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  1. #1
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    Default Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    I'm preparing for a basic informational presentation on treatment options - including treatment free. I'm trying to present just the basic unvarnished facts to the best of my ability without spin one way or the other.

    People who have achieved success doing treatment free usually seem to experience a period of relatively high losses before survival numbers get to the point where they can concentrate on much more than just keeping their apiaries viable.

    Assuming that you start out (and continue) with bees that have decent genetic potential, have enough colonies for the project to be viable, and propagate from the survivors - how long does it take before the apiary stops struggling to survive and can actually become productive?

    Another related question is this - other than finding and catching your own, are there any reliable sources for people to buy those kinds of bees?

    This is a serious question, and I believe that there is a serious answer out there - probably several.

    Thanks for your help.
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    I have two sources of data that are responsive to your question. One, I have operated an experimental TF apiary in a remote location for more than a decade. I stock this yard with feral swarms caught from those issuing from the caves and live oak tree holes on the mountain.

    The mite/disease resistance of the hived feral swarms is no worse and no greater than my treated colonies. The TF system has adapted over the decade of the experiment, I hive them on drawn foundationless nucs or deeps, and build them up with a combination of drawn and undrawn foundationless. I use drawn comb less than four years old for the started boxes.

    I hive a combination of May swarms and July swarms. I typically have 4-8 colonies in the yard, they have several thousand acres of uninterupted State Park land to forage for wildflower.

    My mite population spikes in September. If I am observing a heavy mite load w/ "crawler" bees, I move the hives to a recovery yard and treat with a fumigant (over the years: OAV, OA dribble, MAQS, Menthol/Thymol); and with fumagilin if I see crawlers but no DWV. I've had a feral hive with the now rare tracheal mites (2009, determined by dissection) -- and I assume the trach mite mean the resistance bred in commercial strain is not fully present in the wild population.

    About half the recovery hives survive. The TF hives express mites in the first (some cases) and invariably in the second year. Most TF hive supercede or dwindle in June of the second year, they do not survive. I see the frequency of queen super-sedure as high in TF experiment -- and many of the supersedure efforts seem to fail in a virgin/ non-productive queen dead-end. Second year hives that go to swarm are split and nuc'd. I use about 1/2 of the nucs for commercial treated increase, and retain the others to combine with dwindling hives in the TF experiment. Second year hives usually enter the fall weak and low on stores, these succumb in the 2nd year winter/3rd year spring.

    I do not cage queens for brood breaks, I am not sure this is effective, as the research shows DWV titer in queens is enormous. The queen eats xxx her weight every day, and this loads her body with virus. A brood break does not fix the underlying damage to the queen's vigor.

    Supersedure means the queen genetics revert to the background norm. I don't believe 4 (or even 8) colonies is sufficient to cause epidemic cross-infection with mites, but this could be a factor in the failure of the colonies to thrive. I live in a foggy, cool coastal climate; and temperatures are below optimum for drone flight for much of the fog season in the summer. This cool fog might explain some of the virgin queen failure I see; and not be the direct impact of DWV/Mites.

    Second set of data are the small groups of new beeks I train. 75% of the refuse to treat because they come to me from a "organic" ethos. Their hives dwindle and die in the second summer. Now new beeks kill hives irregardless, so this data is less useful.

    The feral bees show a combination of Italian and Caucasian/Russian characteristics. Workers bees tend to be highly variable in size and color in a single colony. I do not attempt to use AHB-behavior swarms in the TF --- I strongly do NOT believe "Arizona desert Africans" are a viable path forward for small scale beekeeping. I attended beekeeper funerals in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico due to the Latin American Africans.

  3. #3
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    Brasher Falls, NY, USA
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    What do your September mite counts look like. I had two hives in one yd checked for mites last week and they had 21 mites and 27 mites in the sample of about 300 bees. They also had one and one half frames of capped brood.

    The deadouts I am seeing recently oft times have wooden queen cages in them which means they were queens I put in splits in April this past Spring.
    Mark Berninghausen "That which works, persists."

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    How long does it take? Just a few months if you are particularly bad at it. Sorry just couldn't resist.

    Just a gut feeling form what I have read. woudl guess 4 to 5 years to see the losses begin to taper off. Getting bees from other places does not seem to be a great idea. From what I have sen local bees adapting to local conditions is one of the battles. Bees that do well in one location do not necessarily fair well in another. So any specific location may be able to get bees from any other location and still do well. but the next person would see very different results.

    Any progress in the efforts to breed disease resistant bees are a factor of their own. If it where me I would look at those sources for the most reliable lines of bees for going treatment free. can't really tell you why just my gut on the subject. I am not sure I would even mention that in a presentation. I certainly would not if I wanted the presentation to only be fairly reliable confirmed information. IF that where my criteria I think I would simply tell others. pick you poison and enter battle. I don't think blood lines etc are effective enough to make a difference at this time. The one that will work is the one you breed yourself through increase from the best.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    jwc, since the ferals have not died out completely in your experimental location, do you attribute the survival of that population to swarming?
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    I started the year off purchasing 4 hives that had been TF for a few years and one came from stock that's been TF for decades. Perhaps they weren't completely TF as the previous owner did do sugar dusting. I've left them alone for the most part, I believe all of them eventually superceded their queens this year as they were 3-4 years old. One hive I'm not certain of though, but all had typical mite build ups by late summer. Perhaps this says something about sugar dusting. The hives that superceded later in the season I've left alone since I figure the brood break was sufficient. One hive recently collapsed, they requeened in late July and were building back up nicely but I hadn't had time to get to their new location for about 5 weeks. I don't really advocate TF, but I try to be as treatment free as possible, but from what I've seen in my location, it could take awhile. I don't really a see defined answer for the question either, location will play a key role as well as density of other apiaries.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    There are, I suppose, several aspects here. I was treatment free for 20 years before the Varroa showed up. It took nothing. I was treatment free on large cell and they all died from Varroa. I put commercial bees on wax dipped PermaComb (4.8mm if you average the bottom and the top diameter of a tapered cell) and that was the last time I lost them to Varroa. From when I put the packages on the fully drawn, wax coated small cell to when I had no longer had any Varroa issues, five minutes probably... but winter was still an issue (and seems to get worse with packages as time goes on). So, some feral bees helped with that. Time to raise enough feral queens to requeen everything--a season.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    I'm preparing for a basic informational presentation on treatment options - including treatment free. I'm trying to present just the basic unvarnished facts to the best of my ability without spin one way or the other.

    People who have achieved success doing treatment free usually seem to experience a period of relatively high losses before survival numbers get to the point where they can concentrate on much more than just keeping their apiaries viable.

    Assuming that you start out (and continue) with bees that have decent genetic potential, have enough colonies for the project to be viable, and propagate from the survivors - how long does it take before the apiary stops struggling to survive and can actually become productive?

    This is a serious question, and I believe that there is a serious answer out there - probably several.
    David,

    There is no simple answer to your question. It will be different in every place. In the following account I've restated your presuppositions, in order to supply a full picture. The difficulty is in quantifying your 'decent' and 'enough'. I don't suppose this account of the key factors is comprehensive, but I think it gives an idea of the problems involved in supplying a simple answer. I'm sure it could be better organised as well.

    The key factors are: initial genetics, local genetics and breeding skills.

    Roughly; if have have viable (self-sufficient) initial genetics, and you can preserve that self-sufficiency through effective breeding; you are in a great position

    Whether you can preserve the key traits depends on:

    a) The number of colonies you have

    b) Your breeding skills

    c) The background local genetics:

    If you are surrounded by treating beekeepers your bees will be constantly downgraded, and you'll need to have good numbers, and keep dedicated drone hives to counter them. You will be less likely to have surviving ferals around you. You will have to establish a strong tf bridgehead and defend it hard. That will take good bee raising skills, including the ability to distinguish the key traits early.

    If you are not, or, better, have a strong feral population, matters are entirely different.

    I'd suggest making a three-way diagram, starting with an arrow indicating sound initial genetic input, and showing how these four key factors relate to one another.

    This is best viewed as a 'new start' project. Changing a long established treated population over to tf is a different matter - but the same principles apply.

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

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Of course - location location location...

    I must say though I'm a bit surprised at the relative dearth of answers. So far it seems to be 1-1 Never vs Immediately (on small cell.) No offense to anyone but I'm not counting speculation and first year (or second or third) results. I know there are others, I wish they would chime in.
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    Of course - location location location...

    I must say though I'm a bit surprised at the relative dearth of answers. So far it seems to be 1-1 Never vs Immediately (on small cell.) No offense to anyone but I'm not counting speculation and first year (or second or third) results. I know there are others, I wish they would chime in.
    No offense taken, but since my answer won't be counted, i'll be quiet

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    I must say though I'm a bit surprised at the relative dearth of answers.
    David,

    The answer is... there isn't a simple answer. Don't expect one.

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

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    I look at it like there are 2 methods:

    #1 Start with bees of proven mite resistance: B Weaver, Purvis or best yet local treatment free bees.

    #2 Start with a lot (maybe 20) hives and use the Bond Method and breed from the survivors.

    The key is that the neighborhood has to be free of treated colonies or you will have to have a lot of hives and do a lot of work to maintain your genetics.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by heaflaw View Post
    I look at it like there are 2 methods:

    #1 Start with bees of proven mite resistance: B Weaver, Purvis or best yet local treatment free bees.

    #2 Start with a lot (maybe 20) hives and use the Bond Method and breed from the survivors.
    This is a good early distinction to make. The question cannot be addressed without it, and my response addressed only the first part.

    Quote Originally Posted by heaflaw View Post
    The key is that the neighborhood has to be free of treated colonies or you will have to have a lot of hives and do a lot of work to maintain your genetics.
    Ideally we would get figures attached - for the moment the best we can say is 'the fewer treated/more feral the better'. Its up to us, in any location, to move the odds in our own favour by raising numbers, especially of strong drone hives. For what its worth there seems to be good reason to understand that just a small percentage of mite-managers is enough to be very helpful.

    To return to the question as David initially posed it:

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    I'm preparing for a basic informational presentation on treatment options - including treatment free. I'm trying to present just the basic unvarnished facts to the best of my ability without spin one way or the other.
    Such facts are thin on the ground, and in each case report only local conditions. You've said you are not interested in 'speculation' but well reasoned accounts go a long way toward explaining why that is, and how to manage the difficulties. Presenting those facts would be very helpful.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    People who have achieved success doing treatment free usually seem to experience a period of relatively high losses before survival numbers get to the point where they can concentrate on much more than just keeping their apiaries viable.
    Some people do. With others it seems to be like falling off a log. Again, the rationale outlined here indicates why that is.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    Assuming that you start out (and continue) with bees that have decent genetic potential, have enough colonies for the project to be viable, and propagate from the survivors - how long does it take before the apiary stops struggling to survive and can actually become productive?
    Can you see now why more information is needed before a quantitive response can be made?

    Can you see too why much depends on the skill and effort made by the individual? There are plenty of reports of failures. In most cases close questioning reveals basic errors in understanding the processes of population husbandry.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    Another related question is this - other than finding and catching your own, are there any reliable sources for people to buy those kinds of bees?
    That too depends where you are - here in the UK no. There things are different. Glen Apiaries website appears to be very helpful in respect of purpose-bred 'resistant' bees. Others may know of more. If you state your locality you may get local responses. Getting into the swarm collection and cut-out business may be a good way to pick up wild genetics.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    This is a serious question, and I believe that there is a serious answer out there - probably several.
    I agree, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to think and talk about it.

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

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    jwc, since the ferals have not died out completely in your experimental location, do you attribute the survival of that population to swarming?
    Yes, the core successful behavioral response I see in my region to Varroa is nearly constant supersedure and swarming.

    You see this in both AHB strains (which are present in my area) and in more nearly Italian hybrid mutts. I thought I had become a "god" of swarm traps, since I am so successful (after 10 years of false starts), but I think the arrival of AHB genetics has changed the bees to find my traps, and I am benefiting from the bees shift in behavior.

    I've stated before I believe the maintenance of a highly selected and fragile genotype like Minnesota Hygenic is going to be impossible in the wild due to the constant "entropy" of a obligate outbreeding free-flying insect.

    The simplest approach that adds fitness to the population is reversion to frequent swarming. Swarming has been selected against by breeders seeking to domesticate the bees as it reduces production and complicates management. The reversion to frequent and rapid colony division is an simple and robust reassertion of the feral genotype.

    Swarming defeats Varroa by maintaining vigorous young queens uncontaminated with sublethal levels of virus. It provides a strategic broodbreak, and encourages new comb production. In my region, with its long summer drought and dearth, it is also going to encourage thrifty bees with small clusters. An "Italian-behavior" swarm in July is not going to enter winter in equilibrium -- too much brood and not enough winter stores.

    A different climate (with a long, productive summer, instead of a drying one) might encourage a longer season of colony division.

    In some ways, what I am seeing is the "Anti-Ives". The natural, successful wild colonies are small, compact young ones. Hiving these, and maintaining their ethology would encourage duplicating many nucs, single deeps or double mediums. Substituting colony numbers for towers.

    Not much honey, but a king's ransom in pollination contracts (though you need to combine to make the contractual frame count).

    The concept of local maximums of fitness and fragility of genotype can be illustrated. This concept has been explored for many organisms. Consider a hypothetical colony of F1 Minnesota Hybrids, these are wild-outbred, and might be at 75% on a scale of genotype "complexity". They have high "fitness" or say 50% of the colonies survive. Illustrated by the red dot. In future swarming, the sucessor colonies are going to reduce in complexity as they revert to the population norm (or 50% complexity where a minimum number of colonies survive). This reduces fitness. However, some local maximum of a very basic and robust genotype (say AHB) has higher fitness than the norm, and the meta-population genetics will gravitate to this easy to achieve (low slope to climb) local maximum. The movement to local maximums with intermediate fitness (sometimes quite low) is well documented in many species and in ecosystems. I believe we are seeing this in my local feral population, an all-purpose, not very productive, but highly robust social unit. The individual bees colonies sicken and die, but the meta-population survives by wild fecundity.


    Remember when researchers fully described the honey bee genome, they were quite shocked to find immune response genes were deleted in comparison to other non-social insects. The evolutionary imperative toward simplicity and generalization, substituting social organization, has been operating on bees for a very long time.

    Swarming could (and this is speculative) be controlled by a single gene expression of one component of Queen Mandibular Pheromone. QMP is well studied as a negative control on swarming, and is made up a collection relatively simple chemicals -- at least 3 very similar unbranched carbon chains. Minnesota Hygenic has been studied with "quantitative trait loci" and has identified (from memory here) 17 separate gene locations as central to behavior. This hypothetical difference (one gene coding for a QMP component) vs. multi-loci for hygenic explains the complexity of the genotype vector.
    Last edited by JWChesnut; 10-12-2013 at 01:49 PM.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by mike bispham View Post
    David,

    The answer is... there isn't a simple answer. Don't expect one.

    Mike
    All I am asking is how long it took for your treatment free apiary to become productive. That actually is a simple question. I know I have seen numerous claims on here of "I have not treated in XX years." But I'm starting to wonder if very few of those bee keepers can claim that their treatment free apiaries are productive. I know Tim Ives and Solomon Parker and Michael Bush do. I assume there are others. Perhaps I assume incorrectly.
    since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    This might be of interest on this topic:
    http://www.saunalahti.fi/lunden/varroakertomus.htm

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    I'm preparing for a basic informational presentation on treatment options - including treatment free. I'm trying to present just the basic unvarnished facts to the best of my ability without spin one way or the other.
    if i were asked to discuss this topic in a presentation i would try to make the point that keeping bees post varroa without treatments (and without supplemental feeding as is usually the case with most going tf) is a relatively new approach, practiced by a minority of beekeepers, and yielding highly variable results when it comes to survivability and productivity.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    People who have achieved success doing treatment free usually seem to experience a period of relatively high losses before survival numbers get to the point where they can concentrate on much more than just keeping their apiaries viable.
    this is also variable. i don't have a reference for these, but i think i've read here that kirk webster's losses for example are more cyclical, and there are others like myself who did not have a lot of losses to start with, and yet others whose losses came after 2-3 years.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    Assuming that you start out (and continue) with bees that have decent genetic potential, have enough colonies for the project to be viable, and propagate from the survivors - how long does it take before the apiary stops struggling to survive and can actually become productive?.
    i would direct any prospects who want to pursue tf to someone in their area who has been doing it for a realistic estimate of how it may work. if there is not anyone with experience to ask, i would say the prospect would be charting new territory. i say this because i believe it is easier to go tf in some locations and not as easy in others, quality of forage and availability of feral drones being the difference.

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    Another related question is this - other than finding and catching your own, are there any reliable sources for people to buy those kinds of bees?.
    i'll have such bees for sale next year that i believe will do well in this area, but they won't be coming with any guarantees. my feeling is that while genetics are important they do not trump other factors like location, nutrition, and management practices.

    best of luck with your presentation david.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Quote Originally Posted by David LaFerney View Post
    All I am asking is how long it took for your treatment free apiary to become productive.
    i've harvested honey every year.

    2010 4 hives 14 gallons (late start, missed most of spring flow)
    2011 10 hives 28 gallons (6 were first year colonies)
    2012 12 hives 37 gallons (lots of swarms)
    2013 12 hives 62 gallons (range was 0 - 180 lbs. per hive)

    looking at harvested honey only, not counting making splits and nucs, and getting all that comb drawn out!
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    jwc, many thanks for your reply, i'm still digesting it.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Treatment Free - How long does it take?

    Removed
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
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