After 6 seasons on not treating (25-40% winter losses depending upon year) I had a massive loss last year (8/11 hives, 10/10 nucs). I wrote it off to bad management due to unavoidable time constraints and a very tough winter. I rarely had time to manage the hives and my personal experience makes me believe treatment free takes more time than when one treats. When you are treatment free there is no big eraser to clean up a heavy mite load.
I wanted to stay TF so this season I used queen capture to break the brood cycle, split hives and let them raise their own queen, monitored via sugar roll several times, etc. As I prep for winter my 3 hives have become 4 hives and 2 nucs (recombined 2 slow hives). All season long, I have had mite counts of 0 to 1. Then came late summer and 2 of my hives jumped to mite drops of 12+/24 hr. As it was too late to try to break the brood cycle I reverted to sugar dusting (yes, I understand that is a treatment that rarely works). After 2 weeks, the mite load remained constant and it became time to reconsider my philosophy. After hours of reading papers, forum posts, Randy Oliver, talking to friends etc., I finally decided OAV treatments would be the least invasive with minimal side effects to queens, bees and brood. Also, I am not selling honey this year.
I just completed treating the 4 hives about 20 minutes ago. The nucs have not shown that they require treatment but I will continue to monitor. As this was my first time, I took my time and treated each hive individually before moving on to the next. As I sit here writing this post, the hive activity appears normal with bees coming and going as usual. There is still brood in the hives so I will take a look at the sticky boards next Thursday to see what the mite kill was and then monitor for 2 days to see what the new drop count is. If needed, I will treat the individual hives that require it. To me, the proof will be my winter survival rate. Based on last year's calamity, I know that if I had not treated my 2 largest hives (with the high mite counts) there would have been little to no chance of them making it.
I'm sad to have had to treat but happy with my decision to do so and my choice of treatment. Now I have to change the blog!