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  1. #1
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    Question Treatment free with a single hive?

    Hi there,

    I am a new beek, I built a TBH and installed a swarm this spring, which has done very well (although very little honey - we've had strange weather this year in New Zealand and the intire industry has taken a honey production hit). However, the girls do have some varroa (15-20 a day on the sticky board focussed under the drone combs, but I haven't spotted any sign of deformed wings).

    I have been been doing lots of reading trying to work out how best to approach the problem, and the more I read (particularly on Michael Bush's website) about treatment free beekeeping, the more right it feels. But the issue I'm running up against and that I just can't find any answers to is whether treatment-free is really an option with only one hive?

    In the eyes of this community, should a hobbyist:
    a. Go treatment free and hope the hive survives?
    b. Use "crutches" such as sugar dusting to knock excessive varroa numbers down, and otherwise hope for the best?
    c. Accept that treatment free is not possible with only one hive and to hit it with formic/oxylic/some other treatment?

    Looking at the bigger picture, I feel that option c. is selfish - I'm propping up weak bee genetics and selectively breeding strong varroa in the hope of keeping my hive going because I like them. At the same time I really don't want my hive to fail.

    I really am stuck for space so splitting to more hives is going to be tricky. I may be able to find space for some nucs, but they won't be as well situated as the single hive I have - which I placed in the only spot on my property with sun and some wind shelter.

    We've just come into autumn here in NZ so now is the time that the treaters are treating, trying to ensure their hives are strong enough to get through winter. By the way winter here in Wellington will mean temperatures down to about 5 degrees, rain, and a LOT of wind. But also some sunny days where the hive gets about 6 hours of direct sun, and no snow.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Hamilton, Alabama
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    1,212

    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    My opinion is that your colony is not from stock selected for mite tolerance and therefore will most likely die within the next 2 years unless you treat them for varroa. This does not mean that I advocate treating for varroa, I'm just stating what I think will happen. I have kept bees treatment free since 2005, but it was done by moving entirely to mite tolerant stock. Michael Bush will read this and hopefully give you his perspective. Keep in mind that his climate and my climate are dramatically different so what works for him would not necessarily work for me.... or for you.
    DarJones - 44 years, 10 colonies (max 40), sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 11 frame broodnest, small cell

  3. #3
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    jackson county, alabama, usa
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    welcome to the forum nick!

    i'm sure you will get all kinds of answers to your query but in the end it is up to you how to proceed. sounds like you've done your homework. experimenting and learning are part of the fun. make a choice, see what happens, and adjust your program accordingly.

    maintaining just one colony is tough either on or off treatments, but if that's what you have to work with then there you are.

    i wouldn't worry too much about influencing the genetics with only one colony.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  4. #4
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    Mar 2014
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post
    My opinion is that your colony is not from stock selected for mite tolerance
    I'm sure that's true.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post
    I have kept bees treatment free since 2005, but it was done by moving entirely to mite tolerant stock.
    That's the trouble of course - sourcing mite-tolerant stock. And from what I've read from Michael Bush, his technique is simply to breed for it.

  5. #5
    Join Date
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    Rader, Greene County, Tennessee, USA
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Welcome to Beesource!

    Whether you choose to treat or not, beekeeping with only one hive is more difficult than with two or more hives. Two hives gives you options that just aren't available with only one hive.

    There is no reason your hives have to be separated by any material distance - you can have the second hive (and more) right next to the first hive.
    Graham
    -- The real problem is not precise language, it's clear language. - Richard Feynman

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    welcome to the forum nick!
    Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    i wouldn't worry too much about influencing the genetics with only one colony.
    I guess that's really the essence of what I'm asking: how many colonies do you need before you can hope to improve your genetics?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rader Sidetrack View Post
    beekeeping with only one hive is more difficult than with two or more hives.
    This is what I'm now realising, and I think it's interesting that new beekeepers aren't more strongly guided to start off with 2 hives. I suppose the idea of getting a single hive is daunting enough for a first timer, and you need to learn from your own experiences.

  8. #8
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    No one should run just one hive. You will have no resources if things are not going well or if you just need to insure things are going well. A frame of open brood is a wonderful resource which you can only get for a hive that has no open brood if you have two hives. It is the best insurance if you suspect they MIGHT be queenless.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    EDITED TO ADD: I clicked on this thread from the Recent Post index and didn't realize (before replying) that it was posted in the TF forum, so I apologize if my comments about treating in this particular instance violate the TF forum rules.

    I started beekeeping last June with three because that's the number of swarms I had to remove from one of my buildings. I would have started with one if I had been buying bees, because as a beginner it would have made sense to me to not be overly ambitious with a new project. But I am realy glad to have started with three by accident.

    I used sticky boards more or less constantly most of last summer and as I approached autumn, one needed no treatment, one obviously was in the treatment category, and one appeared to need no treament, but that changed a couple of weeks later. So even though I'd like to have "treatment free bees", I treated the ones that needed it and left the other one alone. So I would suggest you treat your bees if you think they need it.

    You didn't say how you arrived at "15-20" mites, but if that was a 24 hour sticky board drop, then it would be enough to get me thinking of treating. But if it was the only day you measured, I would immediately repeat it for three or four consecutive days and get an average number. I occasionally see a spike in numbers on a single day that is way off the long-term daily average. I don't know how to interpret those spikes (and I have looked diligently for data about it.) But when people are discussing average drop numbers and treatment thresholds, I think a multi-day average is a better starting point.

    BTW, I'm confused by your 15-20 number. With numbers as low as that you should be able to have an exact number. The reason I'm stressing that is that if your are just eye-balling the board, you may be seriously undercounting, which would be a problem if you are basing treatment decisions on quick visual estimates. I find it useful to have a damp toothpick that I use to pick up the mites from the sticky board as I go over it. I remove them to a corner of the board as I see them. I don't worry about counting them until I can find no more on the board. Then I use a hand lens as I go over the captured mites to sort them out from non-mite debris specks that I picked up during the scan. (Actually because I am in my 60s I use a hand lens during the scan part, too, and a small flashlight.)

    If you've got good counts, and a daily average numbers of 15-20 I think you are in the treatment range, or at least that's what I would think if I had those numbers. And I don't think it's "selfish" to consider treating at your stage in beekeeping and size of your apiary. If you are not starting with bees from known mite-resistant stock (assuming you could get that) and if they need treatment it could be viewed as "selfish" to allow your bees to go about foraging with mites on them that could fall off and be picked up by other bees on the forage, or having a hive with mites in it that dwindles down allowing robbers to come and get mites during the robbing.

    Also, don't get confused by the "genetics" of breeding for, or propagating, mite-resistant bees. Your single colony already has its genetics all set, they came with your nuc or package and will never be different unless you lose or change your queen. It's not like you're engaged in breeding successive generations that could have different recombinations of genetic traits. That takes many hives, and relative isolation of a large group of hives.

    What you can do right now is monitor the mites, and if necessary treat with relatively "soft" treatments to see if that will do the trick for your bees. And then you can continue to learn and improve your beekeeping skills. If you can get your colony through the winter, you could consider using some of them for a split next year and requeening it with a mite-resistant queen, which will add improved genetics to your apiary. And gradually select for more mite resistant stock that's good in your area. I think locally-adapted bees have a better chance to evolve into mite-resistant stock, because they are able to do the first thing that's necessary: survive. Right now you have bees that may be able to survive, if treated. Start there.

    BTW, just so you can know my biases in evaluating my advice: I would like to become treatment-free; it is my goal. As I mentioned my bees came from unknown sources (all three swarms) so they are "mutt" bees. Whether they are genetically from "local survivor" feral stock or merely recent swarms from someone else's apiary, is unknown. In late summer/early Fall one clearly needed treatment (daily sticky board average reached "more than 12" which is the recommended threshhold in my area for late summer) and I treated it with Apiguard; one only got to the treatment threshold very late in the season, so I treated it for half the recommended time (had to stop when temps went below level where Apiguard would work) and one never reached "treatable levels", so I didn't treat it all. I have even kept sticky boards in and being monitored all winter, just for curiosity (there's no information on how to interpret brood-less period winter data, so I'm not sure what the numbers mean). All three of my hives have made it 90% through this long, brutal winter (temps expected tonight, for instance, are minus 7 F/minus 21 C), so I am satisfied. I want to become treatment free, but I know it will take two things: I need to learn to be a skilled beekeeper, and I will have to select, over time, for more mite-resistant bees that are locally adapted to my area. But in order to select for mite-resistant bees, I have to have bees to select from to support the genetics that will come from queens I'll have to find and bring here. (Or perhaps I'll get lucky and my one - and so far untreated - hive will have some genetic capacity in that line that I can replicate.) At any rate if my bees all die from being untreated then in the meantime, I am not learning beekeeping skills; I am allowing an untreated hive to collapse and die which adds to mite and disease pressures on neighboring bees, particularly any feral, unmanaged colonies that may exist; and I am not supporting worker-bee resources that could be used to build up a colony with better genetics. Remember, worker bees add nothing to the genetic line since they don't breed; drones only add to the genetics of other colonies, so in the hive you have now, ONLY YOUR EXISTING QUEEN'S GENETICS are in play. And she was mated, for her one and only time, before you even got your bees. That's the basis for my recommendation to treat, if necessary, to sustain your colony in preparation for the winter to come. What you use is very locally dependent, and dependent on your personal tolerance for adding to the overall pesticide loads to your area. Please don't confuse the "hard Bond" (live or let die) approach that some bee breeders might use to select using many colonies with what's useful for someone with a single hive and no other rersource for replacment than simply buying a new package or nuc of bees next year if your present one dies. Who is to say that next year's bees will be any better genetically (better being defined as more mite-resistant AND locally adapted) than the ones you have now. (And 15-20, while at the treatment threshold, IMO, is not devastating numbers; daily amounts of 100s - which might occur if you don't treat, are devastating.) If you haven't been doing daily monitoring, perhaps 15-20 is on the downside of a previous, unnoticed, peak and perhaps your bees are already somewhat mite-"managing". They have two things going for them: they are alive at the end of their first summer and they have an engaged beekeeper who is paying attention to them.

    I can't really suggest which treatment to use if you decide to do that. I chose Apiguard (a thymol-based product) because it was recommended as a softer treatment at the time I needed it. I have other plans for this year, sugar dusting, which I don't have too much hope for, but will try first. And perhaps OAV, which is not approved in my area, but still available. My bees had an extended brood break period last summer due to a) being swarms, b) almost immediately cut-out of walls and c) two of the three lost their queens in the cut-out (actually the two that needed treatment, go figure!) and needing to gin-up new queens from previously laid young eggs. So while not as thorough as a managed brood break, I am not impressed with brood breaks as a management tool for reducing mite pressure, though I may try that again in some form this summer.

    If your (treated or not) bees survive the winter you could add another package (or nuc) of specifically chosen mite-resistant stock, and perhaps also buy a mite-resistant, mated queen to add to a split from your over-wintered bees. Then with three hives you'd be in a position to begin a solid low-to-no-treatment pathway towards a treatment-free apiary.

    Hope my suggestions are at least thought-provoking, and possibly useful, to a fellow first-year beekeeper.

    Enj.
    Last edited by enjambres; 03-03-2014 at 12:27 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bush View Post
    No one should run just one hive.
    And yet this is the first time I've ever seen it said straight-out. Thanks for your candor.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Thanks so much for such a thorough answer enjambres.

    I don't think we really have anyone selling mite-resistant queens here in New Zealand yet, and I have found very few references to people going treatment free. The problem is that varroa only arrived in New Zealand in 2000, so we haven't had very much time to breed our resistant strains. And we'll have to breed them - our biosecurity laws (designed of course to prevent the introduction of pests like Varroa - oops!) will not allow anyone to import new genetics.

    Anyway, I really appreciate the advice I've been given so far. At this stage I think the correct move for me is to do an autumn treatment of some kind (probably formic acid), and then split in spring.

    I suppose if I want to start trying to improve my own genetics then I could think about making several splits into nucs and try to assess which ones do best over summer, and then consolidate next autumn. Does that sound like a feasible way forward?

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    I think that VSH queens are available in New Zealand.

    That would be a good starter queen to use. They should be at least 50% VSH for TF beekeeping.

    However, you do have to re-queen every year, minimum..

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    it's often said that all beekeeping is local. we have a forum member that goes by the screen name of 'oldtimer' who also hails from new zealand. he has been keeping bees for many years and has discussed how varroa has impacted beekeeping in your location. if i understand his posts correctly, varroa has virtually wiped out the feral bee population there and there have not been any successes at treatment free yet. oldtimer tried using the methods that michael bush recommends including small cell and set up a treatment free yard to see if he could propagate some survivors. i don't believe any of them made it past a year or two. so yes, i think it's feasible to consider the softer treatments if that's what it takes until the bees and the breeders in your location make some progress. you can see more from oldtimer here:

    http://www.beesource.com/forums/memb...75892-Oldtimer
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    OT is over 200 miles to the north. That's not quite 'local'.

    I had no trouble finding a VSH queen breeder in New Zealand doing a google search.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by WLC View Post
    I think that VSH queens are available in New Zealand.

    That would be a good starter queen to use. They should be at least 50% VSH for TF beekeeping.

    However, you do have to re-queen every year, minimum..
    Why would you have to re-queen every year? If you have a good queen, why replace her?

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Because that's the way VSH genetics works. The traits have been described as recessive, and there's more than one of them involved.

    If your bees do re-queen themselves while you're treatment free, there's a good chance that they will no longer be sufficiently VSH.

    That's a good reason to buy VSH queens marked and clipped, if available.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    oldtimer tried using the methods that michael bush recommends including small cell and set up a treatment free yard to see if he could propagate some survivors. i don't believe any of them made it past a year or two.
    Thanks for the reference, I'll have a look over oldtimer's posts.

    I know of at least one other who is trying to go treatment free, and is having mixed results - some of his hives are doing OK but I think they've only had a year or 2. The are also very remote and have very little interaction with other bees.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by WLC View Post
    I had no trouble finding a VSH queen breeder in New Zealand doing a google search.
    True, once you know what to google for

    It does sounds like a good starting point and I'll definitely look into sourcing VSH queens, thanks.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    When you hear the term 'resistant stock' in TF circles, they're often referring to feral stocks, which might not be available to you in New Zealand just yet.

    VSH does appear to be available to you in New Zealand at this time, and it's likely a better starting point than using non resistant stocks.

    Non-resistant stocks will simply fade to mites within 3 years, and you'll likely have the local 'nuisance' hives if you simply stop treating.

    I've tried VSH, and did fine until I tried splitting them without re-queening with VSH genetics. Live and learn.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Treatment free with a single hive?

    Actually after a little more googling, I can't find anyone selling VSH queens, it doesn't look like our VSH breeding programs have progressed far enough yet.

    VSH is also something which is never mentioned on bushfarms.com (except in the glossary). Michael Bush, do you know if your treatment free hives have high percentages of the VSH genetics?

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