Hive Inspection Sheet

Here are a couple of colonies that looked great going into winter, but died rapidly before spring with a small cluster of bees left. Varroa mite infestation is suspected for their demise.
Here are a couple of colonies that looked great going into winter, but died rapidly before spring with a small cluster of bees left and plenty of stored honey. Varroa mite infestation is suspected for their demise. You can see a number of dead bees on the plywood. This picture was taken in January. These colonies where untreated for mites or nosema as part of evaluating potential resistant breeding stock.

Linked here is the hive InspectionSheet I use for evaluating colonies in my stock improvement program. Mites are recorded with a powdered sugar test while Nosema spore measures are recorded on a separate piece of paper. Doing these measures at specific times, allows for calculations of specific interests, such as the change in number of adult bees in spring, or change in mite population growth The numbers of frames of each measure (bees, brood, etc.) is done by generally estimating by looking at the frame.

Sometimes, I will deviate from this inspection sheet by estimating only the number of adult bees, thereby avoiding pulling out every frame to look for brood and stores. This for example can allow for an early estimate of the over-wintered cluster when its still fairly cold.

Standard methods for rearing and selection of Apis mellifera queens

Here is an excellent article published in the Journal of Apicultural Research 52 (1) 2013 which overviews good methods for queen rearing and breeding selection methods.

R Büchler, S Andonov, K Bienefeld, C Costa, F Hatjina… – Journal of Apicultural …, 2013
The richness in biodiversity of races and ecotypes of Apis mellifera reflects a long lasting,
continuous mating and testing are needed for the improvement, comparison and exchange of
breeding stock, and to of high quality queens, both in a physiological and in a genetic sense.

Queenless Cell Starter / Finisher at HAS 2012

The 2012 Heartland Apiculture Society queen rearing short course in St. Louis was a success. We provided presentations, a grafting workshop, and apiary demonstrations over three days. Here are a few pics of the cell builder we set up in the apiary, a ‘queenless cell starter / finisher’. A cell builder is a colony manipulated to raise queen cells from grafts.

Here Greg Hunt and Krispn Given (Purdue University) are opening the cell builder to check our grafts. We set it up two days before by removing the queen, reducing the hive down to a single deep, leaving little brood, and shaking large amounts of nurse bees from other hives into the box. The next day we placed our grafts into the queenless and crowded hive, and here we are about to check them for acceptance the following day. Notice there are LOTS of bees in the hive. That’s what you need to get many cells started and finished.
Here Krispn Given is holding the frame with the cell cups. Notice how many bees are covering the cell bar frame. Here again, many many bees are needed to start and finish the cells. This is a double thick frame holding 6 cell bars. This gave everyone in the class a chance to try grafting several cups and see if they would be started. Started cells are indicated by royal jelly in the cell and some construction of wax around the top of the cup. In unaccepted cells, the larvae are removed and less wax is build around the rim of the cups.
Here is the cell builder with the cell bar (grafted cells) removed from the center. Notice again how the builder is packed with bees. There is a division board feeder on the right to provide the builder with copious feed to build the cells. They nearly emptied it in 24hrs. The frame beside where the cell bars was has a good amount of pollen so its nearby the queen cells being fed.  When setting up the cell builder, any brood remaining in the colony (although very little is desired) should also be next to the cell bars to keep nurse bees near where the grafted cells are placed the following day.

Once the cells are capped at day 5 after grafting they could be moved to an incubator, or left to incubate in the colony until day 10 when they are ready to be placed into mating nucs. This colony can be used again to start and finish more cells once the first set is capped. To keep the colony going, since its queenless, one or two frames of capped brood, with some open brood, can be introduced each week at the position beside the queen cells. More nurse bees (bees on brood frames) from other colonies can be shaken into the box if the population drops noticeably. This setup can be used for a month or even longer, as long as it is producing good cells.

On a side note, here I am with President Obama whom happened to be at a downtown ice cream parlor.
And you can’t go to St. Louis without checking out the arch.

Nosema Disease, Varroa Mites, and Sustainable Agriculture

So, why am I trying to breed better bees?

Losses in managed honey bee colonies have increased in recent years with a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It has become a consensus that multiple causes are responsible for CCD events and many of those causes are related to issues with the parasitic varroa mite and a gut parasite called Nosema. These problems are not new, but several other confounding factors may be, and these together have lead to a general decline in honey bees irregardless of specific losses where the symptoms have matched CCD events. With this understanding, it is now more appropriate to address bee decline in general, as opposed to CCD.

Mite resistant bees

Here is a drone honey bee that died from Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) before it emerged from its brood cell. Varroa mites transfer DWV virus. You can see the resulting shriveled wings from the virus.

One way to improve honey bees ability to handle factors in bee decline, is to breed bees resistant to mites. Over the last several decades, major advances have occurred in breeding bees to be resistant to varroa mites by selecting for hygienic behavior. Hygienic, mite resistant bees are being propagated and distributed through many bee breeding programs including the USDA-ARS Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) bees. However, few of these programs have incorporated selection for nosema disease resistance in parallel to mite resistance.

In addition, bees produced in these programs may be adapted to their specific location or conditions not shared by all beekeepers. I may be able to better adapt the bees I use by selecting within my own environmental and management constraints. “Locally adapted bees” is a concept with renewed interest in today’s challenging beekeeping environment, yet this concept has been appreciated for some time as identified by Brother Adam in Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey.

Nosema disease

Nosema disease can prevent colonies from growing strong. Here is a weak colony in spring.

Nosema disease is caused by two species of microsporidia, Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae. These unicellular organisms reproduce inside adult honey bees negatively affecting the mid-gut epithelium, hypopharyngeal glands, corpora allata (juvenile hormone), as well as oocytes in queens (see Huang’s article). Nosema infected bees have a shorter lifespan, dysentery, nutrition digestion problems, cannot produce essential hormones correctly, and in many ways cannot function to maintain productive or surviving colonies. The microsporidia produce spores in infected bees and after defecation, these spores are picked up by un-infected bees to continue the disease cycle. Nosema disease is normally controlled by feeding the antibiotic fumagillin dissolved in syrup during spring and fall.

Breeding for disease resistance and increased production should hopefully result in fewer colonies like this one in spring. A colony that has not grown more than this by March in Tennessee is not worth trying to revive.

Treatment is normally done without prior sampling to determine if Nosema spore levels are high enough to warrant treatment. In the past, there was a single species involved, Nosema apis. Now, a new Nosema species in U.S. honey bees, Nosema ceranae, causes much more problems than previously observed. This may explain why nosema disease resistance has not already been incorporated into many large scale, historic breeding programs.

Spore sampling for Nosema requires microscopic examination of bee samples and could possibly be used as a selection measure. With the exception of formal bee breeding programs, many beekeepers raise queens from colonies that seem to do well as compared to other colonies. Specific measures are often not incorporated, likely due to the time involved in sampling.

Nosema disease is an impediment to Organic Production and Certified Naturally Grown honey bees.

Formal recommendations by the National Organic Standards Board to the National Organic Program in 2010 point out that antibiotics are not permitted for any type of livestock (see .pdf). It is unlikely the antibiotic fumagillin will ever be included as an allowed organic substance. Fumagillin is also prohibited for use in Certified Naturally Grown production. There are numerous essential oils on the market for control of nosema disease, however none of these have been shown to work. More sustainable than using annual, preventative treatments, would be if the bees could normally handle this disease on their own. There is some evidence that resistance to Nosema by honey bees is a heritable trait and therefore breeding for that trait may be effective in reducing or eliminating prophylactic nosema treatments.

Selective Breeding of Honey Bees for Multiple Traits with a Priority on Nosema Disease Resistance

I’m pleased to announce a honey bee breeding project I will begin in 2012 on my farm. The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) arm of the USDA has agreed to fund a 2 year project on my farm to improve honey bee stock.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll go over the details of this project, then I’ll provide updates as the seasons progress. So, lets begin with a little background info about my farm and SARE!

Daughters of Carniolan queens from Glenn Apiaries will be the base, starting point for my SARE breeding project. These queens are Carniolan and bred with Carniloan drones. The Glenn’s have crossed Sue Cobey’s line of Carniolan bees (including some germplasm from recent imports) with VSH bees (Varroa Sensitive Hygienic) to produce the Glenn Apiaries line of Carniolan bees. These bees are a dark bee known for being winter hardy, capable of rapid spring build up, and have strong tracheal mite resistance.  Since the Glenn’s have already crossed these bees with VSH and the drone producing colonies these daughters will mate with at my mating yard are daughters of pure VSH queens, the progeny produced during this project should have good varroa mite resistance.

I have been in the business of beekeeping since 2006 and have been a beekeeper since 1999. I keep between 60 and 100 colonies at 5 apiary sites in East Tennessee. I have raised queens from various stocks and currently utilize queens from Glenn Apiaries. As excellent as some of the offspring of these queens are, it is reasonable to believe that my location is very different from where these bees were originally bred and breeding bees for my own location and needs will be advantageous.

SARE has been a major influence and supporter of my beekeeping farm and my education. Through relatively small grants, SARE can encourage people like myself whom want to improve farming to do so while keeping the risks associated with the costs of trying things down to manageable levels. In exchange, I will try and convey what I learn to others to repeat, or avoid, or simply add to your knowledge base. AND, ideally I’ll be helping to improve disease resistance and economic improvements of honey bees used in or near Tennessee, since most of my queens sold are within a 1/2 day driving distance.

Other SARE projects I’ve worked on

From 2007 – 2009, I conducted a SARE producer project to test a beekeeping practice of natural comb management. I learned and shared that ‘natural comb management’ is not for me, and likely many other beekeepers that have similar needs. I also learned that drone producing colonies don’t necessarily have more mite problems than colonies where drone production is restricted by worker sized comb cells. This is opposite of the conventional thought on drones and varroa population growth.

Through 2009 – 2011, I conduced a SARE graduate student project through the University of Tennessee for a Master of Science degree. During that project, I explored many area farms determining what bees were providing pollination. I found that native bees are very important pollinators on local farms, but how much and which ones depend on the type of crop. Here is my thesis. Wilson, Michael Edward, “Bee Visitation to Crops and other Flowers Planted as Bee Food. ” Master’s Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2011.

SARE news

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