Kim Flottum on Varroa Resistance

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wojciech 

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On 1st November, Kim Flottum, editor of the leading Beekeeping magazine Bee Culture gave a talk at Thornes to lincolnshire BKA entitled "Using Nuclei Effectively". What particularly interested me was an aside he made regarding varroa when he stated that he has not used chemical treatments for varroa for over 9 years. I had some email correspondence with him subsequently in order to be quite clear what he was saying for a report I was doing for the LBKA website and Quarterly magazine. He was very emphatic that while he uses OMFs, drone control and as a last resort sugar dusting he uses no chemicals whatsoever, including essential oils. By taking nucs from "survivor" colonies and using them to replace any losses he is utilising "Survival of the Fittest" to breed varroa resistant strains, at times bringing in queens from other beekeepers working on the same lines, mentioning Russian bees. I mentioned to him that in my opinion antagonism to such ideas in the UK stems from the BBKA alliance with miticide and insecticide manufactureres.

It seems to me that the possibility of moving away from dependence on chemicals lies with this approach. While the small beekeeper would find it difficult to risk losing all his colonies, Kim has told me that he is not a large scale beekeeper or queen breeder but through working with other like minded individuals he is making progress.
 

Hivemaker. 

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Well done Kim.
As for the BBKA thought,well that sounds like nothing but a load of nonsense to me.
What do you think Ron Hoskins and others are also doing,and Rons associations with the BBKA don't appear to be stopping him.
 
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mbc 

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I think our attitude to creatures in general are diffferent this side of the pond.
Over there its the more 'liberal' minded beekeepers who forego chemicals and tread the painfull path of letting large proportions of their bees die whereas this side of the pond it seems to be the lazy heartless bastards who forego chemical treatments and let their bees die
 

Poly Hive 

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I have my stupid head on this morning.

Are you saying "whereas this side of the pond it seems to be the lazy heartless bastards who forego chemical treatments and let their bees die" are the ones who don't treat and let them die?

Because I cannot see the difference between allowing all your bees to die on which ever side of the pond you are on, and having no survivors. Which gets you precisely where?

A massive financial loss, an emotional loss, and zero progress.

However if we could agree mutually between us to not treat say 25% of our colonies and then breed from the survivors then we might actually make some long over due progress.

I am up for it, ARE YOU?

PH
 

Monsieur Abeille 

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I saw Kim Flottum's talk as well, very interesting for the comments on his varroa control (as well as sending queen cells at all stages of development through the post)- he did though mention that there were a lot of casualties getting to the state that he and his collegues have got to - quoted one farmer who went from 400 to 40 colonies 1st year I think?

Very worthwhile, but if thats a typical loss then I suspect there's not going to be many following the lead.
 

Teemore 

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Kim also covered these issues in a talk on Beekeeping Without Chemicals to the institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers on 6th November past; I really enjoyed his presentations. His approach has made me seriously consider how I will be managing my bees as time goes by. With currently only two colonies, I have used Thymol and Apilife Var and will be using oxalic in the not too distant future. I have also been keeping an eye on natural mite fall and will continue to do so as a means of identifying when to use Thymol etc.
Monsieur Abeille - you are spot on with your recollection of the number of colonies that one beekeeper lost when he first ceased using chemical management techniques - it was a huge loss to bear!
It was also interesting what Kim had to say about Small hive Beetle, specifically that it poses the greatest problem when colonies are weak and when uncapping and replacing wet supers. IIRC he commented that the hygenic behaviour which helps colonies survive/manage their varroa infestation also appears to combat SHB. Perhaps Beekeeping Associations with their own association apiaries should be considering a concerted effort in identifying and breeding from hygenic Varroa Surviving Bees.
 

wojciech 

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John Dews article in Beecraft

I agree that it is wrong to countenance bee deaths. I bought some nucs from someone who is breeding for resistance locally and I understand that he has suffered heavy losses in the past.

I'm intending to follow the method outlined by John Dews in his recent article in Beecraft - monitor varroa closely using OMFs and rather than allow bees to die, introduce a queen from a more resistant hive. Incidentally, it seems that this is similar to what Kim Flottum is doing - he admits to having lost some colonies but by and large he is striving to prevent further losses by requeening with nucs taken from resistant colonies. He does not have a large number of hives but is working closely with other like minded beekeepers.

It is interesting to look at the archive of articles published in Bee Culture, where attempts to breed resistant bees are described going back over 10 years. It is important to note that US beekeepers are trying to achieve resistant strains by starting off with bees that are reported to be resistant in the first place. I would be very reluctant to practice non intervention starting from scratch with bees that have no resistance at all.
 

Hombre 

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He does not have a large number of hives but is working closely with other like minded beekeepers.
I like the idea of personal commitment to an idea and even more so the personal commitment of others . . . perhaps?

If he is incorrect in his theories and beliefs, he stands to lose a lot less than the other like minded beekeepers to whom he has sold the concept.

Much as I like the idea,, (which one?) I remain naturally a little sceptical. What do others think about the basic concept and of the concept being promoted heavily by someone with significantly less to lose than they themselves?

I accept that we are talking here about people that have significant knowledge in the area and so cannot be dismissed lightly as not being both serious and passionate about their views and findings as that would be doing both themselves and beekeeping a gross disservice.
 
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Poly Hive 

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And yet that has to be the starting point.

Until the bees are tested with no chemical protection how can you find which has even a glimmer of resistance?

Which is why I suggested 25%. A figure of loss from which it is relatively easy to recover.

PH
 
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Every varroa bug killed is one less to breed.... surely?

Not treating it is surely just irresponsible?

Smallpox was made to go extinct by international co~operation was it not?
 

Skyhook 

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Every varroa bug killed is one less to breed.... surely?

Not treating it is surely just irresponsible?

Smallpox was made to go extinct by international co~operation was it not?
There is no treatment that is 100% effective. If we can't drive varroa to extinction in a single hive (hedgerow Pete excepted), we're certainly not going to acheive it ona global scale. The future is in managing varroa by whatever means- probably a combination of several approaches, which may or may not include resistant bees.
 

Poly Hive 

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I like the idea of personal commitment to an idea and even more so the personal commitment of others . . . perhaps?

I see that that liking rapidly fell out of favour on the acid test.

So on we go piddling about and getting nowhere as is the norm in British Beekeeping.

PH
 

wojciech 

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Every varroa bug killed is one less to breed.... surely?

Not treating it is surely just irresponsible?

Smallpox was made to go extinct by international co~operation was it not?
I think that I owe it to Kim Flottum, having started a debate quoting him, to point out that he has emphasised, in correspondence that I started to clarify his views, that he empahsises strongly that he DOES treat - by using OMFs, drone control and as a last resort sugar dusting. He emphasises also that his starting point is using bees that are already claimed to be resistant of which there are a number of strains in the USA. Surely that is very different from advocating that the average beekeeper stops using chemicals ?
 
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oliver90owner 

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Smallpox was made to go extinct by international co~operation was it not?

Yes, but.......

If one studies the time line for HIV (then simply called AIDS because they did not know so much about it then), the start of the HIV problem coincided roughly with the WHO 'final push' to eradicate smallpox, by mass vaccination across the gobe - particularly in Africa where it is known that AIDS first surfaced.

Although quite different (HIV and smallpox viruses) there are some apparently striking similarities too.

So, while agreeing up to a point, perhaps Nature can bite back - particularly with new technology where all the rammifications are still not entirely known or understood. I am all for a gradual progress on a removal or resistance route, rather than an instant genetic engineering change, given the choice - likely to be so much safer in the long run.

Regards, RAB
 

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The problem we have is that a parasite which existed in another region where bees had evolved to coexist with it/deal with it has 'invaded' our own region.

The use of any intervention (even if 'natural', which may be naturally occurring, but not natural in a beehive) prevents, or inhibits colonies determining a response to any threat. Removing that intervention may lead to greater numbers of casualties, but those survivors are stronger for the experience.

You might compare it to the introduction of the tin helmet in the Great War. Despite being done for the greatest of intentions, the number of causalties among those wearing it increased dramatically.
However, they did not die as they would have before when they had only their cloth headgear.

I think it has got to be worth encouraging hygiene or hygienic behaviours among one's bees and would consider doing so in the future. Once I have got some experience (and sufficient bees) to be able to do that with.


I like the idea of personal commitment to an idea and even more so the personal commitment of others . . . perhaps?

If he is incorrect in his theories and beliefs, he stands to lose a lot less than the other like minded beekeepers to whom he has sold the concept.

Much as I like the idea,, (which one?) I remain naturally a little sceptical. What do others think about the basic concept and of the concept being promoted heavily by someone with significantly less to lose than they themselves?

I accept that we are talking here about people that have significant knowledge in the area and so cannot be dismissed lightly as not being both serious and passionate about their views and findings as that would be doing both themselves and beekeeping a gross disservice.
 

mbc 

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One mans terrorist is another's freedom fighter.
How do you find resistant survivors without other colonies dyeing out ?
Lazy " leave alone" beekeepers are actually the brave ones who have done everybody else a favour in letting Darwin sort out a few survivable genetics - both in the bees and a lesser emphasized but equally( or even more ! ) important sorting of the genetics of the varroa.
Its fairly well documented that people who have supposedly bred "resistant" bees found that when they have subsequently sold on these bees they've been found not to be so resistant after all, imho because their initial observed "resistance " was actually an equilibrium reached by the bees, the varroa and also the associated virus' and bugs in that population and when the bees were taken out of that environment and "parachuted" into a new environment with a whole new set of varroa/virus'/bugs , they havent been able to survive quite so well.
My bees dont seem to have much of a varroa problem this season but I'm not assuming I have resistant bees ( despite many years of inadequate varroa control and heavy losses ), rather I think the particular circumstances of last season didnt favour population explosion by the varroa, for whatever reason.
As for PH's " are you up for it ? ", I think a hell of alot of beekeepers who carefully monitor mite levels and only treat when deemed necessary have been " up for it" since varroa arrived.
The only sensible way forward imho is for lots of people to keep bees in lots of different ways and the best ways will come out in the wash over time.
 

oliver90owner 

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I think a hell of alot of beekeepers who carefully monitor mite levels and only treat when deemed necessary have been " up for it"

Thanks for that, mbc. I am one of those (but not back to the earlier days of varroa in the UK).

I agree whole heartedly and wish the consensus of opinion was not 'do it automatically'.

That approach is OK for the new-bee (who doesn't know any better), but just sheer lazyness on the part of many beeks out there, with just a few colonies, to actually observe infestation levels.

At the other end of the spectrum - the bee farmers - they are going to automatically requeen each year, so it matters 'not a jot' in their circumstances. The genes will be changed annually, treatment or not.

That difference is one h*ll of a big one! I can understand their blanket treatment as they are only in it for the money and do rely on a crop for an income, but it would be of no particular advantage not to treat automatically.

That said, they should not be giving advice, of what should actually be done, to a different cohort of beeks, IMO.

Explaining the alternatives and allowing freedom of choice is so much a better way to go, I think.

Lastly, there are some out there who do not treat automatically with oxalic acid and still seem to make a living from their bees. So there must be reliable working alternatives.

Regards, RAB
 
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mbc 

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RAB the only bee farmers I know are definitely NOT in it just for the money.
With the level of difficulty and the mountains of less difficult but mundane and repetitive work involved with bee farming I would say they are all in it as a labour of love for their bees and anybody who successfully makes a living from bee farming would almost certainly be able to make much more money in a more profitable line of business.
None of the bee farmers I know requeen annually either.
I dont know anyone better to turn to for advice given their wealth of experience and acute understanding of whats going on inside their hives - maybe bee farming is easier in Lincolnshire than in west wales but the guy's I know are tremendous beekeepers and wouldnt succeed otherwise.
 

mbc 

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One simple way to select for hygenic/resistant bees is ,something everyone who rears queens should be doing anytway, only breeding from colonies with a very clean brood nest. By clean I mean a good solid brood pattern which, in itself, indicates the bees are coping withthe varroa and all the endemic bugs and viruses in the colony
 
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