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  1. #1
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    Default Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    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.

    .
    Last edited by Kofu; 02-21-2014 at 03:36 PM. Reason: oh my gosh, a typo!
    Beekeeping - a form of magic that weaves together two elements: wood and bees.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    You have some interesting questions. I'm watching the video so I may have more to say afterwards, but I've already seen an earlier version of this presentation. Ramona has been giving it for a couple years.

    A thought about moving bees to poor performing hives: If the hive is handicapped due to microbial imbalance, then moving microbes will not help because they'll be subject to the same effects as in the hive already is. The best you could expect would be dilution of the treated comb with non-treated combs, but then you're still asking for further imbalance due to the effect still existing. It's not like moving a hive to a new location or an animal to a new cage. Bacteria and fungi live much faster than higher animals and are much more affected by environmental conditions in the short term.

    The simple solution to fostering the correct microbial community is to not mess with it by putting gunk in the hive, be it antibiotics, oils, or sugar.

    Don't worry about smoke. Ventilation should be adequate as usual, same with location and shade and forage. Again, the best thing you can do to keep the correct balance is just to leave them alone. The perfect balance will naturally be present in a totally un-interfered-with colony.

    But this whole issue only applies to microbial diseases and those that ferment pollen. The major issue still in beekeeping today is mites which microbes only affect indirectly. If the hive is weak, it will have more problems with every pest depending on conditions.

    So in conclusion, I don't believe you can do any more to help with the microbial issue other than not doing anything to the hive. Treatments will have an effect, sugar will have an effect, and most especially antibiotics will have an effect. Never use antibiotics.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Putting brood, frames, and comb from healthy hives into lagging hives is common management practice. Oddly enough, so is the opposite, culling lagging colonies by combining them with stronger colonies.

    But, I've never heard of someone taking frames from a resistant colony and combining them with non-resistant colonies to see if resistance can be transferred that way.

    I'd like to make the point that there is a constant flux in the microflora both inside and outside the hive. In fact, many of those microbes make their own antibiotics, and even those microbes can be replaced by microbes producing different antibiotics.

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    A thought about moving bees to poor performing hives: If the hive is handicapped due to microbial imbalance, then moving microbes will not help because they'll be subject to the same effects as in the hive already is.
    The concept here, from the video, is that the nurse bees from the other colony are carrying beneficial microbes in their lower intestines. Emerging brood in the receiving hive will get an 'inoculation' of the good bacteria through proctodeal trophylaxis (ingesting poop from the nurse bees). This is documented in studies of termites, so it's a working hypothesis for honeybees.

    It's an idea worth trying, but as a newbie beekeeper (3 years and counting) I'm not sure how to get bees from one colony to the other, and make sure their 'contribution' is accepted.
    Beekeeping - a form of magic that weaves together two elements: wood and bees.

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by WLC View Post
    I've never heard of someone taking frames from a resistant colony and combining them with non-resistant colonies to see if resistance can be transferred that way.
    "Resistant" meaning disease resistance? I was thinking more generally, of transferring bees from a thriving colony to another which is weak for whatever reason, but I think watching specifically for hives that show higher levels of resistance to disease would be a good way to operationalize this sort of experiment. For those of us with only a handful of hives, it would be sort of an act of faith that it helps, not any sort of controlled experiment. So for us, is there any reason not to do it? I.e., would the effects be benign if not actually beneficial?

    Quote Originally Posted by WLC View Post
    I'd like to make the point that there is a constant flux in the microflora both inside and outside the hive. In fact, many of those microbes make their own antibiotics, and even those microbes can be replaced by microbes producing different antibiotics.
    I think that's another area to watch for research about, and maybe to experiment with. Are microflora moving between hives in the same apiary? How? Do the "better" microbes tend to spread more easily, to edge out those that are not helping out so much?

    In the video, Ramona makes a good point, how there aren't "good" microbes and "bad" microbes. But I think somehow there might be some that are "better," and I guess that's a premise in my questions. So it's not just the "balance" that the microbes achieve given the conditions of the hive, but specific species of bacteria, molds, and yeasts.
    Beekeeping - a form of magic that weaves together two elements: wood and bees.

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    To me, the idea that a colony is a very complex ecosystem seems blindingly obvious.

    It's one of the reasons I decided to start out treatment free. It seemed to me that the conventional advice, which is often that a new beekeeper should treat until he figures out the basics of beekeeping, is backwards. If you start out by putting stuff into the hive that damages that ecosystem in ways that can't be easily quantified, how will you know how to diagnose the problem when things go wrong? If you treat, you have introduced a lot of variables.

    This might not be a problem, if treatment were some kind of panacea that guaranteed success, but I keep seeing posts from folks who have lost a lot of hives this winter despite treatment.
    Ray--1 year, 7 hives, TF

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    "In the video, Ramona makes a good point, how there aren't "good" microbes and "bad" microbes. But I think somehow there might be some that are "better," and I guess that's a premise in my questions. So it's not just the "balance" that the microbes achieve given the conditions of the hive, but specific species of bacteria, molds, and yeasts. "

    I know for a fact that there are definitely 'bad' microbes, even when it comes to beekeeping.

    Even when you don't disrupt the balance by treating, 'bad' microbes can become a problem because of what's occurring in the local environment. It's one of the reasons why probiotics, and even prebiotics, are terms that are starting to enter the beekeeper's lexicon.

    I'll advocate for exploring the possibilities and practical applications of both probiotics and prebiotics in beekeeping.

    But, in terms of probiotics, I'm starting to think that LAB are just bit players. I've got a good mind to add some potassium metabisulfite to one of my ferments one of these days.

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    What about the fact that microbes are already being transferred between neighboring hives through drifting?

    I find it impossible to conclude that the microbes in this hive aren't already in that hive unless that hive has been treated with antibiotics or antifungals in which case it won't do any good to put them there.
    Last edited by Solomon Parker; 02-22-2014 at 09:01 PM.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    How different would beneficial probiotics and prebiotics be between vertibrates and insects?
    Lawrence Heafner
    15 hives; 15 years; TF for 10; Zone 7B

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by heaflaw View Post
    How different would beneficial probiotics and prebiotics be between vertibrates and insects?
    Probiotics and prebiotics would differ greatly between insects and insects, and between vertebrates and vertebrates. Between insects and vertebrates, the difference would be enormous.

    There is a long quote from Robert Heinlein describing the diverse talents that a human being should have. It ends, "Specialization is for insects."

    A huge part of that specialization is in the microbial flora carried by insects, and how the insects have adapted to support their needed partners. A simple adaptation to support one microbe versus another can separate otherwise closely-related species. An example can be found in Jewel Wasps:

    https://www.sciencemag.org/content/3...7.figures-only

    In this case, the two closely-related species of wasps have different flora. A hybrid between them can't survive ... the flora are fatal to the second generation males of the hybrid. So even in species that close, if you made a probiotic preparation (live organisms) to support one species, it might kill the other. And likewise, to support that specific flora, a species probably needs to seek specific nutrients the microbes need (marketing guys would call this prebiotics ... wasps would call this feeding on what they need).

    There might be some microbes in common between insects and vertebrates if they shared a food source. I would not be surprised to find that bees and hummingbirds share a few microbes related to nectar. Cows and termites have some generally similar types of cellulose-digesting organisms in their digestive systems. But generally, species are usually tied to a very specific niche, which in large part is based on their food, and that food preference will be tied to the kinds of micro-organisms on which the species depends.

    A little word on "probiotics" may be in order. Humans have their own microbial flora, typically messed up by our use of antibiotics these days. While it is true enough that the health of our gut microbes influences us, and that we can take in things like lactobacteria from yoghurt, much of what you hear about probiotics is marketing hype. I say that as a user of probiotics. I can tell a difference in my intestinal ... uh ... comfort if I use some brands, but it is also quite clear to me that whatever benefit I get from using them goes away in a few days after I stop taking them. In other words, while you can get a temporary benefit from forcing your intestinal flora to change, the organisms thus introduced from commercial capsules of probiotic don't persist. They don't "fix" the problem. The manufacturers have no desire at all to introduce something in a $0.10 capsule that will cure you. They want you to have to keep popping a couple of those a day for as long as they can con you into it. It is possible to transplant healthy intestinal organisms from person to person, although the details are a bit gross and it would be hard to sell as oral caplets.

    Bees, on the other hand, have exactly one way to carry and exchange nectar, and the whole hive gets in to the act. Transmission of the organisms they need is assured (also the organisms they don't need). I'm skeptical of any idea that we could market a "probiotic" to promote healthy flora of bees. Bees are equipped to do this themselves, if we don't mess up the process.
    Last edited by Phoebee; 02-23-2014 at 09:19 AM.

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    What about the fact that microbes are already being transferred between neighboring hives through drifting?
    I find it impossible to conclude that the microbes in this hive aren't already in that hive unless that hive has been treated with antibiotics or antifungals in which case it won't do any good to put them there.
    It all has to do with how the bees get inoculated.

    Larva do not have a sterile gut, but shed the entire lining of the alimentary canal (and contents) just before they pupate...the adult, emerging bee does have a sterile gut.

    The route of inoculation is different even between the 8 core species of gut bacteria. At first, like the pollen, there seems to be a plethora of (probably some kind of opurtunistic) microbes, which are gradually replaced by the core set. Some of this research is ongoing and not yet published, but suffice to say that the bees acquire the core set in their first few days of life, which gradually grows to fill the gut over the next bunch of days. I think it's unlikely that any of the core set gets displaced after it is well established. Nosema could be an exception, but I can't think of another microbial bee disease that infects and attacks adult bees.

    I think there is a 'kettle' of sorts back at the hive where the microbial community is fostered. It _may_ be that a frame of emerging bees, nurse bees, comb, etc can influence another hive in a way that drifters can't...for instance, do drifting bees have direct contact with young house/nurse bees?

    deknow
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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Thanks Phoebee. Very informative for someone like me with no background knowledge.
    Lawrence Heafner
    15 hives; 15 years; TF for 10; Zone 7B

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by Kofu View Post
    It's an idea worth trying, but as a newbie beekeeper (3 years and counting) I'm not sure how to get bees from one colony to the other, and make sure their 'contribution' is accepted.
    That isn't clear to anyone. Ramona's comments are based upon the common manipulation of 'boosting' a hive with a frame of emerging brood and adhereing bees. There is more going on than simply a boost in population...what the commonly observed positive effects from doing this is actually due to we don't really know.

    On the other hand, look at the common advice...boost a weak colony from a strong colony....combine a weak colony with a strong colony.

    Note that you are not advised to bust up a weak colony and spread the frames to stronger colonies (presumably because they may have a disease like foulbrood, nosema, chalkbrood ,etc). What are these diseases but 'microbial imbalances' that we are afraid might influence our strong colonies if frames are transferred.

    deknow
    The perils of benefactors; The blessings of parasites; Blindness blindness and sight -Joni Mitchell 'Shadows and Light'

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by deknow View Post
    It _may_ be that a frame of emerging bees, nurse bees, comb, etc can influence another hive in a way that drifters can't...for instance, do drifting bees have direct contact with young house/nurse bees?

    deknow
    good stuff dean. is it known to what degree that incoming nectar and water are passed around from the foragers to the house bees?
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by heaflaw View Post
    How different would beneficial probiotics and prebiotics be between vertibrates and insects?
    It's clear that they would form different communities, although they would have many genera in common.

    I've inoculated milk with honey and pollen (from bees) and probiotics (for humans) and I initially saw the milk gelling (like in yogurt and some cheeses). I haven't seen this with other milk cultures with individual inoculants.

    So, there is something to be learned from the mix between insect derived microflora and LAB (meant for humans).

    I am seeing indications of some milk protein breakdown (hydrolysis) in the cultures, as an aside.

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    But this whole issue only applies to microbial diseases and those that ferment pollen. The major issue still in beekeeping today is mites which microbes only affect indirectly. If the hive is weak, it will have more problems with every pest depending on conditions.
    It is well within the realm of possibility that issues with the microbes affect how the bees are able to assimilate nutrients. If the 'correct' microbial balance nurtures both the microbial community _and_ the host, what can we expect from a damaged microbial community/balance?

    Another NPR show I heard (it was from 2009, but I read the transcript the other day after listening to it briefly) was a guy talking about how difficult it was to measure how much nutrition is assimilated when we eat it. The problem being that some proteins don't digest easily, and end up as food for bacteria in the lower gut...which feeds the bacteria, but doesn't assimlate the energy into the person...it's like feeding a pet.

    The old way to try and measure this was to eat something known, and measure what comes out the other end...with something like eggs, the proteins are near 100% broken down by the time it comes out.

    But (or butt), if you look at people with cholostomy bags, you can see what is actually broken down in the digestive system (where it does you some good). Raw eggs were only about 65% broken down...cooked eggs near 100%.
    The perils of benefactors; The blessings of parasites; Blindness blindness and sight -Joni Mitchell 'Shadows and Light'

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    >This might not be a problem, if treatment were some kind of panacea that guaranteed success, but I keep seeing posts from folks who have lost a lot of hives this winter despite treatment.

    Yes. Everyone loses hives. Some winters are worse than others. But if you are a treater, the other treaters just say, "you did what you could". If you are not a treater, the other treaters say "see, if only you had treated...". And of course the inverse as well happens. I am also baffled by the advice that you should try convential beekeeping first and get the hang of that before going treatment free. What is it that is easier about treating? What is easier about large cell foundation? What is easier about disrupting the ecology and later trying to repair it?
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bush View Post
    >What is easier about disrupting the ecology and later trying to repair it?
    This question is on-topic for this thread, rather than the general question about whether or not to "treat." (What a funny word. "Hello, girls. Here's a 'treat' for you!")

    My questions come from experience in the last year. My package of allegedly small-cell, treatment-free bees in 2012 had died a miserable death in the fall, with clear signs of DWV and PMS, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go on. But early last year a friend asked to apprentice/help out, if I was doing it again, so "Once more into the breach, dear friends..."

    We drove up to a county outside Philadelphia for a 3# package. I emailed back and forth with the local beekeeper who was bringing up a load of packages. It turns out he was getting them from Georgia, where they were "building up on the blueberries." He didn't know the breed of bees, except that the queens were from commercial breeders. When we got to his place, on a sunny day at the end of March, the roads all around were packed with cars parked on the side of the road. And looking through the crowd, it seemed like nearly every beekeeper I knew from the local Phila association was up there for one or more packages. He was selling 100s. (How many packages can you get onto a trailer, maybe 15'x10'x8' or so?)

    Now and this is the important part our association leans toward "treatment free." We had Sam Comfort and John Seaborn come and talk to us in 2012, Michael Bush in 2013, and Ramona and Dean this year. Langstroth, top-bar, Warre, everybody... it seems like we're all getting packages from southern suppliers. The same beekeeper was at Ramona and Dean's talk this year passing out fliers selling his packages this spring. And in their talks, Ramona and Dean both told us about how commercial suppliers "treat the snot out of 'em" with antibiotics. (They sort of have to, right? for the paperwork needed to make sure they're not selling bees with foul brood or nosema.) In another thread, Michael, you cite the studies showing tetracycline resistance in the bacteria of bees throughout the country, and that's where it comes from.

    The standard line that I heard last year was: Buy packages from the South and requeen them with locally bred queens. I think Ramona's talk throws all that up in the air!

    Maybe beekeepers in some parts of the country have the luxury of getting locally-sourced bees that have avoided antibiotic treatments. But probably a lot of people reading this forum, like me, are keeping bees just 2-3 steps removed from heavily treated sources, at best. So yes, one question is, How do we repair the damage after the ecology is disrupted?

    Amazingly, many colonies of bees do survive. That's the first thing. To recognize that the microbes are available locally and get into the system pretty early on. So if there are studies that can begin to shed light on how that happens, let's hear about them and think about what we can do to assist.

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    > My package of allegedly small-cell, treatment-free bees...

    Oddly enough most of the so-called treatment-free bees being marketed seem to be treated with essential oils, which of course disrupt the microbes...

    >How do we repair the damage after the ecology is disrupted?

    I'm not even sure you can repair it. But if you can get some local feral bees you may be able to do a cutout and in the process innoculate your apiary and then by giving some brood and pollen frames to your other hives, innoculate them...
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

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    Default Re: Beekeeping with microbes - treatment-free

    >And in their talks, Ramona and Dean both told us about how commercial suppliers "treat the snot out of 'em" with antibiotics. (They sort of have to, right? for the paperwork needed to make sure they're not selling bees with foul brood or nosema.)

    Maybe someplace. Mine are not treated and the state does not require that. They only require inspection for diseases, not treatment when they don't have them.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

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