Hello there. I would like to introduce you to the Bungalow ZEST hive.
As well as it being a bee hive design that is suitable for disabled use, the Bungalow ZEST hive is a very simple way to make out-bred queens with the least disruption to their natural instincts.
We assert that we are currently inbreeding our honeybee queens which if continued for long, is likely to lead to serious harm, not only to the bees themselves, but to the environment upon which we all depend.
The standard commercial bee breeding management system using Jenter cages, sable hair grafting brush and Artificial Insemination equipment is an assembly of in-breeding devices which reduce the size and quality of the gene pool. They need to be discarded. Some beekeepers use these tools with great skill and are revered as experts in their field. The spectacle of a room full of beekeepers listening in awe while millions of years of honeybee genetic evolution are trashed is a sad one.
It is not such a difficult problem to solve, but it is one that needs to be accepted as such and dealt with in a simple and timely manner. The ambition is for a Queen out-breeding system that can be described in a British Standard Code of Practice. This is not a law, but a form of Guidance for best practise on the “nudge” principle. The problem is mostly one for commercial queen breeders where quantity trumps the quality of a diverse genetic base going forward.
Honeybees have been the long suffering recipient of man’s attentions with thin walled wood hive design, insecticides and the inbreeding of queens. This last issue can be dealt with by a set of protocols that will outbreed rather than inbreed.
The process of selective breeding of crops and animals has served us well since Roman times. To transfer that success into the breeding of honeybees with current methods is likely to lead to in-breeding and the eventual demise of the honeybee species. Queens are increasingly failing without obvious explanation, but the likeliest one that must be considered is in-breeding.
The New Zealand approach to breeding sheep is “letalone” in which the extreme intervention characteristic of sheep husbandry in the UK is spurned, because it compromises the stock’s ability to survive in the long term. For farmed animals bred for our purposes, either method has its merits, but neither is suitable for honeybees. Farmed animals are selectively out-bred as the norm and control is complete over time with barbed wire containment. Bee breeding does not have complete control over time and the norm is for us to in-breed by default. All the queens in an apiary may be sisters and most of the drones born there are their nephews.
Many beekeepers purchase and breed from breeder queens raised by professional breeders in isolated apiaries which are themselves conducive to in-breeding. They may take a “best” mother queen and make (say) 100 daughter queens from her. These daughters are then distributed to local breeders who may make a further 100 granddaughters from each of those daughters. This makes 10,000 grand daughters of minimum genetic variation loose on the planet. The queens are selected for such qualities as temper, brood pattern, honey gathering and reluctance to swarm, not for genetic diversity.
There is a tendency for all creatures to breed “out” rather than “in”, to achieve hybrid vigour or Heterosis. This strengthens the gene pool, but it is being confounded by us.
The system that honeybees have evolved to perpetrate their species successfully is one that has every queen superseded lineally by its daughter, or at the most by several daughters, if swarming. When we breed from “chosen for qualities” queens in isolated apiaries it is both deeply incestuous and only one step away from cloning on the matrilineal line. This would not be so bad if (as in beef cattle) the end of the “line” was Sunday lunch, but these (almost) clone queens are then allowed to breed in the wild themselves, reinforcing the in-breeding tendency. The genetic pool shrinks whenever selection for our needs takes precedents over the bees for theirs, which is to breed out. Fewer and fewer queen lines produce more and more of the queens on the planet, reducing the size of the gene pool.
A high gene recombination rate of 20 times more in honeybee drones than in humans has so far been on the side of diversity despite humanities best efforts to confound it. There are reasonable grounds to assume that a reduction in genetic diversity will compromise the viability and survival of the honeybee.
Furthermore, professionally reared and sold queen bees are artificially inseminated. These queens generally only last a year whereas 3 years is common when the queen is open mated. Drones are selected for Artificial Insemination by breeders at random, not for the drone’s strength, commitment and chosen by the queen. How can we be sure that the few drones that we milk for sperm with A.I. would have been the queen’s choice? Just because we can catch them does not mean that they are the strongest and best and are not related to the queen, however distant?
The author’s experience of rearing queens from an expensive, imported, breeder queen in 2017 was seminal to understanding that we seem to have an in-breeding problem. 38 queen cells were raised in 4 batches and distributed into mini-nukes for hatching and mating. 2 of these did not hatch. 16 of those that did just disappeared. 5 were seen to have the right rear leg deformed to a stump and one had both of them so. They could not fly and be mated. Those queens that did become mated disappeared when introduced into production colonies. Some of those colonies made their own queens and others did not. The worker bees showed signs of aggression towards the queens.
We have feral colonies that somehow always seem to survive, thrive, collect lots of honey, but are aggressive. We have an international industry tirelessly churning out queens from a small base that have been selected for qualities such as a quiet temperament, but are always in danger of in-breeding and indeed is a sign of it.
North Carolina State University carried out some research in 2013 that is worth referring to. It concluded that "Genetic diversity is the key to survival of honey bee colonies” and which was published in Science Daily on 17 June 2013. Survival of colonies was said to be strongly related to drone diversity.
It also said that “When it comes to honey bees, more mates is better”. This study from North Carolina State University supported by the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that genetic diversity is the key to survival in honey bee colonies -- a colony is less likely to survive if its queen has fewer mates.
With our interference, in-breeding can occur on both the patri and matri lines. If we set aside short term commercial considerations we could defer to the natural selection opportunities available to each bee genus acted out, in the natural state. It has after all been proven over 30 million years.
Evolution is about selection and all 3 bee genus have a role in that. The selection opportunities for the honey bee worker genus to make honeybee queens occur at both the egg and larval stage. They tend to be selected from the most genetically rare (or stranger) “royal” line in the colony. The workers do get another selection opportunity at the sealed larva stage, because several queen cells are made and they break some down.
The selection opportunity for the virgin queen genus is for which drones to mate with and how many. After mating on the wing there is a process of oviduct rejection of about 90% of drone sperm. The criteria are not known at this time. The virgin queens may also be self-selected by combat with the survivor prevailing to take over the hive.
The selection opportunities for mature drone genus are few and the rewards dubious, but the most aggressive and strongest are likely to prevail for access to the mature virgin queen in mating flights.
On day 1 of the queen breeding process leave a queen right colony in the middle of the bungalow taking a split to each end. Each is composed of frames with eggs, sealed brood, stores and plenty of nurse bees. They are far enough away from their queen to be deceived into thinking that they do still have a queen, but she needs replacing. This is the Cloake deception technique in which the queen pheromone available to the bees at each end is only reduced. They make fewer, good supersede queen cells rather than many panic one’s which queen death or removal would cause to be made.
Day 10. When the queen cells are sealed load the frames, with their queen cells into poly-nukes and take to a remote stud apiary to avoid local in-breeding. The queen cells are more likely to be hatched and mated, being completely away from near their mother queens.
Day 30. When the queens are mated and laying in the nuke boxes they can be taken back to their original apiary or elsewhere to be overwintered with a ZEST hive wrap to help to ensure survival. In the following spring they can then be transferred into a full ZEST hive or used in a traditional thin walled wood hive, although this is not recommended.
The queen rearing cycle in a bungalow ZEST can commence on the first day of May, June and July in each year. Each bungalow ZEST can provide over the season 6 mated and laying queens intact with their progeny. The later ones will need feeding to overwinter.
This is all an efficient queen breeding method that is based on a human/honeybee symbiotic relationship that is not exploitive, does more with less material, time and effort and does not take production hives out of use. It provides new queens in colonies on demand without the prospect of in-breeding. It gives detailed positive selection criteria to the bees, but negative matters such as bad temper, disease and low fertility resting with the bee keeper on a cull basis.
Honeybees left to their own devices will select eggs, larvae and pupa to become queens, and drones to become fathers. The strongest and fittest drones only get to mate naturally with the queen, but let us not forget that breeding females of any species choose their mating partners if they are allowed to. There is a place for us in honeybee breeding as long as it can be described as symbiotic and on behalf of honeybee genetic diversity.
In summary a British Standard Code of Practise needs to include:
Such a British standard Code of Practise would go a long way to ensure that our custody of honeybees is at worst supine and at best supportive of honeybees.
In the meantime you may wish to prove that the system works to your own satisfaction. Give it a try. If you have standard wood brood frames with bees on them you just need the insulation blocks to try it.
Thank you for listening.