In 1989, I was hosted in Italy by the then National Institute of Beekeeping, now combined with silk (sericulture) at the University of Bologna. Here are my remarks from that experience published at that time. Note this is written a long time ago and many things may have changed in the ensuing years. One of the charms of the country, of course, is that it still retains in many ways the cultural traditions that it is generally known for, which include beekeeping.
INITIAL OBSERVATIONS ON ITALY
Italy is a modern country with a Medieval past. This juxtaposition is at once complimentary and counterproductive. Bologna is a prime example. This once-walled city still retains the structure of its past. A number of ancient doors called “portas,” are still used as landmarks, although the walls themselves have for the most part been torn down as the city has expanded. Also evident is the city’s architectural unity with most streets lined by large domed porticos. These make for comfortable walking in the hot summer sun. This integrity also makes for easy travel by public transportation. A number of buses ply their way around the city and getting from one place to another never takes more than 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, the once charming narrow streets are now filled to capacity with modern automobiles. The walls keep the exhaust fumes from freely escaping into the atomosphere. Parking becomes a monumental problem. Cars simply pull off the road and onto the sidewalk. When traffic becomes jammed, mopeds, bicycles and even cars and trucks may skirt around using the sidewalk as a kind of shoulder. The risk of becoming an automobile casualty is very real. Accidents are an everyday occurrence, further delaying traffic. The air pollution is noticeable almost everywhere and the damage the emissions are doing to the country’s art and environment is all too real.
It is difficult for me to tell whether or not Italy is the laidback country many think. It is true that banks and stores appear to be closed more than open, but that may only be because of the perception of those who come from other parts of the world used to another time schedule. The ancient history of the country confuses. An engineering colleague here says that it is the only country where automobiles are totally assembled by robots. The standard of living appears to be very high; there is little that is not available to the consumer. Some 40 to 50 tv channels beam across the country. The telephone system is one of the best in Europe and evidence of computer use is everywhere. Many of the larger train stations have computerized information booths which allow one to quickly find and print out schedules of interest. On the other hand, some things we take for granted in the U.S. are difficult to find in Italy. Although water running from the tap is drinkable, most people continue to buy bottled mineral water, a tradition cultivated in the past when the water may not have been so healthful. Bottled water is a common part of any restaurant’s menu, shades of the future in Florida where this necessity of life is becoming dearer each year. Thus, when you ask for water in Italy, it comes in a bottle and can cost anywhere from $.42 to $.72 per quart.
In spite of information to the contrary, much is intense in Italy. A central problem appears to be overpopulation in urban areas. Living is confined to high-rise apartments. Zoning is strict, not to protect property values or aesthetics, but to maximize agricultural land. Places to live on a temporary basis are not easy to find and are very expensive.
Agriculture is also intense, especially in the Po River Valley, which begins in the Alps and runs to the Adriatic. Not a speck of land is left unused. By U.S. standards, the fields are small, but in aggregate vie with anything one might see in California’s San Joaquin Valley or the grain fields of Kansas. Farm machinery is everywhere, some of it, like many manufactured items, plastic shrinkwrapped. The intensiveness carries into the cities where emphasis is on quality. Every piece of fruit on the streets for sale seems perfect and exacts such a price, most of it extremely high by U.S. standards.
An unseen cost is use of pesticides. The technology is part of every farmer’s bag of tricks. The bees in Italy have suffered from and continue to be affected by pesticide use. There now exist some three hundred stations around northern Italy where colonies are tested for pesticide residues.
A summary of a paper prepared by Giorgio Celli and Claudio Porrini of the Istituto de Entomologia “Guido Grandi” dell’Universita degli Studi Di Bologna published in 1987 indicates that from 1983-1986 most mortality was caused by dimethoate and parathion. Dithiocarbamtes appeared to be the most significant pollutants found in colonies; some 313 samples of dead bees showed residues. During the period, 8 samples of honey appeared contaminated with dithiocarbamates, 2 by Parathion, 2 by Endosulfan, 2 by DDE, 1 by methylparathion, 1 by Carbarly (sevin), 1 by Lindane, 1 by Fenson and 1 by Carbofuran.
Pesticide use is a big public issue here. In Bologna, there is a significant presence of environmentally oriented persons handing out literature opposing presence of chemicals in the food supply. With the presence of Varroa in Italy, the risk that pesticide will somehow get into bee products has become very real.
As one might imagine, Italian beekeeping is also intensive. The largest beekeeper in the country has less than two thousand colonies, according to my latest information. Many beekeepers are producing single floral source honey. Apiaries are as immaculate as the orchards of fruit trees seen almost everywhere. A small apiary outside Bologna is characteristic. It consists of a neat double row of colonies painted a uniform robin’s egg blue. There is movement of colonies by truck, but little to rival the kind seen in Florida when bees are moved to the orange and later to the midwest. Most bee flora in Italy is cultivated as opposed to the U.S. where the majority is wild. This contributes to the problem of pesticide poisoning.
A wide range of bee products is used by the Italian public. Every pharmacy carries a line of marvelously packaged goods which include honey, royal jelly or propolis as ingredients. Italy is not self-sufficient in honey production. The country produces only about 50% of its need. The rest is imported from other parts of Europe, Asia and the Americas. The honey is top quality and heavily regulated by the autorities. I visited one of the oldest beekeeping families in the Bologna area, Piana. They originally concentrated on producing queens, but now have become mostly a honey packing outfit. The laboratory at the packing plant takes up almost a quarter of the space consumed by the whole operation. Every sample of honey is tested for moisture, color, impurities, presence of hydroxymethyl furfural, and pollen content to determine floral source. The Istituto Nazionale de Apicoltura employs several experts in field of honey analysis. Recently a conference in Paris dedicated to pursuing an agreement on European honey standards when the European Economic Community becomes a reality in 1992 was held. Another activity of the National Apiculture Institute is to monitor the presence of bee disease and continually upgrade the quality of queens in the country. A test period is about to be concluded using instrumental insemination in an effort to produce pure Italian (Apis mellifera ligustica) queens of very high quality. Soon the Institute will begin releasing these queens to the beekeeping public along with instructions on how to evaluate them. The best will then be chosen to mother subsequent generations. Four values from 4 (the best) to 1 (the worst) are to be recorded by the beekeeper for each of the following characteristics: population of adult bees, brood area and quality as judged by pattern, amount of honey produced, aggressiveness, number of queen cells (used to judge swarming tendency), and behavior of the bees (whether they are calm on the combs or not).
With arrival of Varroa in 1981, the use of pesticides by the beekeeper has become commonplace in many areas of Italy. Depending on the location in the country, four substances are currently in use: Perizin, Apitol, Apistan strips and amitraz. All appear to be extremely effective. As in the U.S., it is difficult to find Varroa damage because most colonies have been treated. However, the mite is still considered a significant problem. This is not the case for tracheal mite. The latter pest appears to have run its course, and is now found only in epidemic stages on a local level. Most beekeepers in Italy are not using menthol to treat colonies for tracheal mite, but do routinely use antibiotics for control of European foulbrood. Colonies showing symptoms of American foulbrood are destroyed, as practiced in the United States. It is obligatory for beekeepers to report occurrence of mites, nosema or the foulbroods to the veterinary authorities.
Things were quiet during the month of August here. This is the traditional time when almost all Italians head for the mountains or the sea. During the true dog days of August, Bologna was practically a ghost town with most of its shops closed. If one contemplates a summer sojourn in Italy, the best advice is never come in August. In some respects, like many university towns, it was pleasant with all the students absent. Gone were the numerous mopeds using the porticos as private streets. The pollution also diminished noticeably as did the general racket along the main drags. A counterpoint was the closure of restaurants and other places of business. One had to know where to go for the neccesities of life. Even the computer here had a few days off and I temporarily lost electronic contact with the rest of the world.
The deadest day was Ferraugusto (August 15) a general holiday dating all the way back a to Augustus Caesar. European vacaction time is over by September first. Bologna has bustled back to its normal self, and I am on the road again. Last week I travelled to northeast Italy to visit the town of Udine. There in the foothills of the mountains separating Italy from Austria,
“Varroa” was first detected in Italy in 1981. It is not known how the mite got there, but most believe it was brought in on the backs of bees from Yugoslavia. The year after its first detection, the mite was found in places as far away as central Italy. Thus, before any control measures could be mounted, it was too late to stem the invasion. The pest now inhabits the entire country as well as the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Since introduction of “Varroa” in its backyard, the Istituto di Difesa delle Piante, Udine University has been at the forefront of the battle to contain and control the mite. The current rector of the University, Prof. F. Frilli, a beekeeper and researcher, recently published on the situation in Italy. His conclusion was that “cohabitation” with “Varroa” has finally been achieved; it is no longer unknown and beekeepers are interested in the problem. A type of natural selection has also occurred in beekeeping. Uninformed and unmotivated beekeepers have been put out of business.
Dr. Norberto Milani, an eminent entomologist who came to Udine from the University of Padova at Prof. Frilli’s invitation, now directs much of the bee research in Udine as Dr. Frilli is busy administrating the affairs of the University. He has compiled an extensive bibliography of publications about “Varroa”, and along with colleagues, hosted an international convention on the mite in collaboration with Austria, Germany and Yugoslavia in Trent, Italy in 1987 and also an experts meeting in Udine in 1988.
Dr. Bill Bruce, now on the staff at the bee lab Beltsville, Md., stayed in Udine (1988) for several months collaborating with scientists there to raise mites on artificial diets. These efforts have failed so far. A big problem, according to Dr. Milani, is the high temperature of the brood nest where “Varroa” develops. Any diet at that temperature tends to deteriorate very quickly.
Studies continue in Udine and the group is one of the most prolific in publishing its research. Current projects include developing control measures and studying basic mite biology. Soon the entomology section will move into a new building which will provide much more space than the current facility. The group also does some extension related work. In May, 1989 it published a magnificent booklet entitled “L’Ape” which contains 38 pages of full color illustrations, including scanning electron micrographs, on the anatomy of the honey bee.
HONEY-LE ITALIANE LO FANNO MEGLIO
The ninth annual “Giulio Piana” honey contest is history. The Piana Prize is perhaps the most prestigous award currently given in Italy. It is named after one of the country’s pioneer beekeepers, who died over a decade ago. The winners were announced September 10 near the residence of the Piana family, who still carry on the bee business near Bologna, in the community of Castel San Pietro Terme. Terme refers to the fact that a thermal spring is found here. On the grounds of the terme in conjunction with the judging, there was a honey fair and exhibit area for beekeeping products. Inside the nearby convention center, a national meeting was held on maintaining the quality of Italian honey.
This year’s competition included 350 samples of honey from all over Italy. Each entry was first run through a preliminary laboratory screening for moisture and pollen analyis. The samples were then judged by a prestigous group of “honey sommelliers” for their organoleptic qualities. This latter term refers to the sensorial, necessarily subjective, qualities of honey; its taste, color, and odor. The coordinating judge was Prof. Michel Gonnet, Institute of Agronomic Research, Avignon, France, who is reputed to have invented the judging system using organoleptics as an important honey marketing tool. In the end, 58 prizes were awarded.
The energy expended in judging the Piana Prize greatly surpasses that for any similar contest in the U.S. to my knowledge. It points to an interesting difference between the philosophies of producing/marketing honey in the U.S. versus Italy and all of Europe for that matter. The rules are much stricter and more highly defined on the continent than in the U.S. In Italy, there is a strong tradition of controlling/regulating all kinds of activity. This presumably arose through the centuries as conquering political entities tried to govern territories they subjected. The current effort to control honey has as its base a great deal of research on the qualities of the sweet that are for the most part ignored in the U.S.
For example, three articles in the 1988 edition of “Apicoltura“, the major Italian research publication, are concerned with identifying variables that can be used to determine Italian unifloral honeys. It was found that color, light rotation (polarization), electric conductivity, HMF and diastase content, total acidity and pH, sugar content (total fructose, total glucose and total fructose plus glucose) were important measurements in the process. In a followup paper, statistical “cluster analysis” of 392 samples was run to determine the effectiveness of this method.
Besides the above effort, a large amount of previous research has gone into determining the characteristics of various pollens found in honey. Again, the aim has been to characterize Italian honey as much as is humanly possible.
One result of this is the classic volume, Flora Apistica Italiana, written by G. Ricciardelli d’Albore and L. Persano Oddo. This book contains microscopic photos of 299 pollens found in Italian honeys. While some attention has been paid to characterizing the plants important to beekeeping in the U.S., very little effort has been devoted to the issue of pollen study in determining unifloral nectar sources.
As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, the Federazione Apicoltori Italiani (FAI) provides a seal of quality to its members. Its presence guarantees the honey in the container to be Italian in origin. In it’s volume, L’Apicoltura Italiana, the FAI says that honey sealed in this manner is controlled through a joint effort of the National Consumer’s Union and the FAI by inspections of extracting facilities and insistence on analysis of honey samples. This was underscored in an article in the March, 1989 issue of Mondo Agricolo, a magazine dedicated to agricultural affairs. The title of the article was, “Le Italiane lo Fanno Meglio,” roughly translated, “Italian honey does it better.” The gist of the article is that honey is a good product, responsible for helping conserve human health. It goes on to say that scientific evidence confirms honey helps cure respiratory, kidney and gastro-intestinal problems and that the sweet is used in many cosmetic products. Finally, the article takes its agrument one step farther saying that honey is good, yes, but Italian honey is better.
Although the amount of effort may be different in characterizing honey, the Italians have similar concerns as U.S. beekeepers when it comes to imported honey. The article noted above is one response to the large amount of the sweet currently arriving from China, Mexico and Argentina. Another is a national honey convention, held for the first time this year in conjunction with Piana prize. The purpose of the meeting was to propose a designation, “Miele Vergine Integrale,” translated as whole virgin honey. The effort results from three factors which are considered grave threats to honey marketing in Italy: (1) domestic marketing problems because of imports, (2) large bee loss due to “Varroa”, and (3) a fragmented domestic honey marketing structure.
Specifically, the requirements for the denomination “whole virgin honey” include a maximum water content of 18%, various diastase and HMF levels depending on kind of honey being marketed, and that no product containing the honey be heated above 45 degrees C (113 degrees F). Finally, it is proposed that the label show where the honey was bottled, that it should be consumed by a certain date and any from outside the country should be called “imported.”
The drafters of whole virgin honey rule believe that such a denomination would be the best way to maintain the quality and value of Italian honey. It was also suggested at the convention that this designation be proposed for all of Europe, when the European Economic Community (EEC) becomes a reality in 1992.
MORE OBSERVATIONS ON ITALIAN BEEKEEPING
Since my last newsletter, I have had time to travel to several places and make more observations on Italian beekeeping. Of special interest have been visits to Naples, Perugia, Turin and Rome. The latter serves as headquarters for The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world beekeeping association known as Apimondia and the Italian Beekeeping Federation, Federazione Apicoltori Italiani (FAI).
The President or Executive Director of the FAI, Dr. Silvestro Cannamela, kindly agreed to meet me at his Rome office. According to Dr. Cannamela, the FAI’s members are local beekeeping groups or consortiums made up of individual beekeepers. Some 55 consortiums belong and more are being asked to join as time goes on. Several other beekeeping groups also exist in the country including a professional association and Conapi, a marketing consortium of several cooperatives.
Dr. Canamelo described the FAI as an organization dedicated to helping beekeepers. It does this in a number of ways. First, a bimonthly magazine is published called “Apitalia.” This contains advertisements for beekeeping related items as well as articles on beekeeping techniques. The May issue contains some interesting facts on the FAI. It completed 36 years of service in that month and had a membership of 50,000 beekeepers. Only a few thousand in the United States are members of national associations.
The FAI keeps its membership not only by publishing a journal, but also by providing several other services. Beekeepers can receive liability insurance through the organization. In addition, the FAI provides its members with a special seal of quality that can be affixed to their products, as well as a multi-colored carboard package which has the seal and guarantee of quality on it. Further services include a discount card (Apicard) which can be used at various commercial establishments, twenty-four hour telephone answering service for questions and the provision of certain substances beekeepers might need in emergencies. The FAI is distributing to its members APISTAN plastic strips now that the material has been approved for Italy.
The organization also sells some forty publications of interest to beekeepers. These include books on honey and other bee products, beekeeping practices, history of beekeeping, and instrumental insemination. Finally, the FAI represents beekeepers and promotes their interests by attending legislative sessions. Dr. Cannamela recently went before the Italian general assembly to discuss beekeepers problems from marketing to pesticide poisoning.
An interesting counterpoint to our discussion was the question put to me. “Why is one of the richest countries in the world not a member of Apimondia?” The U.S. has let its membership lapse. I was caught off-guard by his observation, and was particulary uneasy because I had just handed him my paper which I plan to present at the next Apimondia meeting in October. He said that no paper by a resident of the U.S. is being rejected for the Brazilian congress because the U.S. is not a dues-paying member.
Dr. Canamella told me he believes this decision by the U.S. is a big mistake. Most European countries are members and support Apimondia. The once every other year meeting has often been held in Europe. It last met in the U.S. in 1967. I presume those who run our national beekeeping associations have let membership lapse for various reasons.
This points to fundamental differences that exist between the Europe and the U.S. Although the FAI in Italy is responsible for paying the annual dues to Apimondia, it not all that clear to me who pays in other countries. Presumably the government in many socialist countries picks up the tab. As I pointed out to Dr. Cannamela, we have a number of Associations which represent various beekeeper interests in the U.S.
Other organizations also exist to help beekeepers and several other journals are published. These include: Le Nostre Api>, published by the Provincial Bee Association of Trento; L’Apicolture Moderno, published by the Apicultural Observatory at the University of Turin; L’Ape Nosta Amica, published by the Provincial Bee Association of Milano; and Notiziario dell’Apicoltore, published by the Ravenna Bee Association.
Beyond private associations, beekeepers are also aided by state supported institutions. In the last issue of this newsletter, I briefly mentioned the programs of the Italian National Apicultural Institute which involve honey quality and improving the Italian race of honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica) for which the country is justly proud. Equivalent to our university experiment station, the state supported Istituto Sperimentale per la Zoologia Agraria is also involved in research to help the beekeeper. It also has some regulatory functions. The Istituto, headquartered in Florence, publishes, Apicoltura,” a scientific magazine dedicated to bee research. A recent issue analyzes Italian honey in depth and presents an article on identification of Varroa complete with pictures of all developmental stages of the pest.
Departments of entomology around Italy also participate in beekeeping teaching and research. I visited Dr. Pasquale Mazzone of the Faculty of Entomology at the Univeristy of Naples in Portici. Dr. Mazzone like several instructors in beekeeping also teaches silkworm culture. Italy, after China, is a prime producer of silk. Dr. Mazzone is concerned about use of pesticides by beekeepers to control Varroa. In southern Italy, beekeepers are less organized it seems. They are much more individualistic and use a wide variety of legal and illegal substances to control Varroa. Dr. Mazzone believes that resistance to both amitraz and fluvalinate has begun in southern Italy where brood is present all year around and pesticide treatments are more numerous. He asserted that mechanical control of the pest is economically possible through routine manipulation of drone brood.
I was also a recent guest of the Department of Entomology and Apiculture at the University of Turin. This is a very different environment than found in southern Italy. It is near the French border and has closer ties to the rest of Europe than other parts of Italy. The faculty there is also concerned about use of pesticides to control Varroa. They are very active in research and are presently studying the possibility of using drone brood as a sink to control Varroa. A frame divided vertically into thirds is placed in the center of the brood nest. The bees build drone comb on it. A third of the frame is removed every 8 days with capped drone brood. With the brood goes a good number of mites. The drone brood thus becomes a magnet attracting Varroa which prefers drones because of their longer development time. Preliminary results are encouraging, resulting in a reduction in overall infestation. This technique was pioneered by a beekeeper in the area and shows that cooperation between beekeepers and scientists is close in northern Italy.
Other research in Turin consists of toxicity tests on bees for a wide variety of pesticides. Substances are tested for their toxicity by both both contact and ingestion. Unfortunately, the testing procedure is different than that practiced in the U.S. and elsewhere in Europe. This makes the results incompatible. This is recognized by those at Turin, however, they are in no position to change the protocol. Their technique was published on the occasion of the meeting of a working group on methods for toxicity testing, International Agricultural Center, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Effects of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union has also been studied at the University of Turin. Discussions of the subject in Turin revealed that after a significant rise in radiation levels in plants and animals (milk was particularly suspect), they proceeded to decline. However, the amount of radiation in plants has not yet retured to where it was before the accident. Thus, the levels in vegetation continue to be some 100 times greater than before the accident, although these are not considered to be harmful to the vegetation or animals consuming plants in the area.
Those in Turin are extremely proud of their culture and its association with beekeeping. This region hosted the fifth International Beekeeping Congress in 1911, the eighth in 1928 and in 1970, celebrated the sixtieth year of the publication of L’Apicoltore Moderno. A concrete example of this sense of history culminated in the third monograph in a series celebrating the agriculture of the region by the Piedmont Agricultural Museum Association. The resulting publication “III Past and Present Subalpine Beekeeping,” contains 242 pages. This publication was a coup for the Department of Entomology for apiculture when it is realized that the first two monographs in the series dealt with viticulture and mechanized agriculture.
The Department of Entomology and Apiculture at the University of Turin also publishes one of Italy’s premier bee journals, L’Apicoltore Moderno. This was inherited by the University after the death of the last editor in the early 1970s. The editor, Signorina Cav. Maria Grada Angeleri, not only left the publication to the University, but also through the efforts of his relatives his house has been placed at the Department’s disposal. Currently, this “apicultural observatory,” as it is fondly called in Turin, is used for research and beekeeping classes. A visit to the observatory is a fascinating trip. The basement holds an adhoc museum of different hives, including a small wooden box developed in Brazil for the culture of the South American stingless bee. I sensed a beekeeping aura while standing near the building with its neat rows of colonies. The day I was there the bees were eagerly sucking juices from a lovely lavender plant. Shading the colonies was a thick vine of kiwi fruit, the product of the bees’ efforts some months before.
Another Department of Entomology can be found in the picturesque Umbrian hilltown called Perugia. The department focuses on nectar-producing plants and pollen analysis. Dr. Ricciardelli D’Albore along with Dr. Livia Persano have published a classic volume on the subject, “Flora Apistica Italiana,” replete with color pictures of each plant as well as photographs taken through a microscope of the pollen. The head of the Department, Dr. Marcella Battaglini, provided me with a recent thesis which characterizes many facets of Italian beekeeping. It was written by Claudioi Legnini and contains the latest information gathered from 33 beekeeping consortia and well over two hundred beekeepers, the majority of which (143) moved bees during the year.
In his introduction, Mr. Legnini characterizes Italian beekeeping within the European context. According to the Working Group on Beekeeping of the Organization of Professional Agriculturalists of the European Economic Commission, in 1980 some 4,700,000 colonies existed in Europe managed by 378,000 beekeepers. The countries with the most beekeepers were France, Germany, Greece and Italy, respectively, and the average beekeeper managed 10 to 12 hives. With introduction of Varroa , beekeeping activity has declined from 40% to as much as 80% in southern Europe.
Italian beekeeping, Mr. Legnini reports, according to the Federazione Apicoltori Italiani (FAI), is made up of 85,000 beekeepers of which 1% are full-time commercial, 25% are part-time sideliners and 74% are amateurs. The number of colonies in Italy fluctuates between 800,000 and 900,000, of which 90% are in modern movable-frame hives. Honey production is calculated at 85,000 quintales (18,700,000 lbs) and wax at 6,000 quintales (1,320,000 lbs). The value of Italian apicultural production is about 175 million dollars (25 thousand million lira), but when indirect value is added, the amount becomes 17.5 million dollars (2500 thousand million lira).
Mr. Legnini’s thesis is that because the melliferous flora has changed greatly in the last 30 years, movement of bees has become a practical alternative for many apiculturists. Movement in fact is necessary in many areas which now rely heavily on herbicide and pesticide use. On the positive side, moving bees is responsible for greater honey production and an increase in quality.
It also allows the beekeeper to diversify and take advantage of the succession of blooming plants in different areas. However, Mr. Legnini points out that movement has some negative points too. These include more costs associated with equipment necessary to move and fuel expenses. Moving also may result in loss of queens as well as the spread of bee diseases and pests. The final part of his thesis explains in some detail the apicultural situation in many of the distinct regions or provinces found in Italy.
Certain things are better remembered than others. This concept has been on my mind lately as I contemplate leaving Italy after a four-month faculty development grant. Mercifully, many of the stress filled moments of setting up living quarters in a different culture are now faint memories stuck away deep in my brain. It is far easier to remember the impromptu meals I was invited to, or those times when a special effort was made to help a foreigner get a better understanding of beekeeping in Italy and how it meshed with the culture.
A particular incident comes to mind. On the spur of the moment, after arriving on the train from Bologna, Dr. Carlo Vidano at University of Torino invited Christy, my wife, and I to go on an outing to Monte Bianco. This large snow capped peak is one of the highest alps that separates France and Italy. During the trip, Dr. Vidano enthusiastically pointed out landmarks like old Roman stone supports still proping up vineyards and the large number of old castle ruins. He, along with Prof. A. Arzone and Dr. A. Alma who accompanied us, described in detail the characteristics of each little region as we traversed northern Italy’s Valle D’Aosta. The views all along the route, especially those of a glacier actively calving very near the highway were spectacular. We also went through the tunnel (one of the longest in Europe) underneath the mountain that separates France from Italy to meet with a French colleague. Later, we were treated to a fine lunch of local specialties at one of the restaurants that dot the Valle D’Aosta. Finally, we visited the Alma residence and were presented with one of the best bottles of locally vinted wine.
During our visit, Dr. Vidano mentioned he would be traveling in the United States in August. We were delightfully surprised, while watching CNN news in Bologna, to view a report featuring his visit to Beltsville, Maryland. I can still remember him animatedly talking about something dear to his heart, biological control of insects in Italian vineyards.
While returning to Bologna last week, I was thinking about making a return visit to see Dr. Vidano and his colleagues just before I left Italy.
Unfortunately, when I arrived in Turin, there was word that just the day before he had suddenly died. There was no warning. He simply went to his room in the pink of health and was found dead sometime later. I know no other details. Presumably there will be obituaries in the Italian bee journals and Bee World, the organ of the International Bee Research Association (IBRA).
Dr. Vidano was active in bee work for many years. He and his group have a worldwide reputation and a good number of publications in the field. I reported on many of the activies at Torino in a previous issue of this newsletter. Although he is gone now, I will always fondly remember that spectacular summer day when I was priviledged to accompany Dr. Vidano through the part of Italy that he knew and loved so well.
VARROA IN ITALY–THE FLORIDA CONNECTION
A major focus of my trip to Italy has been to determine how the beekeeping industry here is affected by the Varroa bee mite. I did not expect to find a magic solution to the mite problems facing U.S. beekeeping; there is none. Rather, I thought that detailed information on the Italian experience might provide some insight about the future of Varroa in Florida. As a counterpoint, when I mentioned that the mite has been found in the U.S., many those in Italy said they were waiting for a solution to come out of America. A prevailing thought here seems to be that because U.S. technology can put a human on the moon, it can also solve the worldwide Varroa problem.
Since the arrival of Varroa in Italy in 1981, a great deal of effort has gone into searching for a solution to the problem. Many Italian papers have now been published on the mite and the country has hosted experts meetings on control measures. The scenario that emerges from all this is that the situation is currently stablized. For many Italian beekeepers, the immediate danger has passed. Several chemicals have been labelled and they are keeping mite populations at tolerable levels.
Italy has also been active in collecting knowledge of mite infestations in other European countries. In May, 1987, an international meeting was held in Trento, Italy, near the Austrian and Yugoslavian border. Dr. F. Perschil from Freiburg, Germany provided information that Varroa was introduced in 1977. It proved impossible to contain the infestation in spite of quarantines and other regulatory measures. Factors influencing the spread of the mite included the fact that infestations were underestimated at the beginning and control measures were instituted too late, unevenly and “unprofessionally.” At that time, Dr. Perschil stated it was possible to control the mite in Germany with chemical therapy, which included Folbex VA, Illertisser mite plates (IMP) and Perizin. Dr. R. Moosbeckhofer reported on the situation in Austria. Varroa was spreading rapidly and several tens of thousands of colonies had died. The same products as those for Germany were labelled in that country.
Although the Yugoslavian situation was discussed at the Trento meeting, the text of what was said was not published in the proceedings. It is known, however, that Varroa has been in Yugoslavia since before 1980. Dr. J. Kulincevic in Belgrade has been working with U.S.D.A funding and assistance to breed European bees resistant to Varroa for the last few years. It is this stock that is being considered by for experimental introduction to an island off the Lousiana coast by the Baton Rouge bee laboratory.
A later more comprehensive experts meeting was held in Udine, Italy, November, 1988, and the current situations in several other European countries were described. Varroa was first discovered in Switzerland near Basel in 1984. It rapidly spread throughout the country, except some isolated alpine valleys. Folbex VA, Apitol, Perizin and formic acid were being used to reduce mite populations. In Spain, the mite was first discovered in 1985 and by 1987 had spread to all parts of the country. In Portugal it was present in all bordering areas with Spain and on its north coast. One reason for the rapid spread in Spain was the predominantly warm climate which allows bees to rear brood all year long.
The Italian Varroa experience mirrors that of many European countries. After discovery in 1981, the mite rapidly spread for a number of reasons including trade in nuclei and queens, collection of swarms of unknown origin, beekeeping techniques such as equalizing colonies and finally, robbing. The infestation worsened until 1983. It is estimated that some 10 to 20% reduction in hives occurred across the country. In southern Italy and Sardinia, 80-90% losses were reported. By 1988, Folbex VA (brompropylate), Perizin (coumaphos) and Apitol (cymiazole) were registered for control of the mite. Since then, fluvalinate has been added to the Italian beekeeper’s chemical arsenal.
There is now unanimity in Italy that beekeepers will have to learn to live with the mite. It is also agreed that only an integrated approach using breeding programs and beekeeping techniques, in conjunction with chemical control measures effectively control mite populations.
Unfortunately, effectiveness of control measures vary depending on climatic conditions. Thus, no single solution will work in Italy. In the south, where brood is reared all year around, I have been told that mites are already showing resistance to chemicals. One researcher said that some beekeepers have resorted to applying certain substances up to fifty times a year.
A major problem in Italy as elsewhere continues to be that of diagnosing the beginnings of a Varroa infestation. The one thing in print I have seen here that estimates levels of mite infestation comes from Germany. Details were published in the recent issue of the news of the AAPI (Associazione Apicoltori Professionisti Italiani). According to Dr. W. Ritter, cited by the article as speaking at the VII AAPI convention in Cecina, Italy, November 26, 1988.
Like Italy, the state of Florida was quickly overrun by mites in spite of quarantines and other measures instituted to control their spread. Florida beekeepers must now become aware of Varroa and realize it is a significant beekeeping problem. This realization took several years to develop in Italy after first detection; many beekeepers went out of business simply because they lacked sufficient information or were not motivated to control mite populations.
As in Italy, there will probably be different mite control strategies based on location in Florida. The southern, tropical part of the state, where brood is present all year around, will presumably be more effected by Varroa than the north, where a short broodless period exists most years. The most dangerous time for a colony in Italy has been found to be after a honey flow, when there is a large amount of sealed brood and the queen has reduced egglaying. As this brood emerges, many adult Varroa also exit the cells; they quickly parasitize the remaining brood and decreased number of old adult bees, rapidly bringing the colony to the very critical stage. This will probably also be true in Florida.
Florida beekeepers must begin to routinely monitor mite infestation levels. At this time, almost all beehives in Italy have been equipped with some form of Varroa trap on the bottom board. The trap is screened to prevent the bees from carrying off dead mites. The paper lining the trap is also greased so that live mites stick after falling on the surface. Italian beekeepers have also worked into their management procedures routine checks of brood and adults for parasitization.
Cultural controls in Italy which show success should be experimented with in Florida. Of particular interest is periodic removal of parasitized sealed drone brood. A specific scheme developed in the Torino area provides a colony with a frame of drone comb foundation. A third of this comb with sealed larvae/pupae is then removed every eight days.
Unfortunately, in both Italy and Florida, a necessary key ingredient to an effective integrated pest management program against Varroa is missing. The economic threshold level, below which it is not recommended nor uneconomical to resort to chemical control, is unknown. It now is apparent that such a level will only be determined after many years experience monitoring mite populations in bee colonies by both researchers and beekeepers in specific geographic regions.