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.