Elgon
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In the making of me a beekeeper
My mother took me to a beekeeper when I was 5. I didn't become a beekeeper then. But it left memories. And honey was on the table.
Fathers can be clever too. When mine got his summerhouse in the forest many years later he understood that the old fruit trees need pollination. I asked a friend who was a beekeeper to put a hive there. He did. An inevitable process began.
My first beehive. Rune is helping me here. This hive got my wedding ring, havn't found it yet.
The start of my beekeeping career was fumbling. Rune, my friend drove 15 miles back and forth at least every 14 days during summer to the bees. And I got the bucket of honey. I liked the deal.

I started to lift some frames, but the excluder was a seal to the holy of holiest I didn't dare to remove. For winter I managed to give them 8 kg of sugar. In spite of that they survived the winter. What race of bees they were? Have no idea. They were honey bees.

In autumn the badger had tried to open it for a meal. But the excluder was well tightened with propolis as a lid. I was a little bit shaky when I put everything back again and my wedding ring fell down to the hive somewhere. I never found it again. That's how I married the bees.
My second hive at the house my wife and I bought as quite newly married.
Of course when my Honey and I moved to our new house on the countryside we had to have bees, at least I. I didn't understand then what an understandable wife I had got. After work I went to see the bees before her. And when I went for a more in depth chat with them they chased her and the kids inside the house to be alone with me. That's why my thoughts were turned to selecting more well behaving bees. This was in 1975.

When I went to bee meetings and read the journal I was told that you couldn't mix different bee races. That would create nasty bees. I understood I had a mix of races of some kind. So then,if I bred virgin queens from my colony, where should I the virgins? I didn't know of any mating stations for mongrel bees. I learned there was an island station in a big lake nearby with Italian bees. But my bees sure had no Italian blood in them so that would make another race cross and still angrier bees if those more experienced beekeepers were right.

But I had read some Einstein. And I liked one of the few sentences I understood:

”To be able to make progress you have to dare to challenge the authorities.”

So I did that after I hade made sure the bees on the island were very calm in temper. But they were of a different race than the virgins I mated there. The resulting bees didn't chase my wife and kids in the house, nor did they make me have double veils and gloves, well dressed under the overall and taped boots. So Einstein was right. I did the right thing when I challenged the authorities. I was hooked on breeding.
My apiary in 1982 at our new house which we built in 1980. With mongrel x Italian x Buckast crossings and also some pure Buckfasts. But my combinations were of course best.:)
I had to challenge the bee authorities again. I learned later that one time is no time. I had to do it again. What was the worst kind of bees I had heard of from these authorities. Buckfast bees. They had come to Sweden some years earlier, first from Weavers in Texas. Then with the help of Ulf Gröhn in 1975 from England. Now they had a couple of mating stations in the southern part of Sweden. I made sure they were calm in temper. Mongrels crossed with mongrel bees. What would happen.

I learned that the key was to make sure the parent colonies were as calm in temper as possible. The resulting colonies were bathing suit type of bees giving record crops. The furthest away from wild bees you could get. Now this was all about temper, or almost. Of course also about honey yield and low swarming.

Today I know, and we know here that survival without chemicals is essential for sustainable beekeeping. Survival in the long run for honeybees. Here locally adapted honeybees is essential.

The conclusion is:
Get your own experiences!
My article in ABJ 1982 about Ake Waleryd and his funnel bottom which molded in polystyren plastic. It worked well and no mice or birds found their way into the hive.
Beekeepers are alike all over the world. We like challenges. We are inventors. And we want others to know what we've found. And if we can persuade others to accept our findings and keep bees as we do we are happy. And the bees adapt to make us happy too.

In 1981 I got to know an inventor. Ake Waleryd thought it was disgusting to find the bottom board filled with dead bees in spring so he invented the funnel bottom and made it out of foamed plastic. It worked well and he made me a convert. This must be shared with more I thought and wrote and article for American Bee Journal. My English was enough understandable for the editor to be able to make an article out if it in 1982.
My first visit at Buckfast Abbey 1983. Here sitting in the office of Adam with Ulf Grohn to left, radio reporter Peller Eckerman and Bjorn Lagerman to the right. He notified my question about the pedigrees and showed me them. You can learn a lot from them how he worked.
In 1983 I went to visit Buckfast Abbey and Brother Adam together with a radio reporter from the Swedish Radio who went for an interview with the famous monk. Of course we brought a piece of comb with bee eggs and young larvae which we used for grafting when we were back. We managed to get a few queens which we mated to Buckfast drones. We found a small island in a big lake as our own mating station, for our newly formed bee breeding club, which is still running.

I was surprised Brother Adam showed us the pedigrees for his bees. I guess he wanted to test us to see if we could get any information out of them, if it was any idea to discuss breeding matters in depth with us. Apparently he was at least somewhat satisfied as we discussed quite a lot with him.
Peter Donovan and Brother Adam discussing the work. Donovan was in charge of the beekeeping departement for some years after that Adam had died. Today Donovan is not with us either. The beekeeping at the abbey is today very different from what it once was.
I came back several times, stayed in the monastery and worked with the bees with him and the crew. Peter Donovan was of invaluable help for Brother Adam for many years. He's retired now of course and lives in small town of Buckfastleigh nearby the monastry. I learned a lot of practical beekeeping from him. Did you know for example that when you find a cell cup built upon a cell with pollen or beebread it's a good sign that the colony most probably is queenless.
I was working at a publishing house as an editor and developing my beekeeping business. When The Swedish Beekeeping Association needed a new editor for their journal Bitidningen. I applied. I was the only one specifying the salary I wanted. Maybe they thought I was the only one knowing my value so I got the job. 1 nov 1984 I began working for the Association. The journal has a circulation of 11000 copies and publishes 10 issues a year. I retired from the Association in May 2015, but not from the bees.

Keeping locally adapted bees
Breeding, that is selection of the best, to keep and multiply those, and selection of the least good to get rid of them, is of importance, and part of the adaptation process when bees are being better adapted to their environment. But there are other processes involved in adaptation than selection. Just living at a certain place makes impact in different ways how the genetics is expressed. And such changes are inheritable to further generations, until the environment changes. Then the gene expression changes again. It’s called epigentical changes.
So if you are constantly buying honeybee queens from another part of the country, you get bees that are not adapted in a maximum way to your locality. Even if you have locally adapted bees management is very important to keep bees the best way possible.

I got to know Gunnar Andersson early in my beekeeping career. He kept local bees. Local bees then were famous for swarming a lot, being of mostly bad temper and giving mostly small honey crops. No one really thought of if the type of hive and management could be responsible, at least partly. In high producing areas these bees in small hives, actually of about the Warré size, but with frames and supering above instead of underneath, gave about 50 pounds of honey, leaving almost nothing for winter and giving sugar solution instead for winter.
Gunnar Andersson and his bee house. He used local bees others hold to be bad bees but took big crops. He wintered on four boxes with at least one full box of honey and complemented with some sugar. He lifted the three uppermost boxes in spring and took away the bottom one. Then have the colony a new on top.
Gunnar Andersson used a square box with12 frames in size in between Shallow and Medium. He wintered a colony in 4 such boxes. The fourth full of honey. Then 20 pounds of sugar solution for kind of insurance, which the bees had for winter. The honey for brood in spring. In spring he lifted the upper three boxes with block and tackle and removed the bottom one. It was empty of food and brood. He warmed the house with the frames.

The wax he used was cappings wax. He put on a new box as the fourth one and then a queen excluder that didn’t cover completely but left a narrow stripe uncovered all around the edges. Gunnar said the reason was to allow the drones to move around in the whole hive, to warm it and to not cause crowding in the broodnest and initiate swarming. He had small windows on many of the supers and when he saw more than a few bees there he put on another box. The bees swarmed less than with other beekeepers that had this kind of bees and they gave in average about 300 pounds of honey a year. So management is more important than breeding for a good honeycrop.
My first visit with Broder Adam in 1983. Herre I'm checking a frame for eggs and larvae from which Adam would cut a piece for us to bring home for breedeing purposes. (Photo: Bjorn Lagerman.)
From Brother Adam I learned a lot about bee breeding and practical beekeeping. I learned how to look at the individual colonies as parents for future generations and how to combine them. Inevitably when you do that you inbreed the bees, more or less. I understood that, but didn't think it was very dangerous, even if I also understood bees were designed in the uttermost way to avoid inbreeding. What we many times forget is that a certain setup, in this case a breeding system, is dependant on the different individual parts. For example we can never discuss which frame size is best without a context, the whole system in which this frame size is supposed to work.

Brother Adam's setup of system was adapted to his curiosity to find out the traits of the different varieties of bees, which we call races. He used sister groups producing drones at the mating stations. I have learned later from Dr Kerstin Ebbersten that if you do that for more than a couple of generations you increase the inbreeding, the loss of vitality and adaption power substantially. Brother Adam came around this by introducing new combinations with more or less regular intervals. If you don't do that in such a system as his you will end up with a low producing disease susceptible stock, which has become the case a couple of times in Scandinavia.

Brother Adam warned against inbreeding. He learned this the hard way. During some years in the 40:s the pedigrees are missing. He had to start over again using many hives from different mother sources in the mating area. To stimulate the increase of genetic variation, as he had difficulties getting new material because of the war.
Almost on 3500 m altitude on Mt Elgon not far from the abandoned village where there hade lived beekeepers keeping insulated stock hives in the trees. The top of the mountain can be seen in the background.
The Varroa mite had just arrived to Sweden and scared us as the AIDS of bees, not aid of bees. It's still the big challenge for our western honeybee. Anyway I just got a gut feeling I had to have bees that could handle the mite themselves to be able to continue being a beekeeper. So when van der Zee 1988 wanted to go to Kenya for Monticola bees I looked around in Sweden for people to join the team. I had met van der Zee the year before in connection with Brother Adam.

The breeding material we managed to get was aimed for Buckfast Abbey, but also for ourselves. Many contributed with funds, but we also put in money ourselves.

In March 1989 Dr Bert Thrybom, Erik Bjorklund, Michael van der Zee and I went for two adventurous weeks to the high mountains in Kenya. Why Africa?

There are millions of swarms flying back and forth in Africa as well as more stationary types of bees. The genetic treasury is huge. Man has not been able to erode the genetic variation here through thoughtless inbreeding. A small fraction, and not the best one, of African genetics were let loose by accident in South America and lay the ground for what Hollywood called the Killer bee.

The African bee is not the original host of the varroa mite. It is closely related to our western type of bee. It is also an Apis mellifera bee. Not an Apis cerana bee. And this Apis mellifera managed to adapt into a resistant type of bee in only a few years in South America, maybe 5 years or so.

Of course it’s interesting to find out under what circumstances a mellifera bee in only a few years can develop resistance? Something valuable would be learned. Anyway, that was the reasoning behind going to Africa for breeding material. Something was present in Africa that made bees develop resistance relatively quickly. We didn't know what.

We didn't like aggressive bees or bees that easily absconded, so we went for a bee that didn't abscond and was relatively easy to handle. We went to the mountains of East Africa, to Kenya.

Later resistance developed in African bees again, now in South Africa, in about 5 years. And now also the Varroa mite has arrived to east Africa and the bees there have shown themselves to tolerate the mite well.

Today we most probably know the cause for the ability to develop varroa resistance quickly. Natural genetic diversity and small natural cellsize.
Dr Thrybom inseminating the two queens I managed to get with semen we collected in Kenya.
We took eggs and young larvae to Sweden and I managed to produce a couple of virgins in late March early April. Dr Thrybom gave the semen glucose to make it movable again after the more than 14 days it had been travelling. He inseminated the queens with Monticola semen. Again larvae from the mating nucs were grafted later in spring and daughters were inseminated, as well as mated naturally still later that year. Many interesting observations were made.

The pheromones of the queens were apparently different as some virgins were not recognized as queens and ignored in the mating nucs. Some larvae were not well fed, some didn't hatch, etc. So I understand we were lucky that we were able to produce the first two at all.

Initial findings told us the development time of the brood was shorter. After some years of selection the stock the bee breeding club and I produced was wintering even better than the Buckfast we had before. Surprisingly the new bees also had an even lower swarming tendency. This was in line with the observations made in Africa where the log hives of the Monticolas we saw many times were filled with combs, while the logs of lowland bees (Scutellata) were not. The conclusion is that if you begin with a big genetic variation and use selection you can get where you want in not too many generations.

The experiences from South America and South Africa make us understand that more processes are going on in the adaption process than only recombination of nucleus DNA. One process that is much discussed these days, or rather processes, are what is called epigenetics, changes in environment changes how and if genes are expressed. And these changes are inheritable, until the environment changes again. Only nucleus DNA changes can't explain such a rapid resistance that the African bees achieved in South America and in Africa. The epigenetical systems must be very powerful in adaptation processes. That makes us understand also that locally adapted bees are what we want.
Ed Lusby showing Hans-Otto Johnsen from Norway a comb with bees and brood. Dee Lusby inspecting another.
In the magic year of 2000 I reached the age of 50. I fled the celebrations and went to the Sonoran desert in Arizona together with my family. I had heard of a remarkable woman and her husband keeping bees there. Of course I was curious and contacted them to know what they were doing. I happened to ask if it was possible to visit and there we were hitting the wall of heat when walking off the plane. We were met by a couple of very hospitable bee cowboys.

Dee and Ed Lusby made good friends and learned us a lot. I got into searching the old sources of beekeeping buying old books from Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Cheshire, Cowan and Wedmore are some of the old British authorities I've learned from. Langstroth, Root and Phillips are some of the Americans. Read them if you have the possibilities. Some books can be found free on the internet.

Lusbys really wanted you to go for smaller cells, in the broodnest especially. I've done it and whatever effects it has, I don't want to go big again. I get quicker spring build up and very strong colonies. The bees don't swarm easier when handled with lots of room.
What do the bees want? The old books tell you cell size in average was 5 cells to the inch back then. This is somewhat less then 51 mm for 10 cells measured over the parallel sides. That means average for brood cells were still smaller and average for honey storage cells were bigger in average.
Dennis Murrell investigated a lot concerning naturally drawn cell sizes. In brood area these sizes mentioned here often are present. In honey storage area sometimes still bigger, both what manywoud have called worker bee cells as well as quite some drone cells. (Photo: Dennis Murrell)
Today Dennis Murrell, Michael Bush and others have found it to vary between 4.6 and 5.9 in what we call worker cells. With smallest where brood is and biggest where honey is stored. I can confirm these figures. What impact does it have to mimic these figures for the well being of the bee colony? I don't know of course. But nature has formed this during a long long time.

Nature is focused on survival, fitness and sustainability.
An apiary of an Elgon beekeeper in our team.
The bee stock we've formed in our bee club I call Elgon, inspired by the mountain in western Kenya from where we got breeding material. I kept track of the theoretical content of the heritage for many years. Today it may hold about 25% Monticola, 5% Sahariensis and the rest traditional Buckfast.

Now when Varroa has reached me the heritage is not of any mayor concern. In the beginning of our work in the breeding club we used isolated mating stations with sister queens producing drones. Soon we learned that after 4-5 generations of such strict breeding, vitality and honey production decreased. As my bees had influenced the surroundings for many years now and neighbour beekeepers changed their stock to Elgon, I began to let virgins mate in Elgon areas. Today I don't use isolated mating stations anymore. It makes life easier as well as giving better bees under my circumstances.
Dr Kerstin Ebbersten was right in her doctorate thesis about population dynamics in bees. To avoid genetic erosion and make sustainable progress with highest possible vitality and health, the best general strategy is to not just breed from the best few colonies and mate the virgins on isolated mating stations or with insemination.

The best strategy is to get rid of the least good queens and multiplying the rest. Breeding a few more from the very best. And let the virgins mate in the apiaries.

A couple of years ago I got some queens from John Kefuss in southern France. I have tried combinations with my stock, with focus on Varroa resistance. They contribute, but I can understand they have to go through a local adaptation period. A few of the best are combined with my Elgon stock. Those give really big crops. And they winter very well and collect a lot of honey in the winter room, which I like. A curious thing with these bees. They drew 4.9 foundation in average better than my Elgons, inspite of the fact that Kefuss said he was not using small cell, or rather he wasn’t looking and didn’t care, to be more correct. Anyway his bees were small and drew small cell very good. Once they ignored the 4.9-pattern and drew even smaller, down to 4.6 mm.
Kirk Webster is another beekeeper I have learned from and who is a dear friend. Here he is inspecting his nucleus hives.
I have got to know many good beekeepers and dear friends during the years. The fascinating thing with beekeeping is not only the bees. It's getting to know people. People are mysterious. They are the cause of most of the problems in life. But without them life is no fun. I hope I'm that way too.