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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
    Posts
    1,991

    Default Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    I'd like to hear from people who are managing at least part of their apiaries treatment free.

    I'd like to know how many colonies your running treatment free, (and by that I mean in the truest sense - if you use some method of mite control please include it), and how long have the colonies been treatment free.

    How are you doing overall?

    ••••••••

    For myself, I had 11 colonies as of last Fall, and I'm presently down to 6. I feel that one really has to maintain a larger number of colonies to be able to handle the dips. So I began rearing queens this season, and I hope to create additional colonies as nucs in July. At the moment, it really feels like reaching my goals with treatment free bees is not going to be easy. It's daunting, but I am still determined to stick with it.

    I'm determined to figure it out; to keep trying things and approaches until I reach a sustainable population of bees without treatments. That, as opposed to "giving treatment free a try". I understand people taking that approach, but I feel like more of us have to commit ourselves to actually getting there, or it will never happen.

    To quote Arthur C. Clarke:

    "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. "


    I'm feeling somewhat discouraged at the moment, and I found Clarke's quote inspirational. I'm interested in hearing from others.

    Thanks,

    Adam

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
    Posts
    28,061

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    You will never know how far you can really go until you have gone too far.
    Mark Berninghausen
    Squeak Creek Apiaries



  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Big Stone Gap, VA
    Posts
    988

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    I have 13 colonies that are treatment free. Six of those were overwintered colonies. My other seven colonies are from six splits and one swarm. The swarm may possibly came from one of my hives. My best overwintered hive has two ten frame capped medium supers on it right now, and third partial medium. This is a third year untreated hive.

    All of my bees are local bees on foundationless frames.

    Shane

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    jackson county, alabama, usa
    Posts
    4,758

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    this is my fourth season keeping bees and i now have 12 full size colonies and 15 nucs that have not received any mite treatments.

    i lost one hive last fall that was heavily infested with mites, but most of my losses have been the result of queen failure as evidenced by laying workers in late winter, (and perhaps secondary to varroa). all of those losses occured last winter after having zero losses the first two winters. overwintering the nucs this year will give me the resources to prevent these kind of losses going forward.

    my bees were obtained from a supplier that started 16 years ago with feral cut outs and has never treated. so these bees are derived from locally adapted feral survivors, and i am blessed to live in an area with an abundance of natural forage almost year round.

    one thing i have noticed is that they have been naturally giving themselves a brood break, either by swarming or by supercedure.

    i am still harvesting honey after a very productive spring. the hives that did not swarm are easily yielding 120 lbs. surplus even after drawing out a super or two of foundation. the ones that swarmed are yielding more like 60 lbs. and they didn't draw out much wax for me.

    i am happy with the productivity and workability of these treatment free bees, but they do like to swarm. now that i am accumulating enough drawn comb and getting a feel for swarm prevention (which means i need to not let them stop moving up into the next box) i think i can get my average up to 100+ lbs. and still leave plenty for the bees.

    we haven't gotten to our fall flow yet, but i'll be leaving some of the spring honey plus whatever they store in the fall. i use a single deep and will be leaving somewhere between one and two mediums of honey for winter. in addition to not using treatments, i haven't fed syrup for over two years.

    i'll be taking mite counts about mid-summer, after i finish with the honey harvest.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Flora,IL
    Posts
    2,644

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    I run almost 100, as for treatment free, great so far this year. Lots of requeening going on.... without my help. Mites are at a VERY low level right now. between requeen and dearth shutting off brood.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Stillwell, KS
    Posts
    648

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    About 20 boomers, 10 ok, and another 10 small, all tf.

    Our main flow started about a month late but is going strong right now. Boomers are working on 4th & 5th med. supers. Normally are main flow is about over, but we have had timely rains and white clover just started blooming so I hope we get 3 or 4 more weeks of flow.

    Will be doing mite counts end of July.

    Don

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Location
    Young County, Tx
    Posts
    10

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Into 3rd year treatment free. No hive losses, and started the year with 4 hives that made it through the winter all with unlimited brood nest (3-4) deeps. With swarms and splits up to 10 hives now. Not sure of mite counts. Never have done a mite count. Keeping brood nest open and running small cell foundation or small cell starter strips seems to be working for me so far. Not feeding at all during the winter or spring, which means leaving enough stores of honey and pollen on the hive to get them through the winter.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    East Windsor, CT
    Posts
    276

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    I stopped treating in 2010. In 2011 I purchased a pure VSH breeder queen from Tom Glenn. The winter of 2011-2012 I did not lose a single hive (except for two nucs). I think at that point I had around 9 or 10 hives. I grew from swarms and splits to about 15 hives in the Summer of 2012. I did a poor job of preparing them for winter last September due to some family issues. I did not wrap them and took off my supers too late and starvation was a problem for me. I came out of winter with 7 hives, of which 5 were on the weaker side and 2 were great. All 7 have grown very strong to now and are doing a great job putting honey away. When the flow ends in about a week or two I plan on breaking up 2 of my weaker production hives to start new nucs. I need to do a sticky board check for mite levels but I am waffling as to if I should treat with MAQS this August. The sticky board will tell me that I guess.

    One internal struggle that I am finding myself in is whether I should graft from my strongest hive now (which is the strongest because it was a swarm last year thus newer queen) or one that has survived for a few years but might not be as string because the queen is older. Good luck!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
    Posts
    5,113

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    For those of you not familiar with me, I've been treatment-free for 10 years (is this an AA meeting or what?)

    I currently have somewhere in the range of 28 colonies and nine nucs. I use no method of mite control.

    Due to the weather this year, queen rearing and nuc building got delayed. A bunch of my nuc customers cancelled on me leaving me with too many hives. The dearth started before the last nucs could get built up, so they're going out today to requeen some other hives. Still sold more nucs than last year. Already I've had to combine a bunch of nucs to make new colonies, and that process probably isn't over. It's not what I'd like to be doing. I have too many hives, I like to go into winter with 25, so it's a waste of queens.

    It was a good year, but it could have been so much better had everything worked out as planned. Snow on May 1st is ridiculous. At some point I am going to have to harvest honey, there's a bunch of that out there too.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
    Posts
    1,991

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Solomon,

    Can you talk a bit about your decision to go treatment free in the first place? What was your experience prior to that, and what was your thought process around deciding to go treatment free? Did you transition slowly? Did you use any non-chemical approach to mite control, and then gradually eliminate that as well, or were have you not used any mite control at all for the entire 10 years?

    Thanks,

    Adam

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
    Posts
    5,113

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Adam, I'd be happy to.

    My father had acquired a hive when I was in about sixth grade or so and lacking treatment, it died of a massive mite infestation the first chance it got. So when I started beekeeping on my own shortly after graduating high school, I was very eager to find some other method. Being the optimist I am, I followed the work of Dee Lusby after finding her here on Beesource at the time. She and Michael Bush and Dennis Murrell and a few others were the only ones even trying it and believe it or not, there were more naysayers then ("They don't make wolf resistant sheep!"). But that optimism pushed me to follow the example of someone who succeeded in doing what I wanted to do. So the decision was made before I ever got bees. And I followed the example to the best of my ability.

    In the runup, I did make some hives with screened bottom boards, but only 6 or 7 of the twenty had them. After the winnowing process, the ones with the screened bottom boards were not the ones that survived and I eventually came to the view that firstly, they don't work, and secondly, the bees shouldn't need them so why provide them. That's all that I ever used unless you count small cell foundation which the studies say doesn't work so it can't be a viable method, I'm just spending extra money buying a gimmick I don't need, right?

    I have never used any of the common (or any other) of the methods of mite control. I have never used powdered sugar, food grade mineral oil, any essential oil, grease patties, brood breaks, drone brood, beetle traps, or anything else that I can't think of. Surveys show they don't work anyway. So as far as I am concerned, the answer is no, I have never used any form of mite control, and most certainly not one accepted as effective. What I do is simple in the saying, but not so simple in the doing. I keep bees like diseases don't exist. I increase from the good performers, the gentle, and the living.

    See, the thing is, nature does make wolf resistant sheep. They have big curly horns and wander up cliffs and mountainsides where wolves aren't so comfortable. The wooly tasty sheep are the ones that get eaten all the time because by selective breeding for production and gentleness and not also for wolf resistance, we have severely reduced their ability to survive their predators. And we treat that problem by trying to kill the predators. Remind you of anything?
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
    Posts
    1,991

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Thanks Solomon,

    I think I'm heading now on a similar track. I'm focusing on wintering nucs, and I guess it is in line with what you have termed "expansion model" beekeeping. My feeling is that if you have enough colonies in enough different "states" (ie nucs, captured swarms, overwintered production, splits, cut-outs, etc) then you can ride out the losses and replace. At the same time, you have to produce queens from your best.

    But I really feel there is a "sweet spot" somewhere in terms of colony numbers, and it isn't two or three. I feel like you've got to have quite a few colonies to stay afloat and moving forward in some kind of breeding program, and I haven't found what that is yet.

    Adam

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Bertie County,NC
    Posts
    870

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    second year.

    8 colonies presently......one that was over-wintered, the rest were splits or swarm captures. no treatments at all. The one overwintered hive has been split and then swarmed once....they are booming and all the rest are growing nicely.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
    Posts
    5,113

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam Foster Collins View Post
    I feel like you've got to have quite a few colonies to stay afloat
    Adam, I wholeheartedly agree. I never reached that equilibrium because I was headed to 25 colonies and by the time I got there I had already achieved consistent low losses. Now is the time for a shift in focus, toward better performing colonies and more efficient nuc production. This year has certainly taught me to hone my queen rearing skills and what things are important and which are vital in my method.

    My focus in teaching is the number of colonies it takes to stay afloat as a backyard beekeeper. I recommend at least five. What it takes to sustain a breeding program, I don't know. I'm not sure I consider what I do breeding. I just multiply the best and replace the worst. I'm not trying to do anything really specific, more of a general improvement.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
    Posts
    1,991

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    I will have to see how things go, but I feel that I want to work toward a breeding program. To me, the goal is reaching a place where I have bees thriving in balance with mites in my region. I've been told it's not possible, but I feel like trying anyway.

    I feel that with enough colonies, you can stay operational and treatment-free even with bees who can't survive mites. By splitting, collecting swarms and cut-outs and wintering nucs, you'll survive, because you have enough colonies, with mites at different points in their advancement - meaning different bee-to-mite ratios.

    One can likely live in that place, but I feel that if you continue selectively breeding on top of that, and perhaps making some effort into creating some isolated mating yards, you can make progress until the bees are thriving in balance with the mites.

    Naive?

    I know, I know... Just SAYING "treatment free" makes you a naive dreamer...(insert music: "Lara's Theme" from Doctor Zhivago)

    Adam

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
    Posts
    1,991

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Actually, I think the key thing to not being naive is realizing that it takes a critical mass to be able to do this. I know I'm not there yet, as my apiary did poorly without the influx of swarms and cut-outs.

    Adam

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
    Posts
    5,113

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    No, not at all naive. Ambitious maybe.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    Spicewood, Texas, USA
    Posts
    232

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    I have only two hives (Top-bars), an am entirely committed to treatment free. I don't do mite counts, as I won't treat for them anyway.

    One of my hives has quite a few SHB, but since the hive is so strong, I just let the bees handle them. At times I see a few bees ganging up and chasing them around. They'll get theirs.

    The only hive failures I've had were when I tried a small, BackYardHive. I tried so many packages, and so many queens, but I never could get bees to agree to live in this design, and I think it may be because the hive design is very shallow from top bar to floor. But I'm probably off the subject now.

    Sondra

  19. #19
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Canterbry, UK
    Posts
    1,749

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Deleted as copied
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  20. #20
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Canterbry, UK
    Posts
    1,749

    Default Re: Treatment-Free, Summer 2013, How's it going?

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    My focus in teaching is the number of colonies it takes to stay afloat as a backyard beekeeper. I recommend at least five. What it takes to sustain a breeding program, I don't know. I'm not sure I consider what I do breeding. I just multiply the best and replace the worst. I'm not trying to do anything really specific, more of a general improvement.
    If it isn't breeding then it needs another term. 'Population husbandry' would do - bit of a mouthful but it describes the key feature.

    As to number of colonies needed, I think that's highly dependent on the state of the local population -presence of treating beekeepers and/or wild 'survivors'.

    I continually look for new sites, seeking year-round rough forage and (likely) distance from other beekeepers. I've recently found a nice stretch of rough woodland with (at present) tons of ivy crawling with bees - and know of no local beekeepers. I think that signals a survivor presence, so I'm going to try it as a mating spot next year.

    I'm in my third year, up to 34 at last count, from 7 overwintered. Most are from making increase, a handful are swarms and I did one one cut-out this year. I don't treat in any shape or manner. I'm aware its early days... Most of my stocks seem very healthy - they've had a good summer and built well.

    This year I'm working harder to prepare the small nucs for winter - which means supplying comb and syrup, and doing more to keep damp out - no more ply boxes, good deep roofs, no rising damp!

    I think you have to identify the things that help, and do them in the knowledge that your bees will be better than if you hadn't. Its no different to any other sort of husbandry really, just that unlike what most people do, we nurture our own seed, and have to attend closely to the process of ensuring we do it well to give ourselves the best chance of healthy and productive stock.

    I'm thinking a lot just now about localism in beekeeping too. Local survivors will have gained, through competition, good 'knowledge' of the climate, bloom times and so on - they will be attuned. I'd like to be sure I draw on and dovetail with that - helping local bees retain their annual strategic abilities. I have to think about ways I might be messing that up. For one, I'm considering no spring feeding - though perhaps not next year as I'll be seeking to make strong increase again.

    Mike (UK)
    Last edited by mike bispham; 10-08-2013 at 03:50 AM.
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

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