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Join Nicole and Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping as they talk about updates on Randy’s research on oxalic acid for bees, selective bee breeding, unpublished research, and more!
What You’ll Learn
- Randy’s unpublished research
- His thoughts on treatment free beekeeping
- Organic mite treatments
- Beekeeping and the almond orchards
- Honey bees are introduced invasive livestock and not threatened in the US
- Randy’s greatest research goal
Randy Oliver is a beekeeper and trained biologist whos kept bees for over 50 years. As a scientist, Randy is active in beekeeping research, writes for the American Bee Journal, and maintains the website ScientificBeekeeping.com. His focus is sharing what he has learned about how to be successful at beekeeping, largely based upon his own research. The research is supported by donations directly from appreciative beekeepers themselves.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Please donate to support Randy and Scientific Beekeeping
- Email us! Ask@HeritageAcresMarket.com
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0:01 Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com when we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.
0:17 Nicole: Hello, everybody. And thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole and today we are joined by the one and only Randy Oliver from Scientific Beekeeping. And I'm guessing if you're listening to this podcast, you're probably familiar with Randy and his amazing work and some of his beekeeping research that he's done. And so today, we are obviously going to be talking about bees. So Randy, thank you so much for joining me today.
0:43 Randy: Thank you, Nicole. Happy to be here.
0:45 Nicole: Yeah, I'm really excited to talk to you. You know, I've been following you along my whole beekeeping journey and I'm a very black and white analytical person. So I like things. I like data. I like numbers more so than some of the anecdotal stuff that's out there. But in case maybe somebody is unfamiliar with you can you give us a little bit of your background and the history of scientific beekeeping?
1:09 Randy: Oh sure. I I grew up in Southern California, a nature lover. My dad was a high school teacher so I hung out with the biology teachers at high school, always fascinated with anything with biology. I caught a swarm of bees in a my neighbor's property when I was a young teen, and didn't know what to do with them. So I apprenticed with a sideline beekeeper with a couple hundred hives when I was a teenager and learned beekeeping the traditional way, and then kept bees as a hobbyist for many years. And I moved to Northern California and then eventually decided I want to actually make a business out of beekeeping and was growing that business and then the Varroa mite came and just wiped us out and we were struggling with Varroa and I said, "You know what, I've got university degrees in Entomology and Biology and why am I letting a mite kick my butt!" So I decided after a long hiatus, away from academia, to hit the books again, and self educated and my passion has always been to share what I know with others. I've always been a teacher. And to start doing that and things just went from there with no plan whatsoever. I stepped into a slippery slope of an unfilled niche in the United States of somebody who was actually making a living as a beekeeper who had a lot of experience who also had a scientific background and could understand all the science and could translate it, which was what the extension apiculturists traditionally had done. But during those years, there was a cut back at many universities about extension apiculturists. And there were a few good ones, Eric Emerson and some on the east coast. But the bee industry was really happy to see one of their own doing some interpretation for them. And that's what I have been following up on. So what I focus on, is translating the science for the benefit of beekeepers and to where I see that there's research, applied practical research that beekeepers can use, that I see Research holes that are not being fulfilled, I step in there often and, and run research projects and then publish the results.
3:07 Nicole: Yeah, I really think you hit the nail on the head there. Whenever I create articles for the blog or certain things I like to go through and read scientific articles and stuff and not all of that is really user friendly. So it's really you know, refreshing to be able to come across your work that says, "Well, here's the confusing stuff if you want to look at it, but in layman's term, here you go."
3:29 Randy: Exactly and, and yes, for the for the non scientist who isn't reading scientific paper. I mean, what about read I've read probably six or eight scientific papers today? I start my mornings early reading scientific papers and I get questions from beekeepers all over the world and from researchers and the research group I'm with they had some questions and they said, Well, how about this so of course I have to digest four or five scientific papers and summarize them and and often tear the research apart. Look for the weak spots in the research, but we've got to realize that Is with academia, the rules are "Publish or Perish." They have to publish papers all the time. And much of this research is done on honeybees because that's an attractive subject by people who have very little actual experience in a hive. They may be experts at their field of research, but maybe not so with honeybees. So their interpretation sometimes needs a little bit of explanation, especially nowadays with the internet. We see people jumping on bandwagons, and I know this is going to be published aired later. But right now there are two newspaper articles came out one in England and one in Canada and there's been a big buzz about them of them claiming that almond pollination is killing all the honeybees and that people drinking almond milk are by virtue of them drinking almond milk are disrespecting the honeybees and causing billions of bees to be killed and we don't need that kind of stuff. Okay, that is irresponsible reporting on the on the part of the media and people get all up in arms and they want to save the bees. Which, I mean, nobody wants to save the bees more than beekeepers themselves the best beekeepers are those who practice the best animal husbandry for their livestock. We love our bees, you know, the last thing we want to do is is to abuse them or harm them. And, in fact, just this morning to one of the chat groups I was on, I said, well, let's take a look at the dairy industry. Let's look at the loss rate of dairy cows each year and the loss rate of dairy cows equals the proportional lost rate of beehives with beekeepers, some livestock died there, so you can't just single out keepers and say they're being responsible at all. And the truth is, is that California beekeepers used to go to almonds for free of charge, because the bees do so well and almonds and when I was at the American Honey Producers conference last week, guy from the Almond board starts his presentation off saying hey, here's this article from the Guardian. You know about all the bees dying and almonds and one of the larger be brokers was sitting next to me in the audience because we were all kind of chuckling about this, and I turned to to her and I said, What proportion of the beekeepers who you broker bees for report that they have losses from pesticides in the almonds, and she turns to me and smiles and makes the zero sign with her with their fingers. And I said, Yeah, that's, you know, I've been going to almonds for 40 years, 40 years, year after year. That's so that's our living. And you know, we see little issues, but I have seen some beekeepers who have had problems. But generally the growers figure out what they did wrong and they and they solve that problem as quickly as they can. There's the last thing a grower wants to do is to hurt honeybees. They're paying a lot of money per honeybee. So, it's not a perfect world, but we got 7 billion people on earth, they're all hungry, they want to eat, and we are all doing the best we can. And I gotta say the almond board is very proactive, trying to help the honeybees and we beekeepers are working with them. So I suggest to people don't get too up in arms about sensationalism in the press.
6:58 Nicole: Yeah, I feel like the beekeeping bunch is an especially opinionated group of people.
7:05 Randy: No kidding. (Laughs)
7:08 Nicole: I feel like that's the nicest way to say it.
7:10 Randy: Right. The other thing is we've been hijacked as a poster child, by anybody wanting to raise money. So a scientist wants to get research funded, they lay out the honeybee environmental group, and I'm a life time environmentalist. I donate big time to environmental groups that buys me the right to criticize them. And I do. And I resent when one of my favorite environmental groups puts out a misleading campaign for donations saying to save the honeybees and blaming it on this or that and which is patently untrue, and I write to them I say, guys, this is untrue. This is unethical to put out these kind of fundraising efforts using the honey bee in the beekeepers against our will and being inaccurate in your reporting.
7:53 Nicole: Do you feel like the honeybee may be used as like you said the poster child but really It's a bigger issue of the native bees as well.
8:03 Randy: Absolutely, and I would be more. The honeybee in in North America is a managed livestock. It's not native to North America there and the honeybee population is not threatened at all in North America. Now, on the other hand, in Europe, where there are native honey bees, some of those races are threatening and they should be looked out for. Across the world. It's all the pollinators and in North America, there's 4000 species of bees, only one of which is the honeybee and it's a non native. I'm more concerned about the native bees throughout the United States and the effects of land conversion and pesticide use and climate change, which has a huge impact on them.
8:44 Nicole: Yeah, that's something that I've been kind of mulling in my brain for a while. It's not that I want any bee to die, but there's so much attention that goes on to this non native species that it seems like the natives are getting completely ignored.
8:56 Randy: Oh, absolutely. And invasive. Absolutely. Honey Bee is an incredible Invasive species. But the thing is, is that if we look at the big picture, anything that benefits the honeybee, or benefits deer or benefits birds or benefits forests, or benefits Monarch butterflies, all those benefit the native bees too. So if we just look at wildlife as a whole, we can all work together and that's why we we beekeepers, need to work with Pheasants Forever and other groups and agriculture we need to find a spot within agriculture that pollinators can exist and that's the long term view here and as much as there's hoopla out there, everybody knows this every every chemical company knows this. Every chemical company is getting told by the farmers that the public does not want to hear about pesticide issues. The public wants clean food. The public is aware of honeybees. So the market is sending a very strong message to EPA, to the Agriculture Committee to the chemical companies, things that got to change and they ar. And here's what you can do. If you go to free patents online. All you got to do is Google the name of any chemical company and and look at pesticide for patents. And what you'll see is that gives you a 10 year crystal ball on what they're working on for the future. And they are looking for a biologicals, a much safer pest control products. So, as frustrating as it is right now, you got to realize we are making progress. We're making big progress. So the world is not perfect, but we're going in the right direction.
10:25 Nicole: Well, that's all you can do is is move forward in the right direction and and hope for the best I suppose.
10:30 Randy: Absolutely.
10:32 Nicole: So maybe going full circle back to our own bees. You obviously have a lot of research going on with the mites and I know that the one that you have right now is with the oxalic acid in the shop towels. How is that been going? Do you have any updates on that?
10:48 Randy: That's going very well. What the big problem is that the problem I'm trying to address let me skip ahead to another project first. Our biggest problem for the honeybee worldwide except for in Australia and Isle of Man is the Varroa mite. And the Varroa mite is a problem because it transmits deforming virus and the virus it actually kills honeybee colonies. So our number one problem is the Varroa mite. And the answer solution to the Varroa mite is, is having bees that are resistant naturally to the Varroa mite. So we do so the beekeeper doesn't have to do anything about it, the bees themselves will. And I've been watching various groups attempt to breed for mite resistant bees. I just spent had lunch with Dr. Bob Danka, from the USDA, who is working with the VSH and the whole line of bees that are resistant and we collaborate very, very nicely together. And what I decided is three years ago, we've had the mite here for 30 years in the United States and the beekeeping community is not using resistant bees for one reason or another. And one of the things I saw was that the commercial breeders are just seeing that it's too hard. They've had bad luck. So I said, You know what, let me walk the walk and see if I can demonstrate a simple method that they can understand, and that they will utilize and will allow them to use their own stock that their family is proud of that they've, they've bred for years and then select for mite resistance and how to do it. So, three years ago, I started a very strong selective breeding program. And I keep track of how many dollars how many hours it costs over the course of the year. And it's very reasonable for a commercial Queen producer to put 1000 colonies a year into a selective breeding program and do all the monitoring necessary. It's only 100 hours worth of labor, that's very doable. You know, I don't want to talk about pie in the sky. I'm saying, hey, let me just try this. And I'll tell you how it works every year. And I'll talk you know, my failures, I'll say what my successes are. And after three years here, where we're shifting the gene pool, it looks like we may be seeing some success this year. At this point in time we've gone from 2% of our colonies exhibiting strong resistance. We're up to around 10% this year. Now that may be a fluke. It'll be another year to really see, but it's encouraging and what I've seen now just outside my window right here I've got births, stockpiling some of our breeder queens for grafting new queens in a couple of months. And we have a bunch of hives out here that are beautiful colonies, gentle bees productive, made a ton of honey. And they've got mite counts of zero or just a few mites. And they maintain those low mite counts all by themselves in commercial operation all season long, some of them now going on 20 months without any treatment for mites whatsoever, and maintaining mite counts on their own.
13:31 Nicole: Wow.
13:32 Randy: This is very exciting to just to be able to see this is like beekeeping back in the in the old days before we ever heard of Varroa where the bees just take care of themselves. And if I can increase this rate in my operation from the current, about 10% rate up to, you know, 90% rate. We could get by with maybe one organic mite control treatment a year and that would be very, very exciting. So as far as the breeding program, I'm excited about it. It's looking great and the main thing is the queen producers are very interested. I've had a few of them come out recently, checking this out watching my progress and because they want to see if it works for me before they try it themselves.
14:11 Nicole: What do you think caused that leap from 2% to 10%?
14:15 Randy: Strong breeding. We start with 1500 colonies of new queens every year. start them in new colonies, and then track the buildup rate of the mites in those colonies by using the alcohol wash and after the first round, we let them go for three months to let the mites build up. we eliminate most of them from the potential breeders at that time, their down to maybe 250 or so the rest of them we go and treat it for mites at that time we use organic treatment at that time and and they just run in the operation. We don't move those hives we leave them right there but we don't treat them, and then a month later we come back and we alcohol wash those 250 and if they're mite counts are still close to zero, we just leave them alone and any of the rest they're out of the program. We take the tag off them we treat them for mites and they're back in the program. So we do this four to five times a year go through and and check the remaining we call them all potential breeders. Everyone's a potential breeder. Her colony has to prove itself for an entire year before she makes the grade as a breeder, they got to be gentle, they got to be productive, and they got to control mites on their own. Now, when the next spring, we requeen every single colony only for the daughters of those queens. And what that means is the drones, their genetics come only from the mother because a drone comes from an unfertilized egg. So there's no father to a drone. That means that last year's queens genetics supply all the genetics for the drones of the next year, but it takes a few years to really shift the drone pool's genetics, and what I was expecting to do is start to see some results maybe next year, but it looks like we might be seeing results this year. That year three, I was thinking it was gonna be your four before we saw any kind of progress because it takes that long to shift the genetic pool. So I'm excited. It's a long term project but it works well into our system and is very cost effective.
16:05 Nicole: And if this was something that I wanted to follow, do you have that on your website?
16:09 Randy: They are I do a progress report on an update on the selective breeding program every year. I'm going to wait now until springtime, another two months or so before we start grafting to give the end result for the 2019 update. But I'm totally open about this. And I speak with beekeepers and groups all over the world. In fact, the French beekeepers, Queen producers invited me over last year to speak to them about this. So um, yeah, somebody just has to step out there and just walk the walk, just do it. That's what I'm willing to do.
16:39 Nicole: That's exciting. I'm interested to see where this goes.
16:43 Randy: Oh, me too. There's a big difference between being a salesman and just being somebody saying, "Hey, I don't know what's gonna happen. But let's try it and let's do something serious." I mean, breeding is not something you can do casually. It does require a fair amount of work, but I've got that work to the minimum. The breeding program is the end goal but until then we still have two stopgap measures which are treating for the mites. And initially we used synthetic mitocides when we first got the Varroa the Fluvalinate was magical I, I almost gave up on beekeeping. When Varroa came and wiped out virtually all my hives and then a friend said, Oh, you should try these plastic strips, they really work and we did that, then well, it was like beekeeping in the early days again, it was fantastic. But the problem is the mites very quickly evolved resistance that miticide then we got the second miticide, which is kind of a scary one there it was an organophosphate, the Coumaphos. And boy, you open that package up and you think you know, this must be what nerve gas must be like. And so I tried that for one year and then I said that's it and in three years, the mites are resistant to that. So in 2001's the last time I use this synthetic miticide in my operation. Since that time, we've run a commercial operation only with treatments that are organically approved the Thymol which is essential oil, and organic acids, the formic acid and the oxalic acid, and then biotechnical methods. So again, we walk the walk. We're professional beekeepers, we make our living, my sons and I, running around 1500 hives, and we do it without the use of any synthetic miticides and it works well. Now the one problem that we have is that there was no good approved treatment for Varroa when honey supers are on the hive during the summer and this is the critical time to control mites. The formic acid which is an excellent treatment has issues when it's hot during the summer and the Hop Guard which is another great product, we did not find when we tested out that application is when there's a lot of brood in the colonies during the summer. Now I've just talked to the company and they said their new formulation is more efficacious during the summer and I will be running a controlled trial of it this summer to check it out and see I'll report out on that. But then some researchers in Argentina realize that if they took oxalic acid and dissolved it in glycerin and then put it on cardboard, it would be an extended release of the oxalic acid. And it found out it worked very well for controlling Varroa. And it did not make residues in the honey. Now, the FDA and EPA are not even concerned about oxalic acid residues because in our diet, especially if you eat very many vegetables, you get plenty of oxalic acid in your diet and the tiny amount that might get into honey is negligible and of no health concern to anybody. So that's the beauty of oxalic acid. So the slow release formulation, I did some early experiments duplicating the Argentine strips, and they worked well, but they were too labor intensive for us required putting too many strips into a hive. So I said, well, what's another cellulose matrix and the commercial beekeepers have long used shop towels, blue shop towels, we call them off label treatments. So I decided to use that. I was not stuck on that, it was just preliminary use and found out "Wow that actually does work." We can throw one into hive. So I got an experimental use permit, from the state of California, and every year I do that I just got my new one for this year. So I can legally experiment with this. And I approached USDA, Dr. Jay Evans, since they are the registrant of oxalic acid to see whether we could apply to EPA for additional permissive use of an application method. And they said, Yeah, let's do that. So, we did a controlled trial here in California 2017. And we showed that it was efficacious that it killed the mites. We also for EPA, we showed that it did not have deleterious effects on the hives they built up just fine, they had weight gain, their colony strength was just fine. And we took honey samples and found out it does not contaminate the honey. So that was proof of concept. So then in 2018, I played with different ratios of oxalic acid to glycerin, on the cellulose towels. We had a range of nine different ratios and I came up with a ratio that gave very good efficacy. And then in 2019, I ran a trial 250 hives or so, and to look for overall efficacy, and I published the results of that, and it was it was very, very good. There may be some issues in on the East Coast where the humidity is higher, but we're working on that. And now I've come up with a new cellulose matrix other than the blue shop towel, which looks like an improvement, which is the cellulose sponges from Sweden. And so that's what I'll be trying this next year. So that's what I'm doing step by step. First you do proof of concept that it works, then you fine tune it on the ratio, then you do a large scale field trial to see how it works under real real conditions with lots of hives and various yards. So now we're back to fine tuning. Now we're going to address the actual matrix. What I tried to avoid is having to put eight strips into a hive and pull eight strips out I want to get one thing you can just toss between your two brood chambers and pull it toss it in there and pull it out easily. So that's my direction.
21:57 Nicole: Now without trying to sound like Debbie Downer if the mites have, you know, built up resistance to a lot of the other medications is this something that by the time that you've perfected it, and it's amazing that they've since built the resistance and then it's on to something else?
22:14 Randy: Well, there's a few things one, remember this is a stopgap measure in my mind until I have fully resistant bees. The second thing is there's very little sign that the bee, the mites will be able to get resistance to oxalic acid. And the reason is, is that if you use a synthetic miticide, they target like a sodium gated ion channel in the nervous system, or some other octopamine amine receptor or some one single molecule in the mite. And all the mite has to do is evolve one tiny little tweak to that, to get resistance.
22:48 Nicole: Sure.
22:49 Randy: Oxalic acid is more like a blowtorch. And it's really hard to evolve resistance to a blowtorch. And the reason is, it appears to be absorbed through these little sticky pads on the mite's feet called ampodia or the podium on foot. And every time I might put his foot down, it inflates this little tiny pad on the bottom of his foot, it's really neat to look at under the microscope, and that sticky little pad, let's hang on to the bee. If it didn't have that sticky pad, they would fall off the bees and mites would not be a problem. The downside to the mite is that when there's little crystals of oxalic acid on the bees bodies, which don't seem to affect the bees, they get absorbed on those damp ampodia and this go right into the mites body and cause the the death of the mite. So it's going to be very difficult for the mite to develop resistance to something because to the oxalic acid simply because of its its chemical nature. It's not a targeted miticide, it is a general acids or just general biocides, which is tough. The amazing thing is that the honeybee which typically runs an acidic environment in the hive because they they use lacto bacillus bacteria to create lactic acid, they acidify their honey and they acidified their bee bred. So they're very used to having acids in the hive. So bees do well with acids. And to my utter amazement, when you acidify the bees in the hive slightly with oxalic acid, you just don't see adverse effects unless you get to a very high level. In fact, I'm using an ultraviolet tracer right now to see if I can track the distribution of oxalic acid on the bees. And it's amazing. I mix it in with some oxalic acid and put a few drops on the bees and a cup in the incubator. And hours later, every bee in that cup has traces of that tracer on it, which you can see under blacklight. So I'm going to see if I can use that for a tracer. Otherwise I'm what I do is a chemical titrations which are kind of tedious to do. In answer your question. I doubt we're going to see resistance. There's some good evidence that came out of Argentina that their mites do not develop resistance to it, but again, anything is possible. So here's one piece of advice to beekeepers: rotate treatments. The thing is that beekeeper find something they like and they just use it year round. Well that's the sure way to develop resistance. So even in our operation where we like the oxalic acid a lot, we rotate three different treatments plus, so we rotate formic acid, oxalic acid and Thymol plus we have we breed for resistance plus we do a induced brood break in the spring, plus we do a drone comb cut out in the spring, so we hit the mites from every side and but I call that is instead of looking for the silver bullet, it's the brass knuckles approach. You just keep beating the mite up all the time.
25:39 Nicole: So I I might be able to assume your answer to this question. But what is your opinion to the people that say I don't treat my mind so I'm completely treatment free. I'm not going to put anything in my eyes and I'm just going to let them if they live, they live if they die, they die.
25:55 Randy: I think they should do the same thing to their children and to their pet other pets. Those poor cats and poor dogs which are gonna start starving and dying and getting sick and all that, forget going to the vet don't take your kids to doctor, see how that works for you?
26:07 Nicole: Well, that actually is becoming a movement with the anti-vaxxers I think.
26:11 Randy: Okay, so anyway, here's what I what I feel is that the honeybees is a managed livestock. And when you manage and take an animal under your care, you have an ethical responsibility to care for that animal. If you know going into it, that most colonies right now will die this ugly death from deformed wing virus. If you don't treat them, I think it's unethical to not treat them and as Tom Seeley says, if they're going to die, euthanize them, so they don't suffer through it before they spread that parasite, that virus and those mites to all the other colonies around. So the thing is, when you're a beekeeper you have responsibility to the beekeeping community. And when a colony gets a high mite level, those bees and mice drift all the other hives around carrying that form of virus and as the virusus are evolving, we've all been to become more and more virulent, this is a problem. So you have the responsibility not only to your bees ethically but also to the other beekeepers around and to the native pollinators. Because when those bees with the high virus levels go out and land in the flower they leave behind those viruses and those viruses go to the other native pollinators. They may or may not cause problems with them. So we're learning about that. So I got no problem if you want to be a treatment free beekeeper, but before your colony collapses, please euthanize it, kill it, shake them all into soapy water, use dry ice, do something to kill that colony. Now what we are, I'm a large scale treatment free beekeeper myself. So out of the 1500 hives I was treated with treatment free for the first 250 that don't have my first mite wash okay, and then the rest get treated with organic treatment. Then I have those colonies prove themselves. So after next mite wash now we go from 250 maybe maybe down to a lower number. Actually this year, the numbers have been much, much higher. So I have a quite a few treatment free colonies in my operation. But there's no reason to let the rest of them suffer and die because those bees are valuable to me because next spring, you only have to punish the Queen that you're only going to publish the genetics, there's no reason to punish all of your bees for being susceptible to deformed wing virus and the Varroa mite, you only have to punish the genetics of those bees. So treat those bees, keep them alive. And the next year only breed from those colonies that did not require treatment. Now the thing is, if you go out and you buy a package of bees from a commercial Queen producer, you know that those bees were not bred for mite resistance. There's very few of the Queen producers who breed for mite resistance. So you're taking these poor bees that were never bred to live in the wild and with Varroa and they're expecting a miracle to happen on your property. On the other hand, if you pick up a wild swarm, or you have bees from somebody who has not been treating successfully well then by all means, do that, but then monitor those hives for Varroa. And if it gets to the point where the colony is about to collapse or be deforming virus, have the decency to the bees and to the beekeepers to euthanize that colony and start all over again, or alternatively, treat them and then just re-queen them the next next spring, which makes a whole lot more sense to me.
29:19 Nicole: Yeah, I would agree. I have to admit that when I first started keeping bees, I was totally anti put anything in there. You know, I don't, I want to keep bees naturally. Not so much, you know, the emphasis on the treatment free but as naturally as possible and all of my bees have always been swarm captures. I've never purchased bees or anything like that. And then as I went forward and started to learn more, and then now that I'm in the Cornell Master Beekeeper Program, and then reading stuff from you, and a lot of the other researchers out there, I'm starting to see that there's a bigger picture that I don't know that everybody is aware of. Maybe because they choose not to or because they just haven't been told, I don't know. But I like what you said, your treatment free on the ones that don't need treatment. But if they do need treatment, then treat them because it's, it's really not humane just to let them suffer and die.
30:15 Randy: Exactly. And then and then the next spring, then you remove those queens and replace those queens, with queens from colonies that did not need treatment and then we all work together for the common goal. But you got to realize as a beekeeper, you're in the middle of this evolutionary change. Western honeybee had never been exposed to the Varroa mite and deformed wing virus and the acute paralysis viruses were were never much of a problem. When we introduced that this is a huge evolutionary change for the honeybee and they have the ability to evolve resistance we're seeing that happen throughout the world. But don't go about this blindly or just on face that double check and see if indeed the bees that you have are exhibiting resistance and if not, then get rid of those index next spring and re-queen with different queens, but again, no reason to punish the innocent bees for the shortcomings with their mother's genetics.
31:08 Nicole: Now, do you have any other research that maybe hasn't been made public yet or some other stuff that you're working on.
31:16 Randy: In the summer of 2018 I've got two large projects I have not had time even to write up yet. One of them I want to see about the drifting of bees and mites from colony to colony as colonies were collapsing under the hypothesis that when the virus which goes the deforming virus goes right to the brains of bees and many viruses changed the behavior of their host and caused them to transmit the virus to somebody else. So it makes total sense that the deforming virus would cause the bees to drift to other hives and transmit the virus. So I assumed that I would be able to document this increased rate of drifting from the bees from collapsing colonies. And then I was curious just how far these mites and these bees would drift. So we set up some colonies in order to (with high mite levels) for them to collapse intentionally during September. And then I set colonies at 15 feet, 60 feet, 500 feet, a half mile, a mile, a mile and a half, two miles away from them. And as each colony started to collapse, I hired helpers and we would pull out 500 young bees from the hive and glue individually a hand painted little hand punched round steel discs onto their backs and put it back in the hive. So we had 500 bees go into those hives color marked with these little steel discs. Then we took , I built magnetic traps to go on the on the front of hives, the receiver hives at all those different distances so that if any bee drifted and tried to enter different hive, then the disc would be pulled off his back on the magnet we could tell how many bees and from which hive they came from. I also on those hives record the weight of those hives to see if there was any robbing taking place or if they're being robbed and also eliminate the mites from the receiver hive with some miticides, synthetic miticides for this trial to completely remove all the mites and then I had sticky boards in them all and so by going out twice a week and pulling out the sticky boards, we treated them till there was zero mite drop on the sticky board so that they were mite free. From that point on any mites and the sticky boards had to come from outside that hive so we could get twice a week counts of mite immigration coming from outside and we could look for a correlation between mite immigration and the amount of drifted bees. So we we hand marked over 6000 bees and have this huge data set of which hives they went to, and we can correlate it to weight gain, weight loss and to the mite immigration rate in those hives. And what I found was my assumptions were wrong. (Laughs)
33:59 Nicole: What was your assumption?
34:00 Randy: I assume that we get increased drift from the colonies that were collapsing. And my two control colonies which I had eliminated mites from and also marked bees. So these are colonies that were healthy had no Varroa mites. But at the same time I marked 500 bees in each one of those to see what the background drift rate of bees that from colonies that did not have deforming virus was. I was lucky I ran two controls because one of the controls had the lowest drift rate of any hive, and the other control had the highest drift rate of any hive. Every single other one fell between the two controls, which was an amazing thing, which surprised me. So no evidence that the deforming virus increased the amount of drifting. What we did find is a lot of mites are immigrating into hives and some hives are mite magnets, and some are bee magnets. We also found that much of the immigration apparently did not correlate with the drifting of the nine collapsing hives in that yard. Those mites are coming in from other hives somewhere else and I don't really know where because there's very few other beekeepers around me. So I'm thinking that they were escaped swarms or some feral hives out there. The other thing that was very surprising is the assumption based upon previous research is that most of the bee drift happens close to the parent hive. Yep, young bees fly out on their orientation flights and they get confused and they come back and they drift in but that's been pretty well shown. A study in Germany found up to 40% of the bees in some hives, if you have a line of hives, we're not born in that hive.
35:33 Nicole: Oh wow.
35:34 Randy: Huge amount of drift but you know, somewhere you know, maybe 5-10 percent of the bees in any hive, not being born in that hive that's a typical in an apiary, what I found, my data shows there was a high drift immediately close but there was a surprisingly high drift, much more than we would expect. And around that half mile range away. We had another yard a half mile away over the top of the hill down across the valley hidden in the trees. And we got tremendous bee drift to that apiary a half mile away from our apiary, so that's a surprise And we got drift clear up to a mile away at hives around there so back to your treatment free beekeepers, when your colonies collapse your mites are spreading out over the countryside to any other wild living colony or managed colony out there so it's not just what's happening to your yard there is an effect everywhere so anyway that's I'm still I'll be I'll be writing that one up. The other one I did in 2018 is I was curious with the pollen subs and here in California where we have a long pollen dearth in the late summer. We do use pollen sub and with bees being pollen subbed has allowed me to cut one of my moves of bees we used to run all of our colonies for many years, up to Nevada to irrigated alfalfa for the summer. That's a huge environmental impact big footprint of putting all our bees on trucks and hauling them over the Sierra Nevadas, over the mountains. So we found out if we could use some pollen sub we could keep our bees here at home, have a better lifestyle for ourselves and much less of a carbon footprint. And the pollen subs work almost as well as natural poen but not quite as well. So I was curious, what might be missing, what would what could be the, the limiting factor in these policies and the two of them jumped out. When I when I looked at this, I had our favorite pollen sub analyzed, and it appeared to be deficient in two nutrients. One is zinc. Zinc is critical for the honeybee because it's very much involved in the immune system. And when I looked at the data around the world, there was a study out of China that quantified how much zinc honeybees needed when it came up with exactly the same amount in their diet as any of their livestock 60 to 75 parts per million of zinc in the diet and honey bees are right there. So zinc was one that appeared to be deficient in this pollen sub I was using, and the other was a critical sterol called 24 methylene cholesterol. So humans, the cholesterol In our body does not come from our diet it comes we make our own cholesterol we don't have to any sterols in our diet our body makes our own sterols but to insects, they do not, sterols, are vitamins to insects they they have to get it in their diet. And different pieces of insects use different sterols that come from plants and all the research to date had shown that there was a critical one called 24 methylene cholesterol which was absolutely critical for the bees to make the jelly, the jelly that they feed to their larvae to and to make the patella Jenin molecule which they use in their fat bodies. So the royal jelly protein number one, which is the main protein in the jelly, the feed to the Queen into the larvae requires several molecules of 24 methylene cholesterol to make that. When I had that pollen sub analyzed, there was zero 24 methylene cholesterol. if I supplemented that diet with zinc and 24 methylene cholesterol then I would improve that diet. So I set up a large trial to test it out. And we ran a negative control group of colonies that we just fed an equal amount of sugar to as there are in the patties and a positive control that I had natural trapped pollen and lesser protein content and we made it up with the same protein content of natural pollens. And then my test groups the other two test groups were the off the shelf pollen Patty and then I had the manufacturer make me a custom batch with added zinc that I sent him and also added oil using borage oil as a source of 24 methane cholesterol. We ran this large field trial, did 11 pounds pollen sub per colony and 16 feedings with sugar syrup ran out for seven months. What we found was the negative controls as we expected to just got the sugar they went downhill in strength. The positive controls with the natural pollen performed the best the off the shelf pollen sub perform almost as good as the natural pollen as it has my previous trials. And the Polish sub supplied with the zinc and the 24 methylene cholesterol didn't make a bit of difference.
39:59 Nicole: Really? (Laughs)
40:02 Randy: It was so disappointing. It's so disappointing. We put a lot of work into these trials. There's a lot of man hours in these in these trials and didn't make a difference. Well, that means we need to go back and rethink 24 methylene cholesterol being a critical nutrient, to the honeybee, because they, they were not getting it from nature. I don't know where the heck, how they were getting it, but we need to revisit them. The easiest person to fool or to convince is yourself, because you got all day long to convince yourself and fool yourself, okay?
40:33 Nicole: Yes.
40:34 Randy: And so a good scientist, questions, everything that they believe every assumption they make every opinion they have. You want to question yourself, which is what I do. Well, we're doing thousands of alcohol washes now. And as with most beekeeping advice, most advice is based upon assumptions and anecdotes rather than hard data and this is across the bee industry. And a lot even from the so called "experts", their advice comes from assumptions because it makes sense to you or anecdotes.
41:05 Nicole: Sure.
41:06 Randy: So we're doing all these thousands of mite washes that I said well, I want to go revisit all my assumptions on these. So I have been and we're gonna be publishing data soon on first which frame of a hive is the best one to take a bee sample from in order to determine the representational mite infestation rate of the colony as a whole because it varies a lot from frame to frame, whether it's a a frame of young larvae, a frame of sealed brood, a frame with bee bred honey frame, a drone comb, and the location in the hive that the mite count from those samples varies a lot. So the question is, do you want to go for the one with the highest mite count or you want to go for the one that's representative of the bees as the colony as a whole. I can give you the teaser right now as the results. A frame adjacent to the brood gives you the most representative. And the reason you want to do that is that you don't have to disturb the brood frames. Every time you disturb a brood frame, you have a chance of killing the queen or actually getting her in the alcohol wash. So by simply going away from an actual brood frame, there's less variation actually in those in those bees. And that's a representative sample. So that's that's what we do. The second thing is then you shake those bees into a tub and depending on the time here, a few to most of the bees will fly out of the tub. So I was curious whether the bees flying out what the difference in the mite count was. So the bees fly out of the tub. The bees fly into the tub because I see a lot of people shake a sample and then try to get the bee sample into the alcohol as fast as they can. And what I say is no, no, no, let those other bees fly away because they're going to have a lower mite infestation rate, but I just said that based upon assumptions, so I did some tests to find out and actually separated the flying off these from the bees that remain behind and have a hard data set showing yes, the ones that fly off have a much lower infestation rate, about 75% as many mites on them as the ones that stay behind. So by taking your sample from a non brood frame and then letting the older bees fly off, you get a very representative sample of your interest rate they should rate in the hive. And then I went on and on too, I've developed a battery powered, mite wash agitator so that we're not killing our wrists doing thousands of samples. And then question well, just how much agitation is necessary? And the answer is almost none the mites come off due to the alcohol not to the agitation, there's no reason to shake a sample hard. So you see these people shaking, and shaking and shaking, that's, that's just a waste, unless you just get off on shaking your arm up and down, it's not necessary. And then the question is, well, what percentage of alcohol content can get by? 50%? 75%? Should I use 90% alcohol? And for how long should you let the bees soak in there? So I've got hard data now for answering all of those questions. And we'll be publishing all that.
43:49 Nicole: Well, that's really exciting. I guess you could say you've been a little busy.
43:53 Randy: You did. Well, here's the deal. Two years ago, I told my son's man I turned well, three years ago, so I turned 65 I said, I've worked my butt off for 50 years. And it's time to hand it over and I handed them the checkbook to the operation. I said, here's the deal. I think I could probably just hand you the operation over on the condition that I got 1000 hives at my disposal for research all the time. And they said, Okay, well, that sounds like a deal. And I have that. So I've been running about 500 hives a year in various research projects. But I was a little overly ambitious. And I've worked harder now that I'm supposed to be retired. I never worked this hard when I was making a living doing this. But there's so many questions out there that are just begging for an answer. And I'm not seeing necessarily the research community hopping on. The reason is that if you want to get advancement as a scientist, you got to be in molecular biology or something like that these days. And much of the research that we did, I've answered, has nothing to do with that. It's just somebody get out in the field that knows about beekeeping has some experience and doing some good field trials. So I've got a list of field trials. Now that's what I want to do I'm setting the ones up for this summer I'm going to do another planning on doing another test on the pollen subs, and also including the new spirochem pollen sub, the algae that looks very promising. And also to see whether adding a probiotic to the pollen sub actually does have a beneficial effect or not. And then I'll be doing the next another large field trial with the extended release oxalic acid on this new matrix and see how how that works out.
45:25 Nicole: Of everything that you're working on now and things that you kind of have an idea of what you'd like to do in the future, what would you say is your is the biggest question that you have that you'd like to answer? What would be your biggest accomplishment?
45:39 Randy: Oh, absolutely, that selective breeding, selective breeding will change absolutely everything if we can get all beekeepers to shift over all, the Queen producers to start supplying actually mite resistant, truly mite resistant bees and all beekeeping a shift away from there, and that Varroa will be something that's just an incidental parasite in the hive that we don't have to worry about. That will completely change beekeeping across the world for all the beekeepers everywhere that's that that's the monster thing is breeding for mite resistance.
46:09 Nicole: Yeah that that would be huge.
46:11 Randy: Yes, huge, huge. Big Yes.
46:15 Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. It'd be an absolute game changer.
46:18 Randy: Yeah. And if we can get the oxalic acid extended release registered for use that would be a great stopgap measure because there's no comb contamination with the synthetic miticides because if you're going to have a miticide in a hive, miticides are either water soluble or fat soluble. Well, you can't use a water soluble miticides in the hive because it'll get into the honey, so that means it has to be a fat soluble miticide and the problem with the fat soluble miticide it means that it's going to absorb into the beeswax and jelly, they don't degrade. They just go into the beeswax and they just keep building up and we've essentially tainted the beeswax supply around the world with these synthetic miticides which then have effects on the bees and on the Queen's So that's why at our operation, we don't use synthetic miticides we want to have our combs really clean and we get a premium for having miticide free honey and beeswax with our bees and people like buying bees from us because they come from miticide free stock.
47:15 Nicole: So obviously you have a lot going on and a lot of studies that have already been done and you mentioned some that haven't been published yet. So all of these I assume are or will be available on your website Scientific Beekeeping and is there any other way that people can can follow you or support you or reach out to you?
47:37 Randy: People can certainly support me. All my research is beekeeper funded from donations from beekeepers. So I'm not I don't want to take the time to work on grants or apply for money or to be beholden to anybody so like for the I had a manufacturer of a pollen sub who wanted to hire me to do the all the pollen research this coming summer, I said, you know what that would taint me in the eyes of the beekeepers. I'll just do it on my own dollar on the beekeepers dollar. And you'll find out what the results are. And we will include your pollen stuff. But it won't be your standard.
48:13 Nicole: That's, I think a great way to stay objective but yet still still be able to do the research and get the information.
48:19 Randy: Right. So what I get is I get enough donations from beekeepers to keep my head above water. I'm certainly not getting rich, I'm not even getting ahead. But it's enough that they cover my operating costs to do this research. So yes, you can put it out that people can certainly donate at ScientificBeekeeping.com or send checks and all that money will be applied to my research and writing.
48:42 Nicole: Great and that then in turn benefits us as the beekeepers so full circle.
48:48 Randy: Absolutely.
48:48 Nicole: Awesome. Well Randy, thank you so much. This has been so much information and if you could see my face right now it I'm totally glazed over.
48:56 Randy: I know the look.
48:59 Nicole: This has been really awesome, I really appreciate it and I appreciate everything that you do as well in the field and thank you for doing that for us beekeepers. I appreciate all of it!
49:08 Randy: You bet, Nicole, and thanks for becoming a master beekeeper and helping the other beekeepers because there's not enough experienced beekeepers now to mentor because the beekeeping, hobby level beekeeping, recreational beekeeping has grown so much in the last several years. There's just not enough mentors out there for them all. So thank you for making the effort to train yourself and share information.
49:29 Nicole: Well, and thank you and that's one of my big things with this podcast is getting the correct information out there.
49:35 Randy: Absolutely, because there's so much misinformation out there.
49:39 Nicole: So thank you for supporting my adventure.
49:42 Nicole: You bet!
49:42 Nicole: And for those of you at home, thank you so much for listening, and we'll see you again next week.
49:49 Announcer: Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by HeritageAcresMarket.com. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show. please email us at ask at HeritageAcresMarket.com. Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week!
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