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  1. #1
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    Nov 2009
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    Default Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    With my single hive having died last year due to Varroa, I'm curious about non-chemical means by which I can avoid that same fate for my four hives this year (two large & two splits). I wonder if a kind soul might point me to a thorough discussion (informational / how-to / pros & cons) of the approaches presented below, and/or answer a few q’s.

    For now, I’m cautiously considering three approaches, and would like to know about:

    1 Removing the colony’s queen, and thwarting the ability to create new queens for a time, as a result interrupting brood cycle to interrupt, too, the varroa reproduction cycle.

    • If removing a queen, for how long must the hive go queenless?

    • When I reintroduce a queen, do I need to present her in a cage with a plug, or will they accept her when she saunters back in?

    • For people who’ve taken this approach, isn’t there a risk to the overall hive population dropping dangerously low?

    • My idea is to move the queen out for a time, to a nuc, probably, and to do a combination of the nuc population with the original colony when I reintroduce the queen. Does this make sense?


    2 Insertion and removal of (tennis ball green!) drone comb, and a result reducing varroa population by eliminating their reproducing in their preferred comb.

    • While I understand that the workers will desire to maintain a 10-15% population of drones, and will dedicate effort towards those goals, my thinking is that if such a strategy helps the colony survive overall, it’s a win – despite the lost effort. Is there some flawed logic to this thinking?

    • Is there a preferred window of time to initial insertion of the drone comb? That is, is there a benefit to inserting in (say …) mid-July vs. mid-August … or mid-April, for that matter?

    • Would such an approach later in the season (such as starting in mid-August) result in the workers not dedication such effort reestablishing the drone population due to the coming cool weather? Or might they mistakenly carry that effort beyond the time when they might ordinarily expel the drones?


    3 Combining colonies down from four hives to two near the end of the season, thereby boosting the cumulative populations and reducing the chance of a late-winter die-off.

    • I expect to leave significant stores to support this approach: any other steps or concerns recommended to consider?


    Many thanks for your kind replies.


    Mig

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
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    Littlerock, California, USA
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    940

    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    I got a lead to Kirk's website from another post on this forum. This is an interesting article and he has many others as well. I personally do not have the time, space or resources to try this at his level but I will employ some of the techniques on a smaller scale. There must be a way to move from small scale treated hives to small scale untreated hives. Most will tell you to get local "survivor stock" but if they are not available then what do you do? Good luck.
    http://kirkwebster.com/index.php/a-p...rcial-apiaries
    “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end”

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Something that will help a lot is moving to small[er] cell comb or foundationless. The smaller the workers are, the greater the chance that the varroa will go after the drone rather than worker brood. Commensurate to that is the replacement of treated comb. You must restore the natural microbiota of the hive. A colony is not simply a collective organism, but a super organism made up of bees, bacteria, fungi, and who knows what else.

    After that, my primary method is to split as much as possible so you have a greater number of hives from which to develop your own local survivor stock. Increase the chances of developing a resistant line.

    Don't rely on gadgets and gimmicks to help your bees out with disease. They may help at the outset, but in the long run, they should be entirely unnecessary.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  4. #4
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    Dec 2008
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    Menomonee Falls, Wis.
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Read what StevenG has done. He seems to have taken the most logical approach.

    Crazy Roland

  5. #5
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    Nov 2009
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    Columbia county, New York, USA
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Mig, I would just take out the queen and make a nuc with her. Then I let the hive make a new queen from eggs or larvae. That takes them about 30 days before the new queen starts laying, which is long enough to disrupt the mite cycle. Why not try to overwinter a couple of nucs with the older queens that way, rather than recombining later?
    The little bee returns with evening's gloom,
    To join her comrades in the braided hive... -Tennyson

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
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    St. Albans, Vermont
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    5,322

    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Quote Originally Posted by ccar2000 View Post
    I got a lead to Kirk's website from another post on this forum.
    If you read Kirk's articles, try to grasp what he's trying to say. I know he talks about his Russian bees and him not treating in 10+ years, but from the horse's mouth...it's not about the bees in his case...it's about his management scheme.

    Kirk's success is based on his use of nucleus colonies, not his stock. Personally, I think his stock is poor. Swarmy, nasty, and they die en mass every other year or so. This past winter for instance...he lost all his drone mother colonies and many of his apiaries. With such losses, how can he continue.

    Nucleus colonies, due to some dynamic, don't have to be treated. Even those made from untreated brood and relatively high mite counts...as long as PMS hasn't left the brood sick. These will build up for winter and come through in good shape. They are then used to restock coonies that have crashed.

    Kirk talks about the 3 sides of his operation...production colonies, nucleus colonies, and mating nucleus colonies. Production colonies give up breeder queens which are used to raise queens in the mating nucs. The queens from the mating nucs are used to make up 4/8 frame nucs for wintering. These nucs replace dead-outs. The only side of the three that has problems with varroa are the production hives. With ample supplies of nucleus colonies, you can approach beekeeping with a treatment free or a reduced treatment plan.

    So, there is a way to keep bees treatment free. It's not the bees, it's the managenment.

  7. #7
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    Aug 2009
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Yes, I agree it is about the management style. The challenge for me is applying it to a small scale backyard apiary. My goal as a hobbyist is to maintain two healthy hives and to be keeping bees, not having the bees keep me. My current thought and path of travel is purchasing two “treatment free queens” and splitting my two hives, one new queen in a new nuc and one old queen in a new nuc, doubling my chances of surviving the winter. I will treat the original two queens for Nosema only and leave the two nucs to survive. I will feel successful if I have one healthy hive out of the four in the springtime next year and will have my nuc boxes ready to try again. Ultimately I would like to get to where I can make walk away splits each summer in order to maintain no more than three hives at a time.
    “Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end”

  8. #8
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    May 2009
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    Cattaraugus,New York, USA
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    I don't have a whole lot of knowledge of everyone else's operations, but for me, having about 15 hives, I like to pull the queen out of a hive and let them go queenless for a time, to allow all the brood to hatch. Once this happens I do a newspaper combine of a queenless hive and a mating nuc, that has a laying queen. The small population in the mating nuc doesn't have a large population of mites, and the queenless colony has had time to hunt down the varroa that are now left in the open, due to lack of sealed brood. There is a great article about it in the june or july american bee journal about how they do this type of management. Seems to be working so far for me.
    Last edited by NY_BLUES; 07-09-2011 at 12:01 PM. Reason: added info

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    What do you do to move beyond that? I'd like to assume you wish you didn't have to do it, what comes next?
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Solomon

    Actually you assume wrong. The method of queenlessness that I use was used extensively by the killions to produce comb honey, before varroa. By pulling the queen, and a few frames of brood, and cutting out all queen cells, I can help control not only varroa, but also help reduce swarming of my hives.
    This technique does get rid of 100 percent of mites, but rather it is just a step that I use to help. I also use screen bottom boards, and will do a powdered sugar dusting if my counts are up.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Do you want to continue doing it forever? Does it affect honey production?
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Solomon, Read Killian's book. He is a nice and knowledgeable man. Timed properly, it can increase honey production if the broodless time occurs when the honey flow does. Less brood to feed means more honey surplus.

    Crazy ROland

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    As always, I would be more than happy to read any book you send me.

    On what kind of scale would you do this? Do you do it commercially?

    I'm struggling to figure out how it is necessary.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Solomon-

    Roland is correct. Honey surplus can be increased if timed properly. I have 2 main benefits of this style management, along with a few unintended bonuses. The main benefit is reduced mite population due to lack of sealed brood, therefore they are in the open and cannot hide from the bees. The second benefit is the increase in the number of colonies that I get. By taking the queen out of the hive, along with a few frames of brood and honey and pollen, and putting them in a new box with drawn comb or foundation, I just made an increase split, allowing me to either keep the hive to put into my operation, or sell it as a populous nuc.
    The unintended benefit is the increase in honey surplus. Less mouths to feed means more honey is stored.
    The Killions did do the queen removal commercially, as they produced thousands of pounds of comb honey annually.
    This type of management isn't necessary, but neither is puting loads of chemical miticides in the hive either. To each their own I guess.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    I'm pretty sure I didn't question anyone's correctness. I'm questioning the necessity and perpetuity.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    I see your point. Is this something that can be used on hundreds or thousands of hives? Is it actually helping reduce mite loads? Is the surplus actually larger, or is the flow just better? Is it a sustainable practice?
    There are many, many questions to this management style. There are many answers that some people could give. I don't have answers to most of the questions, but the uncertainty does outweigh the certain.
    What I do know is that I am not putting chemicals that kill insects into my hive of insects. My comb is thereby less contaminated with chemicals and my honey is less contaminated with chemicals. I can not control what the bees put into the hives, but I can control what I put into the hives.

  17. #17
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    A cut down split is intended to increase production by leaving them queenless for a time.

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beessplits.htm#cutdown

    It is more work, but will make more honey.

    Since going to small cell I haven't had any issues with Varroa and have done none of the above manipulations. My overwintering nucs are made up from my mating nucs not my hives.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    I've noticed that no one mentioned the breed of the queen: VSH for example.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    I have mostly NWC queens, with some VSH and Italian stock mixed in there too

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Q's about non-chemical varroa management

    Has anyone introduced bees from markedly VSH colonies into other colonies to achieve an effect similar to going queenless? For example, increasing honey production by brood removal due to VSH bees?

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