2015 update

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The update below is from 2015. Since then there has been injury, illness and retirement among some of our most active members and COVID-19 has made working together more difficult. We will be meeting together in April and hope to provide a more contemporary update.

new members

2014 had brought in new members who relished the idea of rearing queens with the clear goal of enhancing both dark bee characters and varroa tolerance propensities. Methods used included taking frames from swarming colonies, where the parent colony seemed worthy of propagation; Miller frames; grafting and apideas. Our members have borrowed apideas and taken fondant for them. Payne’s poly hives have been used successfully and have proved so useful that 2 members have bought a large number and the extension “supers” so they can be enlarged to 12 frames. Longer established members are increasingly able to provide nuclei for new beekeepers so keeping importation down for this group at least. They also provide nuclei for beekeepers elsewhere who favour the dark bee including a Devon B4-affiliated group. This is an important result of our Group’s work in queen rearing and provides a commercial output to help defray the costs of rearing queens.

new sites

2014 brought mutual benefit from working together with the B4 Project. The Project had established links with Paignton Zoo, Paradise Park, The Eden Project, Heligan Gardens and the Duchy Nurseries. Rodger Dewhurst accepted the brief to organize Eden, Heligan and Duchy apiaries. The Eden site is being developed alongside a beekeeper already established there whilst the Heligan setup is in collaboration with the Roseland Group of Cornwall Beekeepers Association. The Roseland peninsula was already known to have dark bees, evidenced by both swarms and the preferences of some of the beekeepers' there as was Heligan. All centres devoted themselves to providing educational opportunities and publicity for the dark bee of Cornwall including an observation hive. James provided bees for Paradise Park, where the owner, Nick Reynolds, already had his own apiary.

mating apiaries

The Duchy Nurseries provided an ideal opportunity to set up a mating apiary, augmenting selected colonies with additional drones “borrowed” from colonies elsewhere in other mating sites selected to breed drones. Results in 2015 were very promising. Whilst drone flooding and weather patterns favouring in-strain mating including apiary vicinity mating in poor weather ensure that our dark bees are propagated into new generations, the search for more isolated mating apiaries continues in both BIPCo and CBIBBG.

genetic results

In 2014 genetic testing in association with FERA showed we had a unique strain of Apis mellifera mellifera in our colonies. This strain is as different from Colonsay and Northumbrian strains as Carnicans are from Ligusticans. It demonstrated the degree of “contamination” from a large range of non-native bees, even identifying a tiny Hawaian component in one colony! A few colonies and even individual bees were shown to be 100% A.m.m. compared to the best reference colony tested.

In 2015 the B4 Project teamed up with a Swiss group, specifically to determine the extent of the A.m.m. genetic content of our bees. The result was immensely gratifying. Members favouring the dark bee showed an extraordinarily high A.m.m. content most from our westerly members. The exact % will be confirmed by an independent analysis of the numerical results using a number of nuclear (base-pair sequence) markers. The result is better than we could reasonably expected from the known importation of Italian, Carnican, Buckfast and other bees into Cornwall, some reared in the UK and some elsewhere. It also implies that our strain of A.m.m. is sufficiently distinct that the queens preferentially mate with same-strain drones, even hinting at being a separate sub-species (not sufficiently enough to prevent cross-family mating). This has been noted in French strains, where there now seem to be 3 distinct sub-species. We do, however, take measures to enhance the chances of in-strain mating, but this does not explain all the results.

proven tolerance?

So far we have established colonies that have had no varroacide applied to them for 3 years and have been used as source material for queens and drones. Growing reports in the UK of colonies surviving without treatment whilst being regularly assessed for I.P.M. show that concerted effort may at last be showing positive signs of varroa tolerance. Treatment when necessary will show which colonies have some tolerance and are reducing varroa by one means or another. Treatment of all colonies without such assessment will hide them from view.

study day

Rodger kindly gave time in 2014 to work through the issues of moving bees between apiaries for mating purposes and making mating apiaries available to other members of the B4 Project. Presentation of the issues set out in the paper on biosecurity when moving bees, nucs and colonies to another member’s apiary was followed by practical work setting up apidea frames. A visit to the mating apiary and inspection of visiting mating hives demonstrated the validity of the principles and practices! 2 of the visiting nucs had absconded to cover another mini hive and one queen had killed another there. These bees were returned to an improved setup where they remained. It was amusing and instructive to see a cluster of bees follow a caged virgin as the cage was moved around on the hive stand before introduction!

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