I have exactly ONE hive more than you.
That makes my opinion beyond question.
Mr. Lyon wrote:
is it too much of a stretch to wonder if higher numbers of hives might lead to a higher probability of cross breeding in mites which are then rapidly spread via robbing?
And there we have the answer to the commercial vs/ hobbiest attitudes. The larger gene pool of the commercial operator allows the mite to maintain it's virility.
Beemandan - for reference, we peaked around 420 hives last summer. Still rebuilding from CCD in 2006.
We treat our bees in the spring like Ian. One advantage is that now populations are at their lowest, so one can use less strips of apivar. The makers of Apivar recommend 1 strip for every 5 frames of bees. In our case most of our hives fall in the range of 5 -10 frames of bees, whereas if we treated in the fall we would have to use 4 strips per hive. Now we can treat with 1 or 2 strips. Most hives have the bees in the top box so no need to crack hives to place strips in the bottom box. I think the varroa are more susceptible to the treatment seeing that they are older after spending the winter on the adult bees. They have not been reproducing seeing as how there is no brood. If bees are indeed in the top box there is little chance that the varroa can crawl back up to a bee. There is limited activity in our hives. The weather is a little cool and wet here. In Ian's neighbourhood it is downright hostile. Bees may not fly for the next 2-4 weeks on account of the cold weather.
Viruses are the issue now. They are in all the bees now. They just need a chance to grow and varroa provides them with that opportunity.
As has been pointed out, inbreeding is the norm in varroa. Regardless of the size of the operation, varroa do cross breed regularly though. Tom Seeley, I believe, advanced the idea of less virulent mites after finding some heavily infested feral colonies that appeared to be surviving in spite of it.
In my opinion, even if mites became less virulent beekeepers who make their living from bees would still have to treat. The colonies that Seeley found did appear to be surviving but the mite loads were heavy all the same. And in the world of commercial beekeeping survival is not enough. Those mites are parasites. They will still parasitize developing bees, adult bees and vector disease. They will still sap the colony’s vigor, just not enough for a full collapse. A commercial beekeeper with 5000 surviving colonies that produce half the surplus or cannot build up well enough for pollination…that beekeeper is going to have to find another way to make his living.
There are two lines of thinking about natural varroa control, in my opinion.
The first is honey bee genetics. Find or breed a bee that will somehow keep varroa populations low…at the same time keeping the desirable qualities i.e. honey production, gentle demeanor etc. Russians and the various hygienics are examples of those attempts. One of the reasons that we haven’t seen greater acceptance of ‘new’ breeds of bees within commercial operations is that they have gotten the reputation for falling short in some of those other important areas.
The other natural control concept is to ‘breed’ a less virulent mite. At this juncture, I don’t see a practical way.
But…if we could breed a productive, workable, varroa tolerant bee AND a less virulent mite…..then we might have something!
How many commercial beekeepers raise their own queens? I find raising one's own queens to be essential in treatment-free beekeeping.
Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline
"People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney
I think you make an excellent point. One's objective/goals will greatly influence the decisions that one makes. I disagree with the fact that a backyard beekeeper can afford to close his eyes to reality anymore than a commercial beekeeper can. The end result will be dead hives & loss of money for both, obliviously on a much larger scale for the commercial beekeeper. And yes, varroa is, for most, the largest issue they have to deal with. I say most because SHB are my worst problem. I won't bother to say anything about mites because you wouldn't believe me anyway.
You made another statement; " We see, every day, posts from new beekeepers who’ve had their hives collapse. And, nearly without exception, when they list their suspected culprits….they fail to mention the most likely. Why do you suppose that might be? " I think the answer to that question lies in your own words, NEW. That one single word tells me that the loss of those hives were due to multiple mistakes and yes I would agree that varroa will most of the time come into play. This is because they are not be properly trained to spot & deal with these issues. And again there also lies the problem. No agreement between beekeepers as to how to spot & deal with problems. As I see it, it the " ACCEPTED " beekeeping practices that have helped create the problems we all face regardless what level we keep bees on.
All things may be lawful; but not all things are advantagous.
The further south you go...the more serious shb become. I see that you are in TN....which means that I am south of you. I understand small hive beetles.
If you told me that you tested for varroa in a recognized formal fashion...then I would believe whatever you told me about your varroa. If you tell me that they aren't a problem for you and you don't do any testing...I'll believe that you have no idea.
It is important to point out that if you want to truly get bees that have some level of resistance to mites the breeder needs to get actual mite counts by pulling pupae and doing systematic counts. That takes some degree of patience and pain staking work. Good nreeders do that. We recently screened 80 of our own hives as potential breeders via ether rolls. 77 were negative. Do those hives have mites? Heck yes they do but with so much open brood it's really hard to get a handle on what the true mite numbers are. Any claims by beekeepers that mites aren't a problem for them need to be asked how and when are you testing.
Thanks for your well wishes and I wish the same for you. I think that it may be safe to say that we don't completely agree, and don't completely disagree. It is clear that we both have a passion for beekeeping and that we both are truly concerned about the future of beekeeping. As to varroa testing, I do test using sticky boards, powder sugar rolls, and ether rolls. I am always open to suggestions from others because I am the type who never stops learning.
Best to you & yours.
All things may be lawful; but not all things are advantagous.
very nice exchange here, and very imformative. thanks to all for contributing.
just a sideliner here, starting my fourth season, and have not treated for mites (yet).
after starting with treatment free bees, and having zero losses the first three winters, i lost 6 out of 18 this winter. a heavy mite infestation was identified in one, while queen failure (perhaps brought on by mites) appears to have been the problem in the other five.
as a beginner, i did find it overwhelming (in a good way) at first. there was so much to learn and do that i simply put testing for mites on the backburner. after buying treatment free bees and experiencing no losses i was lulled into complacency toward mites.
i will definitely be testing all of the hives this year, and will try to use that information to help decide which queens to graft from, which hives to requeen, and which hives to dequeen and split up into mating nucs.
i am trying to make a profit with the sideline, but i don't mind experimenting to see if i can propagate a line of bees that can coexist with mites off treatments.
if it is not possible to keep my losses to a minimum, i will consider using a fall treatment, most likely an organic acid.
journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives
Early days yet. I haven't treated yet either. Some time after splits are made and soon before colonies go North for apple pollination.
And before someone corrects my sense of direction, NY is North of here. lol
Squeak Creek Apiaries
Er, no. SC.
Squeak Creek Apiaries
Confusion is legal in CO.
Buy the ticket, take the ride. -H.S. Thompson
p counting Varroa?
Now I always look to see what my losses are about and they USED to be from Varroa. Why would I keep monitoring Varroa when they haven't been an issue for me for a decade? I have better things to do with my time.[/QUOTE]
Michael, I appreciate the efforts you have made in the name of treatment free beekeeping and I admire the success which you have achieved while being treatment free.
You other guys, give it at least 5 years of treatment free success, imo, before bragging about it too much.
I don't 'count' my mites either; however, I do sometimes take pieces of drone cell larvae and break them open too see how 'prevalent' the mites are. No count, just observe. I just had an unusual experience when I found lots of what was apparently chalkbrood in some drones and few mites. What I usually see is mites! And if I see a lot of mites I will tear out some drones (natural cell).
So Michael, I'd appreciate it if you would take the time to break open a piece of drone comb or 2 this year so you can tell us your mite observations (lots, some, few, none), as I remain curious while knowing full well that if I went treatment free.............................................. ..it would be bad.