Sven-Olof Ohlsson, Munsala, Österbotten, Finland 2002-2004

IN the autumn of 2002 I wintered 130 bee colonies. The winterlosses were big that winter, a little less than 50%. The winter was long and hard. In March about 20% had died. Those that died later mostly had started egglaying and were too small in bee strenght to cover also stores besides the brood, when it became cold again in April. !5 colonies, all Buckfasts, had been treated with Apistan. The rest, all of Elgon stock, were untreated. Only 2 of the Apistantreated colonies survived. these two were not ”pure” Buckfasts (from Denmark), but daughters mated in the home apiary with probably also Elgon drones. One of the surviving Buckfasts had some Monticola heritage. Many apiaries in Österbotten in Finland were totally wiped out that winter. With others just a few colonies were left.


One beekeeper 35 km south of me wintered 13 colonies in the autumn of 2002, crossings between Elgon, Italians and Buckfasts. This beekeeper uses big cell size. The bees got no additional sugar for winter. Actually they were allowed to keep all their honey gathered. They also got no treatment against varroa. All colonies survived well. He sold 8 colonies 2003 and wintered the remaining 5 the same way as the previous year, though he harvested some honey. All 5 wintered excellent and are in good shape in spring 2004. He sold some of these 2004, but made some splits and had once again 5 colonies going into winter in autumn 2004. Once again he took very little honey from them and didn’t give them any sugar as winter feed. You can ask yourself if sugar contribute bad wintering, the sugar itself or contamination of some chemical, or both. Also you can ask yourself if too much of interference with the bees stress them and causes less good defense behaviour.


In May 2003 I bought 15 Carniolan queens from Slovenia and made splits for them, which I placed several tens of kilometers from my closest Elgon bees. Such early queens give you a crop which pays off already the first year. That’s why I bought them, to compensate for the winter losses. These colonies kept their Carniolan queens and got no varroa treatment in autumn 2003. They had 3-4 combs of 5.1 mm cellsize in the middle of the box (one box full depth Langstroth), the rest with 5.5 mm cellsize. The autumn of 2003 80 colonies were wintered, of which 15 were these Carniolans, the rest Elgons (and two Buckfast daughters). Then we (my wife Marianne and I, she takes as big part in the bees as I) tested some of Elgon colonies concerning varroa. We used 5 formic acid gel bags and 10 Thymol plates. They were kept in the hives just overnight. The downfall was not big in any of the tested colonies, 10-15 mites, except from one colony which dropped several hundreds, also an Elgon. That colony became quite small and the queen is shifted. We used Apistan for three weeks in a little less than 20 colonies for comparison. Only slightly more mites dropped from them.


The wintering was normal this last winter (2003-04). Only one of the old colonies died and 7 splits of Elgons. the winterr are pretty hard on this latitude (above degree 60), the losses of the nucs most probably are due to that. Winter losses among Elgons 12%. There was a difference also concerning mite population in autumn 2002 and 2003. It was definitely lower in autumn 2003, by the bees’ own power. All ”pure” Buckfasts were gone 2003 (no colonies producing high amounts of mites, also for the others?). Most colonies had at least a couple of combs with 4.9 mm cell size in the middle of the box in autumn 2003, some had several. the rest were 5.1 mm in the Elgons. Colony strenght was very good in April 2004. the strongest covering 1 and a half 10-frame box full depth Langstroth. Of the 15 Carniolan colonies 9 died, 60%. Those left look healthy on their 6-7 frames of bees.

During 2004 I couldn’t see any sign in any of the Elgon colonies that they had some mites in them. I did no drone comb cuttings or used any drug to measure the amount of mites or treat against the mites. I have though looked carefully to notify if the I should be able to see any sign of a rising population of mites of secondary infections from viruses or similar, or if something negative  development should take place. But the colonies have behaved normally all season.


I wintered 97 colonies 2004, of which 17 were in the Carniolan apiary. I had bought some new Carniolan queens from Slovenia and also bred some queens from the best of the old queens. In some of the Carniolan colonies I judged the mite population to be a little too high and treated them with Thymol in autumn. Why the Carniolan apiary looked so good I think was due to the use of 4.9 mm cell size foundation. Those colonies that had a little too big mite population were those that didn’t draw that foundation so well.

In 2004 also in this apiary the 4.9 foundation was drawn well, which I think is due to the use of a closer spacing of the frames, with 32 mm from midwall to midwall, instead of 35 or 38 mm. Bees don’t want only smaller cell size in the brood area, but also a closer spacing of brood combs.

In March 2005 no colonies have died and they all seem healthy and fine.


Marianne and Sven-Olof Ohlsson, Osterbotten, Finland 2005-2006  

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