- gp (188.8.131.52) --- 10. 12. 2010
At last, the group came up with a couple of sickly looking pupae and three Varroa mites. Kefuss was having fun. “It’s cheaper to have visitors from time to time to try to find mites in my hives,” he said with a twinkle. “Don’t believe what I say. Look at it for yourself and you will believe your own eyes.”
That evening, Kefuss’ long-time apiarist, Maria Bolt, appeared at the bee house. He clearly respects her skill, introducing her with the story of his lost line of bees, which she was able to replenish, improved, from her own apiary. She brought a feast of French food — a great coil of saucisson, breads, roasted vegetables and wines. The party was joined by local beekeepers, toasting and talking bees in multiple languages around the table, laughing: “Hey, the mites will become an endangered species,” “No kidding, he raises them in Petri dishes,” “Ha, I even advertised for them in the French bee journal,” “There’s a better business — mites.” In a glow of bonhomie, everyone dispersed into the night, headed for Apimondia, the international bee conference, in Montpellier.
If Kefuss found himself often at the right place at the right time in his life, his talk at Apimondia might be added to that list as timely. Like no other presentation at the congress, the lecture hall was crammed to overflowing with people who wanted to hear how to get off chemicals without losing the store. They were, he told them, in for a big surprise.
Kefuss’ message, simply put was: Most beekeepers have not assessed the cost of chemical treatments, which have to be repeated every year, in contrast to a breeding protocol. An analysis of the risks and benefits of selection will show that it is not economic to treat. In addition to the up-front cost of gas, labor and chemicals is the cumulative resistance created in pathogens and pests requiring increasingly stronger treatments, the contamination of honey and beeswax, and the negative effect of chemicals on colony fitness.
“Think like a lazy man,” he said. The Bond test is “a test that runs all by itself” – the process of natural selection. He illustrated the point with a gag slide of himself and Bolt snoozing in front of the bee house.
Mites? Good, he says. They are valuable selection tools, not to be eliminated but kept at a level that does not hinder the bees. “If your dog has fleas and I bust into your house, he’s not going to worry about his fleas” — a Kefussian explanation.
Colony loss? A gift. In 2001– 2002, twothirds of his hives died out in the selection process. “I would have been happy with 10% survival.” But most commercial beekeepers, he concedes, could hardly celebrate heavy loss. What’s more, selection costs time with skilled labor, and beekeepers have little leisure to work out a plan. Simply put, the Bond and the BAT test involve too much risk. To answer the need for a cross-over program that is simple and cheap, with fewer risks, he presented the Soft Bond Test.
It is a way to do the time-intensive testing on a limited number of hives.
As a variable example, he set out a procedure for the selection of up to 20 breeder queens from an apiary of 500: 1) From the initial group of hives, select the 100 best producing colonies. 2) On those, perform 24-hour hygienic tests. (Kefuss carries squares of worker brood cells already frozen to insert immediately as he cuts, saving a trip. 3) Of those, select the most hygienic 40 for Varroa count. Tabulate all adult, daughters and immature Varroa in the cells to give a present and future evaluation. 4) Spread this breeding material by rearing daughters and requeening in all bee yards to produce selected drones. 5) Leave the best 20 of the selected hives without treatment – the Bond test – to produce breeder queens.
He calculates the time investment for selecting a breeder queen for disease resistance for this size example: 7.25 hours per queen (50 hours for hygienic testing plus 95 hours for the mite count, which comes to 145 hours divided by 20 queens). In addition, he notes the time per queen to select for, in this case, pollen collection: 3.73 hours. His total is 10.98 hours invested in each breeder queen.
He suggests that beekeepers: graft from the Bond Test queens with the lowest number of Varroa; monitor Varroa levels in colonies not in the Bond Test and stop chemical treatment when infestation is below 5% (the fleas-on-the-dog situation).
This Soft Bond approach has the advantages of limited loss, natural mating, better resistance to brood disease, and a time investment rewarded with less work and money spent on treatments.
Kefuss produces 3,000 mated queens a year in France, which he sells worldwide.
His breeder queens sell for 650€ each. His apiary in Chile, Pacific Queens with partner Francisco Rey, has 4,000 hives for pollination, queen rearing and honey production.
With opposite seasons, they can provide 6,000 queens to France in February and March. “In 1994 we had European foulbrood, chalkbrood and mean bees. We started to select for hygienic behavior, and in about two years time these problems were eliminated. We’ve been running the Bond test there for over 10 years.” Time brings change. Kefuss has turned over honey production in the French apiaries to his son Cyril, remarking “It’s easier to lift a queen than a deep super of honey.” And he deeply misses the camaraderie of his neighbor down the road Steve Taber, the American bee expert who died last year.
But Kefuss is moving into the future. He is in a cooperative project with Danny Weaver, who is doing DNA analysis to identify survivor stock. And he is training beekeepers from around the world in his Bond protocols, spreading the word that bees do not need to be kept with chemicals. Notably, a researcher from China returned home to train 400 beekeepers with a goal of producing chemical-free honey. It is hoped that Kefuss and Bolt will speak and teach two-day workshops in the U.S. in 2010-11: “It would be mainly practical manipulations with a little bit of theory. People would get their hands dirty and be involved.”
He considers this work to bear “a certain moral responsibility to future beekeepers to show that it is not only possible but cheaper to keep bees without chemicals.” He invites beekeepers to his Varroa Challenge at Rucher d’Oc, where they are welcome to sleep on the hay.
“This is what we do. I hope you take it and improve on it, and we can copy what you do.”
To inquire about hosting a U.S. visit of John Kefuss and Maria Bolt, contact nuc/=/survivorstockqueens.org.
John Kefuss can be reached at jkefussbees/=/ wanadoo.fr.
M. E.A. McNeil is a journalist and graduate of Marion Ellis’ Master Beekeeper program at The University of Nebraska. She lives on a small organic farm in San Anselmo, California with her husband and son, beekeepers all, and participates in the Marin County Survivor Stock Queen Rearing Project. She can be reached at mea/=/onthefarm.com.