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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.