Happy Hollow Honey is a beekeeping operation producing raw, unheated, and unfiltered honey, as well as nucs and a few queens, in the New River Valley region of southwest Virginia. We have been keeping between 200 and 290 colonies for a few years, depending on the season, in Montgomery and Giles Counties in the mountains of VA. I am trying to scale back to about 150 to 170 colonies.
I started keeping bees in 1973, and after a break from the mid 90s to the mid 00s, have been expanding my apiaries almost every year. In 2015 I made the jump from a construction career of 40+ years to full time beekeeping. Since starting back into beekeeping I've been inspired by many contemporary beekeepers, but Mike Palmer's management methods at French Hill Apiaries in Vermont (www.frenchhillapiaries.com) has been the most helpful. His systems for queenrearing, honey production, nuc production, and all the details associated are very well thought out. I have been fortunate enough to work with him and his crew for a couple of weeks during each of the last five summers. I look forward to going back to Vermont every year.
Happy Hollow Honey is concentrating on the propagation of varroa mite tolerant honey bees. For most of the first 8 or 9 years of my return to beekeeping, it has been an up and down process with mixed results. Varroa mites and the associated, vectored viruses are the biggest problems honey bees face in today's world. Many years our results have been positive with good survival rates, but in the winter of 2017-18 we had heavy losses. Because of these losses we have changed our management to follow an IPM path. We now do mite sampling on some of our production hives to get an idea of how many mites are present. Those with high mite counts get a treatment and are marked for requeening from a hygienic line. Depending on the time of year, we are using one of the organic acids/essential oils (oxalic, formic, or thymol).
Our bees are a combination of many different stocks including VSH (varroa sensitive hygienic) Carniolan, Russian, and local stock.
I do not advocate that beekeepers who are just starting out to plan to be treatment free. All beekeepers should have some kind of management plan in place to reduce mites, and be willing to treat to lower mite levels when necessary. All beekeepers who buy packages from the south, or other commercially based bees, should have a strategy to combat varroa and be vigilant about controlling all pests and diseases. High levels of varroa mites are nearly always fatal to the colony. I advocate that you educate yourself on varroa mites and their life cycle. Use management and mite resistant bees to help reduce them, monitor your mite levels, and treat your bees whenever necessary. I don't know of any package suppliers that use varroa resistant stock yet, or locally adapted bees from our region. For this, and other reasons, you will have better results with nucleus colonies (nucs) from a local producer. The best thing you can do is maintain locally mated queens bred from colonies that have mite tolerance, and better yet, raise your own queens.
One of the traits that is known to help reduce mite populations in honey bees is hygienic behavior. VSH bees carry the hygienic trait. A typical action for VSH is worker bees opening capped brood cells that they sense are having problems. The pupa and any reproducing mite and offspring are typically removed. This interrupts mite reproduction. The VSH trait is also useful for removal of other bee diseases in the brood. This trait can be observed as opened cells within the capped brood nest of the colony. VSH bees are not a subspecies of Apis mellifera, but rather are bees from one of the existing subspecies, and hybrids, that express VSH traits.
Grooming is a behavioral trait that exists in some of our bees. This is usually expressed in the form of biting and physical removal of mites. Some bees express this by biting the carapace of the mite or chewing the legs of the mite. In both cases the mite will desiccate from the injuries. Russian honey bees and "Mite Biters" are two types of bees that have been identified with grooming behavior. Another trait is SMR (suppressed mite reproduction). In this case some characteristics in the hive leads to mites reproducing at a slower rate, or not reproducing at all.
Many of our own queens are darker Carniolan type, but there is a significant mix of lighter colored stock in the local bees. We are rearing queens from the bees that show the best variety of traits in our yards. The most important traits to us are- low mite counts, honey production, and gentleness. Over time the bees should become more adapted to our region allowing them to take best advantage of our unique nectar flows and dearths.
We are members of the New River Valley Beekeepers Association (www.nrvba.org), Virginia State Beekeepers Association (www.virginiabeekeepers.org), the American Beekeeping Federation (www.abfnet.org), Vermont State Beekeepers Association, and the Eastern Apicultural Society.
A beekeeper friend of mine in Sweden, Erik Österlund, has posted an article about Happy Hollow Honey on his blog. You can find it here- http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=829
My friend Tonia Moxley wrote an interesting article for the Roanoke Times about some of the honey bee research that is taking place at Virginia Tech. Happy Hollow Honey was included in part of the write up.
See the pictures here- http://m.roanoke.com/agriculture/virginia-tech-study-aims-to-help-explain-honeybee-losses/article_e5a0fc28-8195-5308-a053-61dbc5ec0cad.html?mode=jqm_gal#&ui-state=dialog
and the article here- http://m.roanoke.com/agriculture/virginia-tech-study-aims-to-help-explain-honeybee-losses/article_e5a0fc28-8195-5308-a053-61dbc5ec0cad.html?mode=jqm
I was interviewed as part of an article in The Appalachian Voice. You can read it here- http://appvoices.org/2018/06/07/appalachian-beekeepers-protect-honeybee-health/
Ian Cassette of WDBJ7 did a report on varroa mites. I was interviewed on the report- https://www.wdbj7.com/2020/10/19/beekeeping-the-fight-against-the-mite/www.wdbj7.com/2020/10/19/beekeeping-the-fight-against-the-mite/
Also see our photo album here- https://get.google.com/albumarchive/103329915957501702913/album/AF1QipMMiAAsXeNrDwALEySqHM0-rSDN_EYs2_-2X0BI?source=pwa or at the link above.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Thanks for looking, Richard Reid