In March 2005 no colonies had died and they all seem healthy and fine. The season of 2005 was good with a lot of honey. The bees developed normally and behaved as expected. No problem with mites or any other disease. No treatements were done except what I’m going to describe a little further down.
I watched for signs of unnormal development or behavior, but couldn’t see any in any of the bee colonies.
My conviction is that treatments should be used as little as possible, with the norm being nothing. I think drugs of any kind have bad influence not only on the target bug but also on the bees. Alien chemicals can easily make them weaker in different respects. But most of all it’s a waste of time and money, when there are other strategies available.
Selection of resistant bees is the first and management methods helping the bees stay healthy is another important tool in helping the bees. If you use a lot of drugs it’s impossible to select resistant bees. In the beginning of a selection and management strategy you may probably loose some more bees then wanted. But such losses is clearly becoming something you can expect coming in intervals when drugs are used so I find that a worse longterm solution. 30 years with drugs further south in Europe than where I live tells me that.
Wintering the bees in the autumn of 2005 went almost as smooth as in the old days when the varroa mite wasn’t present.
As I’m curious of nature I have tested also some other types of bees than the Elgons I have. Elgons have contributed well in breeding resistance to the varroa mite. In Finland we can buy mated queens in May from the south of Europe. So I have tried some Slovenian Carniolans and Italian Italians. Nucs that are made with such queens in May give a crop the same year they are made, even in our short season. I though must say I don’t like these other bees as much as I do my own (that’s always the case with us beekeepers isn’t it?:-), so I’m going to quit using them.
The Italian Italians (not Italians bred in Finland I want to point out) are unfortunately very aggressive, at least those I have tried. The Carniolans I’ve tried are too uneven in different respects. But some of the Slovenian queens are very good. I even think that it would be possible to breed a good varroa resistant strain out of them if you have many enough. I would say if you keep them on smaller cell size, at least on 5.1 mm, preferably on 4.9 mm. Some of these Slovenian Carniolans could draw small cell foundation well.
As I have a mold for wax foundation with 5.1 mm cell size, I havn’t been so keen in going down to 4.9 mm. But most of my bee colonies have at least a couple of 4.9 cell sized combs in the middle of the broodnest when I winter them.
The abnormal large cell size that has been used for quite some years in Finland is 5.4-5.5 mm. You can even find foundation molds giving cell size 5.7 mm. But more and more of us beekeepers are realizing that history has played a trick with us, as the first commercial wax foundations made had 5 cells per inch (in American), which is just below 5.1 mm cell size.
The combs with 5.45 mm cellsize I still have I use above the queen excluder in the honey supers and not for brood.
I wintered 129 colonies in autumn 2005. Of those 6 were ded in spring due to starvation. My fault. No signs of any varroa or virus infections.
When I harvest the crop I make a note of those colonies that haven’t developed as expected, if they are weaker than the others. I also check how clean they keep the bottom boards. I think I’ve seen a connection between varroa resistance and clean bottom boards. Maybe hygienic behavior affects mite resistance too.
Those hives that don’t seem good enough I give a thymol pad. Pieces of 2.5 cm x 10 cm drenched with thymol solution can be bought here in Finland. Ten pieces in a plastic bag. The recommendation is one piece on the top bars during four weeks just after the main harvest. At my place that’s in the beginning of August. I did this in my inferior hives and checked the downfall of mites after three days. Those that dropped 200-300 mites (which was on the higher side) were allowed to keep their pads for three weeks. Those that dropped 10-20 or so had the pads removed.
The colonies that were tested in this way with a thymol pad were all the Italians, 5 in number, all the Carniolans, 13 in number, and about 32 Elgons and Elgon crosses. Totally about 50 colonies was tested this way of my 129 colonies. Many Elgon apiaries hadn’t got any treatment for many years by then and many Elgon colonies had never got any treatemnt of any kind.
30 of these 50 colonies were allowed to keep their thymol pad for three weeks due to the number of mites dropping during the first three days. It was the 5 Italians and 10 of the 13 Carniolans. The other 15 were mainly Elgons crossed with Buckfast drones.
Actually I don’t know if this treatment was needed to get the colonies to survive. You see I can easily have missed other colonies which I didn’t test, that might have had quite some mites. And there were no colonies with wintering problems.
But survivability is in a way not due to the amount of mites. Colonies can sometimes have quite high amounts of mites and still survive well. It’s said it’s viruses killing the colonies, maybe in cooperation with nosema and pesticides. But at least I think I the way described picked the most probable colonies of being affected by mites and viruses. And this way described I got down the mite pressure, making it easier for neighboring colonies to deal with their own mite population without getting extra mites through reinvasion.
Elgons are on the mother side going back to Monticola in East African mountains or Sahariensis from a Marockoan oasis. I have though some colonies which have Buckfast on the mother side (Macedonian line) which have been crossed with Elgon drones three times. Colonies of that constitution I didn’t give any thymol treatment either.
I should also mention that I havn’t done any drone brood cutting in many years to fight the mite. Instead I let the colonies keep some drone comb. They need some drones, for the mating of the virgin queens for example.