I hate to admit this but to be honest, I value Ollie's advice more so than anyone else on Beesource.
President, San Francisco Beekeepers Association
As I did so I took careful note of how the things they did and talked about matched the theory of natural selection for the fittest strains that I 'd learned doing foundation biology at school.
This continued a process begun when I was about 7 years old when I'd been been helping my father sort beans for next years planting. 'Keep the big, clean ones that aren't mishapen' he'd said. I'd asked why. He'd smiled, and replied: 'because we want nice well shaped beans next year...'. I'd understood.
7 year olds can understand the core principle of husbandry. That doesn't mean they know anything about the mechanisms.
From the gardener I learned a countryman's maxim: 'Never help a wild animal.' A question for anyone who wants to play: why is that? Is it right?
I grew up in a farming community. From countless conversations in pubs, on buses, by the side of the road, about dogs, horses, ferrets, cattle, sheep, cockerels, and much more I learned about breeding.
My interest in living things extended to reading Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene when I was in my early twenties, and discovering the wonder of the magic mechanisms of life. Fascinated, I read more about evolution, all the while marrying this with the understanding I had of stock keeping. I kept joining the dots. This was 40 years ago.
In the interim I've continued to learn about the processes and mechanisms of health-seeking natural selection through independent reading and study, and as part of a university degree. I can't begin to indicate the breadth and depth of this study. If I said I'd guess I've spent between 3 and 5 thousand hours on it, and without false modesty told you I'm a very hot student, that might convey something.
I don't know everything by a long long way - but I'm familair with this stuff.
About 25 years ago, when I'd been beekeeping for a few years with just a few swarms, varroa struck. I was told to treat, and my insides ran cold. I knew more than enough to understand that treating would prevent adaptation, and what that would mean for the honeybee population. I decided in short order that I'd rather lose my bees than participate in such a gross violation of Nature. And that's what happened. I was accused of cruelty, of harbouring pests, of endangering the livelihoods of others. I gave up beekeeping while I went through a divorce and house moves, though sporadically tried keeping swarms, without treating, and without success. But I carried on thinking, reading, studying, and planning. When the internet arrived I started talking with other beekeepers about the principles of stock keeping, raising resistance, non-treatment regimes.
I started to realise that those who were having the most success often misread, in an important way, the reasons for their success (I'm thinking about Dee Lusby here) Almost nobody was talking about evolution, natural selection or breeding. As the internet speeded up, it became apparent that almost everybody talking about non-treatment lacked a good understanding of the theoretical basis of stock keeping. And so, about 6 years ago, with the help of a well regarded doctor of microbiology, I wrote up what I thought was happening. (The essay can be found at url at my signature) I've talked about it with scientists beekeepers, regulators, anyone who wants to talk - ever since. This has been a major part of my life. If I wrote it again I'd do it differently, but I've found nothing that leads me to think the basic analysis is wrong. I've never felt the need to alter it.
4 years ago I bought the piece of land I needed to start working on bees. I made arrangement to locate swarms and cut-outs, and sent 3 into winter in autumn 2011. Two came through, and built up, and I multiplied and added swarms to about 50 last last year. Many were late, many never built - we had one of the wettest summers on record - and I ruthlessly let them die in one of the coldest winters we've seen in a generation, 2012-13. 7 came through, 4 were outstanding. From them, with the help of a handful of swarms, I've raised numbers to 36 - aiming to about double that into winter. The bees are fantastic - they build like billio, fetch honey like mad - and they've been helped by a grand summer. There has been no treatment of any sort, and no manipulation against mites.
So its early days. I'm not yet in a position to say I've succeded, but I can say I'm trying, and that things are currently looking very good.
I can also say I've done my homework. I'm in contact with, and seek advice from some of the best in the non-treatment world.
From where I sit, knowing what to do, in any circumstances looks easy. You  just apply the principles of stock keeping to bees. You'll find out exactly how to do this if you read the right beekeeping books (and, as importantly, avoid the many more wrong ones). But it took a lot of time to get here. And I can see many people - like some of thee - who aren't clear about the principles, who don't know which books to trust, and who struggle to see how in this topic theory really can predict and direct real outcomes.
At the bottom its simple. Get good bees, and look after them.
By that I mean only this - take care of the genes that make them good. Make sure that as much as humanely possible those genes and only those genes make the next generation, on a continuous basis. Focus on your breeding pool at least as much as your individuals. Bees mate openly, so you must treat them like wild animals and don't help laggards.
These are stockman's, or husbandryman's, principles. And principles matter. These are descriptions of apects of Nature's Law, and they are inviolable. To the extent that you break them things will go wrong. Period. To the extent that you follow them things will work. Period.
If it isn't working, you're not following them. That might be due to matters you can't control - that is so for many people. But understanding the principles allows you to see what must be changed in order to meet their requirements, and to make plans to do so.
That might, depending on circumstances be almost impossible. Or it might be like falling off a log. But what doesn't change, anywhere, anytime, are the principles. They are comprehensively established by deep theory, supported by billions of observations (science). Written in the bible. The medievals had a neat universal dictum: 'Put only best to best'. That is so simple. Just the same as the beans.
Put the principles into practice, in the certain knowledge: if you can do that, you will succeed, as others have done. If you can't, you will fail, as others have done.
Your success hinges entirely upon your ability to apply the principles of population husbandry.
 Barry, I've tried to follow your advice, but when I say 'you' like that, it just means anyone. I can't rejig the whole grammar to avoid it without a lot of work.
Last edited by mike bispham; 07-26-2013 at 06:14 AM.
Mike what your thread essentially is saying is that you are practising the bond method.
Quite a few here are doing the same. But it only works if some survive. If you lose 100%, nothing is gained. Which is what happened to me.
However the bond method is not the only way. There are several good breeding programs going on that use completely different methods and philosophies.
Where is it that Dee Lusby has gone wrong?
44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).
1. I was taught this also. My question is. If in fact this method did work. Why is it that you had to select year after year? That you would still have to select to this day. How is it that you will still find the inferior bean? I say it is something along the thinking that nature has a wide variety of traits that it preserves to maintain the natural survival of a species. But man has a very narrow selection of traits that they consider beneficial. It is a process something like trying to sort the needle from the hay stack. Not only that but in the process we cause the organism to become more and more unsuitable for survival. I was also taught this method very clearly. but I also see much evidence it accomplishes little if anything. Until just 10 years ago or so I had little understand of why.
30 years ago I spent a period of time interested in rearing Game cocks for the purpose of producing Hackle for fly tying. I never did. But I did look into it and have remained interested enough in it to realize that I would never put the effort toward it it would require. I have been able to folow the career of someone that did though. Almost from the same time I considered taking it up another did. Dr, Whiting who has sense not only accomplished what was once considered impossible, but has done so repeatedly, reliably and predictably. He single handedly has completely re written what can be done with feathers. He not only can breed he can breed what would basically amount to mutations to the point they are repeatable. In short I pay attention to a person that is doing it. I think they probably know how it is done. and in this case he does. His understanding of the mechanisms is staggering. Genetics in a nut shell is far more than just dominant and recessive and two genes. far far more.
Just one example. white in a chicken is a mutation. so why do we have so many white chickens? Not only is white a mutation it is a recessive gene. And to make it worse it is not only recessive but it is a recessive gene that does not have full effect with the first generation but requires a string of generations or "Doses" to eventually be expressed. So how is it that a recessive trait that must remain recessive from generation to generation become one of the most common color in some breeds of chickens? and remain that way? To bred a white chicken you start with two black ones. Explain that. In all I do not see that picking out the best bean works. Ti is far far more complex than that. I also do not agree that natural selection works for the purpose of husbandry. ti may work wonders for a wild population to always have individuals that will survive any conditions. but natural selection does just the opposite of what husbandry is looking for.
2. you can spend an entire lifetime driving a car and never understand one thing about fixing one. that does not mean yo are unfit to be in the drivers seat. it means you are unfit to be in the garage. Keeping bees will never result in being a breeder of bees. Understanding of the mechanisms is not intuitive or obvious. and effectiveness at breeding is highly dependent on understanding the mechanisms. I will add I do not consider that a bee breeder with that understanding exists. I do not believe a breeder exists for bees that is effective. No more than I think picking out the best beans works. it may make for some lovely memories and some wonderful conversation. but it does not make better beans. I remember all farmers saving the highest yielding areas of their crop for the next years seed. Except one and he had a slight addition to how he selected seed. he selected the best growing plants form his worst soil. I could see for myself that even this slight alteration to his selection process made a difference. Even his poor yielding areas began to improve. he did not just try to improve from his best. He improved his worst as well. He actually preferred seed from the plants where most plants could not grow. that to him seemed like the strongest fittest plants. anything can thrive in good conditions. He even told me that harvesting seed from the best was like sifting with no screen. This person always was and still continues to be the most successful farmer I have ever known.
3. I agree that as a general rule it is right. But then we are not talking about wild animals here and we are not talking about animals that are subjected to natural conditions. I also understand that not helping a wild animal usually means it will die.
4. I also grew up around such conversations. and more often than not it is a situation of the blind leading the blind. It becomes a situation of them all doing the same thing for the same reason most of which are not relevant to producing better results. They are usually limited by the industry. resources. traditional methods and support. What if it where proven that the European Honey Bee cannot possibly be kept disease free in a langstroth hive. Would the industry be willing to give up the langstroth? Tough choice and there are many such tough choices. many of which beekeepers would not change even if they did know it was part of the problem. They will not give up beekeeping simply becasue it results in disease after disease threatening the bee.
Does modern agriculture recognize that you cannot wipe out habitat for natural pollinators including providing conditions to maintain Honey Bees? no it does not. it artificially provides the pollinators when they are needed.
I recently produced virgin queens from 4 of my colonies. I had in my mind which queens I considered best to worst. Now that some of those virgins are starting to lay and reveal something about their quality. guess which queens are indication they are the best. The ones that came from my number 4 choice. So much for picking out the best. It does not seem to me to be reliable. What I want to know is what are the mechanisms of producing better quality queens and how can I recognize or even measure them.
Are you aware of lethal gene combinations? What if in fact the genetics for mite resistance are in fact also a lethal gene combination? The complete inability to make progress toward mite resistance could in fact be indicating that it is.
Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.
Know who to listen to in here, most of the names with the big post numbers are not treatment free and frankly don't belong in this forum because they don't ever intend to be. They have no investment in the method, the reasons behind doing it, or the results. That's the fact of the matter. When you do something like this that goes against decades on entrenched ideology, you're going to get a lot of resistance. After being told for years that it couldn't be done, that it wouldn't work, and that a crash was always right around the corner (that one still happens regularly), I and others are still doing it and most of us are interested in helping new ones do it too.
And it doesn't start with apiary hives with long lineages of treated parents. You (me, you, anyone) maximise your chances of not losing the lot by getting hold of bees that already resistant - feral or bred resistant - to start with. With bought/treated colonies you have around a 1 in ten chance of sufficient resistance. Those are rubbish odds. Is that what you did?
You continue to maintain that resistance as you make increase by using as parents only those that have flourished through a winter close down and spring build up, and by maintaining high drone populations in your prime hives.
You keep an apiary as a mating yard for these purposes, siting it away from other beekeepers and building in your chances of good matings by keeping large hives at all points of the compass around. (I haven't got this far yet - its a development planned for next year.
Dee Lusby goes wrong (in public) by emphasising small celling. What she and her followers fail to do is give due credit to their insistence on 'taking your losses' through not treating. This removes the mite-vulnerable strains, and, I'm not alone in thinking, is probably responsible for 75% or so of the 'organic' crowd's success. If you ask her about this she'll freely admit that she always breeds in traditional manner as a matter of course. But she emphasises only the free-cell/small cell aspect.
I also use only starter strip only in brood frames to allow the bees to choose their own cell sizes. I _think_ it may make some difference, but I _know_ selective propagation does.
I'd like to hear about these other good breeding programmes, methods and philosophies.
Last edited by mike bispham; 07-26-2013 at 10:32 AM.
Is it a treatment for you to eat? Are you treating your dog by giving him kibbles?
Read the forum rules.
This is absurd.
You get inferior beans because not every throw of the dice is a good one, and because things like viruses infect and weaken the more vulnerable and the plain unluckly.
I breed toward self-sufficiency first and foremost.. I want my strains to promote health and endurance in the local feral population. That takes in varroa resistance, something a bit vague often described as 'vigor', and it results in good productivity. I aim to not interfere in the process of adaptation to local seasonal circumstances. And so on. I try to be a considerate propagator, honouring the needs of the species.
In nature there is a fundamental aspect of natural selection that works on the fact that populations produce more offspring than are needed for replacement purposes. This is called 'over-fecundity'. nature produces too many offspring, then sets up a series of competitions that 'discover' the strongest, best suited, and allows them to produce the next generation in (much) larger numbers than the rest. so each new generation is made mostly from the best of the last.
This is 'natural' selection. Its costly. Depending on species, a great many individuals die without becoming parents. That isn't a happy state of affairs for stock keepers. So they, copying nature, do the selecting part, thus getting the healthiest available next generation without the losses that nature would arrange.
Along the way the selectors also tend to modify the species - which is how all our domestic animals and plants came to be - through thousands of years of deliberate selection in the knowledge that it works as a maximisor of yield, in the context that yield was often a matter of life or death.
There is 'Natural selection' and 'human selection'. They are mutually exclusive categories.
However in most husbandry both are factors.
Its simple, within a complex system. And it works today just as it has worked for thousands of years.
And its a million time better in terms of preserving genetic diversity than the current orthodoxy.
Last edited by mike bispham; 07-26-2013 at 10:11 AM.
A couple of comments:
#1 is just good practice. That's doing less of a bad thing that everybody else does. That's beekeeping.
#2 is your treatment. Good for no residual chemicals, but still a lot of work and breeding for bees that require that kind of care. A reasonable intermediate step, but one that I have never practiced.
#3 is a good idea, but that's just general animal husbandry, beekeeping.
#4 is preventing other hives from being exposed to disease that they would normally be exposed to. Robbing is natural, it's good for the population as a whole, eliminating weak hives and exposing strong hives to disease.
#5 is #2 depending on how you do it. Absent explanation, I assume you mean walk-away splits, in which case it is #2. You wouldn't want to multiply a hive with a mite problem unless you didn't have any other option.
#6 is good practice and in fact what happens in nature upon the periodic death of a hive (including #4) and cleanup of old comb by wax moths.
My advice (since that is what this thread is about) would be to wean yourself off #2, forget about #4, and do #5 better thereby eliminating the need for #2 and enhancing the effect of #3. Keep doing #1 because it's a good idea and #6 is all about doing something artificially that would normally be done naturally so you can maintain a useful productive hive, which is....beekeeping.
Re: #4 about my not letting hives completely crash to be robbed out and your response that it's natural and a good thing.
I agree with you, but it's a concession I make for my beekeeping neighbors who have a problem with it.
Thanks for the help.