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  1. #1
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    Sep 2011
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    Default Treatment-Free Dilemma

    I have been keeping honeybees since 2011. I started with 5 hive I bought from a local beekeeper. I went treatment-free soon after I had them. Only on some occasions I used lemongrass essential oil as a prevention method to control Varoa. Overall, I haven't seen a lot of Varoa mites in my hives; however, most of them succumb or fail by November each year. Therefore, I had to buy a few more to keep the number. I am also using foundationless frames to get clean wax and natural cell. Of all my hives from 2011 and treatment-free, just one survived so far and is doing excellent, although it superseded early in Spring this year. Currently, I have a small nuc that I got from a supercedure queen cell this Spring and is marginal. In addition, I have two other colonies that were doing excellent just a few months ago, but now are failing, I don't know why. They might not survive at all. I don't see a lot of mites either and they were well nurtured. My question is: For how long should this situation perpetuate and me not being able to exit this critical point of not advancing?I've never had more than 4 hives in Spring with all my effort, although my goal was honey not bees. I've never had a honey crop either, although I've wished a lot and there is lots of foraging around here. I am a little disappointed but I won't give up because I love bees. I am also committed to treatment-free beekeeping no matter what. I understand, I am not experienced enough and I have made many mistakes. However, I know the basics and I want a little success as well. Is there any plausible formula to redressing such a situation? Thanks everyone for any suggestions.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Princeton, Minnesota, USA
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    40

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Define seeing mites? How are you checking for them?
    Last edited by ElderBombadil; 10-20-2013 at 05:19 PM. Reason: spelling

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
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    Washington County, Maine
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    2,963

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Going treatment free without using stock already transitioned to treatment free can easily cost you 70% of your hives. If you have to buy bees in the future seek out tf bees. As for what is going on in your situation it is hard to tell. Mites are not necessarily something you can see and by the time you do your hive may be too infested to save. Suggestions? Find someone that is successfully keeping tf bees near you to share notes with and learn as much bee biology as you can. Read.
    Master Beekeeper (EAS) and Master Gardener (U Maine CE) www.beeberrywoods.com

  4. #4
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    Jul 2011
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    McClure, OH
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    1,017

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    I have kept treatment-free bees for 4 years, and they have been started from regular commercial stock. However, to keep them treatment free, they supercede in late July/early August (like the MDA splitter method) which gives them a brood break and knocks off the mites.

    Also, you need to check your mite levels (I do). Most people don't see mites as the mites are usually on the nurse bees and on their underside. Sounds like you are experiencing a classic mite crash. If you want to do the Bond method (which is similar to what you're doing), which does not involve superceding, you need to have a lot of hives and breed from the survivors. As long as you keep bringing stock in that is not survivor/mite resistant, you will keep experiencing massive die-off unless you start assisting them in some way.

    Once the bees start winning against the mites, you will see some honey. Strong hives make honey, not weak limping ones.

  5. #5
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    May 2002
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    San Mateo, CA
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    5,041

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    1. I have never heard that lemongrass oil is a mite treatment. It is commonly used as a swarm lure and maybe a feed additive.
    2. Foundationless comb and natural cell will have a high amount of drone brood which might elevate your mite numbers.

    3. Set up your dead brood chambers on their stand with a few drops of lemongrass oil inside the entrance on 3/1. You might catch some local bees which might have more staying power. I am getting over 64% treatment free wintering success with trapped bees.
    Last edited by odfrank; 10-20-2013 at 06:58 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2012
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    I would try what merince says and aim for a mid summer brood break or do constant sugar dusting in the summer if you don't consider that a treatment. Although I don't believe sugar dusting to be that effective, with the proper bees I believe it can help keep them as treatment free as you're going to get. I never see a lot of varroa either, if you're seeing them, then you have a high mite count. I'm bringing in various genetics as my main interest is 'breeding'. If you want to try some next year let me know. You can have whatever you want, queen cell/virgin/mated queen. I favor getting ripe queencells to introduce to nucs and let them mate locally myself. I try to stay as treatment free as possible, but in our area it is very difficult as we get all the bees from all over influxing every year for almonds and all the different biotypes of pathogens get to comingle. Personally, I am sure most of my hives would be in better shape if I just treated on a regular basis or when they're broodless but I typically wait til I see them starting to decline to take action. Like merince says, most hives try to deal with the situation on their own, but it leaves them with a smaller population going into fall and w/o feeding or good forage it's a losing proposition, especially if you want to get honey. If you want honey in this area, you need a strong double deep of bees when the flow is on to maximize potential. Coming out of winter with 4-6 frames of bees will not cut it for a spring flow and to get them to proper strength to pull in an excess crop they'll use most of the prime summer flow to build up instead of being able to store excess when the flow hits. I applaud you trying to be treatment free, I aim to be there one day but it takes a lot of work. I lost my first hive to mites, even treating them with hopguard, and I just had a decent hive collapse, and one of my strongest hives is requeening itself right now as I think mite pressure got high and they killed the queen recently to supercede her. I hope the new queen gets mated, she'll emerge in 10 days so I don't have high hopes....

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
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    Walker, Alabama, USA
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    950

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Only on some occasions I used lemongrass essential oil as a prevention method to control Varroa.
    The essential oils most effective against varroa are wintergreen and spearmint. I don't think they actually like the wintergreen, so the lemongrass gets added to entice them to take the syrup.

    If you would do either a sugar shake or an ether roll, you would at least know how many mites you have and then you can decide what, if anything, you want to do about them. It's hell to lose hives and not know WHY, so this way you'd get some answers.

    HTH

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

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    Cookeville, TN, USA
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Not trying to be difficult here but if you are treating for mites with essential oils then how are you treatment free? Even if it doesn't work? If you are going to treat a little bit then why would you do it with something with no proven efficacy instead of another naturally occurring mitacide which does? I'm in no way telling you that you should or should not treat, but how is it better to use foreign substances that probably don't serve the desired purpose. I don't understand this line of reasoning.
    Since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
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    Portland, Oregon
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    980

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    As to your question,
    "For how long should this situation perpetuate and me not being able to exit this critical point of not advancing?"

    If you buy bees or replace lost hives with bees that haven't been produced treatment free, you will continue to have these heave losses for as long as you continue to source your replacements from a source that doesn't manage its apiary without treatments.

    My experience has been that I have best sucess with colonies I get from cutouts where the bees have continually been in the space I'm cutting them form for 2 or more years.

    My next best success is from swarms captured in areas where there are few beekeepers and most of the coloies in the area have been "in the tree" and untreated for generations.

    I've had good success with queens and nucs purchased fom local treatment free beeks as well.

    I've had poor success with queens and bees purchased from reputable commercial sources that aren't treatment free, but manage for mites and disease in the t=conventional way.

    Learning to raise your own queens, and/or making walkaway splits form the hives that are doing well is a much better way to replace hives.

    Keeping nucs split from your best hives in order to have a replacement colony already started if it is needed is even better.

    There's a pair of vids on vimeo.com of a talk, "The Sustainable Apiary" given by Michael Palmer to the Prince William Regional Beekeepers Assn. that might be helpful to you.

    The link to the first one is here: https://vimeo.com/23178333

    (They're free to watch, but if it is helpful, putting some appreciation in the "Tip Jar" will help them continue to post such great resources)

  10. #10
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    Mar 2010
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    Walker, Alabama, USA
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    950

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Not trying to be difficult here but if you are treating for mites with essential oils then how are you treatment free? Even if it doesn't work?
    Not everybody jumps in with both feet. Some people ease in as they read and learn and make choices. I don't think it is fair to bust anybody's chops for not being treatment-free ENOUGH. It's a process. Some folks are still figuring out how to get there and still have live bees.

    JMO


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

  11. #11
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    Jan 2009
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    I agree completely. The point I was trying to make was that when one decides they need to treat why would you not just use something that has a track record of working? Especially since there are a couple of EOs that are known to at least have some substantial mitacide properties why would you use one of the hundreds that don't?
    Since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  12. #12
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    Feb 2006
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    Herrick, SD USA
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    4,625

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    The rules of the tf forum are pretty clear, you either are or you aren't. For the purposes of this forum those of us who use any of the much safer naturally based products that are available and do so even once a year (though time frames have never been established) are still lumped together with the most egregious abusers of hard chemicals as "treaters". Calbee is a "treater" under the rules of the forum.
    "People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
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    Baker Oregon
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    2,490

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Welcome to the club.

    If you cannot find local TX free bees, the next best is TX free queens from a comparable environment. This is what I have done this season after a 88% die off last winter (mite induced weakness leading to starving with honey in the hive). Next spring I will see how successful the genetics I brought in have been.
    Dan Hayden 4 Years. 12 hives. Tx Free. USDA Zone 5b.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
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    Morro Bay, California, USA
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    992

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    This is the second iteration of CalBee's cry for help following the September collapse of his apiary. CalBee has not provided much clear data (images, standard mite counts, weights).

    I see two primary and competing hypothesis at this time:
    Assumption 1. Hives are exhibiting a classic late season collapse.
    Assumption 2. Hives are "Russian" and are undergoing the radical shrinkage in the cluster characteristic of that strain in the autumn.

    Some images, history, counts would resolve these radically different possibilties.

    I think the mite-collapse is most likely. My own, continuing experience with California bees tell me that hives collapse in September if you do not manage them for mites. All the smoke-and-mirrors about regressed small cells and feral "survivor" races does not matter a wit in California in my controlled tests. I had three years of relatively, good experience with the now-unavailable Glenn Hygenic Queens, so imported exotic genetics are a possible route forward. Hygenic genetics must constantly be renewed, it will not persist in a wild outcrossing population.

    I would urge CalBees to do his own investigation. When he gets healthy hives again: Divide his apiary in two. In one half: treat with a "soft" fumigant such as MAQS, thymol, or the Oxalic Acid dribble. In the other half, proceed with a Merince-style brood break (and sugar dust during the broodless period).

    CalBees is also going to need to manage for the brief honey flow in California -- he will need to make his crop from April - June, and pull the honey off by the forth of July. He will need to feed the hive (or find a local nectar supply) for the remainder of the year. He will need to plan ahead on splits and divides, so that he has a honey-surplus capable hive on track in April. A young nuc building up (and using all the nectar for brood) will not make a crop. This is the main issue in California with the divide and conquer approach to mites-- you depopulate the hives, so they are not conditioned to make honey, and late summer splits are in dearth and incapable of expansion without supplemental feeding (or a sought after local nectar supply).

    By comparing his own tests, side-by-side, he can avoid the absorption of downright ludicrous and erroneous "information" from the internet.
    Last edited by JWChesnut; 10-21-2013 at 07:03 PM.

  15. #15
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    Jan 2009
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    Cookeville, TN, USA
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by jim lyon View Post
    The rules of the tf forum are pretty clear, you either are or you aren't. For the purposes of this forum those of us who use any of the much safer naturally based products that are available and do so even once a year (though time frames have never been established) are still lumped together with the most egregious abusers of hard chemicals as "treaters". Calbee is a "treater" under the rules of the forum.
    Actually I think that has been more or less officially relaxed to include people who want to be treatment free, but just aren't quite there yet. I forget which thread it was.
    Since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  16. #16
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    Jul 2011
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    McClure, OH
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    1,017

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    I am with JWChesnut - CalBee, you really need to pick a method and stick to it. Counting mites is essential in this day and age even if you plan on being treatment free. Your final goal is treatment free, and you need a strategy to help your bees to get there.

    Keep in mind that it takes 42 days (+/- 7 days) for a hive to produce foragers. In order to make a crop, your hive needs to be going full speed a month and a half before your main flow. I am talking 8-10 frames of brood. A good book on the subject is G. M. Doolittle's "Management of out-apiaries". I recently did a two part summary and included my schedule (including the timing of the superceding after the main flow or alternative mite treatments). You can use it, but you'll have to map your flows. You can find part I here and part II here.

    I hope this helps.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Rusty Hills Farm View Post
    Not everybody jumps in with both feet. Some people ease in as they read and learn and make choices. I don't think it is fair to bust anybody's chops for not being treatment-free ENOUGH. It's a process. Some folks are still figuring out how to get there and still have live bees.
    That's fair enough. Lets have it laid out clearly then.

    The fundamental thing to understand is that treatment free beekeeping necessarily goes hand in hand with a breeding program. You have to continually make new colonies from your best - and only from your best - to maintain and improve the health of your stock (so you need to figure out how 'best' is to be measured, and to be able to tell which are best...).

    This is what animal husbandry is, and always has been founded upon. If you don't do husbandry properly, you will be bound to failure. Its that simple.

    The ideal program is:

    1) Source mite resistant bees

    2) Locate them where the likelihood of mating with feral survivors is high, and the likelihood of mating with treated bees is low

    3) Continually raise more stocks than you need to replace the failure/poor performers, and to give rise to better and better genetic combination (more and more mite resistant and improved general healthy and vitality - giving good crops.

    4) Aim to dominate the local drone population

    Unless you are lucky enough to be within an established thriving survivor/tf locality, you have to establish not just a tf hive, or a tf apiary, but a tf breeding pool.

    Anything less will be bound to fail. That's how it works. That's how its always worked.

    Raising new stocks from what you have carefully established to be your best is the total of the hands-on part. Anything else, try to leave to the bees to sort out for themselves. That way you'll get bees that can take care of themself.

    Be aware: nothing will frustrate the process of raising health faster than treating! It is fatally addictive. The sole exception is to preserve, or prepare a colony for requeening with what will hopefully be better genetics. Work to minimise drone output from such 'hospital' colonies.

    Mike (UK)
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by JWChesnut View Post
    My own, continuing experience with California bees tell me that hives collapse in September if you do not manage them for mites.
    You are generalising from your own failure to the whole of your state. There are no grounds for doing so. What didn't work for you (for any number of reasons) might well work for somebody else.

    Quote Originally Posted by JWChesnut View Post
    All the smoke-and-mirrors about regressed small cells and feral "survivor" races does not matter a wit in California in my controlled tests.
    What do you mean by 'smoke and mirrors'? And in what ways were your tests 'controlled'? Would 'closely monitored - where monitoring could be done' be a better description?

    Quote Originally Posted by JWChesnut View Post
    Hygenic genetics must constantly be renewed, it will not persist in a wild outcrossing population.
    That depends entirely on the qualities of the wild/feral population.

    You need to be much more careful about extrapolating from your own experience to make general statements. Lots of people have, like you, failed to achieve highly productive t/f bees. But lots of others have. They are standing proof of the inadequacy of your logic.

    Mike (UK)
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

  19. #19
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    Jul 2013
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    Morro Bay, California, USA
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by mike bispham View Post
    And in what ways were your tests 'controlled'?
    I have an experimental TF apiary on a north facing mountain ridge surounded by State Park land where I hive feral swarms. I have a paired apiary on a ridge similarly situated about 2 miles distant. I control this pair group with similar equipment, numbers and manipulation, but use one of the "soft" fumigants on the Treated apiary. I have been doing this for more than a decade (since returning from Costa Rica). Recently, I run natural comb on Deep + (x) Medium boxes over screen boards.

    My *treated* mountain apiary has the same production, high survival and low rate of supersedure as the other out-yards I maintain, it is statistically inseparable from my larger collection of apiaries. The TF apiary has poor survival and poor production, and a supersedure-failed queen syndrome. I have multiple years of paired data where the TF is statistically different than the (much) larger T collection of out-yards, and statistically different from its Treated pair on its own mountain. The T and TF pair are identical in a measures of mite growth and expression during the late-spring and summer period when/if I withhold treatment on the T hives with honey supers on.

    Quote Originally Posted by mike bispham View Post
    Hygenics -- That depends entirely on the qualities of the wild/feral population.
    I agree -- so the first test anyone should do -- a unbiased estimate of hygenics and/or the intangible "survivor fitness".
    Instead, the classic decision for TF is a philosophical one -- a person with experience growing organic tomatoes, and concludes that raising bees is just like tomatoes -- add a lot of compost, pick a TMVF resistant strain, and bingo, lots of salsa. The decision is made "a priori" and never evaluated.

    Minnesota Hygenics or the Louisiana bees are not going to persist in the wild --- these are very highly selected, and hence fragile genotypes, these will revert very rapidly to the background bee. The much simpler and robust adaptation to Varroa is constant swarming. This adaptation is likely to become dominant in a wild population, and will introgress into a domesticated strain. These are called AHB in California, and they have certain drawbacks.

    Quote Originally Posted by mike bispham View Post
    You are generalising from your own failure to the whole of your state. There are no grounds for doing so.
    Lots of people have, like you, failed to achieve highly productive t/f bees. But lots of others have. They are standing proof of the inadequacy of your logic.
    Since I have been keeping bees since 1975 (except for 1992 when the original Varroa invasion killed by apiary), I have no insecurity that I know how to husband the little insects. What I have not seen in my own experience is *anyone* in my county who has kept TF hives thrifty and productive. Some manage in the "expansion model" which means their hives are constantly small and young. Small young hives do not produce surplus in California. Small young hives cannot be marketed for pollination. They are garden ornaments.

    I have been regaled with tales of TF bees in California, but on closer inspection -- the tales have proven just that - Walter Mitty dreams of newly-minted armchair experts, Ganga-smoke dazzled fantasies of intuitive believers, fisherman lies and marketing hype of trust-fund hipsters, or patent hazards of Africanized swarms.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by JWChesnut View Post
    I have an experimental TF apiary on a north facing mountain ridge surounded by State Park land where I hive feral swarms. I have a paired apiary on a ridge similarly situated about 2 miles distant. I control this pair group with similar equipment, numbers and manipulation, but use one of the "soft" fumigants on the Treated apiary.
    1st: how do you know the swarms you hive are feral survivors? How far have they come, and in what sort of isolation? Is feral surviving far along at that place?

    What I'm asking after is: detail of intial genetics.

    2nd: 2 miles distant is no distance at all for mating. What steps did you take to increase the levels of resistant drones for mating purposes?

    3rd: How many colonies were held at each site? At that distance, if the treated outnumber the untreateds heavily you'll have constant genetic downgrading in each generation.

    4th: How much breeding did you do (of the untreateds)? Were you breeding actively, or just 'bonding' the caught swarms?

    5th: (Assuming you were breeding actively: how were you evaluating for selection purposes? To what degree were you re-queening?

    Without knowing the answers to these - and probably a few more - questions, it isn't possible to form a view as to the likely causes of failure.

    Mike (UK)
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
    http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/

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