Marc Troyka

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since Jul 02, 2012
East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
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Recent posts by Marc Troyka

This is the second case I've heard of where roundup has been the most likely culprit to a bee kill. It's also (finally) been demonstrated to cause cancer in humans with occupational exposure and on agriculturally adjacent land.
2 years ago

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
In my community, there are a number of treatment free bee-keepers. They swap germplasm with each other.  I hold them in the highest esteem.

Keep in mind that a single breeding program requires about 1000 hives to produce a single genetically diverse, stable variety of bees. That's only about enough to supply one US state with queens sustainably.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Seems to me, like there is a tremendous incentive for the corporations to sell susceptible bees. It's the same old routine of "planned obsolescence", or "hybrids won't breed true". Just a way to keep people coming back year after year for fresh bees.

No, I don't think that's it at all. There are really two major issues that prevent breeders from pursuing parasite resistance.

The first is that it's a royal pain in the butt. Screening for brood diseases is super easy, just pull a few frames of brood, shake the bees off and look for anything out of place. With a glance you can tell if a hive is sick and to what extent. With parasites every single screening procedure is a ridiculous pain.

For example varroa is the easiest, which involves taking a frame of brood and shaking the bees into a bucket, taking a scoop of bees (preferably not the ones that fly off immediately so you get nurse bees), dumping them into a cup of rubbing alcohol, swirling it for 30 seconds and counting all the mites that drop to the bottom of the cup.

Nosema is even worse, you have to vacuum up forager bees that are returning to the hive and dump them into alcohol, then squash out their guts an examine the contents under a microscope, which is about 20 individual bees per hive.

I have no idea how you even test for tracheal mites, but I can only assume it's even more of a pain than nosema.

The second major issue is that bee research (and breeding development) receives only 1/10 of the funding that other livestock get. That is, for every dollar that cow breeders get to shave more brain cells off of black angus or to create a new holstein that's even better at living in a cage, beekeepers only get 10 cents, in spite of how important bees are to the pollination of so many major crops. Most bee research is carried out based on donations, and major breeders have no hope of getting the funding they need to carry out the expensive and time consuming screening needed to breed parasite resistant bees.

Beekeepers don't even buy most of their queens or bees from breeders. Most of the time they just buy from other beekeepers, the more skilled of which can triple their stocks in a year if they so desire. Most of them have to split their stocks every year just to keep them from swarming off before the pollination season starts up. If beekeepers buy from breeders it's typically for special purposes. For example to requeen a bunch of hives and they want to bring in new genetics, or because they're buying special genetics like VSH, or maybe they want to jump start a bunch of new hives for an intensive round of pollination so they buy a bunch of bulk bees and queens and dump them out in front of hives (which can build up faster than nucs). For the price of a breeder queen they could probably buy a whole nuc or box of bees from the surplus of their peers.

Also production queens from breeders DO breed true, but they're mainly breeding for color (like it matters!), gentleness and early build up for migratory pollination (which btw is unsuitable for cold climates, although you can get russians for that and they're even parasite resistant).

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Survival of the fittest coupled with farmer directed selection is at the core of all of my breeding projects. I don't worry about throwing away genetic diversity within my crops, because I start with genetically diverse strains,  and I can add new genetics whenever I feel like it. And with something like bees that mate on the wing, there are plenty of opportunities for ongoing out-crossing. It's easy enough to include Africanized traits in my breeding projects, plenty of those traits come back with bees that have traveled to the Almond orchards.

That's neither here nor there. Interbreeding with other people's bees and ferals is pretty much inevitable for migratory beekeepers, but if they weren't treating they'd end up losing maybe 90% of their stocks and their genetic diversity along with them (not to mention flood feral populations and hobbyists with an unmanageable varroa infestation and other collapse-related conditions). Crops and bees also have very different situations when it comes to breeding and selection, for example there are very few breeding programs focusing on locally climate adapted bees, and it's much easier to take a shotgun approach for selecting crop varieties for local adaptation. With bees you need a strong feral population with a healthy relationship to local breeding programs to achieve that, not to mention the varieties of bees that are imported from their native regions tend to be extremely limited. Primarily only carniolans and italians are used, out of some 6 major varieties that are well adapted for warm climates (italian, north+south greeks, iberians, caucasians, egyptians) and 3 for cold climates (carniolans, germans, russians) and at least 3 for tropical climates (egyptians, saharans, africans), which could be directly or indirectly intermixed. Compare that to hundreds of varieties of tomatoes or melons available for breeding locally adapted stock (the loss of which generally wouldn't produce large scale negative side effects like dying bees do).
2 years ago

Michael Cox wrote:And fundamentally, all treatments miss the major point which is that bees have the genetic tools needed to resist varroa on their own. For the species as a whole to develop resistance we need to stop treatments and allow natural selection to take its course. It is only in parts of the world where beekeepers can afford treatments that varroa continues to be a problem.

That's not entirely accurate. "Live and let die" has several issues as a breeding program. First of all most european bees have poor innate varroa resistance that takes more breeding effort to solidify and dig out the necessary traits, while only africanized bees have the innate resistance that allowed them to adapt quickly. When you let colonies die you're effectively throwing away whatever beneficial traits they had, which might include disease resistant traits that just weren't strong enough on their own, productivity, gentleness, and potential resistance to future pests/diseases. Keep in mind that the cheapest way to resist varroa is simply to limit drone production and raise minimal brood, which is not particularly good if you want strong colonies and good honey production!

Also if you let colonies die out naturally you'll be spreading a heavy mite load onto other colonies (from forager emigration and robbing) and selecting for highly virulent mites that kill their hosts. You won't just be doing harm to your own bees, but also to other people's bees and feral colonies as well. This is considered bad practice and may potentially (and rightfully) get you into trouble. At the very least you need to test your bees and kill off dying hives early before they turn into rotting zombified plague-spreading corpses.

The dumb thing is, that it would only take 10 years for the commercial queen breeders to produce a varroa/nosema/tracheal mite resistant bee (ie 'treatment free') if they actually bothered to, and we've had varroa around for 30 years. The real problem is that commercial apiaries have spent the last 30 years addicted to chemical treatments rather than demanding that breeders produce resistant bees. Of course, once we've managed to breed mites that are resistant to all the available treatments that will likely change (and it won't be long!). Fun fact, if half the breeders in the US did this then it would exceed all of the government-sponsored varroa-resistance breeding programs in the entire world combined.

Moral of the story, if you want to go treatment-free then buy resistant queens. VSH queens are already available in carniolan, italian and russian varieties (although that's only one resistance trait out of the four or so that are known), and if you live near texas I've heard there's someone there who bred treatment-free bees starting in 1991 and hasn't had to treat since 1998.
2 years ago
The short answer as to why the flow hive is terrible:

Even if you don't care about the plastic you still need to swap the combs every few years at minimum (to prevent pesticide/disease buildup) and flow hive frames are stupor expensive. I suspect they may also make a horrible mess of the inside of the hive which would encourage robbing, which is something else you don't want for lots of reasons.
2 years ago
You don't really need to burn frames. Most likely your bees died from varroa, possibly with a side of nosema and tracheal mites. Starvation is also possible but in that case you'd see dead bees with their heads stuck in comb cells.

Even if there ARE signs of brood disease, all you need to do is scrap the comb and bleach everything. Most strong hives can stave off brood diseases as long as spore counts aren't excessive. Freezing only kills bugs/eggs like varroa, small hive beetles and wax moths, and is unnecessary if you're scrapping the comb and bleaching.

It's important to determine what killed them off/caused them to abscond if you don't want to repeat the same thing again. You also need to protect them from mice in the winter, since they cannot defend themselves while in their overwintering cluster.
2 years ago
As far as color quality goes, there is an actual system for describing it for non-incandescent light bulbs. It's called "Color Rendering Index" or CRI. Incandescents by default have a CRI of 100. For comparison the highest CRI from an 'ultra white wide spectrum' CFL is around 82 when it's fully warmed up. A good quality LED light bulb now has 80-85 CRI on average, and there are color corrected LED bulbs with 95 CRI, although they tend to be more expensive. In a few years I expect the price for such high-CRI bulbs will likely drop significantly. I've had some of the high-white CFLs before and they really don't look bad, so I'm expecting these new LEDs to be pretty outstanding.

In terms of energy-to-luminance efficiency LEDs are now around twice as efficient as CFLs. A 14W CFL might produce 800-850 lumens while a 15W LED produces 1600-1700 lumens. The progress in this area in just the last few years has been astounding. Most of the LED bulbs I saw were also dimmable, which previously was not the case and a limitation they previously shared with most CFLs.

In terms of lifespan I can't really say much since I have yet to try out LED bulbs, although I've ordered some so I'll get to try a set soon enough. I have used CFLs for years though and in general I can say that they last quite a long time, anywhere from 6 months to 2 years under pretty brutal frequent on-off usage. Incandescents tend to burn out pretty quickly and seem to do very badly in high-humidity environments like a bathroom. Good quality LEDs are rated at around 25000 hours now though, which is 2.5 times what CFLs are rated for, and I've also seen LEDs rated for 35000 hours although they're ridiculously expensive.

In terms of cost LEDs are definitely on the expensive side. The cheapest decent bulbs I found were around $5 each, and the most expensive ones are $20. Given that CFLs are only like $1.50 each that's pretty freaking steep, but given that LEDs have none of the disadvantages of CFLs in terms of in-use toxicity and warmup times and all of that nonsense I guess it might be worth it. All I really care about is the lifetime, brightness and color quality anyway, and if the LEDs can live up to those promises I'd consider it money well spent.

I'm not really sure if the energy to produce LEDs is really that much higher than for incandescents. Keep in mind that incandescents use tungsten filaments, and tungsten has a ridiculously high melting point which makes working with it an energy-intensive process. Also given the respective lifespans of LEDs vs incandescents it takes many incandescent bulbs to equal the same life span of a single LED bulb. A preliminary study that tried to estimate the lifetime energy cost of different types of bulbs, using a very conservative 50% discard rate for the LED emitters suggests that LEDs may be highly favorable compared to both CFLs and incandescents.

I also ran across some work in the direction of improving the energy efficiency of incandescent bulbs by reflecting all of the heat they produce back at the filament. The energy-to-light conversion efficiencies they were claiming was off the scale, even beating the best LEDs into the dust, but then you would no longer be able to use the bulbs for heating your house and I suspect that the lifetime efficiency would not be that much better since higher temperatures would probably lead to shorter filament life spans. This is also the reason why the "centennial bulb" is a rather bad comparison: yes those bulbs last a long time but this comes at the expense of low energy-to-light efficiency and generally low brightness.

Edison bulbs certainly are pretty though!:

2 years ago
Vibrams are pretty expensive, and also from what I've heard they're not the thinnest soled shoes. There are lots of "barefoot" (ie flat-soled, extra wide toes) shoes out there though, including soft stars (which are moccasin based). Luna sandals also offers tarahumara-style running sandals (huaraches) if you want something really minimal ( In colder climates I think I'd rather have soft stars though.

I used to own a pair of zemgears myself. They were pretty nice but I think I would have preferred the high-ankle version to keep sand and crud out better. The biggest problem with zemgear and soft stars is that they don't keep your feet from getting wet in puddles at all, and they're not so great if you're standing on hard concrete floors all day either. I also recall that driving in them was rather awkward, but I guess for a hardcore running shoe that's asking a bit much. I guess the point is that if you want something more general purpose you should probably look for a more conventional style of barefoot running shoe rather than the more extreme styles.
2 years ago
Granite is potentially high in radioactive materials, and granite is much higher in radioactives than other types of rocks are in general. The radioactivity can be significant, and bad enough that there have been lawsuits regarding granite countertops in some cases. So unless you're screening your granite dust with a geiger counter and know what you're doing I would advise against it.

Also granite is generally low in nutrients, and most rock dust used for agricultural purposes is basalt-based. Even then rock dust isn't particularly efficient as a fertilizer, unless you have no soil at all, or pure quartz sand, or pure peat, or something like that. Or if the rockdust happens to be free and nearby.

Disclaimers aside, there's pretty much no limit to how much you can use. You can grow plants in pure rock dust, limited only by how well it holds water and how much nitrogen is available.
2 years ago