Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?
I've been treatment free since 2005. I got treatment free by finding one exceptional queen in a feral swarm that showed high levels of mite tolerance. I purchased 10 queens from Purvis and used them to produce drones to mate with queens raised from my mite tolerant feral queen. I was NOT dealing with large numbers of colonies and have not had more than 20 colonies at any time since 1993.
In 2006, I deliberately pushed my colonies to swarm as much as possible. This was done by crowding them down to a single broodchamber in early spring. The purpose of the tactic was to push as many mite tolerant swarms into the area as possible so they would buffer the effects of any beekeepers on the treatment bandwagon. I consider this step to have been critical in maintaining my bees without treatments!!!!!
My bees were totally unproductive in 2007 because we had a freeze April 7th that wiped out most of the normal spring flowers. It was not something that I could fault the bees for. I have never seen such a late freeze before and hope to never see it again.
Since then, I have had normal production in my colonies every year from 2008 to 2013.
I have been splitting my bees and giving or selling colonies to other beekeepers in the area to increase the mite tolerant traits. One person now has 4 highly mite tolerant colonies at a location about 5 miles north of me. I have 2 more beginners who have requested colonies for next spring. I will build equipment this fall and hope to be able to sell or trade at least 10 more colonies.
To answer the question re how long to be productive and TF, by purchasing highly mite tolerant stock and using it to leverage the mite tolerance I found in a feral queen, I have had productive bees since 2006 which was the first year after going treatment free. I would emphasize, that I did NOT start from scratch. I had identified the mite tolerant feral queen in 2004 and I made full use of highly resistant queens from Purvis.
I might mention that the feral queen I used for mite tolerance was also a source of exceptional production genes. Her colony foraged effectively at temperatures in the 50's. My Italian and Buckfast colonies were comatose at the time. It took several years to pare down her single major defect, that was one of the hottest colonies I've ever kept successfully. Her offspring showed a lot of variation so I eliminated the hot colonies until today I can work my bees with nothing more than a smoker and a hive tool.
NW Alabama, 46 years, 24 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest