Squrepeg - Thanks, that's helpful - sounds reasonably successful to me, and enough time span to be significant. Where did/do you get your queens? Can you sum up your cultural practices briefly? If you don't want to go into it here for any reason feel free to just send me a message.
you're welcome david, and i don't mind sharing here.
after a rocky start that first summer with some old hives in rotten boxes that had been treated with antibiotics for years......
i started acquiring bees from a fellow in the next county over from me. at the time i hadn't really thought much about being tf or not but as luck would have it this guy had been raising bees tf since the mid-nineties.
he and his father started the operation by locating several bee trees on the side of a ridge that overlooked their farm. i believe they cut out about five colonies and increased them to the point of selling queens and nucs.
i've purchased several nucs and a few queens from this supplier, but now i am propagating my own from them, plus i catch a stray swarm in my traps from time to time. i try to maintain 12 production colonies here at home and have a second location about five miles away for nucs.
the avoiding of supplemental feeding (except on rare occasions as needed) was inspired by mike bush.
i run all 10 frame langs, single deeps with medium supers, solid bottom boards with bottom entrances, inner covers notched front and back with screens, and telescoping outer covers.
i am on a ridgetop but within flying distance of the tennesse river, and there is quite a diversity of flora with the blooms overlapping bewtween the valley and the mountain. roughly 2/3'rds of my area is wooded and the remaining third is mostly pasture with a little row cropping. i'm almost positive that there are unmanaged colonies living in the woods around here because i can see them coming and going when i place wet supers out to get cleaned up.
i placed my hives about 100' from a pond, facing southeast on sloping terrain, and they have a good wind break all around but especially behind them to the northwest. they get full sun all day and are shaded in the late afternoon.
i make sure to have a beetle trap in each box, using vegetable oil with some rotten banana juice and a little apple cider vinegar mixed in.
these bees are a bit swarmy, but as i get more comb for checkerboarding i'm getting a handle on that.
this was my first season to try grafting, and i managed to get one round off toward the end of our main flow.
from a feasibility standpoint i got slightly into the black this year for the first time with the honey selling quickly and total receipts nearing $4000. i bought all of my equipment assembled and painted, so someone could be profitable sooner if they made their own.
i'm shooting for a little more honey production next year but not much, as my time is limited for a sideline venture and i want to focus more attention toward queens and nucs.
my approach to beekeeping is still a work in progress and i am always looking for ways to improve, but this is kind of where i find myself at the present time.
sorry for rambling on...
journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives
My bees are productive for my area. It's hard to give an overall number when production includes queens, nucs, and honey. But I have no complaints and have had no complaints from customers.
Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline
However, that is because I've been expanding hard - taking brood, flying bees, comb and stores from the stronger to build nucs.
This is another complicating factor to your question. Some tf apiaries come with ready-made comb - some, like mine, don't. Some come with colonies that can have their resistance raised immediately by requeening. Mine didn't.
If I hadn't been making increase... my 5 best (out of 7) overwintered hives would have made in the region of 100 lb average. (I bottled about 50 lbs but redistributed another 50, and left 2-300 lb on hives.)
Other factors worthy of note: it was an excellent nectar season here. None of these hives were moved - but all were at good 'rough' outstands.
I only picked up a handful of swarms and cut-outs - a result of last year's appalling weather. That would have made a big difference, giving me bees with which to make bees and comb early in the year. Shortage of bees and comb were the limiting factors in my effort to raise numbers.
I think though I'm describing a kind of operation that is not of the sort that interests you David? Am I right in thinking you are looking for simple data from existing, poroductive, apiaries that have made a transition, rather than complex data from ground-up operations?
Today it is less, because there are resistant traits available. If you have qood skills on queen rearing and making nucs and you have the ability to contoll matings (or dominance of drones in your are), I really don´t see why you could not start economic beekeeping right away with resistant queens in all hives.
After about 850 reads in the 18 days this thread has been going there are only about 6 significant answers to the question of "How long did it take your treatment free apiary to become productive?"
Those six answers range from:
JW Chestnut having a 10 year TF experiment which is not yet successful.
Mike Bispham - Still working on it in his 3rd year, with the caveat that honey could have been harvested, but was left for the bees or redistributed. - fair enough Mike?
Juhani Lunden's TF apiary took over 12 years.
Solomon Parker 2-3 years.
Squarepeg - Moderately productive from the start while making increase most of 4 years.
Michael Bush - Immediate success on small cell foundation.
Here is my summary so far - "Such a small number of people report productive treatment free apiaries in this thread that the result is statistically insignificant."
If there is more data that is not being reported I would really like to hear it.
Since I've never used mite treatments, or done mite counts (since counts remove mites - which some could consider interference in the mite/bee interaction). I've also not lost any colonies to mites, only lose younger, weaker colonies, to robbing, if I don't catch it in time.
It's been about twenty years since I've heard that without treatments my colonies wouldn't last more than three years. Haven't lost any, yet. They are productive, and continue to be. The first decade in my present location, I only ran colonies derived from one cut-out. They were difficult to work, often extremely defensive, extremely difficult to requeen, and quite possibly Africanized. More than a decade ago, I requeened them all with Italian Cordovan queens, sourced from C.F. Koehnen & Sons, Inc., Since then I've learned to raise my own queens, and have imported Italian Cordovan queens from several other suppliers, to maintain calm bees that are primarily Cordovan colored.
When a queen is only half Cordovan and does not have Cordovan coloration, I find that her workers can exhibit undesirable traits, most usually what's called "runniness". More rarely undesirable traits even occur in colonies headed by Cordovan colored queens. All the queens are open mated, so flooding the area with my chosen drones does help.
To answer your question, succinctly: It takes no time, at all.
I was treatment free when I began keeping bees in 1966, and I'm still treatment free in 2013.
In these past twenty years, plus, I've been in the Tucson/Marana area of the desert Southwest, U. S. A. And, quite likely, the climate in this location, may be the key to my continued TF success.
Thanks Joseph. I didn't know you were treatment free. You do feed when needed though don't you?
I'm starting to suspect that location may be a key factor - if not the main factor - in successful treatment free beekeeping. Maybe some places have an important nutrient missing, or maybe it is the presence of environmental toxins, pathogens or vectors - or likely it is a whole cocktail of factors.
What is productive? My honey crop is about half what it used to be, but selling (expensive) queens and keeping lectures of the subject almost covers that. I get all my expences well covered, but the salary for my working hours is definitely lower.
With weaker nucs, I've discovered that those I keep in 3-frame mating nuc condo compartments, are usually doomed. But if I move them, soon enough, into my usual 5-frame nuc boxes, I can save many of them. My usual 5-frame nuc, has a 1-1/2" thick piece of polystyrene foam (with hole cut through it for Summer ventilation), for their bottoms, then covered with a piece of #8 galvanized hardware cloth, to keep the bees from damaging the foam. This time of year I place a small sheet of plastic between the hardware cloth and foam, to reduce infiltration of colder Winter air. All my full-size nucs have top/upper entrances. If they're in one box, I slide back the covers to create a narrow entrance slit (the bees have to push their way in and out). If I add an additional box, or two, I slide back the first box, to create the entrance slit. If I think the entrance slit is too much for them to defend, I use a piece of plastic sheet to block the excess entrance space. Sometimes the extra box is empty, to protect an inverted feeder jar and pollen sub patty.
Location is as you say important mostly - not entirely, but mostly - for those reasons.
Would you think you could take a long-term treated apiary, shift it to a better place, stop treating, and see any kind of success?
Lack of defence against varroa is due to lack of genes conferring defence behaviours. Period. Those genes have to be found somewhere, spread throughout the apiary, and maintained there.
Tf beekeeping is about having mite-managing bees. They are mite-managers because they have mite-managing genes. That's it. What is your objection to that analysis?
Last edited by mike bispham; 10-28-2013 at 10:42 AM.
Yes, I do feed, when necessary. I sometimes add supplemental copper to syrup I feed to nuc starts. I spray Bt on empty, idle, comb to deter wax moth larvae. And, I round up toads that are attacking my hives. I can't think of anything else I do, that might be considered, "treatments".
There are many copper mines in our near vicinity. Perhaps local forage is boosted in this mineral (though I don't know of any tests done to verify this, or not). Or, if that might even make a significant difference to V-mite virulence.
Very small entrance, even a 'push-through' curtain; jar rather than rapid feeder, insulation... I might fret about damp, but that gives me stuff to think about, thanks Joseph.
Excellent interpretation of my Winter Nuc entrances. The pieces of black plastic I place across the entrances (as nuc entrance reducers), do often function as push-through curtains. This seems to really reduce episodes of total robbing kill-off.
Given that TF bees do not seem to relocate as well as expected I continue to think far too little attention and credit is given to the genetic diversity of the local mite. Much faster turnover of generations should result in much faster adaptation on the mite side rather than the bee side. I do not think it is the genes of the drones that contaminate a TF hive, but the genes of the attached mites. Treating mites favors the fastest breeders and the mites most prone to jump from hive to hive. The feral hive that survives may simply have the benefit of a well adapted mite.
Give me a well adapted parasite and the adaptation of the host is a secondary concern. Now if I could just find and retain that well adapted mite.
To answer David's guestion of how long; longer than now.
4 yrs, Peak 14, back to zip, T lite; godfather to brother's 3.
>Michael Bush - Immediate success on small cell foundation.
Actually on fully drawn small cell comb (wax dipped PermaComb). Foundation is a different matter altogether.