A Curious Beekeeper thinks more about breeding bees for Varroa resistance

A Comment by Richard Cryberg on Bee-L spoke to me:

“many have brought queens north that survived just fine treatment free in the south only to find they produced hives in the north that promptly died from mites. It appears quite easy to be treatment free in Alabama or Texas. And people that live there can not understand why in the world someone living in Ohio either treats or has dead bees and often says we are stupid for treating as all it does is make weak bees. After all, they do not treat and they have acceptable survival with their superior genetics. It does not mater a bit to them if those superior genetics fail miserably when brought north as we apparently are doing something else wrong.”

Hands up for people who like treating to keep Varroa in check.

I’m not surprised to not see any hands. I sure don’t like treating. And I really don’t like needing to use OAV safety gear.

Maybe OAV won’t be part of my plans this year.

I would like to purchase a bee that will coexist with Varroa. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

In recent years we have had Purdue Ankle Biters, open mated Saskatraz, and Minnesota Hygienic OK, the Minnesota Hygenic is really Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) in action. All disappoint in that they may require fewer treatments in order to survive with the Varroa mite, they don’t solve the Varroa problem completely Maybe my expectations are not realistic.

Setting my expectations aside, this means we’re testing, treating, and testing again to double check treatment efficacy. Maybe we’re not treating as much. The jury is still out on that.

As the (re)search continues, I think I’ll persevere with local queens bred for gentleness, disease resistance productivity, and wintering ability. And a few Canadian Buckfast thrown in for good measure.

I’ve taken some heat already for it, but I ordered replacement queens for all my packages a few weeks back. Some of the queens that are being replaced may be outstanding. In the past several years there have been frequent anecdotal issues with package queens, the most common problem mentioned was supercedure.

Will that solve all my problems? Very doubtful, but I’m getting the genetic traits I want if I can’t have Varroa coexistance. So Varroa testing continues without pretenses. I made the decision to replace the queens (and thus the colony population) before purchasing the packages.

Why am I replacing what may be a very good queen (certainly a bunch of time and effort went into creating her)? The answer is fairly simple. I want 90% survival of production colonies this coming winter.

I didn’t reach that success percentage this year and the result is replacing not only the cost of bees, but also the time and energy invested in managing them. Over wintered 4 x 4s are more complicated to do – 75% survival will make me happy there.

What I don’t want to do is buy bees again next year.

Andrew Dewey