PAUL KELLY: Hi there, we’re here in the Arkell Bee Yard, one of our honeybee research centers or yards. And we’re here today with Les Eccles from the Ontario Beekeepers Association. Les is the lead for their Tech-Transfer Program. Les started working with us quite a few years ago, what year is that, Les?
LES ECCLES: 2005, I believe.
PAUL KELLY: 2005, right. So, he worked with us for five years, did some consulting work with beekeepers in Mexico. And for the last 10 years, he’s been the lead for the Tech-Transfer Program of the Ontario Beekeepers Association. So, we work really closely with that Tech-Transfer Program. And they were very involved with this LVG breeding project. So, this is our concluding video in the LVG series, and les is going to explain to us how the Tech-Transfer Program will be implementing this breeding system within the beekeeping community. So Les, can you tell us a little bit about what the Tech-Transfer Program does, and about the Tech-Transfer Breeding Program?
LES ECCLES: Sure. Yep. So, yeah, we’re pretty fortunate in the province to have a program like the Tech-Transfer Program. It’s been going since the early 90s, when Varroa mites actually first came in and which is kind of pertinent to a time where overall growth and how far we’ve came since we all first came into the province in the early 90s. But the mandate of the program is research and education. So, we dare to do a lot of projects and all kinds of the best management practices and beekeeping and in training and workshops. But a big part of the program is the Ontario Resistant Honey Bee Selection Programs or ORHBS. So, we work with beekeepers to select for resistance to pests and diseases, which is why we’re part of this project for the low grow growth.
PAUL KELLY: Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you would train beekeepers to implement this program, what the basic steps are in breeding for low Varroa growth.
LES ECCLES: Well, the the kind of the advantage to selecting for low Varroa growth is it’s actually quite simple. The reasons why the colonies may be resistant to mites might be a little bit complicated, but to select for low Varroa growth is just a matter of monitoring which we should be doing anyways, and looking at mite growth, so mite populations in the spring. And then as they grow through the season, and their end population in the fall. And just so you’re basically selecting for colonies that produce fewer mites in those colonies. That’s kind of the simple way. So, you can monitor using sticky boards, alcohol wash, those are probably the most reliant ways of monitoring. But it’s something you’re probably already doing and you can just use those numbers in a way to select for low Varroa growth.
PAUL KELLY: So, there have been a number of breeding projects started that are more survival kind of projects for beekeepers, just let the mites run their course. Maybe you could talk a bit about what advantage of this system is relative to that survival breeding.
LES ECCLES: Yeah, well, I think, you know, we came a long way now understanding Varroa mites and how to manage them. And, you know, Varroa mites are animal welfare situation. So, just letting varroa mites run through a colony, that colony really suffers and eventually dies. It creates a biosecurity issue, neighboring beekeepers. And the fact is we have other options now, we don’t need to let varaa just run its course and kind of mutilate a colony. That’s why we’re working on projects like these ’cause now we know specific characteristics and methods to select for growth resistance without the bees having to suffer.
PAUL KELLY: Great. So. at the end of your selection process where you look at that mite growth, we’re then able to treat all the colonies and try to keep as many as possible alive through that. So, yeah, it’s very good from an ethical standpoint, from a biosecurity standpoint, and certainly, having live hives to bees to work with, none of us can keep bees without live bees.
LES ECCLES: Yeah.
PAUL KELLY: Let’s talk a bit about some of the limitations of the program in terms of scale of beekeepers who can get involved, what level people need to be at to be able to do this kind of work?
LES ECCLES: Yeah. Yeah, it’s always a challenge when beekeepers, they take a lot of interest in bee breeding. But often, if they’re starting, it’s very small scale. But the reality is to really select for a characteristic, no matter what it is, you need a very large number of colonies to actually make a selection and make an advancement in breeding. So, scale is a big one. You know, you really should have at least 100, a couple 100 colonies, before you really enter a breeding program to have something to work with. That’s one of the main limitations to entering a breeding program.
PAUL KELLY: Now, I know abit on a small scale, perhaps an association could pool colonies and select when they’re with a bit of guidance and some expertise with some members. That would be another option. Any thoughts about that, Les?
LES ECCLES: Yeah, and that’s what we want to encourage through the OBA Tech-Transfer Program and our breeding program. We have resources in place, we have workshops to train beekeepers who want to get into breeding. And that group, that association, they meet, they work together, they discuss and prioritize how breeding and selection is going to work. And so, we’re always communicating. And so, we understand each other what it means to breed and what we’re talking about. So we have that in Ontario. And the tech transfer program goes to local beekeepers associations to present that information. to coordinate that within the province.
PAUL KELLY: Great. So, provide that support. And in other jurisdictions, there are Tech-Transfer Programs that may be interested in helping beekeepers with this fairly straightforward breeding method. Let’s talk a bit
about some of the beekeeping management that’s involved when we’re doing this. Because, for one, if we have to have the same query at the beginning and the end of our testing, so if a colony swarms in the middle, that’ll artificially dropped the numbers down. If we split a colony after we do the first count, that’ll drop it down. And there’s other things that we need to consider with their management. Could you elaborate a bit more on that, Les?
LES ECCLES: Yeah. And that’s always a challenge in a breeding program. When you’re selecting and comparing colonies, you really want them in a large number, but they’re all managed the same way. So, if you split a colony, you’d have to split everything and split them equally. In regards to Varroa growth, that has a real impact on how the Varroa grows in a colony. So, it’s very hard to compare a colony that’s been split and not split to look at those numbers. But that’s relative to all characteristics you’re really looking at in a breeding program, they really need to be managed the same way. And in regards to queens, like marking queens, we think of that maybe as luxury, having a mark with my queen colony. But like you mentioned, swarming super seizure, you need to have mark queens to know whether that’s happened. Super seizure can happen like that and you don’t notice.
PAUL KELLY: Right. Especially in the middle of the summer, when we’re not looking, that happens very frequently, and we don’t even aware of it. Good point. Back up to what you said a moment ago, you were talking about other things that beekeepers are selecting for. One of my concerns with selecting for only one trait, like low Varroa growth rate, is that we might lose track of some of the other positive characteristics we’re looking at. How would you recommend bee breeders implement this without losing what the other characters, they’re working for?
LES ECCLES: Yeah, it’s, again, yeah. You know, breeding is a real challenge and having multiple characteristics, and evaluating them, you know, it takes a bit of science. Most breeders start with a pre-selection going in. So, you know, if low defensive behavior is important, which is generally an important one, and perhaps low swarming, you’d want to pre-select, so before you even select for low Varroa growth, you’d already selected for that and bring that in, and that’s what you’re gonna select for low Varroa growth in. You kind of have to want to pre-selection before those enter into your breeding program. Kind of on the more, the next level, though. Within the ORHBS program, we have a selection. It’s an Excel sheet, but it’s a way of doing the evaluation and calculations to put in multiple characteristics so that you’re not losing and not overseeing some of these other things that are important in beekeeping.
PAUL KELLY: Great. Oh, good records there.
LES ECCLES: Yeah.
PAUL KELLY: Again, it comes down to the basics with any breeding program, you really have to good records of everything. So, when we do our Buckfast Breeding Program, it’s kind of a longer term process and we use a three year cycle, where we raise queens one year, we introduce them to colonies, and let their genetics take over that hive. The following year, we do our testing, and then we’re able to graft from the
breeders picked in the second year. So, it’s a three year cycle. We compress that cycle for this project for research purposes. But, personally, I think that would be the best approach for beekeepers to take. What were your thoughts on that, Less?
LES ECCLES: Yeah, it kind of comes back to that challenge of scale in a breeding program, I think to talk about, you need to have a queen for two to three years. And so you need to start with a large number because inevitably, swarming, super siezure, you’re gonna lose those numbers. So what you have in the end for that second, third year, where you’re actually gonna, we call those proven queens where we’ve proved them over a number of years and we know, OK, we are going to breed or we’re going to rear queens from that one. And that’s a real long term strategy. So that’s, you know, having a scale to be able to go that long and then continue doing that over time. I think the exciting thing about this low Varroa growth is that we were successful in selecting for low Varroa growth in that short time, and the nature of the research. But it’s important to remember, you can’t just select for that once and then stop. You need to continue to select whatever you’re breeding, you’re looking at those dollars, you got another whatever number of colonies, and you’re doing it again.
An example, in our breeding program, the ORHBS program, we have breeders that have been breeding for 20 years. They don’t start breeding, get what they want, and quit. Breeders breed for the long term, over and over again.
PAUL KELLY: Yeah, if you’re not constantly trying to improve, things are constantly going the other direction (CROSSTALK). So, it is a constant thing and it’s long term. But this is something that’s important enough that we’re working for even the future generations of beekeepers. With this it will be long term goal, we’re hoping that as many people as possible can be doing this kind of work if we spread it out, and more is done in other jurisdictions throughout the world over time, we’ll be making improvements and we’ll be able to share some of those gains that we’ve made. So, Les, your Tech-Transfer Program provides a great support for the local breeders. Can you touch on the importance of beekeepers supporting those local breeders?
LES ECCLES: Yeah, well, I think if nothing else from this talk, you see a lot of effort goes into a breeding program. Breeders have a lot invested in what they’re producing, a really high quality queen to produce high quality colonies. So, you know, buying local stock, and putting good value on that, I think supports the industry a lot, you know. And if you’re interested in getting involved in breeders, you know, get involved with your local associations, the ORHBS program, the Tech-Transfer Program has workshops to provide training. If you’re watching this, you’re not from our area. You know, look for your local breeders and ask them what they’re doing and show interest and put value in all the effort that they’re putting into raising local queens.
PAUL KELLY: Many people take Queen rearing courses and then when they go home, they’re very happy to pay $50 because they see how much effort goes into that.
LES ECCLES: Absolutely.
PAUL KELLY: So, thanks very much for watching this series of three videos. Keep your bees healthy, and we’ll see you next time. (UPBEAT MUSIC)