I am just learning about TF beekeeping and I am interested in getting your thoughts on what you consider are the keys to treatment free beekeeping. My main goal is colony survival. Honey production is not even a factor for me at this stage. I am in the PNW and therefore mostly concerned with Varroa mite.
Below are some things I believe help in becoming TF. Please do comment. EDITS IN RED
- LOTS OF HONEY (Oscar Perone)
- LOTS OF SPACE (Oscar Perone)
- LOTS OF PEACE (Oscar Perone)
- PROPER HIVE TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY (Various)
- SWARMING IS GOOD (Various)
- A GOOD QUEEN (Bernhard Heuvel comes to mind)
- AVOID PACKAGE BEES
I believe the first three items are really about establishing a strong and thriving colony with sufficient resources (LOTS OF HONEY) to overcome various hazards. Adequate amounts of honey was suggested as better word choice, but i think LOTS OF HONEY really drives the point home. This item also relates to feeding (or rather not feeding). Michael Bush's site has a section on NATURAL FOOD that linked to a study concluding bees live longer on honey than sugar syrup. Longer lifespans of workers will have positive impacts in several aspects of colony dynamics. http://www.apimondia.com/congresses/...20Mirjanic.pdf
LOTS OF SPACE I believe refers to brood space. This may be easier to achieve with a hive type that is more robust in size (TBH, Warren) than the more traditional Lanstroth. I think the goal here is to allow the colony to grow and be of substantial size. Some folks use the follower method to match the space to the colony size. I don’t think the intent here is to place a nuke in a 4’ box.
LOTS OF PEACE is a little more interesting and it relates to item 4. Perone's idea here is to have a brood box that is left undisturbed. You manage the supers, but leave the brood box alone. Certainly every time we open up a hive we disturb the colony and cause the bees to repair areas of the hive they consider essential. However small the disruption, this takes bees away from other functions (i.e. foraging) to repair whatever needs to be repaired. Some of the repairs may be related to maintaining proper hive temperature. Every time we open the hive we affect the hive's temperature. The Perone Hive was designed precisely to avoid disruptions to the brood nest.
PROPER HIVE TEMPERATURE: I read bees like to keep the brood nest at 95 degrees F. This temperature is a little too hot for Varroa Mite. In fact, heat is one of the various ways of treating Varroa. I'd say hive size is a factor, but hive materials and excessive ventilation are more important in maintaining proper hive temps. Open bottoms could very well disrupt ideal hive conditions.
The use of frames can also be said to have a negative effect. In a TBH bees will attach comb to the sides of the hive, which could be said to insulate the brood nest. When we use frames we create gaps on the sides of the frames that may also disrupt ideal hive conditions. Someone shared an analogy that went something like this: The hive is like a house you want to keep warm and honey is like the money you use to pay the heating bill. You can insulate it the best you can or you can spend more money (honey) to keep it warm. Yes, bees will work hard to keep the hive at their desired temperature, but at what expense? Those in warm climates may get away with open bottoms and more frequent hive disturbances, but that may not be the case in colder climates.
SWARMING IS GOOD: Swarming disrupts the brood cycle, which may give the colony a chance to break the mite cycle. Perhaps this item should be called “brood breaks” instead. Nevertheless, swarming in this case assumes some measures are taken to maintain good genes. If your good queen leaves and your new queen has mated with the wrong drones, then you are arguable going backwards. If you live in the city, then swarming may present other problems.
A GOOD QUEEN: This seems obvious, as there are many breeders of Varroa Sensitive Hygiene queens. However, keep in mind some consider "emergency queens" to be inferior to "natural queens". Apparently in feral colonies "emergency queens" get replaced by "natural queens". The issue is some consider the drafting of larva to breed queens a form of "emergency queen" rearing. I read "natural queen" larva is laid vertically from the beggining. On the other hand, worker larva is laid horizontally and the bees need to float it in possibly less potent royal jelly to move it to a vertical position when raising "emergency queens". Feral queens that are used to your geographical area may be the way to go.
AVOID PACKAGE BEES: Most times packaged bees have been raised in a location far from where they'll end up. Apparently most of these bees have been treated repeatedly and may not have the desired hygienic behavior.
I understand accomplishing TF beekeeping may require a few years. You can see that between not taking as much honey, letting the bees swarm, reduced manipulations, etc, TF may not be what you want if your main goal is honey production.
Here is a link to a document that touches on many of these things in more detail.