Honeystone® Bee Research

May 11, 2000

Honeystone® Candles is pleased to be invited to participate in a research project to field test Varroa mite resistant strains of honey bees. Grant funding for the project has just been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education--Farmer/Rancher Research and Education Projects -- Western Region. Honeystone® Candles will receive Russian queen bees through the United States Department of Agriculture and the Honey Bee Genetics Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Two other Oregon beekeepers have also been invited to participate in the northwest study. Similar trials will be made in other parts of the country.

The Russian queen bees are not immune to Varroa mites but they do show some resistance. Stocks of these bees have been brought to the United States and held in quarantine on islands in the Gulf of Mexico. The quarantine phase is now complete and the bees are being distributed to queen breeders and researchers throughout the country for evaluation.

The project is coordinated by Dr. Lynn Royce of Oregon State University. Honeystone® Candles is proud to participate in this timely research. As beekeepers, we are glad to contribute to the effort to develop disease resistant bees. This will be an exciting year in the Honeystone® apiary. Bookmark this page for updates.
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Sharing the mysteries of the honey bee with those who wonder: Honeystone®
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May 30, 2000

We received five Russian queens and five control queens last Thursday. The starter colonies consist of four frames of brood and bees and one frame of honey along with four empty frames in a Western super. As the colonies grow, a deep super will be added. All of the caged queens survived and were released four days after being placed in the hives. The bees appeared to readily accept the new queens but we won't know for sure for a few more days.

The test and control colonies are placed side by side on wooden hive stands, twenty inches off the ground. The entrances are oriented in a southerly direction with full mid-day sun. The elevation is around 750 feet above sea level at the crest of the Oregon Coast Range, about forty miles from the Pacific. With an average of six to eight feet of rain a year, this is one of the wettest places in Oregon.
Honeystone® Research Apiary
at the start of the project
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Opening colony
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Russian Queen in cage
Lifting screen to release queen
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July 6, 2000

All five Russian queens have been accepted, but we lost two of the control queens. The controls are Carniolans, produced in California. Other participating beekeepers had the Russians rejected but the controls accepted. Missing or rejected queens have been replaced. We have also added five more colonies to the research apiary. These are Russian queens mated with Oregon drones at Chuck Hunt's yards near Eugene.

After attending a training session at the Oregon State University Honey Bee Laboratory, we performed the first of the monthly evaluations. This involves going through the hives and estimating the area covered by worker bees and capped brood on each frame. The protocol requires two people to make independent judgements and the two resulting figures are averaged. We also used the sugar shake method (see below) of testing for Varroa on adult workers but found no mites. Samples of 200 brood cells were cut from each colony for laboratory analysis.

The colonies are now building up as the blackberry bloom progresses. Our next sampling is due in the last week of July.
Russian queen with purple dot
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Research group at training session (note short sleeves and bare hands)
September 11, 2000

Between the 4th of July and Labor Day, virtually no rain fell in the Willamette Valley. There was some light precipitation at times in the Coast Range but conditions were relatively dry. Our short, precious summer produced a good crop of blackberry nectar and the bees did fairly well. We evaluated the research colonies at the end of July and August. Varroa mites appeared in the last two counts. At this time, the numbers generated through the summer are being processed so our observations are strictly anecdotal.

The pure Russian bees appear to be smaller and darker than the bees we are used to seeing. Their temperment is "jumpier" than the bees we ordinarily work with. There is a lot of variability in their honey production. One pure Russian colony made lots of honey, one made hardly any, and the other three were in between. So far we have found Varroa mites among the pure Russians, F1 hybrids, and controls. The Russians are not immune from the mites but seem to tolerate them a bit better than the F1 and control colonies.

The next step in the project is to prepare the colonies for winter. We will be adding honey and, if necessary, brood, to make sure each unit has enough stores to survive the long winter. Results from the data analysis will be posted as soon as they are available.
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Dr. Royce demonstrates sugar shake at training session
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The Sugar Shake Varroa Test
The "sugar shake" is the simplest, cheapest, least destructive way to test bees for Varroa mites. Only a wide mouth jar with a screen for a lid, a tablespoon of powdered icing sugar, and a plastic bowl or tray are necessary. Our research protocol requires a sample of 300 bees, about half a cup by volume. The bees are placed in the jar and the sugar is added through the screen. The jar is rolled and jiggled until all the bees are covered with a light dust of sugar. This usually doesn't take long. Then the jar is inverted and shaken over a bowl or tray. Our protocol requires two minutes of shaking. If Varroa mites are present, they usually begin to fall out after the first shakes. Usually the first mites to fall out are easy to see, before the sugar gets too thick. A small magnifying lens helps. We have also found that dissolving the sugar with a little water makes it easier to count exactly how many mites are in the bowl. The bees can be returned to the colony and, thanks to the miracle of the exoskeleton, seem to suffer little damage.

Dark dots are Varroa mites after sugar is dissolved with water. Coin is US 25 cent piece.
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Returning sample to hive
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A good solid pattern laid by a Russian queen
Estimating areas covered by bees and capped brood
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Spotty pattern laid by a Russian queen: capped honey can be seen in each upper corner of the frame, pollen in shiny cells at left, then capped brood in central area
Cutting out a sample of 200 cells of capped brood
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September 29, 2000

Honeystone research apiary at the end of the summer.
The first two rows on the left are pure Russian bee colonies beside control colonies. The far right row are hybrid Russian/Oregon F1 colonies.
The hive stands are placed at differing angles to the sun to help prevent drifting of bees between colonies.
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October 4, 2000

Today we added frames full of honey to all of the research colonies in order to improve their chances of surviving the winter. We have medicated the colonies against American Foul Brood and Tracheal Mites but we have not added either of the two registered Varroa control chemicals, Amitraz and Coumaphos. In this way, all colonies have comparable treatments against the most common bee diseases other than Varroa mites.

A quick check of the colonies while adding honey showed no capped brood or eggs in colony 4R(ussian). This could mean the queen has ceased to lay eggs. The colony is very small and may not survive the winter. We fed it anyway, in keeping with the research protocol for the experiment.

Wild Harvest Research Apiary
Located in the Blodgett Valley. From left to right, the first five colonies are controls, the second five are Russian. This picture was taken during the last count of the season.
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February 15, 2001

Data collected in 2000 was submitted to an independent statistician, Greg Brenner of Pacific Analysts. A thorough analysis indicated "Bees in colonies with pure Russian queen bees had 28% fewer mites than bees in colonies with Carniolan queen bees." The F1 crosses did not do as well. "Bees in colonies with Russian/Oregon crossed queen bees had 27% more mites than bees in colonies with Carniolan queen bees."

This research will continue for another year.

We would like to express our thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education--Farmer/Rancher Research Projects --Western Region for making this project possible.
Wild Harvest hybrid colonies
click here for Honeystone Varroa Resistance Research 2001

Beekeeping Links

There are many interesting beekeeping pages on the web. Here are a few of our favorites:
Beekeeping Home Page

Bee Culture Magazine

American Apitherapy Society
Here is a new site based in France: www.beehoo.com
Varroa Research Links

Try these links for more about Varroa resistant Russian honey bees:

Russian bee imports
Bee Genetics Lab