred with controlled sister matings for more than 100 years, and while for instance in Finland 95% of all Italian bees have been free mated for the last 70 years?
It just does not make sence.
In the last issue *) of the beekeeping magazine ”Mehiläinen” Lauri Ruottinen, former advisor of the Finnish Beekeepers Association and editor of ”Mehiläinen”, writes as follows:
”Buckfast has always been, and will be in the future, a hybrid with very uneven qualities.”
I wonder if Lauri Ruottinen has ever had good quality Buckfast queens? If so, he has not experienced the unbelievable uniformity of Buckfast bees.
Lets see what Jeff Harris has to say about this:
“The Europeans have a wonderful bee, the Buckfast honey bee, that has been developed over many generations; it’s extremely gentle, a good honey producer, survives their winters well, and is extremely uniform, and they have a big, coordinated program to avoid inbreeding.
I’ve seen these bees in Europe, and they’re incredibly uniform. We never get that kind of uniformity here — there’s just so much variation in our bees. The European bees are very predictable, and that’s what we need to be shooting for. The Europeans are very excited about this, and I’m looking into the potential for working with them.”
And to all of you, who don´t know who Jeff Harris is, he is one of the most acknowledged and famous bee researchers in the world and creator of the VSH ( Varroa Sensitive Hygiene) bees.
The picture is taken by Lauri Ruottinen, and we can all see what terrible hybrids my buckfast bees are…
Speaking about races: The Finnish Beekeepers Association published a recent study of race purity in Finland. Little less than 100 hives from different races were examined. Bee samples from various beekeepers around Finland were gathered.
The beekeeper was asked which race his bees were: Italian, Carnica or Mellifera.
The result of this study was astonishing: There were very few pure bred Italians found. In fact there were a lot of samples, which the beekeeper said to be Italian, and the bees were pure Carnica bees according to genetic study made in lab.
*) Source: Mehiläinen beekeeping magazine 1/2021, page 12, text by Lassi Kauko and Lauri Ruottinen
It was December 2009, and I was probably just longing to have some contact with my precious bees, even dead ones, and decided to look how many mites I could find in hive bottoms.
I had no plan whatsoever for the future. After counting thousands of bees found out that they had in average 11% infestation. Wrote some notes.
Time passed and I had forgotten all about this incident in 2009. Date was December 2017 and I, for some unknown reason, found myself again counting mites in dead bees. Thousands of them.
While doing I faintly started to remember “Haven´t I done this before?”
And my surprise was big when, after going thought my notes, found out that infestation in 2017, 4,3%, was 60% less than in 2009. Can this be a sign of breeding efforts succeeding?
In December 2020 my curiosity had risen so much that I had to do the same experiment again. I checked 942 dead bees. They had 2,4 % infestation level, 45% less than 3 years earlier!
I want to firmly point out that this is no science, nothing near, but in my mind something better than nothing.
If average infestation in bees flying out to die is greater than among living bees still in winter cluster, one could argue that infestation in varroa resistant bees is somewhere from almost zero to 2%.
A new study of the genetic background of a national pride, Finnish Horse, has already come up with one big surprise. The results of mitochondrial lines prove our race originates partly from Mongolian wild horse, the Przewalski Horse.
The study is continuing and can´t wait what they will reveal in the future. The researchers have opened old horse graves and got hundreds of specimens from horse owners, old horsehairs from childhood rocking horse, skulls and teeth etc.
The race breeding of the Finnish Horse began 1907. This was part of the general national up-rise and the aim to become an independent nation, to free ourselves from Russian Empire.
Race definition was made, and only the horses, which were in every respect “pure”, were accepted into the Pedigree charts. According to race definition the Finnish Horse should be uniform brown in color, and it should be strong and mid-sized, universal working horse with lively, reliable, co-operative and mild temper. “Impurity” was not tolerated.
The race definition ruled many horses out of breeding program. Sometimes this disqualification was made only because of wrong color. Pedigree of the Finnish Horse has been closed ever since 1907.
Rase is a manmade definition. As an inevitable consequence, race breeding automatically rules out all unfitting, no matter how good or original, and leads to a loss of genes in all animal breeding, from horses to bees.
Who were the people behind this race definition? Maybe only couple horse activists who saw this type of horse as the most typical, or maybe, just as the most beautiful in their eyes? I wonder how well they knew the history of horses in Finland. Today there are four different lines, for work, race, ride and small sized Finnish Horses.
The variety of horses, which were present at the time of race definition, was huge and an outcome of development, breeding and trade, which had been going on for centuries. The earliest written document of horses in Finland is from year 1223, before Christianity was established: The Pope Gregorius blamed the merchants of Gotland for selling horses to the “pagans in Finland”. First attempts to systemically improve the quality of Finnish horses was made during the rule of Gustav Wasa, the King of Sweden (and Finland). King was not happy, because the original Finnish horses were small. In order to make an improvement the King organised a large-scale import of Frisian horses from Netherlands, which were bigger. **)
Bigger horses were needed in war fields. Huge numbers of horses were killed in the wars of Sweden during its glory days. And very often the horses, which the army returned with, were not the same they had left.
Picture from Wikipedia, Ratsumieskilta, cavalry history enthusiasts riding:
From several documents and research of horse collars it can be qualified how the size of Finnish Horse changed during the centuries:
Century height of horses in Finland
1600 105-130 cm
1700 130-140 cm
1800 142 cm
Today the average Finnish Horse has a height of 155 cm. The Finnish Horse is sometimes referred as an intermediate form between Coldblood and Warmblood horses. For instance, in trotting the speed of Finnish Horses has been astonishing, and jealous minds have questioned their genuine working horse roots. Working horses are bred for strength and ability to pull, not speed.
After the mechanization of agriculture, the need for working horses declined dramatically. At the peak in the 1950s there were about 409 000 Finnish Horses in Finland. Year 1987, at the lowest point, there were only 14000 Finnish Horses left, or 3,5%. This led to massive loss of genes and variation, and genetically, what we have today is just a small glimpse of the past.
Look at this wintering in Alaska:
He has 100% winter losses and uses the same type of structure next winter. I define stupidity as inability to learn from a lesson.
If I had a problem with lights or wiring, I would ask an electrician.
If I had a problem with my car, I would ask a mechanic.
If I had a problem with my mind, I would go to a psychiatrist.
If I had a problem with wintering bees, I would follow the advice of a Finn, because we have probably the best knowledge in the world about wintering bees in northern latitudes. In fact we are situated just as north as Alaska.
Some basic rules:
- Warm air goes up
- Insulating the top saves energy
- Even severe cold (-40C) does not kill the bees, but moisture does
- Moisture goes away with circulating air, either through the top insulation and holes of the ceiling or walls or through a mesh bottom
- Air circulation is depending on holes in the hive structure, that is holes, which do not get blocked by snow or ice!
- If you don´t take moisture removal seriously, you will always end up with dead bees
- Bottom ventilation and top insulation has proven to be a good method, most hives in Finland have been wintered for decades that way with excellent results
Couple days ago, I received a message from Stefan Luff. Stefan is the breeding coordinator of the Buckfast Group Bavaria in Germany.
Daughters of my breeder queen B160(JL) were free mated in Southern Italy with Horst Preissl and Johannes Neuburger drones. Two daughter queens were then sent from Italy to be tested in commercial beekeeping operations for two years in Germany.
Quote from Stefan’s e-mail: ”Two offspring queens B56 and B49 imported from Italy had after one year untreated and used in his professional beekeeping in the production of honey, only slightly more than 3% infestation of mites at the end of September in 2019. They were both also very calm and very much honey!”
This is important and encouraging news!
In order to become mainstream, varroa resistance breeder queens need to be so good, so thoroughbred, that their free mated daughters can handle mites in commercial operations.
Lundén Resistant Queens
Suunnitelma varroankestävyys jalostuksen saavutusten siirtämiseksi koko Suomen mehiläishoitajien käyttöön
Pikkupesien, ns. Mini-Plus pesien, tehtävänä on toimia geenistön varmuuskopiona Ruovedellä omassa hoidossani
Isojen pesien lainauksella levitetään geenistöä toisille tarhaajille
- Pesät kuljetetaan lainaajille toukokuun lopussa, polttoainekuluja vastaan.
- Pyrin kuljettamaan pesät itse, jotta saan tarkan tiedon pesien sijainnista.
- Lainauksesta tehdään kirjallinen sopimus.
- Pyritään monivuotiseen yhteistyöhön ensisijaisesti emonkasvatuksen hallitsevien tarhaajien kanssa.
- Sopimuksen tärkeimpinä kohtina ovat omistusoikeuden säilyminen minulla, ja lainaajan velvollisuus kasvattaa lainatusta pesästä vähintään 10 emoa omiin pesiinsä.
- Lainaus ja emojen kasvatus omiin tarpeisiin on ilmaista.
- Lainaaja voi kasvattaa emoja myyntiin maksamalla korvauksen, jonka alustava suuruus on 200€/emo/kesä
- Jos pesän lainaaja on entuudestaan kaupallinen emonkasvattaja, tulee ko. summa maksettavaksi automaattisesti
- Kuhnureiden kasvatusta on mahdollisesti tehtävä joissakin lainaan lähtevissä pesissä. Kuhnurikehät haen Ruovedelle vähän ennen niiden kuoriutumista (tarvitsen niitä Mini-Plus pesien keinosiemennyksiin)
- Lainatusta pesästä pitää tehdä yksi (tai useampi) jaoke jakamalla pesä kokonaisilla laatikoilla, vähäväkisin laatikko jätetään vanhalle paikalle. Emoa ei tarvitse löytää. Jos mahdollista, jaoke kannattaa viedä toiseen tarhaan jolloin lentomehiläisten tasaisempi jakaantuminen varmistaa jaokkeen teon onnistumisen.
- Emottomat jaokkeet kasvattavat itselleen uuden emon. Vaihtoehtoisesti jaokkeelle voi antaa pesästä toukansiirrolla teetetyn kennon,
- Seuraavana vuonna uusi pesä voidaan lainata toukokuun lopussa. Tämän pesän emo on eri linjaa kuin edellisvuoden.
- Tai vaihtoehtoisesti pesien lainaajat voivat vaihtaa lainapesiä keskenään, kunhan ilmoittavat siitä minulle.
- Kaikissa lainassa olevista pesistä pitää kasvattaa emoja vähintään 10 kpl lainaajan omiin pesiin, oli pesä varsinainen lainapesä tai sen jaoke.
- Toisen kesän uudet emot pyritään pariuttamaan hallitusti, joko keinosiementämällä tai keskittämällä edellisen vuoden varroaa kestävät emot pienelle alueelle, joka voi olla esim. lähellä hoitajan emonkasvatustarhaa.
- Lainaaja saa minulta riittävästi kalustoa lainaan jaokkeiden tekoa ja pesien laajennuksia varten (osastoja, kattoja, pohjia ym).
- Hunajasadon saa lainaaja pitää (tietysti).
Ruovedellä 17.12.2020 (Alkuperäistä artikkelia muutettu)
It is relatively easy to create varroa resistant bees. I have been telling my story since 2001. The tough part is how do we get the resistant bees so widespread that an average beekeeper can let his/her queens to mate free… and use no treatments, year after year.
The question is: What is the most efficient method to disperse varroa resistance genes?
I know, It takes years.
It needs education of queen rearing skills.
It needs a ground-breaking change in attitudes towards treatments.
It will not happen in a year or decade.
But nevertheless, we need to start thinking about it.
Here are my thoughts of the steps towards a world without treatments:
- Mating stations start using varroa resistant drones
This is already done in Germany and other Central European countries in some mating stations. The Central European beekeepers are privileged: there is a wide network of mating stations all over Europe. The system is well organized and has been working for decades.
In theory everything should go well. New resistant drone lines are introduced each year. More and more resistant queens and hives, scattered around the whole continent, is an inevitable result. But will it get us to the goal?
Couple thing worry me. Firstly: Are there enough enthusiastic beekeepers taking their queens to mate with varroa resistant drones? We may see only small spots or corners of the continent getting the needed dominance of varroa resistant free flying drones. Secondly: The beekeepers involved may not catch the required enthusiasm about treatment free beekeeping, they may simply need better varroa resistance and continue with treatments. Money talks. At least today the percentage of queens mated with varroa resistant drones is low, normal non-resistant drones dominate in mating stations.
Finland is in a different situation: We don´t have such network of mating stations
2. Individual beekeepers create a dominance of varroa resistant drones in their beekeeping area
Josef Koller ROOTs breeding system was based on free mating. The basic idea was of small circles, starting in one yard left without treatments, uniting eventually to larger areas of varroa resistant drone dominance. There are hobbyists working this way. Unfortunately they do not have many hives and thus their ability to create dominance, even in smaller areas, is limited.
Words of advise: Varroa resistance cannot be achieved with free mating. Starting with scratch without drone dominance (or controlled mating) varroa resistance cannot be achieved or maintained. I dare to declare this as a proven fact. You are free to disagree, but remember, I have tried it myself and almost killed all my hives before changing my way to work.
3. Creating one larger area of varroa resistant drone dominance.
This could be done by a beekeeping association or similar. One larger area of such kind, maybe 1000 hives, would be noticed by the beekeeping community and probably by the media, too. This could have an influence on the attitudes towards treatments, both public and beekeepers.
4. All commercial queen breeders start to use varroa resistant material only
This could be an efficient method, but would lead to massive inbreeding, at least today. There are too few stocks available. But another problem is lacking demand for varroa resistant stocks. Beekeeper education in crucial: we need to spread the information of the developments and possibilities of varroa resistance breeding. We need more Randy Olivers.
5. The use of chemicals in beekeeping is restricted by law
Although I agree this should be done, it is not likely to happen.
On a personal level I´m sick and tired of producing honey. Plus I´m getting older each year. How to get rid of honey production and all the hard beekeeping work, but nevertheless continue with varroa resistance breeding and secure the future of my 20 years breeding work?
Is it possible to find a system where I could share all my breeding material for free and benefit one way or the other? Like LINUX, the free operating system invented by a Finn, Linus Torvalds. If money were not an issue, what would be the most efficient method to spread the varroa resistance genes of my bees into the whole Finnish honeybee population?
Please share your views!
I can come up with several ideas. For instance, I could try to find 40 enthusiastic beekeepers all around Finland and “borrow” each of them one hive in that condition, signed on paper, that he/she promises to raise at least 10 queens of that hive each year and agrees to pay me for the insemination of these daughter queens. Insemination would be easier than to arrange 40 mating stations. Controlled mating is needed to maintain the varroa resistance genes of the breeding material. 40 beekeepers working for a shared common goal. It would be a great start. But how realistic it is to succeed?
What is your idea? Please make a comment!
What are the crucial signs which undoubtedly prove that you really have varroa resistant bees?
- Somebody said that a good sign is when other beekeepers who have got queens of your stock start talking about varroa resistance. They might or might not mention your name. They might post pictures, make remarks on their social media postings or even Pedigrees, and with a good luck, start selling queens with your name.
- Mites disappear. Although the usual misunderstanding is that when somebody is breeding for varroa resistance, he or she must have very few mites, if any. That is wrong. In the first 10 years of breeding, probably with any method but surely with Hard-Bond-Method, there are a lot of mites: mites kill hives, mites on bees’ backs, mites in brood, dead mites on hive bottoms… and mites crawling on drones when taking semen for insemination. But then the situation becomes like what normal beekeepers have: there are mites, you know it, but you do not see them.
I have been regularly watching hive bottoms and entrances all these years. It is just so crazy when one sunny day you realize: Why aren´t there any mites here where there used to be, always one, two or 5.
- Brood areas become uniform again. This was a big surprise for me too. Everybody, even researchers, are talking about bees taking out infested brood, VSH bees, which they of course do if necessary, and brood areas look spotty, but in the end, the REALLY varroa resistant bees have such a brilliant ability to react to mites that mites are removed well before emerging bees are about to hatch. And therefore, brood areas look normal again. I have had a hunch of this for a long time.
Two incidents come to my mind. Once I had a conversation with BartJan Fernhout from Arista research. He said, as an opinion, that when we have a fully varroa resistant bee the evolutionary cost will be minimal. With the cost is meant the price bees have to pay for their resistance: when they work with mites, then there is less time to work with honey. The reason why the cost will be minimal, BartJan reasoned, is because bees keep the mite levels so low, it does not affect their honey gathering abilities. Then I remember visiting Heimo Kangasaho for the first time. Heimo has been without treatments since 2001. His brood areas looked good, uniform large brood areas. At that time (2015) I had all brood areas full of holes. There are holes now too, but usually only to disrupt mites reproducing, bees open and close infected cells.
- Your total honey crops are rising. I have figured this to be the ultimate proof. And now I mean the total honey crop from all hives, not average. When bees survive and live happily with mites, you can make nucs, nucs get stronger on a normal pace, bees start wintering well again and before you know it you have more honey than you can easily sell. Average honey crop may vary according to year. The toughest years are about 5-10 years after treatments are stopped. My hive count went from 150 to 4 before the turn.
- Fewer mites in sugar rolls. This is true, but I do not know where the limit between good varroa resistance and poor resistance is: 1% infestation, 2% or 3%. I have a hunch that 5% infestation on live bees is too much. Such hives die in winter.
I have a confession to make: I have not made one single sugar roll this summer. I know. I am lazy. But when you start realizing that your bees are not going to die because of mites, you lose interest in sugar rolls, and all other measuring for that matter too.
- Your bees become calm again. My great idol Paul Jungels said once that varroa resistance breeding is making bees more angry, prone to sting, at least to some extent. I had seen the same phenomena and figured that more highly developed sense of smell could be the reason; bees get more easily irritated. But what you know, now I must admit that we were all wrong! When the bees handle varroa, they are as calm as ever. In my diary (2001-2019) I have told how my bees became EXTREMELY angry, almost unbearable, for couple weeks in mid-summer. Then, just as surprisingly, they calmed again. 18.8.2010 I wrote:”Once again the hives were extremely angry in the beginning of summer (one month earlier than last year!?). All hives were almost impossible to handle even with good protective clothing, but after that short period of time they are behaving normally. The interesting thing here is that last autumn I sent queens to 8 beekeepers for a test. These hives were not treated either, but the mite levels were very, very low. These beekeepers have not seen anything unusual; the hives are “behaving absolutely normally”. What is causing this period of madness? One hypothesis is that the hives react to the mites and become angry. Then they throw out the mites and calm down.”(http://buckfast.fi/publications/). What happened I do not know to this day, but it sure looked like they had serious issues with mites, which made them like killer bees, and I mean literally, and then by autumn they had handled mite situation somehow and were calm again.
- Your queens sell all over Europe with a 500 € price tag. I set the price when I had 4 hives, and the purpose was to stop selling queens. Did not happen.
- Your bees are scientifically proved to be resistant. It may happen that the researchers do not mention your name in the publication, but the point is as the headline says, YOU know. It does not matter that the rest of the world does not know. Or does it? Terje knows what I mean.