In early June there was a strange number in my handy. A call coming from abroad? I answered. It was Terje Reinertsen from Norway, he asked me to come over for a visit. Yes!
I booked ferry tickets to Sweden and hotels. Now we finally got it arranged. There was some talk already in 2018. Ever since the Oddie et al paper *) came out I have longed to meet him. “The mated queens are ready in the end of June”, Terje said.
I confirmed I want to buy some.
On the 28th of June my wife Ulla and I hit the road. It was going to be a typical farmers summer holiday, less than a week.
Trip went as planned and Terje and his wife Anita welcomed us on their house steps and asked us inside. We sat down in the living room. Bee talk started…
Varroa came to Terjes hives 1993. “The problems were over in 1997”, Terje said. I wrote this down in my notebook, but we probably had some kind of misunderstanding because in the Oddie el al paper they write: “After the last treatment against V. destructor in 1997, mite levels seemed to increase and substantial losses of colonies occurred. However, surviving and healthy colonies were split and used to replace lost ones. Over the last 10 years, colony losses have been lower than the national average of about 10%. “ The Oddie paper is written 2017, so last 10 years mean the period 2007-2017.
Between the years 2005 and 2012 Terje had a special mating station, but after that all his queens have been free mated. He does his drone raising and queen rearing in the center of his beekeeping area.
Terje has about 200 hives. But what is more important there are 150 beekeepers, around him in his area and scattered elsewhere in Norway, who together have about 1500 hives, most of them are not treated. For more than a decade Terje and his wife Anita have had open days at their home every first Thursday of the month from April to September. This is because they had so many calls coming, new and old beekeepers asking for advice, queens etc. Lately there has been around 35 people at these meetings each month. Terje is also the chairman of the Nedre Romerike Birökterlag.
Norway has another quite famous treatment free beekeeper, Hans-Otto Johannsen. He has about 350 hives. Terje has been giving him queens for the last 10 or 15 years. There are quite a lot of tensions between the Norwegian Beekeepers Association and these two. It was quite sad to hear Anita talk about how they have been pressed down. Research money pours in, but to give credit to Terje, that seems to be difficult.
Hans-Otto has a been working together with Erik Österlund from Sweden. They all three have small cells, 4,9 mm. Terjes cells will be 5,0 mm in the future. The Oddie paper says that the resistance of Terjes bees is probably not because of small cells, but it cannot be excluded. Terje told about the practical difficulties Oddie had, time was running out, autumn was coming, to make some tests on the effect of cell size. He showed us an e-mail from Bjørn Dahle which was about the infestation levels. They were similar in the small and normal cell colonies. What was interesting, the small cell colonies produced considerably more honey, but this information has not been published. If not mites, small cells somehow bring major advantage.
There is one big secret in Terjes varroa resistance breeding: ants. Many of us have seen small black ants in hives structures, usually on the warm upper parts or walls. But have you been trying to pour some ants on bees? I haven´t, but Terje did, after he tried some treatments and lost bees anyhow. I hereby name this test as the Reinertsen test, a test where small black ants are poured on a brood frame with bees and the behavior of the bees is observed. The bees either attack the ants or they don´t.
Terje has never been counting mites in large scale. Sometimes he looks in drone cells for mites but has never done any systematic counting. “I don´t look for more work, I look for less work.” In his breeding he has been selecting for a large brood area, temper, low swarming and colour. “I like them a little bit yellow.” Honey crop has not been a selection criterion, because the conditions are so different for each hive and yard. “Large hives make a lot of honey”, Terje explained.
We discussed the possible different ways the varroa resistance breeding might have taken. Resistance in Terjes hives might have different mechanisms than the resistance in my hives. Terje pointed out the importance of strong hives. I said that my hives have developed into other direction, towards smaller hives if compared to my old Buckfast 20 years ago. But after comparing the frame sizes we have, and the how many boxes there were in Terjes hives and my hives, it seemed to me that the population size of our colonies must be pretty identical. The brood areas looked the same too.
The mite infestation levels in Terjes hives can be 6 or 7%, sometimes even up to 10%. But then end of June and end of August something happens. Mite numbers came down. In September there is often less mites than in May. Similar what I have witnessed with my hives, too. What actually happens, that is the most important question to study next. Lately the infestation levels have been low, Terje said.
We are in the same situation, Terje und I: mites are no longer an issue. Mites and bees live together. Mites have become friends.
The first scientist to study Terjes bees was Sandra Lanz, a Swiss from the University of Bern. She worked for weeks in Terjes hives 2014. For some reason this paper has not been published, but shortly it will be. It was actually the work of Sandra Lanz which woke up the curiosity of Melissa Oddie. She came for what Terje called “Ricola ring test”. This was a study where Melissa Oddie coordinated the study of various resistant bee materials from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and France. The Norwegian bees were from Terje, and they had the best varroa resistance. “They were the strongest bees; they had the best immunity.”
Melissa Oddie is going to study Terjes bees for many years to come. There are a lot of plans, but about these Terje was not allowed to talk. During the years Terje has given his queens to many scientists around Europe, some have succeeded, some not. “Some scientist are better beekeepers than others”, Terje laughed. I think it is the nature of institutions, hired labor doing beekeeping for a salary. It is not necessary the bee’s fault, how they are taken care of is important, too.
The normal beekeeping practices influence the bee/mite relations. Unlike mine, Terjes hives are very well insulated, about 5 cm thick Styrofoam. He has two brood chambers (10 frame 398×260 mm) and lower frames for honey supers. Terje likes to keep his colonies tight, before giving them more space. He also has sc. warm structure in his hives. In this the frames go parallel with the entrance. He will be making his own foundation soon. When changing a hives queen, Terje just takes the old queen away and lets the new one walking on the frame. “Bees recognize queen lessness immediately”. Terje moves his bees to heather, this is quite common in Norway, moving work was starting shortly after our visit.
“It was very nice for you to come”, Anita had said at some point of the visit. I felt that we were very welcome. We even had a marvelous lunch together. After long talks inside, we went out, and despite a thunderstorm was coming had a look into couple hives. There were a lot of small hives in the yard. “They are nucs”, Terje explained. Some hives were bigger.
When it started to rain, we had a look at the honey house. One interesting detail was the way he likes to fasten his foundation: while usually beekeepers leave empty space between the bottom bar and foundation, Terje leaves empty space between the top bar and foundation. “If bees are swarmy in nature, they build drone cells in this gap.”
Extracting had just began.
Boxes and other stuff up to the roof and a self made lifting system, you can see a glimpse of downstairs on the down left corner. To be used by Terje himself only…
Too bad Terje did not have any queens for me, partly because there was an order of 50 queens to Sweden.
Then it was time to say goodbye. We asked Terje and Anita for a visit to our home in Finland.
On the roadside we saw one yard of another beekeeper.
We stopped to see Uppsala, its marvellous parks and the Linné Museum. Ingemar Fries, and his Gotland experiment, was in our thoughts too. After 1855 kilometres we finally returned home. VW Golf with 1,0 l petrol engine consumed 4,82 litres/100 km. Hotels and Airbnb cost about 280€, boat tickets 305€.
The Finnish Beekeepers Association has a tradition of two-day queen rearing course arranged in mid-June. Most of the grafting in Finland is done between last days of May and 10th of July. No matter how late the year is there is always nearly optimum conditions in mid-June.
This course has always been very popular, and every year there are more beekeepers wanting to join than can be accepted. The limitation of participants comes from a practical side: courses are arranged in individual beekeepers’ homes. Last year the course was in Kuopio, and there after many years in Eastern-Bothnia. The purpose of the course is to give basic information to start queen rearing. Most of the pupils have never raised their own queens. The teachers are very experienced in all aspects of queen rearing and therefore every year many advanced long-term beekeepers are participating. Learning, for the teachers, too!
This year our hosts were Kalevi and Kirsti Mettälä in Kangasala. Kalevi has kept bees since the sixties and he has been raising his own queens for decades. Hive boxes are 10 frame Farrar (160x448mm), insulated wooden structure. In summer he keeps queens above queen excluder, in one or two boxes. This way it is easier to control the brood area and swarm cells. Kalevi has developed his own mating hive structure, they are made of milk cardboard with suitable insulation pots and two tiny frames. The beekeepers are the unbelievable frugal and innovative people! Kirsti kept us all well fed. Lunch and coffee breaks were ready on time. For the long rangers there was an opportunity to stay overnight.
This year the weather was on our side, we only got couple drops from a nearby thunderstorm. Otherwise conditions were ideal, +25 C and modest wind.
In the first day morning two queen rearing hives were arranged, one with Cloak’s method the other one without division board, for comparison. The queens had to be found!
It was handy to make a sugar shake as well; no mites were found. The piece of paper on the inner cover is for the hive notes.
Suitable age larvae frame was collected and cut into small pieces, and different grafting needles were available. Hand in hand guidance was given when needed. The first successful larvae transfer is the most rewarding for the teacher too! Eyesight was considered as major problem by many. Magnifying glasses, lights and cutting cell walls were tried as solutions.
The grafted larvae were collected under a wet towel and then transported into the two cell starters. The next day the results were obvious: the colony without a division board had accepted only 5 larvae, while the other one accepted 17. Clear demonstration of the effect of queen pheromones.
Things covered in theory, partly in practice too: The basic principles of queen rearing, grafting, Cloaks’ method, cell finishers, different mating hive structures, filling mating hives with bees and food, mating yards and drone colonies, queen marking and handling, semen collecting and insemination, principles of breeding and hygienic behavior needle testing.
Insemination demonstration by Kari Pirhonen.
Some remarks/things to improve:
- there are never too many lights in the grafting table
- a newly drawn comb is not the best frame to make grafts for a beginner
- there were no special drone frames or drone nursing colonies
Many thanks for the organizers, Maritta Martikkala in special, keep up the good work!
God I´m pissed off. I have some BIG news, but I cannot tell them because I promised. What I can tell you is that it concerns about varroa resistance breeding taking one HUGE step forward in the very near future.
I won´t even tell you where it is happening, but I can tell you what is happening in Germany:
I contacted Stefan Luff to find out what is going on in the Bavarian VSH breeding. The impulse to do so was because the Der Buckfast Imker 1/19, beekeeping magazine for buckfast breeders, came out recently. This issue was all about presentation of various mating stations around Europe, the ones which are run by groups and associations belonging to the GDEB (Gemeinschaft der Europäischen Buckfastimker). Ruden, Chiemgau, Baltrum, Lautenthal, Leyhoern and Ammergebirge, just to name few.
Ammergebirge and Leyhoern were last year just for the use of small insider group of active members for VSH breeding program. They all have the same method: one drone insemination, artificial infestation of queen nucs with a 150 to 200 of living mites, and laborious counting of VSH factor after the new queen has capped brood. This year the Ammergebirge and Leyhoern mating station are open for all members of GDEB.
If you are a member, mating your queens there will be the best thing you have done in your beekeeping, ever, that’s for sure. Ammergebirge is at present already almost fully booked.
In Ammergebirge there will be 24 drone colonies 2019. The mother of these colonies is a VSH tested queen, EL8736(GG)1dr, which removed all mites with offspring. This queen originates from a 2016 breeder queen from Erik Österlund in Sweden. This queens daughter and grand-daughter were inseminated with one drone. Some of their offspring has been difficult to test, because despite of artificial infestation with mites, there are no mites found!
There are differences how measured varroa resistance is presented. ArbeitsGemeinschaft Toleranzzucht, which is a German initiative for varroa resistance, uses term NR (= Non Reproductiv) as indicator, while Bavarian group and Arista Foundation use VSH (=Varroa Sentitive Hygiene). NR does not take into account the usual rate of non-reproduction of the varroa mite in a bee colony, which is assumed to be up to 20%.
33% NR is about 50% VSH
50% NR is about 75% VSH
67% NR is about 88% VSH
Picture: It does not matter what kind of mating nuc is used, as long as there are no drones inside!
I have earlier written, that Josef Kollers “Breeding System ROOTs” nearly ended my beekeeping. That is true. Free mating is a bad idea in varroa resistance breeding. Later on, Josef got involved in VSH breeding -work which was started by Arista Bee Research in Holland. This idea has had much more success. Josef Koller is by no means one of the key personalities and breeders in the triumph of varroa resistance breeding in Europe. He is the mentor of the Bavarian VSH breeders’ group.
Unfortunately, I´m a farmer and very busy just then when the most laborious part of VSH breeding, mite counting, is done. On the other hand, it is good, that varroa resistance breeding is getting several approaches. IPM, VSH breeding, Bond breeding. They all end up with different bees, different survival strategies. This will be for future benefit of more broad variation.
One, and maybe the biggest, VSH program is run by the Landesverband Buckfastimker Bayern (Bavaria). Stefan Luff is the breeding coordinator of this association. They work in cooperation with Kirchhain Bee Institute. Stefan writes: “There are more than 40 breeders, which have from 5 to 200 hives each, so breeding is based on large numbers and great uniformity of breeding material. In my own apiary 80% of the colonies are untreated and tendency rising.”
Here are some links about their work:
Their treating threshold is 3% infestation, if that is reached, hive is treated what ever the time of year it is. They have no plans when treating is stopped for good. This is what I´m waiting eagerly. The prediction has been, that once 75% VSH genes are all over, treatments can be stopped. But how many non-resistant hives is enough to cause virus outbrakes? 5%, 10%, 20%? It has been shown in Finland that viruses can cause losses, even without mites.
Like many changes in the world, an old wisdom will probably hold true with treatment free beekeeping: the change takes more time than what we think, but once it starts, it will be faster than anyone believed.
All of you who have read my diary, http://www.buckfast.fi/publications/writings-presentations/, which has by the way been neglected by me for a long time now, know that a decade ago, 15.5.2009, I wrote:
“On average, counted from all hives, the bees do not manage an infestation rate above 5%. This result is a conclusion of the winter losses in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.”
Counting mites is something that everybody doing varroa resistance breeding must do. More or less, sooner or later. But the tricky part is to avoid unnecessary work and false results. Counting mites every week is something I would call “too much”. Just lots of unnecessary work, because once a month should be enough. What about “false results”, what do I mean by that? For instance: if a beekeeper who is treating mites is counting mites once a year, he is very likely getting false results. Treatments have varying efficiencies and therefore mite counts, done once a year, are not telling which hive manage the mites best. Two mite counts a year is more than 100% better.
Some beekeepers are doing IPM based breeding and treating only those hives which have more mites than a set threshold. They do a lot of mite counting, usually only to get false results, because the threshold is set too low. The true mite fighters are never found. And the treated hives with their new queens get a head start and if you are not very, very carefull, you end up picking wrong breeders. That said, I agree that carefully done IPM breeding is possible if the threshold is set high enough and if the beekeeper has enough hives, so that each year treated hives can be compared as a group. Not with all hives, but with hives having the same treatment history. To be able to do this the beekeeper needs to have hundreds of hives.
What would be feasible, cost effective mite counting? I would say three mite counts during the main brood rearing season, one month or 6 weeks between the counts. This way the mite population increase can be counted. But even with this system there are flaws. Usually the swarming season and/or queen changes occur in this period. Every time there comes a new queen in the hive, arises the question: “How should the measured failure or success be counted in favor of the new queen versus the old queen? This consideration must be done if the queen change occurs in the period of those three counts. This problem is of course worse in short summer conditions like we have in Finland. It is important not to make the first counting too soon after the main brood rearing has started. During that time there is variation according to brood rearing start, some hives start earlier and heavier than others.
We had record warm days this week. There has never, in the history of temperature measuring, been +9,4 C in February in our Juupajoki measuring point. Although it was quite windy, most of the hives came out for their cleansing flight, or at least partial cleansing flight. Usually our cleansing flights are late March or in the first half of April. Three dead hives.
I took samples of dead bees from the queen excluders, which have served as mouse guards. I counted mites from 100 bees. The three dead hives had 10, 16 and 21% infestations, average 15,6%, The living ones had infestations between 2 and 8%, average 4,5% and median value 5%. I would suspect that the dead bees have higher infestation than the bees living in the hive, but of course I cannot be sure of that. Some of the hives with the higher infestations looked OK, one is very weak.
It seems that the limit of 5% has remained pretty much unchanged, although the percentage I was writing 2009 was from live bees. I´m somewhat surprised that is has not got any lower during these 10 years. It might be the result of my reservations towards mite counting. Would the right conclusion be that my mite counting has had no effect? One could argue that 10 years with at least some meaningful mite counting the average should be lower. But would my bees be now softer against mites? Or is 5% natural limit in our climate? Lots of questions and no answers.
This blog was supposed to be for more natural and treatment free beekeeping only. Today I must make an exception.
Yesterday evening I sat into my couch and turned on my TV, Skavlan was on. To those who do not know what it is: Skavlan is a Norwegian-Swedish television talk show hosted by Norwegian journalist Fredrik Skavlan. Skavlan is one of Europe’s largest and longest running talk shows, offering interviews with some of the world’s most well known personalities. (Wikipedia)
Fredrik Skavlan interviewed a young Swedish girl, whom I already had heard of.
Greta Thunberg in Skavlan talk show: https://areena.yle.fi/1-4463245
Some time ago in our national evening news there was a story of youngsters striking in front of our parliament house. They refused to go to school. When the interviewer asked them why they are striking, they answered that this is a support action to Greta Thunbergs original idea.
Today Greta is demonstrating in front of the Swedish house of parliament every Friday.
The same has now happened all over the world
Greta is going to take part in Davos World Economic Forum, and travelling there by train, and later this year she has a meeting with the Pope.
I was amazed. Some say we cannot do anything; the climate change and environmental disaster is inevitable. Greta Thunberg initiative shows that small things matter, they grow larger.
I decided to give up flying.
Jürgen Kueppers was one of the organizers of the first Conference for Treatment Free Beekeeping in Europe April 2018. After the talks Jürgen said to me that he is planning a visit to John Kefuss, who was one of the speakers in Vienna. Of course, I wanted to come with him. Toulouse would be south enough to have some resting holiday same time, I reconed.
After a French breakfast in our castle looking hotel Chateau du Comte in the 6th of October morning we hit the motorway.
With hard eye on the navigator screen we managed to find John at his honey house which is in the town area of Toulouse. It was 10 am and John suggested we sit down for tea and biscuits. The large building was a workshop of his father in law, who was an electrician. John transformed it to a beekeeping facility in the early 1970s.
What amazed me most was the amount and size of his woodwork machinery. John has always made his own equipment. They look very American style, finger joint, no isolation 10 frame Langstroth with “Kefuss” burned on the other short side. Boxes are dipped to hot paraffin, no paintwork.
Wax melting equipment in the backyard and foundation machinery inside makes him pretty much self-sufficient in beekeeping. Some sugar for feeding and diesel for his ancient looking open bed Toyota Landcruiser, that is about what he needs to keep it running, or Cyril does. Cyril Kefuss is his son and has taken over major part of the beekeeping operation.
Honey extracting equipment look something like 70 years old and 10 years since in use the last time. “Cyric has his own extractor” John said.
Tea pot whistled, and we took our drinks to table. The honey house ceiling has some transparent tiles which give nice atmosphere in the industrial and somewhat historical looking space. Noises from street and next-door school football field mixed into out talks, which lasted for two hours and we just scratched Johns carrier as a scientist and beekeeper! Ohio, USDA, Oberursel, Chile, Tunisia, luckily, I had read about his carrier before, so I could keep up with it all.
We even heard news which I cannot write here, very interesting unpublished data from a Ben Conlon study. It is about mites, of course.
One thing I did not remember reading was the reason he decided to stop treatments. In the mid-1990s there was an aerosol called Tactic (amitraz) used for varroa treatment. “In the next morning I felt like someone hit my forehead with a hammer” More to that, in a beekeepers meeting there were others having the same symptoms.
John Kefuss is the true pioneer of treatment free beekeeping. Cooperation with a German researcher Wolfgang Ritter was probably one major milestone. Ritter preselected Intermissa black bee in Tunisia, where the beekeepers had faced varroa but had no money to treat. In 1993 they took Intermissa bees to Toulouse and started maybe the longest lasting TF experiment ever made. It was published in American Bee Journal in 2004.
In 1998 he stopped all treatments and was prepared for 90% losses. He only got 60%. After that it is all history written by many others. Together with Ritter they launched Bond and Soft Bond beekeeping systems.
Today the situation has changed. John said he tries to keep about 50 hives. They are all treatment free, but his son has used Apivar for the last two years. The losses were too much for him. Cyril had to buy a lot of non-selected nucs after many of his hives were killed by pesticides. At the same time other beekeepers who treated also had similar pesticide problems. To be on the safe side he treats. “We have separate bees, this way everybody is happy”. John produces 150 virgin queens to Cyrils beekeeping every year, and the grafts are taken grafts from his best hives or Johns owns. With father and son having separate hives, and Cyril not being as keen note keeper as his father, it is sometimes hard to locate where one particular queen is. Luckily, they are attached with numbers.
The future is open. Cyril has not promised to continue his treatment free apiary.
After talks we walked couple blocks for a lunch in a local restaurant. For me, as an Aki Kaurismäki (Finnish world-famous movie director who loves France) fan, the place was quite an experience. Plus, the French food culture, it is something special. We had a marvellous lunch, Johns treat.
Then we drove to their country house, an old farm about 1-hour drive to north from Toulouse. On the way we stopped to look at couple beeyards with Cyrils hives. There I got to see Asian Hornets for the first time in my life. It has lately become one major problem for beekeepers in southern France. Jürgen had told me a lot about it but to see an Asian Hornet grasp almost every bee leaving for a flight, terrible!
John made a note about the hive in the picture above: surely interesting for future breeding because they have narrowed the whole entrance with propolis.
Approaching the destination road got smaller and smaller and after the last 700m I realised why he has his Toyota. Couple old oak trees from Henrik the 4th times stand nearby the main building. I had of course forgotten to take any gear with me, but John had hats and veils. The thick guest book was filled with names. John asked which hive we wanted to open and then we did. Hives were fairly week, but nobody got stings. We looked for how the brood areas looked and tried to find mites. We managed to find some and I personally one, which I of course got payed for! John Kefuss is famous for always paying one cent for every mite guest finds in his hives. A fantastic marketing idea for treatment free beekeeping, and tells me, that although he is a cosmopolitan today, John Kefuss was born American.
Picture of opened brood above and John paying Juhani below by Gabriele Steinig
The farm had a special building and facilities for grafting and insemination. Again, we were able to have a slightly longer perspective into beekeeping, there was the original MacKenzie instrumental insemination equipment among many others!
After the ride back to the honey house it was time to say goodbye. On our way to hotel a terrible thunder storm hit and couple weeks later several people were killed in mountain village floods near Carcassone. Luckily, we were back home by then.
Treatment free beekeeping is peanuts compared to climate change as a challenge.
During the years I have received numerous feedbacks from our customers. Some of them are good some more critical.
This blog update is done solely because of a feedback I specially asked for from Luca Consigli, our partner in queen rearing:
Copy from E-mail 3.10.2018:
”Running probably the biggest company into live bees’ production, my goal is to search always for breeders with best quality, honey production, low swarming tendency and no brood diseases breeders. To reproduce and sell to our customers. I met Juhani reading his varroa resistance story. I was curious to test varroa resistance tendency on big quantities and check also their commercial skills (I had bad experience with other varroa resistance queens in the past. No commercial characteristics so little honey production, aggressive temperament, sensitive to diseases or very little brood all season long).
Lundén’s breeders were left quite 2 years without treatments with other Buckfast breeders. They were the last to show collapsing signs. So, my conclusion was: best varroa tolerance (not varroa resistance in my Italian area just because hives density is very strong, and they suffer continuously varroa re-infestation from other colonies) and average commercial characteristics.
My real surprise was after 1-year test of f1 generation (Lundén daughter crossed with our Buckfast drones):
Best honey production, biggest and compact broods, no foulbroods, chalk, viruses but still low swarming. Good temperament and overwintering.
Yes, for sure they lose some of their varroa tolerance but still able to work from January to July with no varroa warning sign on bees and inside brood.
Probably it’s a very good cross because their isolation in Finland crossed with high standard stabilized European Buckfast score an optimum and positive hybrid vigour.
So, we decide to have an exclusive partnership also with Mr Lundén, to test his material on big numbers and to improve our Buckfast genetic bank with Varroa resistance new stock.
Very lucky decision by the moment.”
LUCA CONSIGLI, APICOLTURA LA FENICE (TRANSLATION FROM A SPEECH IN A MEETING IN BASQUE COUNTRY, SPAIN, FRANCE)