Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping
Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping
Been beekeeping 5 years without chemicals, & my losses are lower than the club members who treat with chems.
Our 4 year loss average is about 19%.
without getting into everything else..
bee = cells in dogs body.
hive = single dog.
Then of course, just as the ***** mated to produce the puppy - the super-organism - the new queen must mate with a range of drones to produce her hive superorganism.
While the pup gets 50% of its genes from its mother, I reckon the example hive here shares only about 27.5% of the parent hive's genes.
And then of course many splits do not raise their own queens... so ultimately may have no genetic tie at all.
LOL - ok, sorry,... so read the multiple stars as 'the name for a female dog'
Barry, I swear I was being technically correct... not technically swearing.
Two years ago I was a new beekeeper. Since then I have learned much, developed a bee allergy and been desensitized, and lost all my hives the first winter. This winter I brought through five out of five, three of which would not have made it without mite treatments. The fourth might have survived but got treated anyway, and the fifth I did not treat as it had almost no mites.
Here's my advice: Decide what kind of beekeeper you are. Are you the type, like me, who invests your heart and soul and a fair proportion of your limited financial resources into beekeeping? Or is beekeeping merely a side pursuit, like deciding to plant a few apple trees in the back yard, or getting a few chickens for fresh eggs?
If you fall in the latter group, you can go treatment-free. You will probably lose hives to mites, unless you can get bees from an established treatment-free apiary and continue their practices. Even then you might lose hives to mites, if other hives in your area are heavily infested. But it will be no huge loss, rather like if the deer munch those apple trees, and you will start again next year or decide beekeeping isn't for you.
If you fall in the first group, then I recommend doing all you can to keep your bees alive the first year or two. You can draw the line somewhere, e.g. no synthetic chemicals that leave residues in wax, but do not be afraid to treat for mites if you see that your bees have more than a few. Despite the loud proclamations of some advocates of "natural" beekeeping, using mite treatments does not make you impure, contribute to the ongoing plight of the honeybee, or generally make you a bad person. Yes, it is in the best interests of both bees and beekeepers to develop bees that can withstand mites without chemicals. But that is a long, challenging, and ongoing effort, and not one that you need to take on in your first year with bees. When you have mastered the basics and come out of winter with multiple hives, then by all means start experimenting with treatment-free approaches.
Approaches like drone trapping and powdered sugar dusting require frequent inspections and handling of the bees. This exacerbates the new beekeeper tendency to open the hive weekly or more often. Don't. It is easy to crush or drop the queen with novice hands, and frequent disturbance will decrease the already-low chances of getting honey your first year.
Formic acid, thymol, and oxalic acid are the mainstays of non-synthetic mite treatments. Commercial beekeepers use all three with good success. All can be hard on bees, but they do not leave harmful residues. Remember that bees are short-lived creatures, and the next generation will have no residual effect of the treatment but will be much better off for having lower mite loads. Count your mites in August, and treat if counts are high. Thymol and formic acid are good summer treatments. If they don't work (and they sometimes don't) or they don't work well, then follow up with oxalic in early December when the bees are broodless. Its effect is almost miraculous. If you had a heavy infestation you will see thousands of mites fall in a few days, and essentially zero thereafter.
Manage mites because you can see them. Live and let die is not a good approach if you are emotionally invested in your bees' survival. As for the other two chemicals commonly placed in hives, fumagilin and terramycin, I don't especially recommend them. Terramycin suppresses (but does not kill) the bacterium that causes American Foulbrood (AFB). AFB is nasty (infected hives should be burned, pressure-sterilized, or irradiated) but is not common. If you see AFB your first year you are either very unlucky, you purchased contaminated equipment, or your supplier has a problem. Continuous prophylactic antibiotic treatment breeds resistance and is generally a bad idea. Fumagilin used to be a reliable nosema treatment but is significantly less effective against the new, now ubiquitous strain of the disease (N. ceranae). It is expensive and toxic to humans, and while it does degrade over time it is detectable in honey at low levels if used as recommended. If you really want to follow IPM, you can send a bee sample to a lab for nosema testing and treat if you have a high spore count.
You will probably not see AFB your first year, and you may or may not see nosema, but you will see mites in every hive. If winter survival is important to you, plan to do something about mites, and be open to using stronger, more effective non-synthetics (thymol, formic acid, oxalic acid) if softer methods are not working. These chemicals are a bit nasty in high concentrations, but they are all natural components of food (thymol in thyme and oregano, formic acid in fruits, oxalic acid in rhubarb and spinach), and any low concentrations persisting in honey will be entirely non-harmful.
Michael Bush will point out that essential oils (including thymol) and acids affect the microflora of the hive and bee gut, likely to the detriment of the bee. This is true, but mites vector viruses and suck hemolymph, to the very great detriment of the bee. Imagine one or two horseshoe crab-sized parasites attached to your body. They are a factor in most hive collapses, even if not the proximate cause.
Just the advice I would give to myself if I were starting fresh with bees...
Extremely well written. Agree entirely.
I will mention to the OP that current research by Dr. Ellis at U of Nebraska is that sugar dusting will only get about 30% of the mites, and realize you're only getting the phoretic mites. Taking the time to dust every frame for a 30% drop is not worth your while at all.
Also, as Luterra wrote, count your mites. Do a real count with an alcohol wash or sugar roll (sugar rolls work because of sugar+heat). Don't just "look" at the bees to determine if you have a high mite load. You can't tell, at least not your first year.
Sure, miticides will kill mites. But they don't kill every mite in the hive, usually, and those that survive to breed up again are mites that have demonstrated some degree of resistance to the chemicals used to kill them. Rinse, repeat, and sooner or later, the miticide will stop being an effective means of control. I don't think anyone would dispute this, since it has already happened. The beekeeper who starts this kind of treatment regimen has put himself in the position of hoping that pesticide developers will come out with some new miticide that will work... before they get run out of business. I just don't see how this is a sustainable approach.
Are you familiar with Kirk Webster, a Vermont commercial beekeeper who does not treat? His hives are not any more likely to die than the hives of many other commercial beekeepers, and less likely to die than the hives of some who treat. Recently there was an article in the NY Times about the rough winter many bigtime beekeepers have had. For example, the Adees, who, it is claimed, are the biggest beekeepers in the U.S, had 55 percent losses, and another big outfit from their neck of the woods had losses approaching 80 percent.
I think that perhaps the question new beekeepers should ask themselves is: are things getting better or worse for those who follow the regimen you recommend. At least some of the evidence suggests that the trend is not promising.
As I tried to say, we need folks out there working hard to develop treatment-free bees. This is happening, as can be attested by the treatment-free board and early-adopter commercial beeks like Kirk Webster. My point is that new beekeepers with one or two hives are not going to substantially add to or detract from this overall effort, and it is therefore better to focus on keeping bees alive with all options on the table than to add the challenge of going treatment free. The typical newbie setup is a mail-order package with a mass-produced California queen, and as these have not been selected to handle mites without treatment, any attempt to go cold-turkey treatment free is likely to end in disappointment.
The very fact that you use 'infections' plural proves my point. Constantly suffering from infections and having to use artificial cures is a treadmill going nowhere.I treat ear infections with antibiotics, don't feel devastated.
The difference is that with our own children and pets we don't care if we are weakening the species or creating stronger infections. We just want to help that creature, which is why we have a nation of sick children that can't live without medicine and animals that can't live without human intervention.
I could go on and one about this subject but its something that everyone should have learned in highschool biology so I won't waste my time. These principles have been well understood for a hundred years and have been proven over and over again. Its not faith or green living or any type ideology. Its hard science and can be tested experimentally in your own home.
If you want to read an entertaining/terrifying book on exactly how badly our attempts to fight parasites have backfired I highly recommend this book, its a fast read and easy to understand for the layman.
It al depends on what your goal is. If you judge success by how large your population is we have done very well, if you judge it by how strong that population is we are in terrible condition. We are mostly fat blind and on a host of chemicals that we must take daily to maintain even this pathetic condition. The very size of our population puts us in peril as well. Most of us are one week without power away from starvation and death. Our overwintering abilities are now worse than our bees.Much easier lifestyle and we know a lot more about childbirth problems.
What you can't predict is how long these infants will live and what quality of life they will have. I bet it will not be as good.
Last edited by Aerindel; 04-02-2013 at 12:47 AM.
I'm a new beekeeper myself. I'm not going to be shocked if my colonies expire from lack of treatment. I'll surely be sad and disappointed, but I guess the upside will be comb for next year, and the learning experience of caring for the colonies as long as they last. I did try to skew the odds a little in my favor. My first hive came from a nuc I bought from a local beekeeper who has had pretty good success in keeping his hives alive. So I do have local adaptation going or me. I know not every potential beekeeper will be lucky enough to do that, but my second hive will be started from a package of small cell untreated bees (coming this week, I hope!) I'm going to make nucs from these colonies, as insurance against the likelihood that the producing hives may collapse, and try to take advantage of the ensuing brood break to keep mites from reaching critical mass. Might not work, but again, I'll be learning. I'll at least have the satisfaction of knowing that if my bees die, I didn't push them over the edge by doing something to them that created a stressor that they would never encounter in the wild.
In May, I'm setting up a couple more hives in the North Country of upstate NY. I'm getting nucs from a NY beekeeper. Again, I'm hoping for a learning experience. I've made up a number of swarm traps to put on our property, because there's pretty good indications of feral colonies in the surrounding mix of woods and old rough pasture. Again, I plan to make up some nucs, in order to import some of the local genetics into my stock.
I'm just a beginning hobbyist, with no ambition to ever run a commercial outfit. I'm too old and have too many other things to do before I kick the bucket. But there are, I discovered, things that can be done to avoid the certainty that my treatment free bees will quickly expire, and I'm doing everything I can along those lines. As an example, I'm going foundationless, (and so far my bees are drawing beautiful comb.)
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if a new beekeeper wants to try going treatment free, maybe it would be more helpful to try to educate him in all the approaches he can take to try to keep his bees alive without treatment. With only a couple hives, he can't do much in the way of developing good genetics, other than requeening with resistant queens. But he can avoid killing off benign microflora in the hive and in the bees. (In the beginning beekeeper lecture at my club, the presenter showed us how he pours a bunch of terramycin into his hive several times a year.) He can avoid killing bees with treatments like formic acid. He can use brood breaks to knock down mite loads.
Maybe these things won't work, but at least he's learning about treatment free beekeeping, which is what he wanted to do. If he treats, then he's not learning what he wanted to learn about, and it seems like once you start treating, it's hard to get off that road.
Better to lose a few hives, and learn what you can than to regret never giving what you really wanted to do a fair shot.
Read the latest ABJ (April 2013) interview with Dennis Van Engelsdorp (Bee Informed Partnership). He states (direct quote, exactly including all caps), " YOU NEED TO TREAT FOR MITES. It's astonishing to me how many don't! There seems to be a belief that if you just don't treat colonies in your back yard that suddenly resistance will spring up. This is nonsense in my opinion."
I think Luterra's post sums it up nicely. You have to decide for yourself what approach to take. I think there's a visceral resistance to treating bees since we extract and consume honey from those boxes! Beekeepers (in general) are a more "natural" minded lot from my experience. But, at the end of the day, I think one must remain grounded in reality when devising their beekeeping management goals/protocols in their apiary. Beekeeping is a MAJOR investment, no matter how much actual cash you lay out. Time = MONEY (the older I get the more real this becomes BTW) , and I think is overlooked by most. There are also tons of hidden costs such as gas, storage space and actual apiary footprint. At the end of the day, the average beekeeper as well as package producers and queen breeder isn't going to produce or sell bees that are going to beat the mite.
The best and the brightest in beekeeping all lose hives! Treating for mites successfully without harsh chemicals is also a reality. The REAL issue is whether you're going to treat (with something) or decide to go whole hog beekeeping and produce your own replenishment stock. For large commercial operations it's a simple business decision that is easy to quantify with pencil and paper. For the backyard beekeeper, more personal. Just how much time and resources are you going to/willing to invest in this hobby/way of life/addiction?
I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. -Richard Feynman
When we stared beekeeping we intended to go non-chemical too. We bought mite resistant bees, and in subsequent years mite resistant queens. We never got a hive that did not reach threshhold for mites. I have stopped using tylosin unless there is a defanit need. We have spent a lot of money buying special queens with little reward. Like Michael Bush states any treatment will alter the flora and fauna of a hive, but of the beekeepers I know, the only ones with healthy bees treat. The development of mite resistant bees is the ultimate goal, but we are not there yet. What I do not understand is why MB techniques have not been more widely accepted and proliferated.
that's the point, what i was trying to say was...if your bees are going to die due to a serious mite infestation, and related diseases. (sick). then knock down that mite population and save your bees.(treat them).
you would never medicate your kids if they are healthy.
if giving your bees some other extract or oil knocks down the mites enough for the bees to survive a harsh winter then more power to ya.
There are certain facts one can put forward to support a decision not to treat. One is that some beekeepers do not treat and their hives survive.
As an example, Michael Bush says that he no longer has problems with mites, even though they are present in his hives. If I lived in the same region as Michael, bought my bees or queens from Michael, and followed the cultural practices he does, why couldn't I expect to have the same success with mites? And far as the idea that "Time is Money," I think he would agree. He says he manages 200 hives with the same amount of time he once used to take care of a half dozen, if I remember correctly, and much of that time and effort saving comes from not doing stuff that the bee journal experts say beekeepers must do.
Well, I can't get his bees, this year anyway, and I don't live in his region, but that doesn't mean I have no other options.
Speaking of bee journals, I saw a pretty interesting article in the March Bee Culture, called _Why Treat for Varroa?_ According to the author, treating doesn't work a whole lot better than not treating, and he seems to have some data to back up this opinion. The marginal benefit of treating for Varroa was only 7 to 15 percent-- to put it another way, if you treat, you have a 7 to 15 percent survival advantage over someone who does not treat. In other words, a few more of your hives might die than his. This is an advantage that can be overcome fairly easily by a modest amount of increase. And really, how hard is it to split off a couple of nucs? If you use D. Coates' brilliant plywood nuc box plans, you can get 4 nucs out of a single sheet of plywood.
When you think about this, also consider the fact that any expert with a lick of sense will admit that over time, any particular chemical approach to mite control will become less effective. It always happens, with any pest that has a high reproductive rate, not just varroa. If you treat, you put yourself in the position of hoping that the developers can come up with something new before the current treatments become ineffective.
That's some major optimism, in the long term.
If treatment were a reliable way of keeping bees healthy, most sensible folks would do it. But the evidence suggests that it is not.