Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?
I started from scratch in March of 2009, totally treatment free and on small cell, screened bottoms w/top entrances. I bought hygienic queens from different sources for genetic diversity. The colonies I bought were all on large cell but I quickly [within a few months] converted them to small cells by dropping small cell frames in between the large cells and as the small cell frames were drawn out I removed the large cells. After my first 2 years, I covered my costs of all my bees, queens, and equipment purchased, including 20 frame extractor, uncapping plane etc, even kept up with my gas expense. But, of course I am small time and don’t count; and this was during a time of severe drought here in Texas.
Last year, I had my greatest losses. Moved my bees to west Texas on sunflowers with the bee coordinator telling me that they don’t spray, while we are standing there ¼ mile off a plane is spraying sunflowers. Then he tells me they only spray early in the morning or late in the evening when the bees aren’t out. He is telling me this at about 10:30 a.m. while we are standing there watching the plane spray the sunflowers, needless to say I moved my bees back several hundred miles to a friends house until we found irrigated cotton in that same area that the farmer assured us wasn’t getting sprayed. I went with 16 colonies, and brought home only 13, all with low bee populations. I lost down to 9 before I could get them built back up for winter. So, I guess I can say from experience that moving [migrating] all over the State is hard on bees, even treatment free bees. All 9 of those came through the winter, but one was queenless but still had a good bee population. I have still cleared several thousand more than I have invested.
I have now split to 17, and hope to split more and sale 15-20 colonies this year and produce 600-1000# of honey as I have a local market for that much honey, and I clear a whole lot more than the wholesale price of $2.00 per pound. I have sold 10 double deep colonies over the last 2 years, all treatment free, and those I have sold them to have only suffered 1 loss [cause of loss unknown, but I suspect they starved during the drought], all treatment free. I wouldn’t consider myself commercial but I am not doing this for the fun of it either; but rather, I do it to earn money to at least help provide for my needs.
I have had a few losses over the past 4 years, but my greatest losses were covered above while moving my bees all over Texas during the drought last year. Of course I am not materialistically inclined, and having food and raiment I try to be content [I Tim. 6:8].
Can this be done on a commercial scale, apparently as Chris Baldwin, Dee Lusby, Michael Bush and others are doing. But don’t try to fit my methods and needs into your category because I don’t know that I would want to live my life in your shoes, nor would you probably want to live yours in mine. My life is somewhat like a boxing match, I try to roll with the punches, and if I get knocked down, I try to get back up and avoid that same left hook next time. But I won't treat my colonies although I will use management techniques that enhance my chance of success, whatever that might be, other than chemical treatments.
"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Nathan Hale, 1776