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Wintering queens

I hate to kill queens. I have in fact stopped doing that almost entirely. The older I get the more difficult it is to me.  Three queens in Apidea mating nucs were still sitting with extra isolation alongside my honey house, and although many have tried it, Apideas are practically impossible to overwinter in Finland.

Disclaimer: What I now describe is not a proven method for queen overwintering. This is an experimental trial.

  1. Selected a strong hive
  2. Took out one frame with lots of food and brushed the bees away
  3. Cut the lower part to fit in a three-part unit
  4. The Apidea bees were put to sleep with CO2
  5. The queen and some worker bees were dropped into their cages
  6. The cage was closed with excluder (both sides)
  7. The frame with the cage was put in the middle of the upper box.
  8. Rest of the Apidea bees were poured in too
  9. The hive was left open for several hours to cool down their nervousness

Juhani Lundén

Just a stubborn beekeeper who decided to stop treatments

The Danish connection

For a long time I have been wondering why haven´t I ever sold any queens to Denmark? Today I got the answer: The Danish bee breeders are so good, that there is no need to import any queens.

Simple, and makes sense, and I must believe it, because it came from horse’s mouth: professional beekeeper Kim Jacobsen from Denmark paid me a visit. Because of Covid19 our meeting had been postponed many times.

Kim has about 120 hives and 400 nucs. Polystyren hives, frame size is one of their one in Denmark. He is making his living mostly by selling 5 frame nucs. Producing honey is unprofitable because of prices, 2,5 €/kg sold for a packer.  Our low in Finland (4€/kg) is their high in Denmark!  Queens would be more profitable to sell than nucs, but to get a market share would mean stealing customers from other queen producers.  Only a true gentleman thinks like that, eh.   One major business for beekeepers in Denmark is white clover pollination, you can get up to 110€/ hive. Some beehives serve in fruit pollination too, but nothing to match white clover hive numbers.

Kim has been a beekeeper for 10 years now. Earlier he was a farmer, served the navy and as a part time gardener before becoming a professional beekeeper.   

Beekeeping in Denmark is not as huge business as for instance in Germany, or Southern Europe. Biggest beekeepers have about 1000+ hives and most professionals couple hundred hives. But bees are everywhere, estimated hive density is almost 20-fold that in Finland! 

Varroa issues were also discussed. The virulence of bee viruses has increased dramatically. The situation is so bad, that although strictly obeying recommendations (drone removal, formic acid and 2 oxalic acid treatments) one may lose hives to varroa. Typically, the hives are just plain empty of bees when wintertime oxalic acid treatment is due.  This year Kim tried to make progress in varroa resistance selection and did not do any drone brood removal. Result: infestation levels (300 bees alcohol wash) are around 10%.  Kim is, for a good reason, worried about how many hives he will have next spring. Hopefully some.

Photo: We saw wingless bees on a hive entrance in my home yard. Kim said colony in Denmark would be practically dead of mites and viruses before any wingless could be seen. Are our viruses softer?

Kim has two isolated island mating stations for his Buckfast bee breeding. Läsö -island Black bees have been in Kim’s breeding program too. Swarming and brood diseases are however a problem in these crossings. Nothing to wonder knowing that these are the weaknesses of black bees.  Kim also said that Buckfast bees have become more prone to swarm in Denmark. Only the lines with moderate brood areas have low enough swarming. Big brood area Buckfast bees make swarms, said Kim. Pretty alarming, I would say. Something has gone wrong, but what?

The fact how legislation in Denmark, and other European countries, protects beekeeping and bee breeding is astonishing. Kim told an example: A hobby beekeeper got a fine of 20 000 € after, by accident, moving his 2 hives near a protected isolation mating apiary. Nobody destroyed anything physically. The sum was calculated of the losses to breeding work.           When 80 of my 500€ queens and their Apidea hives were destroyed by a hungry crazy bear, protected by the State of Finland, I got paid 60€ per mating nuc.  New Apidea alone, unpainted and un-assembled, cost 29,90€.  

Till next time!

The adventure begins.

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:

Johan Gustafsson

Timo Paakkunainen

Claude Flener

Veli-Mikko Leinonen

Ari Lehtinen

Janne Nevalainen

Kaj Rehnman

Pertti Paavola

Kalle Käkönen

Ismo Kajander

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.

Principle of free usage

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

Late May some, if not all, of these hives travel to Southern Finland to their new ”owners”

Buckfast is a race, not a hybrid

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.”

Really?

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:

https://www.farmprogress.com/soybeans/cannibalizing-honey-bees-target-deadly-mite-kills-colonies

“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.

Juhani Lundén

*) Source: Mehiläinen beekeeping magazine 1/2021, page 12, text by Lassi Kauko and Lauri Ruottinen

Mite infestation level in varroa resistant bees

first ever log hive wintering 2020-2021

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%.  

Juhani Lundén

Horse race hurdles

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.

Juhani Lundén

*) https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11657699

**) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friesian_horse

http://animalia.bio/przewalskis-horse

#suomenhevonen #hevosjalostus

Wintering is easy when you remember bees are not humans

Look at this wintering in Alaska:

https://www.beesource.com/threads/wintering-bees-in-alaska.357183/page-3

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

Juhani Lundén

Varroa resistance can maintain after one generation of free mating

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.

Juhani Lundén,

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)

Juhani Lundén