I saw a talk in Philadelphia recently by Laurie Herboldsheimer (Ramona), who with Dean Stiglitz wrote a treatment-free manual for beekeeping, "The Complete Idiots Guide." Ramona has been exploring the topic of microbial ecology and how important it is in the natural environment for bees.
So here's a video of her talk:
In another thread in the General Topics section, we've been discussing different ways to use these ideas to change what we do as beekeepers. Part of that conversation is about how bad different treatments are for the microbes. But for many beekeepers, treatments are still part of the plan, and in that thread, we're not necessarily avoiding treatments.
The most beneficial change, obviously, is to avoid treatments of all sorts, so the bees and the microbes can establish a harmonious mutual-aid community that deals with pests, diseases, and other problems most effectively. But for those who are already avoiding treatments, I wonder what else is there to do? Are there other specific ways that people can think of to take advantage of what we know about microbes in the hive?
For example, what about taking bees from healthy hives — can we put them into hives that are doing poorly? If microbes in the donor colony are helpful, is that one way to inoculate and get the good microbes established in the other colony? Somewhere I read that hives will accept nurse bees from another colony, even if they'll fight off foragers. Are there ways to finesse that transfer of bees from one colony to another?
Or is it enough, say, to transfer a frame of brood comb to the weaker hive, which is often done but generally without the nurse bees? There are microbes on the comb, in the cappings as Ramona says in her talk.
And another line of questions... I'm trying to work my own hives towards treatment-free. I won't go into details here, just to say I'm not there yet. In Philadelphia a lot of beekeepers have found the easiest way is to start with commercial packages of bees, with the idea of moving towards more natural methods. Some steps include: requeening from better (local) stock, going foundation-free to avoid chemically-tainted foundation, drone-trapping and sugar dusting to keep mite levels down, not limiting the brood nest with a queen excluder, trying to go small-cell, welcoming queen succession (via splitting or supersedure) as a way to get local genetics from local drones, and selectively breeding from our most well-adapted bees. (A lot of these ideas are explained in the Idiots Guide book.) So the question is, in this transition how can beekeepers foster the microbial communities? Which of these interim methods seem most likely to help or handicap the microbial ecology?
What about smoke? What about ventilation? Location? Shade? Access to diverse vegetation? Etc. What can treatment-free beekeepers do to improve the "balancing act" with bees, mites, molds, fungi, and bacteria?
Thanks for your ideas. I think Ramona's talk is a good starting point for this discussion, and I highly recommend the video for anyone who hasn't really thought about beekeeping with microbes in mind.