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Clean Queens

June 15, 2012

PVC pipes pushed into brood frame of pupa with white to purple eyes

Our local provincial bee inspector recently held a workshop on field assessment methods for choosing breeder queens as part of her research with the BC Bee Breeders Association. This group is working to develop the capacity to breed quality local honey bees so we can reduce our reliance on imported queens which are generally not well suited to our conditions.

Honey bees are an integral part of our agroforestry project. Developing the skills to assess our queens’ hygienic traits is not only informative as we battle the vicious varroa mites, but will also be critical if we progress to breeding local, varroa resistant queens for ourselves and our community.

We assessed 21  hives for hygienic behaviour and conducted a nitrogen freeze test. After the cells of brood were frozen, they were re-inserted into the hives and inspected after 24 hours. If the worker bees removed 85% of the dead brood in that time period, the queen is considered to have hygienic traits that help keep the varroa mite populations down. It was fascinating that only 3 of the hives tested resulted in queens displaying hygienic qualities to warrant them being considered resistant to diseases and varroa mite infestations! Lots of work to do in our collective quest for the cleanest queen bees!

Liquid nitrogen being poured into the PVC pipes.

The frozen brood patches will either be cleaned out in 24 hours by the worker bees, or left in place – signifying the level of hygienic behaviour in the bees to combat varroa mites.


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  1. I just finished raeidng A World Without Bees and got the whole life before Varroa and life after Varroa reality. It’s a scary situation for bees. But I really appreciate your optimism and curiosity. And I agree about medication being a culprit to some weaknesses in bee colonies. The other thing I am interested in (as well as your catching wild swarms and potential inherent resistances) is genetic diversity. Most of the bees available for purchase here in Seattle come from one distributor, and I worry that that limits the bees response to environmental factors. Last year I acquired some Carniolans from another provider, and I am so happy how much better suited to our winters they are. But I have read a lot lately about the new Minnesota bee that is mite resistant to some extent (or totally?), which is interesting and perhaps auspicious, but potentially just another condition. Letting bees do their thing, like swarm, is really one of the only ways out of this fiasco I beleive.

  2. Yes the New Zealand and Hawaiian bees are usually susceptible to chalkbrood when they come to our wet coast, and their overwintering qualities seem poorly suited to our climate, which is not unlike yours!!

  3. That’s a great idea to breed local queens and develop a local breed of bees more suited to your climate and habitat. Researchers seems to think this is the best solution to bee survival long term rather than relying on imports.

    • Honey Bee Healthy’ Recipe5 cups water2 1/2 pounds of sugar15 drops each of spnmraiet and lemongrass oils1/8 teaspoon lecithin granulesDissolve the granules in very hot (almost boiling) water and let it cool prior to adding the oils into the mixture. Oils evaporate when the water is too hot. The lecithin is an emulsifier and helps disperse the oils in the water mixture. Oils seem to mix better in honey. This is the standard recipe according to a few website articles I have read about using essential oils, and these are the two oils used in the HBH.When the bees are fed HBH, they tranfer it into the brood cells. The V Mites either die from it or their eggs cannot mature properly. I have thought about using this on package bees as a spray since it would cause the mites to fall off the bees (slippery suction pads) and possibly kill them on contact or shortly thereafter.As with any medication, I don’t want to become reliant and over use. This behavior breeds bees that can’t fight it themselves. I do want to give them a running start however. The rest is up to them.

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