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Varroa Resistance

 
Michael Cox
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Hi folks,

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Ron Hoskins, a UK based beekeeper who has been breeding varroa tolerant bees for the past 20 years. He has had papers published, and mini-documentaries broadcast about his work.

His bees have been described as "Indestructible", not having suffered a varroa related or virus related loss in 10 years.

I wrote up my account of talking with him here:

http://treatmentfreebeekeepers.co.uk/index.php/ron-hoskins-swindon-honeybee-conservation-group/


Of particular interest is the section on Type B DVW, which confers hive immunity to DWV. This is a new protection mechanism and only recently studied.

I've set up my own website and group to try and get UK specific Treatment Free beekeepers working together. There are a few of us, but there is a lot of resistance in the conventional beekeeping circuit here. There is a vocal group calling for compulsory varroa treatment of hives, and a general opinion that all bees "should" be mite free, so treating regularly is a necessity. There is reasonable hostility towards those who are working a different paradigm.

Mike
 
David Livingston
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Apart from wondering who is funding the group that want s compulsory treatment ( beyer or monsanto ). And who will treat the wild bees ( job for the local authority ? ) or the bees being blown over from France ( customs anyone ) .
I wish you luck however would it not be better to campaign with one of the other natural beekeeping groups ?

David
 
David Livingston
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Natural beekeeping Trust for example ?
 
Michael Cox
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I've had some communication with the natural beekeeping trust. I think there is a substantial difference in philosophy/positioning between what I'm aiming for compared to them. That is not to say we are in opposition, but that I think there is merit in taking a different angle.

I've been frustrated by labels "natural beekeeping" and "balanced beekeeping" that get used in UK circles. As was communicated to me in a PM by another beekeeper; "I don't want to end up hanging crystals over my hives and dancing naked around the apiary!" Exaggerated hyperbole perhaps, but the point was clear. The biobees forums and NBT seem to push for naturalistic hives; sun hives, log hives, even living tree hives recently. I'm not saying they don't have a place, but the opposing paradigm in UK beekeeping is box hives, regular treatment regimens, scientific papers and large and medium scale commercial beekeepers. Their paradigms are so diametrically opposed that they may as well not be talking about the same material.

What I'm hoping for is to position my site/group in such a way as to attract the middle. People who want to still keep larger numbers of hives, and perhaps pursue a profitable sideline. People who don't like the philosophy of automatic treatments and would rather work towards breeding resistant/tolerant bees. To that end I'm aiming to keep material away from the "hanging crystals and dancing naked" end of the spectrum.

Given the interest the article has generate in a short time, and the deluge of communication that has come my way since then, I think there is an audience looking for what I hope to deliver.
 
Michael Cox
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David Livingston wrote:Apart from wondering who is funding the group that want s compulsory treatment ( beyer or monsanto ). And who will treat the wild bees ( job for the local authority ? ) or the bees being blown over from France ( customs anyone ) .
David


"There are no feral bees"
"You are breeding varroa and infecting our hives"

From the hostile messages I've seen this is coming from genuinely concerned beekeepers who vehemently believe that the only good mite is a dead mite, and will do everything in their power to obliterate them. They cannot/will not see that mites and bees can form a balance.
 
Michael Cox
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Have these forums died since I was last on? I'm really surprised this hasn't generated more interest - it is right up the permaculturists street. Breeding bees that can cope with varroa and associated diseases without needing treatments or other interventions. This is the first step to weaning large scale commercial beekeepers off treatment regimens, and to reinstating feral colonies in areas (like mine!) where they still struggle.
 
S Bengi
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Cool, it seems as if this bee keeper is
culling his queens/hives who aren't particular varroa tolerant.
'encouraging' mild typeB virus because it outcompetes dangerous typeA virus
selecting for better grooming/brooding bee.

He is now selling these bees to folks near him in UK. How can I benefit from this in USA? Encourage swarming-recapturing and cull the weak hives based on grooming habits/mites kills? Will he ship his bees to USA?

 
Michael Cox
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Sorry, Ron isn't currently selling bees as far as I am aware, and certainly not shipping internationally. The bee breeding is his passion, but he is 85 years old and doesn't seem interested in commercialising what he has.

The methods he has used can be reproduced anywhere, but basically amount to breeding from hives with varroa tolerance traits, and either requeening weaker hives or letting them die over winter. Most treatment free beekeepers experience heavier losses for the first few years as their stock improves, then they stabilise at around the same loss rate of keepers who do treat. One thing I have found interesting in researching this is the compartive ease with which these traits can be selected for - this to me indicates that the mechanisms evolved a long time ago and the genes for these behaviours still exist, they have just been diluted due to lack of selective pressure. It doesn't rely on random mutations to get new genes, which would make the whole prospect borderline impossible.

The USA is actually far better served for suppliers of treatment free bees than here in the UK (where there is no one!). If you want to know more then the best place seems to be the Treatment Free Beekeepers Facebook group.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/treatmentfreebeekeepers/
 
David Livingston
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Micheal
I think there is certainly some ambiguity over the term treatment free . Most folks like myself don't treat and we are doing ok I have never thought that I needed to obtain any special bees .
There is a view point that those who sell such bees are actually selling bees with a weakened strain of verroa not stronger bees .
As for forming a new group many of us see the enemy as the chemical companies not verroa.

David
 
Michael Cox
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David Livingston wrote:Micheal
I think there is certainly some ambiguity over the term treatment free . Most folks like myself don't treat and we are doing ok I have never thought that I needed to obtain any special bees .
There is a view point that those who sell such bees are actually selling bees with a weakened strain of verroa not stronger bees .
As for forming a new group many of us see the enemy as the chemical companies not verroa.

David


My perception is that this is quite a regional/cultural issue. From what I have read and seen many countries in the world do not have a widespread treatment mentality for varroa. In those areas the bees and mites have pretty much already reached an accommodation. France, from the little I have seen it discussed, is one such area. In the UK and the USA the overwhelming paradigm is treatment, and the messages being handed down from the senior/established/vocal beekeepers is that if you don't treat your bees will die, your bees will spread mites to everyone else, and you are essentially neglecting your bees (essentially an animal welfare abuse claim!)

In such a system bees have not been able to develop their own coping systems for varroa, so there is a real need for "special bees" selected for tolerance. If nothing else it may be the catalyst to get some of those beekeepers off the treatment bandwagon. There is one small region of the UK where more beekeepers do not treat than do, and that is a quirk of geography and of history. One bee inspector in that area recognised that some of the local bees were resistant and early on recommended that people in that area, with those bees, stopped treating. Elsewhere the inspectors all recommend treatment.

Regarding the weakened varroa - this is definitely part of the solution! And a very valid and important part at that. When left undisturbed the bees and mites select each other for survival of the overall system. The bees get stronger and the mites get weaker. If we treat we prevent the mite weakening selection from occurring.
 
Raye Beasley
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I just started bee keeping 4 years ago. I bought my first nucs from the only treatment free breeder here. Thats what the fellow advertised and what I thought I was getting. When I picked them up, I mentioned that I was going to continue treatment free and he got this "funny look" on his face. He came clean told me that the nucs weren't really treatment free but he did have some but was sold out. The old bait and switch.

Fast forward 4 years. I started with 2 nucs which survived treatment free for 2 years. I split them the second year removing the original 4 nuc frames and replacing them with foundationless frames for a total of 4 hives.

The two original hives winter killed and I split the two splits making a total of four more hives. One skipped town one day last summer and I have 3 surviving hives this spring. No treatment and no mucking about with them other than to make splits. They are free to make drones and queens and bugger off if they feel like it. I am trying to get up to 10 hives so that I can have a 50% loss rate and leave them with enough honey to feed themselves and make a bit for me.

Turns out that my odds with treatment free neglect are no worse than the what the treated beekeepers get around here, and I think its only going to get better the more generations I can get through without losing them all.

I never tell anyone that I don't treat. That way every one can sleep easier.
 
Michael Cox
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Raye Beasley wrote:I just started bee keeping 4 years ago. I bought my first nucs from the only treatment free breeder here. Thats what the fellow advertised and what I thought I was getting. When I picked them up, I mentioned that I was going to continue treatment free and he got this "funny look" on his face. He came clean told me that the nucs weren't really treatment free but he did have some but was sold out. The old bait and switch.


Ouch, that sucks. At least he came clean with you.


Turns out that my odds with treatment free neglect are no worse than the what the treated beekeepers get around here, and I think its only going to get better the more generations I can get through without losing them all.
I never tell anyone that I don't treat. That way every one can sleep easier.


Interesting choice of phrasing, and one which speaks volumes about the status quo and perceptions of the norm. Some people do genuinely see not treating their bees as neglect, if they haven't done everything they can to help their bees, then they feel guilty if the bees die. ON the other hand a case could be made for saying that medicating against the mites is abusive as it is preventing the bees adapting to the mites and breeding for weaker bees, in exchanging for preserving honey harvests at all costs. One view is so heavily entrenched here in the UK that dialogue about the other is unwelcome. Many people are popping up on my site and pretty much saying similar things to you. They haven't treated for a number of years, but are not talking about it.
 
Cj Sloane
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Raye Beasley wrote: I am trying to get up to 10 hives so that I can have a 50% loss rate and leave them with enough honey to feed themselves and make a bit for me.


This is my goal too. I'm hoping the worst case scenario would still leave me with at least 1 hive.

Keep splitting! I think it's the best "treatment" out there!
 
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