These posts are all educational in some nature, with a variety of topics.

2017 August Smoke in the Air affects OWA Queen availability

August 2017 – Since most in the rest of Washington State are living with hot dry weather this summer, it may be difficult to imagine the unprecedented conditions we are experiencing here in the microclimate of our apiary.

Persistent smoke from wild fires just across the Straights of Juan de Fuca in British Columbia has pushed a continuous cool/foggy marine layer directly over our isolated mating yards preventing adequate mating conditions here on the North Olympic Peninsula.

In 20 years we have never had to suspend orders due to lack of production, and we deeply regret having to do so now. We could not have predicted these unseasonably adverse weather conditions….check back here later in the season.

A Word About our Drones

 OWA maintains isolated mating yards in a very remote area of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Our drone colonies are selected for hygienic behavior, disease, and mite resistance. They are fed high quality pollen supplements, and are provided with additional drone combs to insure abundant populations.

Read more

Queen Introduction Checklist


Our hardy feral Survivor Stock is present in all of the queen lines we offer.  Although we do consider “gentleness” in our selection process, our higher priority is for disease and mite resistance. While our wild bees may appear to be more defensive at times, most find them entirely manageable.  When working with our bees, we recommend you follow these simple precautions:

Before your Queens arrive:

  • Plan to place OWA queen colonies in a sunny location a minimum of 50 yards from frequent human and livestock traffic.
  • Use proper safety measures when working your colonies:
    • At a minimum, use head net.  It may be necessary to also use a bee suit, gloves, & smoke. (We work w / no gloves, in half suits using a fine mist spray of “liquid smoke” in water, with few drops of Pro Health or Honeybee Healthy added .)
    • Work your bees on sunny days when the field bees are out foraging whenever possible.
  • DO NOT remove your existing queens until you have your new ones in hand.
  • Set up your supplemental feeding prior to installing queens to minimize disturbance; AVOID using feed stimulants containing additives like lemongrass when introducing a queen during a dearth, this can contribute to robbing. If available provide the new queen w drawn comb.

When your Queens arrive:

  • If unable to install promptly, keep the Q cages out of the sun, at room temperature. Give one drop of water daily taking care NOT to wet the candy.
  • 6 – 24 hours PRIOR to introduction REMOVE: OLD QUEEN/ VIRGIN QUEENS; AND ALL QUEEN CELLS. (Throw the dead queen away from the hive).
  • Wedge the queen cage, snugly between 2 frames in the center of the brood nest, candy plug UP, taking care to leave the screen accessible to the bees.
  • NOTE: in a 10 frame box it may be necessary to remove an outside frame then widen the gap between 2 center frames to be able to insert the wooden California cage below the top bars.
  • EXTREMELY important for successful introduction:  Return on the  3rd Day
    • at this point bees should NOT  be balling the cage: (…acting aggressively; biting the screen etc.) if they are, you may have missed a queen cell or you may have a 2nd queen.
    • Remove and carefully set aside queen cage.
    • Remove one or two outer food frames & set aside. Vigorously shake bees off each BROOD frame back into the box. ELIMINATE ALL QUEEN CELLS! 
    • Reassemble hive; REMOVE TAPE, and replace queen cage (allowing the bees to chew through the candy plug in a day or two, quietly releasing the queen.

A SPECIAL NOTE IF REQUEENING IN THE FALL OR DURING A DEARTH IN NECTAR FLOW: Provide a constant food source of protein patties and 1:1 sugar syrup to stimulate queens to continue to lay until they naturally shut down for the season.

A Brief History

In 1997, when feral colonies were thought to be near extinction due to varroa mites, we began capturing wild honeybee swarms from very remote wilderness locations on the North Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.

Reliable oral history of the area confirmed that these isolated bees had managed to survive for over 40 years without human intervention.  Believing they may have developed some natural resistance to varroa destructor, we began our Survivor Bee Breeding Program by:
  • continuing to capture wild swarms
  • including USDA Primorsky Russian;  SMR/VSH; and Caucasian breeder queens since 2000
  • utilizing instrumental insemination procedures
  • diligently protecting our isolated mating yards
  • routinely conducting laboratory testing
  • improving nutrition by supplying quality protein and herbal food supplements.
  • applying a rigorous sterilization routine
  • and remaining firmly committed to a chemical-free accelerated natural selection process
The early years of our success against varroa, met a devastating blow in the winter of 2007/2008 when a series of environmental stressors converged with the arrival of nosema ceranae in our apiary. Withholding chemicals to pursue accelerated natural selection in conditions of extreme exposure to this new fungus, with its possible associated viruses, was a high risk choice for us to make.
But armed with the knowledge that our bees had been thriving in Northwest Washington’s fungus-rich environment within the world’s largest temperate rainforest, we decided to gamble on the prospect that our bees could develop a tolerance to this new microsporidian as well.
Four disheartening years of 90% losses, followed that decision.
But, in January of 2012, when we came across a newly published report out of Denmark, which concluded:
…After decades of selective breeding for Nosema tolerance in the Danish strain, it appears these bees are tolerant to N. ceranae infections.
…our hopes were renewed.
So when spring arrived in 2012, and only 10% of our colonies had failed, we have been newly encouraged that achieving our goal of nosema tolerance is possible.
Those long years of heavy winter losses have resulted in hardy unmedicated bees that are now maintaining healthy populations in spite of USDA Beltsville laboratory results confirming the presence of staggering n. ceranae spore loads…over 50 million spores per bee!
Since recovering from those losses we have begun to identify another significant trait in our surviving colonies: they have naturally adapted themselves to become extreme pollen hoarders.  Because the importance of good nutrition cannot be overstated in the maintenance of healthy colonies, we see this adaptation as integral to the successful survivability of our stock.
By carefully selecting our breeder queens from this core group of survivors, we are confident that the regionally unique feral hybrid queen lines we are offering demonstrate genetics capable of withstanding many of the lethal pathogens that threaten honeybees everywhere.

VSH Definition

Varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) is a behavioral trait of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in which bees detect and remove bee pupae that are infested by the parasitic mite Varroa destructor. V. destructor is considered to be the most dangerous pest problem for honey bees worldwide. VSH activity results in significant resistance to the mites.

Bees with the trait were initially bred by the USDA Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, LA from colonies in which mite populations grew only slowly.[1]
The factor causing slow mite population growth was found to be heritable.[2] The rate of mite population growth was found to be correlated with the reproductive rates of mites,[1] resulting in naming the factor “suppressed mite reproduction” (SMR).[3] It was subsequently discovered that the factor is founded on hygienic activity of adult bees,[4][5] so SMR was renamed VSH.[6]
VSH activity results in (1) an abnormally low proportion of mites that produce offspring within the population that remains in capped brood and (2) reduction of the brood infestation rate by greater than 70%. The specifics of how hygienic bees detect mite infested brood currently are unknown.
Bees bred to have high levels of VSH tend to keep mite populations below thresholds recommended for treatment with pesticides.[7] Queens from such VSH breeding sources can be allowed to mate freely with non-VSH drones, and the resulting hybrid colonies from these outcrosses will retain lower and variable but generally still useful resistance to V. destructor while retaining desirable beekeeping traits such as honey production.[8]
VSH outcrossed to commercial Italian bees recently have been shown to perform well in migratory crop pollination.
VSH thus is a trait that can be used by breeders to mix with any type of desirable honey bee and is expanding resistance to V. destructor among diverse bee strains. VSH breeding material has been available through commercial sources since 2001.
  1. Harbo, J., and R. Hoopingarner. 1997. Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in the United States that express resistance to Varroa jacobsoni (Mesostigmata: Varroidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 90: 893-898.
  2. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 1999. Heritability in honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) of characteristics associated with resistance to Varroa jacobsoni (Mesostigmata: Varroidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 92: 261-265.
  3. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 2002. Suppressing Mite Reproduction: SMR an Update. Bee Culture 130: 46-48.
  4. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 2005. Suppressed mite reproduction explained by the behavior of adult bees. Journal of Apicultural Research 44: 21-23.
  5. Ibrahim, A. G. Reuter and M. Spivak. 2006. Field trials of honey bee colonies bred for mechanisms of resistance against Varroa destructor. Apidologie 38: 67-76.
  6. Harris, J. 2007. 2007. Bees with Varroa Sensitive Hygiene preferentially remove mite infested pupae aged < five days post capping. Journal of Apicultural Research 46: 134-139.
  7. Ward, K., R. Danka and R. Ward. 2008. Comparative performance of two mite-resistant stocks of honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in Alabama Beekeeping Operations. Journal of Economic Entomology 101: 654-659.
  8. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 2001. Resistance to Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) when mite-resistant queen honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) were free-mated with unselected drones. Journal of Economic Entomology 94: 1319-1323.

Stock Selection Criteria

We graft from untreated colonies whose queens have been overwintered for a minimum of one season, and have passed our strict standards for these following traits:
Hygienic Behavior

Minimum of 95% removal of freeze-killed brood in 24 hours

This trait will reduce or eliminate Chalkbrood; AFB; and varroa mite levels w/o the use of chemical treatments

Varroa Mite Resistance

VSH trait is determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during spring brood build-up and fall peak mite infestation.

Grooming Behavior is determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during the winter broodless period

Nosema Tolerance

Demonstrate vigor with high exposure: UNTREATED.

Our selection process is verified by in-house microscopic testing and USDA Laboratory reports.

Hoarding Behavior

Excellent Honey producers

Heavy pollen collectors


No need for gloves

Swarming Behavior

Not prone to swarm

High Degree of Longevity & Solid Brood Patterns

Russian Bee Linked To N. Ceranae Tolerance

Research Project: Breeding, Genetics, Stock Improvement and Management of Russian Honey Bees for Mite and Small Hive Beetle Control and Pollination
Location: Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research
Title: Patriline variation of Nosema ceranae levels in Russian and Italian honey bees


Sylvester, H

Submitted to: Cold Spring Harbor Meeting
Publication Type: Abstract
Publication Acceptance Date: April 8, 2011
Publication Date: May 8, 2011
Citation: Bourgeois, A.L., Rinderer, T.E., Sylvester, H.A., Holloway, B.A. 2011. Patriline variation of Nosema ceranae levels in Russian and Italian honey bees. Cold Spring Harbor Meeting. 17.
Technical Abstract: The microsporidian Nosema ceranae has invaded managed honey bee colonies throughout the world. While the presence of N. ceranae is common, infection levels are highly variable, even among bees within a single colony. The underlying mechanisms driving this variation are not well-understood. The high degree of individual variation within a colony suggests some degree of genetic resistance to N. ceranae infections may exist among managed honey bee colonies. One likely source for this variation stems from the polygamous nature of honey bee queens, producing multiple patrilines within each colony. We investigated the relationship between infection levels of N. ceranae and patriline membership by sampling individual bees from colonies from both Russian and Italian stocks. A total of 720 bees were collected from 5 Russian and 5 Italian colonies. Individual bees were tested for N. ceranae infection levels using qPCR, and were genotyped to determine patriline membership. Levels of N. ceranae varied significantly at the stock level (Russian: 3.68 x 106 ± 1.88 x 106 nosema/bee and Italian: 9.14 x 106 ± 4.62 x 106 nosema/bee; P = 0.008) and at the colony level for both Russian (P = 0.002) and Italian (P = 0.003) bees. Patriline-based variance was evident among only the Russian bees (P = 0.024). There was substantial variation in N. ceranae levels among Italian bees, ranging from 0 to 2.12 x 109 nosema/bee, however this variation was not associated with patriline membership (P = 0.742). The variance in N. ceranae infection among Russian honey bee patrilines demonstrates a genetic basis for resistance to N. ceranae infection which conforms to predictions of models that relate patriline variance and abundance to disease resistance in honey bees. This difference between Russian and Italian honey bees may derive from Italian honey bees having only a short history of exposure to N. ceranae while Russian honey bees may have had 150 years of exposure.
Last Modified: 02/05/2012

Pollen Hoarding – Well Fed Honey Bees Fight off Harmful Effects of Parasite

Bee researcher Ramesh Sagili inspects a European honey bee in a carrot seed field near Madras, Ore. Photo by Lynn Ketchum
 CORVALLIS, Ore. –Well-nourished honey bees are better at fighting off a serious microscopic parasite that weakens their immune systems and threatens the health of their colonies, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

The finding, published recently in the Journal of Insect Physiology, suggests that giving honey bees access to a greater quantity and variety of pollen—their only source of protein—could make them more resilient against parasites and other pests, and help to stem worrisome declines in bee populations.

Read more

OWA Russian Honeybee History

History of OWA Russian Honeybees

The Olympic Wilderness Apiary has been evaluating and including USDA Primorsky Russian honey bee genetics into our breeder selection program since they first became available in 2000.   We began by incorporating early releases from Bernard Apiaries, and have progressively included the best available stock from Charlie Harper; Glenn Apiaries; Bob Brachmann; Carl Webb; Steve Coy and Austin Smith.
Russian honeybees are known for their tracheal and varroa mite resistance. Our hardy Russian hybrids also have a history of exposure and adaptation to nosema ceranae. They  maintain conservative winter clusters and require early and aggressive swarm-control management during their characteristic explosive spring-buildup when nectar and pollen become available.
More about the characteristic mechanisms of Russian honeybee resistance can be viewed here>

In Defense Of “Defensiveness”

Our wild survivor stock is incorporated into all of the queen lines that we offer.

Although we do select for gentleness, the highest priority in our selection process is for disease and mite resistance.
 It is our operating philosophy that generations of selection for gentleness and honey production, may have been done at great cost to the true nature of the honeybee.
While our wild bees may appear at times to be more defensive than other commercially produced stock, they are entirely manageable, and demonstrate unparalleled hardiness and a unique ability to withstand many of the different pathogens affecting honeybees today.
When working with our bees, we recommend that you follow these simple precautions:
  • Place your colonies in a sunny location a minimum of 50 yards from frequent human and livestock traffic.
  • Use proper safety measures when working your colonies:
  • At a minimum, use head net.  It may be necessary to also use a bee suit, gloves, and smoke.
  • Work your bees on sunny days when the field bees are out foraging whenever possible.

Danish Report Verifies Nosema Tolerance Possible

J Invertebr Pathol. 2012 Mar;109(3):297-302. Epub 2012 Jan 20.

 Survival and immune response of drones of a Nosemosis tolerant honey bee strain towards N. ceranae infections.
Institut für Biology/Zoologie, Molekulare Ökologie, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, 06099 Halle, Germany.
Honey bee colonies (Apis mellifera) have been selected for low level of Nosema in Denmark over decades and Nosema is now rarely found in bee colonies from these breeding lines. We compared the immune response of a selected and an unselected honey bee lineage, taking advantage of the haploid males to study its potential impact on the tolerance toward Nosema ceranae, a novel introduced microsporidian pathogen. After artificial infections of the N. ceranae spores, the lineage selected for Nosema tolerance showed a higher N. ceranae spore load, a lower mortality and an up-regulated immune response. The differences in the response of the innate immune system between the selected and unselected lineage were strongest at day six post infection. In particular genes of the Toll pathway were up-regulated in the selected strain, probably is the main immune pathway involved in N. ceranae infection response. After decades of selective breeding for Nosema tolerance in the Danish strain, it appears these bees are tolerant to N. ceranae infections.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
[PubMed – in process]

Background & Lab Reports: OWA Feral Bees

Sample#1 (FERAL BEES)

This is our strongest breeder colony.  She is a 2009 Queen.  Entirely untreated; has never exhibited symptoms of dwindling; and has had 4 to 5 brood combs removed and added to weaker colonies throughout the 2011 season, yet remains vigorous.

This colony has been tested in the USDA Beltsville Lab 4 times with these results:

  1. March 2010   =  21.55 Nosema spores/bee (million)
  2. May 2010      =  10.45 Nosema spores/bee (million)
  3. June 2010     =    4.40 Nosema spores/bee (million)
  4. Feb  2011     =     1.30 Nosema spores/bee (million)

Sample was also submitted to Dave Wick at BVS, Inc.  Testing indicatd the presence of IAPV, CPV and Sac Brood virus.  (Dave did confirm that IAPV and black queen cell virus are associated with n.ceranae, however he was not able to confirm that CPV is).

Only 5% of our 2011 colonies showed no sign of dwindling after their 4th cool; wet; protracted winter.

Now in the 5th spring since the devastating losses from this pathogen, our untreated bees are thriving in spite of staggering nosema spore loads and associated viruses, and we have had only 10% winter loss in 2011-2012.