Introductionary study for breeding Varroa resistant bees

Introductionary study for breeding Varroa resistant bees - Erik Österlund

Now I want to present you a very interesting and very useful study for getting Varroa resistant bees. As already mentioned, Erik from Sweden, is one of us, who has the most experience in dealing with small cell bees. The left is Erik Österlund, Wayne Peters, then Ed Lusby, the founder of our system, and Hans-Otto Johnson, Norway, with 600 small cell hives.

Erik had a  brilliant idea in the 90s. At that time there were already some beekeepers around the world, who had managed to breed resistant bees. He now wrote his colleagues his experience, asking them to describe their experiences. The underlying idea was that if all had done it, or had partially succeeded in breeding bees the fought back against the disease by themselves, it must be, in all these forms of managment, some truth. And then the Internet was not yet as widespread as today, these beekeepers had little contact with each other - thus everybody of them had achieved it in their own way. Erik said so - if we make a summary of all the different experiences, we would have very useful guidelines to get to our aim, the resistant bees. And this summary exists since 2004 - and who knows? almost nobody. Somehow it seems to me that they do not want to know.

Here you can read the study, there are also translations to spanish and german.

I'll just briefly summarize - the following advice is given to us here:

1. All the colonies in the same apiary are managed the same way.

2. Have the colonies spread out in the apiary as far away from each other as possible to avoid drifting.

3. Don’t keep many colonies in an apiary. How many? Maybe 6-12, it’s hard to say, but at least few in the beginning of the project when the material is uneven. It’s better to use more apiaries with fewer colonies to avoid reinfestation. The probability of many high mite population colonies in an apiary will decrease that way.

4. Also try to make sure that apiaries that may spread mites heavily isn’t placed close to your project apiaries.

5. Use no chemical whatsoever in the project . Or at least very little. When used, the goal is not to save a colony as colonies has to be allowed to die, the least good ones, but to hinder reinfestation of the other colonies.

6. If mite populations have to be kept low to hinder reinfestation of other colonies this is possible by other means, for example by removing all capped brood in two stages with for example 9 days in between. Remember this is not done to keep as good a producing colony alive, but to hinder reinfestation of the other colonies.

7. Make sure that the microfauna is as little disturbed (and maybe helped back if possible) as possible in the bee colony (compare with no5 above).

8. Use combs which are drawn on wax foundation made from as chemical free wax as possible.

9. Try to leave as much honey as you find possible for winter food. After all that’s what the bees ”expect” for winter food.

my note: and attention - that's all for the start of conversion. Over the years, this will be completely different and much simpler.

Then it continues about the importance of selective breeding. You need some method to differ the hives  that fight against the varroa well, to those who do not defend themselves so well. There are many ways - the bees that bite the mites, SMR, etc etc - there are some methods described.

It means to multiply the good and get rid of the bad ones (solving roblem, and then swap queen, not  keep bad ones alive)

I have also made the test with the frozen brood piece in the beginning, but now I can say that it is best to selected after the appearance of bald headed brood - but more on that later.
(Please note this was my opinion and is not in the report by Erik)

Back to the study: Now a simple recipe for the beginner is described:



1. As a small cell size is of no disadvantage for the bees, but maybe though so for the beekeeper who downsizes, it is a basic in a project like this, due to the reports.

2. Make sure, or as sure as possible, that you have a microfauna in your colonies, or try to improve it, by for example get a nontreated colony from somewhere to mix in bees and combs with your bees.

3. Make efforts to use as residue free wax as possible in your combs.

4. All the colonies in an apiary are managed the same way.

5. Place only 6-12 colonies in an apiary to begin with. If you loose all colonies in an apiary due to domino effects you don’t loose all and not so many. A project like this can have as many colonies you are able to supply it with, but it is said by Brother Adam once that 100 colonies is a minimum for being able to make progress. But start with as few as you can set aside for this and cooperate and exchange breeding material with others maybe (you have to cooperate if you are small to avoid inbreeding and a lowered immune system just because of the small number). Try to work at least 3 km from other beekeepers, not for the safety of their bees, because you never get any hive out of control, but for the safety of your bees.

6. Plan for more than one small apiary (placed”together”), as isolated as possible from other bees.

7. The new queens bred are mated in the center of these project apiaries, or in the center apiary. Instrumental insemination and mating islands can be used sporadically to try to make quick improvements. But there is an important point in using matings like described, to keep the genetic variation high and thus avoid inbreeding problems and health problems related to that. Also drones flying freely from untreated colonies may well be an advantage to get the best drones to mate with the queens concerning varroa resistance. If you get occasional wrong matings it will delay the progress but little, if progress is achieved.

To this point of breeding selection and positionig of the colonies  here