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 keep between 150 and a little over 200 colonies in Montgomery and Giles Counties in the mountains of VA.
I started keeping bees in 1973, and after a break from the mid 90s to the mid 00s, have been expanding my apiaries every year. Since starting back into beekeeping I've been inspired by many contemporary beekeepers, but Mike Palmer's management methods have been the most helpful. His management 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 four summers. I look forward to going back to Vermont again in 2019.
Happy Hollow Honey is concentrating on the propagation of varroa mite resistant honey bees. The varroa mite and the associated, vectored viruses are one of the biggest problems honey bees face in our area, as well as most of the 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 counts regularly on all our production hives. Those with high mite counts (over 3%) get a treatment and requeening with a more mite resistant line. Depending on the time of year we are using one of the organic acids (oxalic, formic, or thymol).
Our bees are a combination of many different stocks including VSH (varroa sensitive hygienic) Carniolan, Russian, and local stock. Some of our colonies could be considered "survivor stock" because they have made it through the year without mite, or any other treatments.
I do not advocate that beekeepers who are just starting out plan to be treatment free. New beekeepers should have some kind of management plan in place to reduce mites, and be willing to treat to lower mite levels. 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 reduce them, monitor your mite levels, and treat your bees if necessary. I don't know of any package suppliers that use varroa resistant or locally adapted bees from our region. The best thing you can do is maintain locally mated queens bred from colonies that have mite resistance.
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 brood cells that they sense are having problems. The pupa is typically removed which helps interrupt 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 one of the existing subspecies that expresses the 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 by chewing the legs of the mite. In both cases the mite will desiccate from the injuries. Russian honey bees and "Ankle Biters" are two types of bees that have been identified with grooming behavior.
Many of our queens are darker Russian/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.
An 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/
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