Site Under Update 12-26-2016—–Welcome to the Northwest Queens website! Our Apiaries are located in Arlington, Washington right in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. Our honey flow season is short and it takes just the right bees to do well here. Many beekeepers are just now realizing just how important it is to have bees that are adapted to their particular region. Southern bees just don’t do as well in northern climates as local bees do.
Since 2000, Northwest Queens has been dedicated to developing mite resistant honey bees suited for the Northwest climate. As I begin to write about this years work and preparations for 2017 I can’t emphasize enough how challenging this task has been.
This year (2016) was a poor honey year with the weather to blame. I lost a number of hives to starvation as a week of rain right at the beginning of the honeyflow. I promise this won’t happen again. Don’t underestimate just how fast honey stores can be consumed with two deeps and supers in place filled with bees. Mite levels for the most part held steady. The rule of thumb that the larger the colony the higher the mite count has been holding true for the most part. I’m very happy with hive performance. Many that use my Nuc’s and queens are very pleased as well. I continued to build a larger local base of happy beekeepers. I’m pleased that I was able to set a record with my Nuc distribution and a near record with the number of my mated queens that were shipped.
New rules have been adopted for defensive behavior. It seems as though many hives were being cut from the breeder level because they exhibited a little runniness/leading to defensive behavior. The new rule is the hive must fall in line with the use of a few puffs of smoke. For years I have been able to say my bees can be worked smoke and glove free on great weather days. Second after working, the bees will not follow you more than a few yards before they return to normal activities. Most still follow the old rules, but since working with the Purdue stock I’ve had to be more flexible. The goal is to have bees that can manage the varroa mite first and later on I can evaluate the defensiveness. Bouncing off your veil for the next two hours is not acceptable.
Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) continues to play a role in my work. I’ve selected over the years for what I call a northern or cold weather surviving version of the VSH trait. VSH has many issues for colder climates and the selection process is slow. This year marks the last year Bob Danka at the USDA will provided VSH semen to breeders. He has discontinued the program. This does not make me happy because in recent years the progress from these daughters has been significant. He has provided advice and select VSH semen tailored to my breeding goals. Bob works at the USDA facility in Baton Rouge, LA which is home of the VSH line. The success has been slow with this effort. but I can’t emphasize enough real progress has been made I the last year and a half. What I’m attempting to is stack all of the mite fighting traits into one bee. Grooming traits first followed by VSH traits second. Keep in mind there are a number of types of grooming behavior (biting/injuring, single/multi effort) and a number of types of VSH (brood behavior that controls the mite reproduction).
Effort in the coming years will be made to separate the methods bees are using to manage mites. The best trait is biting or directly injuring the mite. VSH reduces mite levels through brood destruction which is harmful to the hive. I call this an indirect method of mite management. Some queens intentionally have long gaps in their laying. I had a queen that lasted six years and used this trick in her laying. I might add this trait was extremely hard to capture in her daughters. I have a number of daughters from crosses that will have to be carefully examined and categorized to understand why they are surviving. My best colonies presently are the ones with just enough VSH added to the predominately grooming trait to manage the mites. Too much VSH and the brood can suffer as well as the honey production. Very strong VSH do not winter well in the Northwest.
Collaboration/Exchange with Greg Hunt/Krispn Given
This will be the third year working with the Purdue University team. Dr. Greg Hunt (Entomology dept.) and Krispn Given (Apiculture Specialist) are the two key players that I have been working with. Check out their work on the web. This biting/injuring of the mite is what I call a direct approach to the hive ridding itself of mites. The VSH trait on the other hand is an indirect approach where many young workers are sacrificed with the brood loss as the trait is expressed. I prefer the direct approach. Presently I’m evaluating a number of daughters produced last summer from this exchange. So far the list of positives is long with a short list of problems. I’m very excited about this effort. An outcrossing with the Purdue stock into my survivor stock could be an important step forward.
Northwest beekeepers using my queens have been very helpful in sharing evaluation data.
Northwest Queens’ goal will be to spread mite resistant genetics into the general population from Northwest surviving colonies. I’m sure that there are many others in the Northwest who are thinking along the same lines as Northwest Queens. Now is the time to come forward. I would like to thank those helping in the project so far. The growing log of field data is proving helpful information to accurately show where we are in this effort. More data helps in the selection process a key in moving forward. My hives are monitored 365 days a year in what I believe to be far more thorough than what others might do. I appreciate all the input provided by fellow beekeepers.
In the early days of the mite invasion I was somewhat lucky with my isolated location. Being quick to recognize the value of genetics, the war was underway against these parasites. A program was initiated purchasing queens from many breeders and queen producers across the United States and Canada. Selection was easy—some mite resistance or absolutely none. Some of the best queens came from breeders that had no idea what SMR, VSH, or grooming behavior meant.
Many queens couldn’t survive the damp cold Northwest, others had zero mite resistance. The colonies that performed well have passed a checklist of screening criteria that will later be discussed and formalized as more local beekeepers get involved in the program.
The colonies that passed these screening criterion are the foundation of my survivor stock. I’m happy to see many fellow beekeepers are actively working towards producing queens capable of surviving without the use of any type of mite treatment, natural or otherwise. Please join in the excitement.
Instrumental Insemination has proven to be a valuable tool in keeping our plan on course. In the early days with lower hive counts it just was not possible to saturate mating areas with high quality drone levels. Instrumental Insemination nicely bridged this gap. Today it is most effective in bringing out specific traits. When specific traits are brought out, diversity can be compromised. I structure my program in ways that attempts to keep the genetics as diverse as possible. An instrumental insemination followed by a generation of naturally mated or multi-drone semen collection queens is the typical. I could not have accomplished what I have without instrumental insemination.
Northwest Queens is looking forward to the challenges ahead and will enlist local Northwest beekeepers who will manage their colonies in a manner where comparative data can be gathered.