Our bees are:
- Winter hardy
The bees that Johnstons Honeybee Farm utilizes have been developed since 1991. We started with a Carniolian/ Italian hybrid and have been raising our own queens since then. We have suffered overwintering losses of around 75% three times and have bred from the bees that have survived. The first loss was caused by the advent of the tracheal mite, an internal parasite of bees; the second loss was caused by advent of the external parasite, Varroa destructor. More recently, in the winter of 2020/2021we experienced losses caused by viruses transmitted by varroa. From 2003 to 2011, we did not use any pesticides to treat for Varroa. In the fall of 2011 and again in 2012, our bees were treated with Apiguard whose active ingredient is the essential oil thymol. No miticides were again used from 2012 to 2021. Following losses of winter 2020/21, miticides used are: Apivar on 16% of operation in August ’21, FormicPro on 25% of operation in August ’21, FormicPro on 20% of operation in July ’22, Oxalic acid on 50% of operation in December ’22.
Up until 2020, we considered our bees to be mite resistant and 2020 was our best honey production year so far. In the winter of 2020/ 21 most of our yards were hit hard by losses caused by viruses transmitted by varroa. By splitting our survivors, we made up all of our losses by July ’21. We still made a decent honey crop in 2021. In the winter of ‘21/’22 our overwintering losses were 30% with no great difference observed in treated or untreated hives. The growing season of 2022 produced a greater honey crop than two years earlier. Going into the winter of 2022/ 23, some of our yards were again hit hard with losses.
So, while the actual varroa mite is not so much of a problem for our bees, viruses transmitted by the mites are a serious problem. Currently, the only methods to control the latest virus variant is to reduce mite levels through the use of miticides or breed bees that are naturally resistant to mites or are somehow immune to the virus itself. Our strategy is to use miticides on a portion of the operation in order to prevent unsustainable losses while using no miticides on the rest of the operation in an effort to find breeder queens more resistant to this current virus.