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Everything is Just Right

Wildflower Meadows’ employees have been out and about lately moving bees in anticipation of the upcoming queen-rearing season.  Raising queens waits for no one, and the work generally continues rain or shine.  At this time of year, we spend our mornings grading our bee stock, then shuffling individual colonies to the proper yards.  Breeders go to the queen rearing yards, strong drone rearing colonies get consolidated near our mating areas, colonies are re-graded, and so on . . .

On the surface, this photo looks like a miserable situation.  Here, one of our employees is moving a few breeder colonies to our queen-rearing area.  It is pouring rain, and around the apiaries there is mud absolutely everywhere.  One might think that all is wrong, but truly, everything is just right.

First of all, we are finally experiencing rain here in Southern California!  This means that the drought conditions are subsiding, and the bees will have an abundance of foraging opportunities later in the season.  Second, the breeders that we are selecting look great!  They have overwintered exceptionally well and are now being handpicked for the upcoming season.  Third, our Columbia rain gear comes from the Pacific Northwest, where they know a thing or two about rain and keeping a person dry.  And finally, because we just installed new mud tires on this pickup truck – we are just in time to have a little fun and sling some mud!

Mud Slinging

The “Citation” Of Wildflower Meadows

We recently had a conversation with a friend, and were explaining how we have been blessed with a three-year-old breeder queen who seems to be perfect in all respects.  She is one of the best examples of a successful queen we have ever seen.  Not only is she a champion breeder in her own right, but many of the next generations of our breeder queens also trace their lineage back to her in one way or another.  Our friend was quick to respond, “Why, she is the Citation of Wildflower Meadows.”

Unless you are a fan of horse racing, you may not be familiar with Citation.  While not as famous as Seabiscuit or Secretariat, Citation is routinely ranked by experts as one of the greatest racehorses of all time.  Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948 and went on to have a spectacular career, almost never losing.  He was one of those rare race horses that had no apparent weakness of any kind.  Sprints, distance races, fast tracks, muddy tracks, large fields, small fields; none of it mattered.  The horse simply won every time he left the gate, no matter what.

Our Number 43, pictured above, has similar qualities.  She lays perfect frames of brood, one after another.  In three years, her colony has never shown any weakness.  The bees in her hive build up each year to excellent populations; making honey, surviving droughts, successfully overwintering, succumbing to no diseases, nor harboring any mites (treatment free).  Like Citation, they are pretty to look at, and very friendly to all.  And, they always seem to outperform every other colony, no matter what the conditions.

True to her legend, Number 43 has lived a long and productive life, both as a performer and as a breeder of other breeder queens.  Normally, due to the technical challenges of artificial insemination, instrumentally inseminated breeder queens do not last as long as naturally mated queens.  Of course, that is not the case with Number 43.  As we head into 2017, her green dot (now mostly faded) marks her as a 2014 breeder queen heading into her fourth year.

Number 43 is retired now, and she and her colony are living a pleasant life among the greener pastures of other retired breeders.

Citation – 1948 Triple Crown Winner

Summer Shade

A common question among beginning beekeepers is whether it is more advantageous to place a bee colony in the sun or in the shade.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but all things being equal, bee colonies will usually do better in the sun rather than the shade.  There are a number of reasons for this.  For some reason, small hive beetles and tracheal mites seem to prosper in the shade.  Also, bees tend to forage more when they are exposed to sunlight, bringing in more food and nutrition for the hive.  But the strongest reason for keeping bees in a sunny location is to take advantage of the solar heating that becomes essential to the bees well being during the cold, dark days of winter.

Think of your own house. What if you had to choose between giving up heat in the winter versus giving up air conditioning in the summer?  Heat is more important.  Without air conditioning, you would be uncomfortable in August, but you would survive.  Without heating in January, however, you could find yourself in really big trouble!  Solar heat is also important to bees, especially because they are cold blooded and must keep their brood nests at or about 93 degrees.

That said, in many warmer and desert climates, some summer shade is a nice benefit to the bees.  In some part of the US Southwest, especially during the summer, shade becomes more critical than sun.  In temperatures over 110 degrees, which are often reached during the summer in Nevada, Arizona and parts of California, shade is actually a necessity – a matter of life or death.  Bees can die at 110 degrees if kept in the sun and without shade.

Here at Wildflower Meadows, our seasons are pretty moderate.  For the most part, summers are not too hot, and winters are not too cold.  Most of our colonies are situated in the sun, but a few are slightly shaded.  The colonies pictured here, several of our champion breeders, are sitting below the light shade of a palo verde tree.  On this hot August day, they’ve got bragging rights over their sunny neighbors who are not too far away, but in the full sun baking.  Today, these shaded colonies have it made: they’ve got a feeder full of cool syrup, some pleasant shade, and a nice breeze to make for a perfect summer day!

Eighty Years Later: A Tribute to O. W. Park

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Today we take for granted the idea that beekeepers can prevent American Foulbrood and other infectious diseases with antibiotics.  Back in the early 20’th century, however, there existed no effective way to control infections.  Penicillin had not even been discovered until 1928, and it was a number of years later before the first antibiotics became commercially available.

With the absence of antibiotics, beekeepers of the time struggled mightily with American Foulbrood, an infectious disease that routinely killed beehives (and still does today).  The only way that beekeepers of the time could control this deadly disease was to burn infected hives and equipment to keep the disease from spreading.  Even to this day, a sizable percentage of beekeeping books still speak of the need to burn equipment that is infected with American Foulbrood.  That this message of burning infected equipment carries forward all the way into 2016 is a testimony as to how severe this rampant and deadly disease was – and especially with the advent of resistant antibiotics – still is.

It is easy today for all of us to take for granted the concepts of “resistant bees,” “hygienic behavior,” “treatment free beekeeping,” etc.  These are commonly used terms, and relatively well-known concepts in today’s beekeeping world – especially when it comes to queen rearing.   It is hard to imagine that eighty years ago, in the mid 1930’s, these concepts did not exist.  Beekeepers weren’t even aware that bees could be selectively bred to establish these desirable traits in honeybees.

In 1935, a visionary beekeeper, O.W. Park, noticed that certain colonies seemed to be resistant or immune to American Foulbrood.  He had an idea:  What if honeybees could be bred to be resistant to American Foulbrood, and the disease could be controlled with the genetics of the bees themselves?  Starting with 25 strong and apparently resistant colonies, along with six control colonies, Mr. Park, along with his associates, set out to test this theory.  He then purposely exposed and infected all 31 colonies with infected American Foulbrood larvae!

What then happened?  All of the six control colonies, and many of the 25 resistant colonies died.  But, amazingly, seven of the resistant colonies survived.   In 1936 Mr. Park then bred a second generation of colonies from this “survivor stock,” which proved to show an even greater level of resistance in the next generation.  In the process, Mr. Park pioneered the concept of identifying resistant bees, and selectively breeding bees for disease resistance.  He also proved that this concept works, and can yield real and positive results.

2016 marks the eightieth anniversary of this landmark study on disease resistance in honeybees.  A full eighty years later, beekeepers continue to carry on in the shadows of the visionary, O. W. Park.

 

Next Year’s Champions

During the height of the beekeeping season, while we are busy raising queens and shipping orders, another project takes place in the background.  Our breeding experts are assessing an assortment of bee stock obtained from around the country for the best of the best – the most mite resistant, the most gentle, the most hardy of all.  They then cross their best candidates with other desirable stock, typically pure VSH drones obtained from the USDA.  If all goes well, the results are outstanding breeder queens for the upcoming season – next year’s champions.

Around the end of each season, we look forward to receiving a new group of these hand-selected breeders to add to our existing proven stock.  This assures us a ready selection of quality queens from which to breed at the start of the next season.

We recently received our final set of this season’s breeder queens.  Number 63, pictured above inside a push-in cage, arrived with high accolades.  Her offspring is light and gentle, and contains both the Pol-Line and VSH traits.  She is precious, and we are taking all precautions for her well-being!

To introduce her into a new colony we used a homemade push-in cage.  This type of cage allows the queen to begin laying eggs in a safe and controlled area before the cage is removed and she is fully released into her new colony.  By laying eggs before she is released, she becomes more desirable and better accepted by her new colony, greatly increasing the odds of her successful introduction.