by Tamara Leigh
DUNCAN – A new initiative on Vancouver Island is bringing together small-
“The plan of action starts by stopping the dilution of the genetic pool,” says Glass. “There are probably 1,000 hives brought onto Vancouver Island from New Zealand every year. These bees are stressed from the travel and being taken out of season, and they don’t have any resistance to local pests or diseases.”
Rather than importing queens and nucleus colonies (nucs) to start new hives, Glass is teaching local beekeepers to select for specific traits and behaviours to develop their own queens and strengthen local bee populations.
“Vancouver Island has very little dependence on commercial pollination, so it’s a great environment for this,” he explains. “We need to educate beekeepers that they should [be] buying and producing locally. If we can accomplish that, stop the importation of bees, and be very careful with selection of local stock, we have a good shot at making a better Island bee.”
According to Glass, beekeepers should be building their stocks from only the top 3% to 5% of their hives, and getting rid of hives that are low to average producers, or that are susceptible to health issues.
“Any beekeeper who allows bad bees to live is diluting the gene pool,” he says. “The number one quality we are looking for is health. You want bees to be able to survive with the minimum amount of intervention.”
Hives on Vancouver Island are affected by varroa mite and a variety of the viruses that they carry, as well as three major bacterial infections: American Foulbrood, Chalkbrood and Sacbrood. While chemical treatments are available for these issues, there are also natural bee behaviours that increase their resistance to infestation and infection.
Some strains of bees, both domestic and feral, have developed a behaviour referred to as varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH). These bees can detect the presence of varroa mites and respond to manage them. In some cases, they can detect the varroa mite in the brood cell and will either kill the cell and get rid of it, or uncap the infected cells to disrupt the mite’s lifecycle.
Other bees, known as “leg maulers,” engage in grooming behaviour outside the hive. When they see a bee with a varroa mite on it, they chew at the leg of the mite until it falls off and dies.
“There has been a genetic adaptation with the blueprint of the bees that happens on a natural basis but the VSH traits can also be selected and bred for,” says Glass.
Glass and his collaborators will also be testing for hygienic behaviour in local hives, an important trait that reduces or eliminates the impact of bacterial infections like American Foulbrood.
“American Foulbrood is a nasty bacterium. It used to be [that] the best way to deal with it was to soak the hive in gasoline and torch it. It spreads very easily from hive to hive, with over 30,000 spores in a single cell,” says Glass. “It turns out the hygienic bees have no difficulty with it whatsoever.”
Glass tests for hygienic behavior by freezing a chunk of brood with liquid nitrogen and observing how much of the damaged brood they remove from the hive within 24 hours.
“Hygienic bees recognize the brood cells are dead and get them out as quickly as possible. If you go back 24 hours later and greater than 95% of the dead brood has been removed, the hive is considered hygienic,” says Glass.
He adds that roughly 10% of the North American bee population carries this gene. Not only are these bees resistant to pervasive diseases but they are consistently excellent honey producers.
“Hygienic behavior is fairly easy to select for and it exists in a fairly large population. If we went only to hygienic bees, we’d get rid of American Foulbrood, Chalkbrood and Sacbrood. It does not solve the varroa issue but we are looking for both varroa-
While the behaviours are linked to different genes, VSH bees tend to also be hygienic.
Glass has presented to beekeeping groups across Vancouver Island promoting the project. He is gathering a core group of collaborators for a three-
Vol. 103 Issue 11
STORIES IN THIS EDITION
Hog farm won’t face charges
Okanagan drives land values
Where’s the beef?
Minister defends Bill 15 changes
Back Forty: Farmers, not just farmland, need revitalization
Editorial: No peace, no order
ALR restrictions make commuting a fact of life
Johnston’s Packers targeted by activists
Sidebar: When is a crime not a crime?
Berry growers get long-awaited funding boost
Proteobiotics reduce poultry, swine infections
Greenhouse growth stymied by gas prices
Increase farm productivity with cover crops
Ag Briefs: Water fees not evenly distributed among users
Ag Briefs: BC Tree Fruits prepares to relocate
Farmland trust explored for Island
New owner, same faces
Fruit growers cautiously optimistic on bloom set
Honeycrisp key to success for Golden Apple winners
Changes to slaughter rules taking too long
Going! Going! Gone
Local meat deamnd creating opportunities
Sidebar: Compost in 14 days
Ranch takes pasture to plate at face value
Market Musings: Technology has its challenges
Oliver veggie grower prefers wholesale
Grocer offers tips to get a foot in the door
Greenhouse veggie days a hit with school
Haskap research may help berry go mainstream
Research: Bee sensitivity linked to neonic pesticides
Fraser Valley orchardist calling it a day
Worming his way to the top of the heap
Mushrooms a viable crop for small growers
Island 4-H beef show celebrates 25 years
Woodshed: Deborah starts her vacation a golf widow
Brewery’s food program spawns farm project
Jude’s Kitchen: Celebrate dads!