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  1. #1
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    Default Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    I have been treatment free for about 15 months now. I mean that in the "truest" sense - no manipulations or additions of any kind for the purpose of combating mites. The bees have struggled, and one could say that the treatment free approach I'm using is "not working" very well. So I have been considering my alternatives. And I find myself wondering if it's really fair to ask treatment free to "work". Isn't it really just choosing a different way to approach beekeeping - one with a certain set of challenges that must be overcome? One could say that it's "living with mites", but then again, that is what everyone does. I feel like it's often just about living with mites, and not fighting them directly.

    I quit treating last April, and entered last winter with 11 hives. Came out with 8. Lost two or three through the spring and early summer and have built back up through cut-outs and swarms to 18 at this point. I have just set up nucs for the year. 10 of my number are those nucs.

    Over the last few years I have done a lot of study; reading everything I could find on ways of dealing with varroa, working with the bees - and in the end, I feel that for me personally, it just make the most sense not to interfere with the mite.

    At the end of the day, I've come to believe that keeping bees without treatments (for the most part) really just amounts to managing bees with mites. Sure, you can graft from your best and work toward a more resistant bee, but with most of us living in areas where there are plenty of other, treated bees around, your progress could be slow.

    Many people who are treatment free talk about making increase from "catching swarms" and "feral survivors", but I believe that most of those bees are just swarms from other people's treated bees, so all that collecting just amounts to replacing lost bees with new bees. The only difference really is that you worked for them, rather than paid for them, and in many cases, you can at least count the fact that if they came early enough in the season, the queen probably wintered at least once in your locality.

    There are so many challenges that face bees (pesticides, pests, disease, weather) and beekeepers (economics, pests, disease, weather, insanity) that the death or poor performance of a colony could be the result of any combination of things. Mites are one, albeit a major one.

    If you look at treatment free in the broadest sense; across all the people who take that approach, it really isn't about some genetic secret. It isn't about small cell. It isn't about not feeding sugar syrup, pollen sub or using three deeps or all mediums. There really isn't "a solution" in terms of some remedy that will rid the bees of mites.

    It's about not treating.

    So from what I can see, it really boils down to not fighting mites, and then managing day-to-day, month-to-month around the results. It's about deciding that you don't want to artificially combat mites and then replacing the work of doing so with other work.

    Isn't it?

    Adam

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
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    Walker, Alabama, USA
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    950

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    I really wish you posted this in some other forum so I could say what I think on the subject, but I believe in following the rules so I'm keeping my opinions to myself.

    Rusty
    Rusty Hills Farm -- home of AQHA A Rusty Zipper & Rusty's Bees ( LC and T)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Portland, Oregon
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    980

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    I have some colonies that have commercial queens, and some that have queens that came from colonies that were cutouts and swarms.

    Of the later, have two lines that I know are from bees that had bee had survived on their own through at least one winter :
    One was a cutout from the wall of an abandoned house near my home, and the space had been occupied by bees for several years...observed to be occupied before swarm season several years running.

    The other was secondary swarm from a bee tree. I haven't had that one through a winter yet.

    The first line, though, has survived three winters...end of next spring will mark three full years with it.

    They consistently grown quicker in spring and been more vigorous than the lines that have come form commercially raised queens.
    in fact, to the degree I'm able to, I intend not to buy commercial queens any longer (unless i don't do well finding more such bees for the sake of genetic diversity).

    I've not treated except one time the second year when I did a sugar shake because I'd seen a mite...nad figured it couldn't hurt.

    I understand that most untreated "survivor" hives that perish due to mites or disease do so during the first three years, and that most that survive that long do well...so the jury's out til next spring, in that regard.

    I jave noticed a marked difference in the performance of the "wild" line, though.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2012
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    Bertie County,NC
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    870

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    I am operating treatment free as well, and I pretty much agree with your post completely.

  5. #5
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    May 2013
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    Laurel Hill, Fl
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    471

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    I guess I don't understand, I fight the mites, SHB, and anything else with anything and everything except pesticides. Sounds like your definition is doing NOTHING.
    I won’t stand by and allows bees to die without a fight. I couldn’t be a bee keeper if my only goal was to raise enough bees to replace the ones that died.

  6. #6
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    Nov 2009
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    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
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    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Robbin View Post
    I guess I don't understand... Sounds like your definition is doing NOTHING.
    No no, you do tons. Just nothing that amounts to removing or killing mites directly. You may do foundationless, or small cell, or selective breeding, or 3 deeps, or buying treatment free bees, or working with AHB, or make a nuc-based operation that can help you recover from loss, or whatever. You manage around the mite problem until you find a balance that works.

    My suggestion is that "Treatment Free" just means that you don't treat. From there, it just means finding a way to keep bees without treating. But there are not a ton of "answers" that really work on a broad scale. From what I can see, there is no solution that one can go to, follow and get repeated or consistent success with.

    In contrast, if you use say MAQS or Oxalic acid, your going to see mite loads get hammered with a pretty consistent regularity, whether you do it in Nova Scotia, or Texas, or New Zealand. Therefore, one could suggest that are a "viable solution" to keeping mites at manageable levels, and that means that the use of organic acids can be regarded as a solution to dealing with mites.

    I haven't been able to see the same consistency in any non-treatment approach. For every person that says something works, there is another that says it doesn't. So the treatment-free realm hasn't really got any broadly applicable solutions, but really only shares the choice to not treat.

  7. #7
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    Dec 2012
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    Fort Walton Beach, Florida
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    1,256

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Robbin View Post
    I guess I don't understand, I fight the mites, SHB, and anything else with anything and everything except pesticides. Sounds like your definition is doing NOTHING.
    I won’t stand by and allows bees to die without a fight. I couldn’t be a bee keeper if my only goal was to raise enough bees to replace the ones that died.
    Well, in a way, that's the goal of all beekeepers. After all, the bees you have now are not the bees you had this spring. Those bees are all dead, except for the queen. I don't say this to be argumentative, but to make the point that bees are different from other animals that we keep and feel responsible for.

    One thing to think about is whether the things we do to combat mites and beetles and moths are good for the bees in the long run. Are we saving them, or just condemning them to a protracted and sickly end? The rate of colony loss does not seem to be improving among commercial beekeepers, at least that's the impression I get from surveys like the BeeInformed surveys, and estimates from bee scientists at Beltsville. To me, this is an indication that the approach of treating for these pests is not a war that can be won.

    I'm no purist. I have SHB traps in my hives, though they don't seem to catch many beetles. I think a better approach is to have strong hives, and if a hive is weak, as in a newly installed split, I match the space to the size of the colony, so the bees have a chance of handling any infestation. I have seen a couple of beetles, but they haven't been a problem.

    As far as non-pesticide approaches to controlling mites, the only one that seems to make much sense to me is the use of brood breaks. This is a perfectly natural way to control mites, and is practiced by bees in the wild, in the form of swarming. Things like powdered sugar don't seem to work very well, and things like formic acid, oxalic acid, and thymol all have negative effects on hive health.

    There are approaches that can help jumpstart a beekeeper on the way to successful non-treatment. Locally adapted bees are a start. I got a local nuc this spring to start my beekeeping, and it's done very well. It's made a fair amount of honey already, and I've taken 2 successful splits from it. And there are breeders who have resistant lines of bees. My second split got a BeeWeaver queen, and she's going gangbusters so far. This has been a cheap education for me, and a whole lot of fun. Of course, the hive may decline in the fall; in fact I would be surprised if it did not, but I've sure learned a lot from having it.

    I got a package of semi treatment-free bees from Wolf Creek, but that one hasn't done as well, and I'm currently trying to cure it of a laying worker problem with frames of brood from my boomer.

    Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that being treatment free doesn't mean doing nothing. It means acquiring bees that can live in a healthy balance with pests and still be productive. You can do your own breeding, you can capture feral swarms, you can take advantage of the work that some dedicated treatment free breeders have already done. The goal is to have healthy bees that don't need to be assaulted with various substances that temporarily knock down mite levels, and which at the same time make the bees sick.

    Of course, I'm a beginner, so I may be completely wrong, but this is what I think now.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
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    Barrie, Ontario, Canada
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    660

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    As much as there is no magic bullet to treatment free bk, there are some commonalities amongst those that are successful. They all seem to do 2 or more of the following:

    Small cell
    Foundationless comb or own foundation (chemical free comb)
    Large 3 deep colonies
    Overwintering on honey
    Overwintered nuc's to replace losses
    Feral stock or locally adapted resistant stock
    Live fairly isolated from other beeks

    I am sure there are more.
    Adam - Zone 5A
    www.adamshoney.com

  9. #9
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    Sep 2008
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    Mtn. View, Arkansas, USA
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    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    zhiv9: There are too many beekeepers using standard sized foundations keeping bees treatment free successfully for the first two items on your list to be of any importance. Using time tested principles of bee management are the secret to successful beekeeping. Our bees resistance to the virsues carried by the varroa improve every year, if the beekeeper does his job the colony survives and prospers.

  10. #10
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    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
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    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    AR Beekeeper,

    What are some of the time tested principles you are employing that you would say are your secret to successful beekeeping?
    And what do you mean by "successful"?

    Adam

  11. #11
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    Aug 2012
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    Barrie, Ontario, Canada
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    660

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Quote Originally Posted by AR Beekeeper View Post
    zhiv9: There are too many beekeepers using standard sized foundations keeping bees treatment free successfully for the first two items on your list to be of any importance.
    I am sure that there are examples for each item I listed of beekeepers that are successful without using that tactic. I haven't being doing this long enough to comment on whether or not I think small cell makes a difference. The key point on the second item isn't the cell size, but that the wax/foundation is being produced in house. I am sure that ther are people making there own large cell foundation with their own wax as well.

    Just because you can do it with large cell doesn't mean that small cell doesn't help. There many that think its important.

    I do agree with you regarding good beekeeping practices - there is no substitute for that.
    Adam - Zone 5A
    www.adamshoney.com

  12. #12
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    Oct 2009
    Location
    Panama City, Florida, USA
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    596

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    rhaldridge,

    After August, you can see if treatment free is working for you in our area. We face a more daunting task than those up north. Any hive weakened either by mites or a queenless upset in June, is very likely to succumb to SHB in August. I don't mind the mites, its the SHB that are the downfall of most of my lost hives. The hive might survive in a weakened state brought on by mites, nosema, etc, except once weakened at the wrong time of the year and the beetles will kill them off or make them abscond. Here is a link to a photo of beetles in one of my strongest hives last August. This hive survived, but imagine had it been weakened by mites. That is whay I use a miteacide (apiguard), not really because I need to kill all the mites, but if they weaken the hive, even if it survives they are goners.



    shb.jpgapiary.jpg
    Last edited by jbeshearse; 07-26-2013 at 12:04 PM. Reason: added photos

  13. #13
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    Tineo, Asturias, SPAIN
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    184

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    I haven't read all the posts, so I don't know if someone has made the point... while it is true that many swarms will be from managed hives, at least in my area there are lots of unmanaged colonies in the woods and in abandoned buildings (I am in an economically depressed area - coal country - in northern Spain - whose population has been in rapid decline for decades and more homes are empty than occupied). I know that many swarms are from unmanaged colonies and as a result are likely to be more resistant.


    For me the point isn't working around the results of mites, it is trying to allow bees to develop their own resistance to a parasite, just as any other wild animal population would do. To me, treatment means sustaining inferior stock through artificial means. There are a myriad of reasons why people might want to do this, but when I look at people like Mr. Bush or Time Ives, I would rather go that route.

  14. #14
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    Nov 2009
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    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Quote Originally Posted by ForrestB View Post
    For me the point isn't working around the results of mites, it is trying to allow bees to develop their own resistance to a parasite, just as any other wild animal population would do. To me, treatment means sustaining inferior stock through artificial means. There are a myriad of reasons why people might want to do this, but when I look at people like Mr. Bush or Tim Ives, I would rather go that route.
    Agreed. My goals and reasons are similar. But I'm just coming to terms with the fact that employing the methods of Mike or Tim won't necessarily work for everyone in their specific situation/location.

    So if you look at treatment-free as a direction; or a challenge, then you are more likely to stay with it and succeed. I see people giving treatment free "a try", using a specific method and if it doesn't "work", then they may give up.

    I feel that if you view being treatment free as a path that you're going to take (come hell or high water) then you will succeed. But your methods may go through a few revisions getting there.

    Adam

  15. #15
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    Aug 2012
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    Barrie, Ontario, Canada
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    660

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam Foster Collins View Post
    I see people giving treatment free "a try", using a specific method and if it doesn't "work", then they may give up. Adam
    This this is very true.

    As Yoda said, "Do or do not, there is no try"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ4yd2W50No
    Adam - Zone 5A
    www.adamshoney.com

  16. #16
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    Sep 2008
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    Mtn. View, Arkansas, USA
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    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Adam; You will underestand my rules are designed for my area and style of beekeeping. I am retired and do nothing but work bees, and now do some fishing with my granddaughter. I am a hobbist, and commercial and sideliners will understand my rules are for hobbist and not for someone trying to make a living with bees. A sideliner or commercial beekeeper will have already learned how to handle bees, at least they should have, before they got in the business.

    My first rule is to use good bees. I keep a mix of Russian, VSH, MN Hygienic, and Weaver bees. I check for mite count and do visual inspections for no evidence of disease. I allow the colonies to supersede because I have seen some that could not seem to have a successful supersedure. At the end of March I choose my queen mothers and raise 6 queens from each. Usually from these six I will find one above average whose offspring will handle the mites well, are gentile, and are healthy and productive. Another trait that is important is how well they feed their brood. My above average queens I keep in nucs until I requeen all field colonies in August. The average queens remain in nucs to be sold or given away.

    Up until last year my health allowed me to be active and I kept up to 65 colonies and as many as 100 nucs. Now I am reducing to my goal of 6 colonies for personal pleasure, and 12 nucs to keep spare queens.

    Rule 2 is to find yards that protect the hives from strong winds, give maximum sunlight and are not in damp, low lying areas. Often I have had to take what I could get and make the best of it, but I have abandoned several outyards. Now I use only one outyard and my home yard. Keep the hives on stands to get them off the ground and away from moisture. Keep yards clean and mowed. Organize them to prevent drift, and aid your working bees.

    Rule 3 is inspect regularly and thourghly. In the spring look at every brood frame for disease at least three times before it is time for the surplus supers to go on. After the supers are on don't bother them until harvest except to check and arrange comb in the supers. Keep good records! Don't keep more colonies than you can handle. Every area is different, northern beekeeping is not the same as southern beekeeping, disease varies from area to area. If a prson is in a clean area a 3 or 4 frame check is good. Adapt to your beekeeping situation, study bees religiously, and above all learn to identify BS advice. Don't really believe anything until you have tried it for yourself on a small scale and found it to work.

    Rule 4 is learn to raise queens on a scale suited to your operation. Learn to clip and mark them, how and what time of the year to introduce them so as to have few or no losses. Never take shortcuts with queens! They are the backbone of your operations. Learn to evaluate them, and don't fall in love with them because you are going to have to pinch their heads off eventually! I have lost some really good colonies because I tried to squeeze one more season out of a queen. In my area late summer requeening with a queen from a nuc almost eliminates winter losses due to queen failure, probably the main cause of winter losses.

    Rule 5 is feed when feeding is called for. Forget all the additives, straight sugar syrup has worked for years and continues to work for hundreds of beekeepers. Learn how to feed, when to feed and why to feed.

    Rule 6 is Use good equipment and keep it maintained. Standardize and don't get caught in the gimmick trap. Select your hives brood chambers based on your situation and abilities, not because someone else uses it. There are items such as double screens, queen excluders and fume or escape boards that are very handy. Learn to use them properly. Forget the gimmick of cell size, standard brood cell size is 5.2 now and was in Dr. C.C. Millers day in the 1890's. Foundationless can give good comb and it can give poor comb, just like foundations. Chems in wax will depend on your agriculture area and how much and what is applied by the farmers, the amount in foundations have little or no effect on the colony, if it did, there would be few successful beekeepers.

    Rule 7 is know the Varroa Mite, it's life cycle, how it affects honeybees and what its numbers are in your colonies. I did natural fall counts the first week of the month regularly for several years, once I had bees that would live 3 years with no help from me, I do counts only to help determine which queens will be breeders. When I did the regular counts, if the count was 150+ I would watch that colony for signs of collapse. If the colony survived until August, I would treat before I requeened. If the colony started to collapse, I treated and requeened no matter what the date. Try to use only the "soft" treatments for varroa, and practice various mechanical methods to control them. Find your favorite method and use it when treatment is called for.

    Rule 8 is have all colonies ready for winter 2 or 3 weeks before shut down. Have strong adult populations that were raised the two months before shut down, here I like a minimum of 6 frames of bees, 8 is better. Have enough food stores to last until spring nectar starts, this depends on the area. Here it is the same as one deep full for a food chamber, with side frames in the lower box full. Have a young queen heading the colony, and have the colony in full sun. Having a yard with wind breaks is a plus. My area is mild compared to northern standards. Seldom will a colony go longer than 10 to 14 days without a cleansing flight and snow doesn't last any longer than that, usually. Moisture is not a problem, even if the colony is on a solid bottom board. I use all screened bottoms, even on my 5 fram nuc boxes. No venting for moisture release is done. Nucs winter on their own stands, but I try to have them all two boxes high, so they are actually 10 frame colonies. The top box is all food. I check for poor colonies in the fall and combine or shake out poor ones. Take the losses in the fall, not the spring.

    My definition of success is having all field colonies over winter and produce the standard for this area (1 deep of honey but usually I have 3 mediums.) I harvest little honey myself, I use it to feed nucs or I sell it to other beekeepers in the area for resale. In actual practice my overwinter percentage over the last 15 years (except for this past winter) has been better than 90% of my managed field colonies and almost that many of my nucs.

    I might add that I am not the only beekeeper in this area that has good success with bees without having to treat every year. Several in the associations I belong to have been treatment free for 5 or 6 years and their losses are very low also. They too manage their bees on standard cell foundation, feed sugar syrup when needed and purchase commercially raised queens to improve their stocks varroa resistance. Successful beekeeping is easy to learn, all a person has to do is study, not only the latest information, but the writings of the great beekeepeers of beekeeping's early years. They were practical men with great powers of observation.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
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    Liberty, Indiana, USA
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    167

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Adam: part of being treatment free has to be accepting some losses. It is an impossible goal to expect 100% survival. In The Hive and the Honeybee, Langstroth speaks about fads and different management styles. He states that the proper thing to do is to experiment with new practices on a small number of your colonies.

    That is what I started doing back in 2010. It just so happens that as time has gone on the treatment and feed free bees have survived and the treated/fed group has become smaller due to attrition. I don't know why so many keepers feel that they must follow the entire strategy practiced by any one person. Our practices can only go through revisions if we experiment keeping with successful practices and dropping unsuccessful ones.

    One thing is certain.... The way that the vast majority of keepers are managing their bees isn't working or the the forums wouldn't be a BUZZ with all of these issues.
    Jason Bruns
    LetMBee.com YouTube

  18. #18
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    May 2013
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    Tineo, Asturias, SPAIN
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    184

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam Foster Collins View Post
    Agreed. My goals and reasons are similar. But I'm just coming to terms with the fact that employing the methods of Mike or Tim won't necessarily work for everyone in their specific situation/location.

    So if you look at treatment-free as a direction; or a challenge, then you are more likely to stay with it and succeed. I see people giving treatment free "a try", using a specific method and if it doesn't "work", then they may give up.

    I feel that if you view being treatment free as a path that you're going to take (come hell or high water) then you will succeed. But your methods may go through a few revisions getting there.

    Adam
    Yes. From what Tim Ives has said, his first years he had high losses - I myself am prepared to go through a long shake-out period until I build a stock of reliable and resistant (and large) colonies. It certainly isn't something you just "try" like you say, it requires a committment - that is what I take from all of the successful treatment free beekeepers' writings.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Location
    Lake County Ill
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    445

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    AR Beekeeper
    Thanks for the great insight. I am in my third year and I started with 8 hives this year and without going into great depth.I have 5 hives. Some have 1 super. some 2 supers and 2 with 4 supers. Given the time of the year I don't expect much to happen with the last super I placed. I do have mites but can not see any Hive Beetles that are definitely in my area. After harvesting i will do another detailed mite count on each hive but I will probably need some type of mite treatment. In that event what type of mite treatment would you suggest?

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
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    Auckland,Auckland,New Zealand
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    6,145

    Default Re: Treatment Free: It's a path, not a solution

    Good thread Adam and some great thoughts expressed by all. Zhiv9's post #8 is quite thought provoking, hadn't looked at it like that before.

    Not sure about StevenG though, I think he may only do one of the things on the list but not totally sure.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

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