In March 2017, I spent two weeks working with two separate ‘apiculteur’ operations in the South of France, a large honey producer operated by Victor Kohut and a queen rearing operation manned by Dr. John Kefuss.
I had heard about ‘breeding bees resistant to Varroa’ and thought, ‘I really need to learn this new thing…’ Turns out breeding bees for Varroa resistance is anything but new, and the more articles and papers Kefuss pushed across the table for me to read late in the evenings after long days of setting up hives with elaborate custom feeding systems, inspecting colonies, and grafting varroa resistant queens, the more I realized that not only was selecting for disease and mite resistance NOT a new thing, but that people had been having success with it for decades and for some maladies, more than a century!
It’s so NOT a new thing, that many references to it are buried in printed media not yet digitized and online for younger generations of beekeepers to find. Here’s an article that I can find nowhere on the ‘net, but is a good summary of Kefuss’ findings and practice:
Turns out creating varroa resistant queens is a lot easier than you might think, doesn’t need an isolated breeding yard, and if performed on a club level, can improve the genetics of the entire region. Also, it’s not necessary to be as extreme as killing off the entire colony. Careful monitoring and some form of treatment to knock down the mites followed by immediate queen replacement (with a VSH, resistant, or local queen) will get the region on track to nudge evolution in the right direction.
The key is to carefully monitor for resistance, re-queen hives that are unable to maintain a low population on their own, and when you get a hive resistant to disease and mites, don’t crush your swarm cells, rather share them with your local club and make sure there’s drone comb in the hive to help spread their genetics!
If everyone adopts these common sense practices, we’ll no longer need to expose ourselves or the environment to dangerous chemicals by propping up weak bee populations with chemical ‘life support’. We’ll stop producing supermites that out evolve our ability to come up with the next new treatment band aid, and help the honey bee return to a level of genetic strength and diversity that will allow it to better cope with current and future challenges!