by Kim Flottum
Finishing up on Rule 2 about having Good Genetics, we get to the basics…resistant of the common problems, efficient producers, and well behaved.
Resistant…that can be tricky, but almost everything our bees experience can be solved, or at least reduced if the bees have some, not extreme, but some hygienic behaviors already built in.
The most common maladies…American and European foulbrood, Sacbrood, Chalkbrood…all can be handled by a colony with good cleaning skills. There will probably always be some of some of these around…but not enough to cause the colony detrimental health issues. Which leads to one of the interesting sidebars in this discussion. Does a colony need to be 100% free of any of these to be considered resistant?
It works the same way with Varroa, too, you know. If there’s any, we treat, rather than let them handle a small population and don’t treat. More extreme advocates of non-treatment propose that if a colony dies because of a pest, then ridding the population of those genetics is a good thing. John Kefuss, from France, is a proponent of this philosophy…he calls it Live and Let Die…and does it on a grand scale, first selecting many lines of bees that have the best characteristics he wants…productivity, gentleness and the like, then lets the best of the lot get exposed to Varroa without treatment…those that live after a set time have all the traits needed…good bees, resistant to everything, yet may, or may not have a bit of everything still lurking in the hives.
This argument has yet to be resolved…the best way to find bees resistant to Varroa, or foulbrood or even the common cold for that matter. Nevertheless, either you, or the person you are buying your queens from should be chasing this dream.
Efficient producers is fuzzy area and difficult to define. The last rule of production is that it takes a lot of bees to make a lot of honey. I don’t think anyone will dispute that in general terms. However, the rules that precede this last rule are the tricky part. You have to find bees that build at the right time so they are not building ‘on’ the flow, but rather have built ‘before’ the flow. So you have to know when and what the flow is, for starters. Then, when do they need to start, and if they aren’t inclined to start on their own, do you get them going artificially with feed and other boosters, or, do you, like the resistant bees above, let them starve and get them removed from the population?
Too, the resistant genes, mentioned above, need to be in place so the colony is healthy when it needs to grow…lots of bees to take care of lots of bees to make lots of honey. Do you see how this works? Colonies that are adapted to your area, resistant to the common ailments, and are able to produce lots of bees at the right time will make lots of honey. All these things are tied together, one without the other just doesn’t work, does it?
Finally, your bees should be well behaved. This goes without saying, I think, but I know there’s other opinions.
“It takes mean bees to make lots of honey” is an old scribe that has some truth in it. One of the most productive colonies I ever encountered here in northeast Ohio was one that had survived more than four years all by itself…requeening itself several times, each time the new queen mating with…a local, naturalized, location-adapted drone. They made honey when notbody else did, when everybody else was getting fed. They started earlier in the spring, ran later in the fall, and ate almost nothing all winter long. Selecting for gentleness wasn’t on the chart when they needed new blood, that’s for sure. In fact, a defensive colony does better with robbing and yellow jackets and skunks than their mild mannered cousins, so they survived, and thrived, and were mean as heck. They had lots of bees at the right time to make lots of honey to overwinter on and did it for several years…until they got to the point where they were bothering the landowner’s kids and animals…almost a half mile away…so we broke it down and requeened it. A three hour job, in two beesuits and enough smoke to call the fire department. They went back to gentle, moderately productive, unassuming bees after that.
But I’ve had colonies that made just as much honey those same years, or almost as much, and you could work them in a T-shirt and shorts…easy, gentle and fun to be around. Most beekeepers want honey, and almost no beekeepers want to wear two beesuits when working a colony. Gentle will keep you in the game…mean will make you mad, and it may make you quit.
If you raise your own, do the kick test as one of your selection techniques…kick the colony…if you get stung, think twice about using this line of bees.
So ends the first two rules. Next, Rule 3 – Pest Management.