Honey Glen colonies in 2023

Breeding for mite resistance seems to be making a real difference. I’ve been working two bee operations over the last six years, and have had a chance to compare my Honey Glen stock with stocks used in the other operation. The operation two hours away, which I will call “Operation B”, started with a conventional program of constant varroa treatments and no mite testing, and then my own business at Honey Glen with lots of mite testing and selection for low mite build-up, as well as gentleness, productivity, and EFB resistance.

After a few years of failed mite treatments in Operation B, losses were nearly complete and I decided to try a well known mite resistant stock, along with rigorous mite testing. The pure mite resistant packages were supplied from Georgia through a broker in 2022 to repopulate the apiaries. These hives built well but about half of them needed mite treatments in late summer, even though they were started from packages. In 2023, additional purebred queens of the mite resistant stock were purchased from Mann Lake.

I was running roughly the same number of colonies in both operations, going into winter in 2023 with 75 colonies in Operation B, and about 90 colonies at Honey Glen. In 2023 the colonies in both operations were primarily managed for honey production, which means they were allowed to grow large populations and supplied with lots of honey storage space during the honey flow. This typically gives rise to more serious varroa infestations, than when the colonies are used mostly for splits.

I’m sure the mite resistant stock in Operation B do in fact tolerate varroa mites far better than other commercial bee stocks. However, in 2023 they showed more deformed wing virus symptoms (DWV) than my own stock at Honey Glen. 63% of the mite resistant colonies required treatment for mites, some of those receiving multiple treatments after mite levels rose again in the months following treatment, while only 10% of my own Honey Glen stock required any treatment, and none of them needed a repeat treatment. The same miticide (MAQS) was used in both operations.

As of late February 2024, before the earliest pollen first became available, two thirds of the colonies in Operation B were still alive, and ten of those were dangerously weak, with clusters less than 4 frames wide. At Honey Glen 87% were still alive and less than half as many were weak.

Uncapped pupae can indicate hygienic behavior

These results surprised me, and I do not intend to downplay the valiant efforts of other breeders. However I am thrilled with my bees at Honey Glen. After starting Honey Glen with queens from numerous VSH and Russian sources, then breeding for mite biting and low mite buildup in colonies, I have been encouraged how well my own stock compares with others, even after a year of honey production. I have also been breeding for gentleness, and find my own stock far gentler than the mite resistant bees in Operation B. For what it is worth, Honey Glen’s bees have also been raised for many generations in West Virginia’s climate, eating West Virginia’s fare. I am very pleased to offer a good West Virginia bee that should do well for other West Virginia beekeepers, and those in similar environments. If you want to give them a try, overwintered nucs are available.