Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping
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  1. #1
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    Default Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    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

    1. LOTS OF HONEY (Oscar Perone)
    2. LOTS OF SPACE (Oscar Perone)
    3. LOTS OF PEACE (Oscar Perone)
    4. PROPER HIVE TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY (Various)
    5. SWARMING IS GOOD (Various)
    6. A GOOD QUEEN (Bernhard Heuvel comes to mind)
    7. 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.
    http://issuu.com/permapiculture/docs...42908/36499327




    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.
    http://www.dheaf.plus.com/warrebeeke...beekeeping.pdf
    Last edited by JeronimoJC; 08-11-2016 at 11:50 AM.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    8. Read squarepegs threads in the treatment free forum.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    LOL I tried. 35 pages of posts. Do you have the Cliff Notes so we can add them to post #1?

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    You haven't mentioned any monitoring of mite levels. Also, the package bees I got must have been treated, as they didn't have any mites on them. I don't see the drawback in using package bees, as long as you get your genetics from a good queen.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Captured feral colonies are about the best way to go. You happen to live in Washington State though and I would look seriously at Olympic Wilderness Apiaries. I have ran their stock in my bee yard and had great luck with them. According to their website there is alot of feral blood in their stock. Good queens are crucial if you want to be treatment free. I am treatment free for five years. Can not comment on other hive types. I only run Langstroth hives. I do not think using frames disrupts a hive. They have been around alot longer than me. I do think screened bottoms or bottom boards are great both in resistance to varroa mites and reducing humidity in the hive. I am starting to think North Carolina is becoming a rain forest with the weather we have had in the last five years. I could not agree with you more that swarming is good. It is what bees did LONG before mankind and his manipulations came along. More space will help when the spring expansion comes along. Good luck with treatment free. Hope this helps.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by J.Lee View Post
    Captured feral colonies are about the best way to go.
    From Randy Oliver's Scientific Beekeeping website:


    If we were to let Nature play her hand freely, mite-susceptible lines of bees would rarely get strong enough to swarm, and their drones would be hampered in their ability to mate. Therefore, the genes for nonresistant bees would not be passed on to subsequent generations. However, when we rescue these colonies with chemical treatments, we thwart Mother Nature in her ruthless selection process, and thereby perpetuate nonresistant bees in the feral population. Those danged swarms will then come back to haunt us when they eventually collapse, and our managed bees gleefully bring the mites back in the process of plundering the deadouts.

    The main mode of mite immigration into colonies appears to be from the robbing out of collapsing colonies, as opposed to by drifting or absconding bees (Goodwin, et at. 2006). As long as we keep restocking the feral colonies with nonresistant swarms, we just create a huge reservoir of mites that will screw up our best efforts at varroa management. Natural swarms produce far more drone combs than managed colonies on foundation. Varroa reproduction is therefore far greater, leading to the relatively rapid collapse of swarms.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by J.Lee View Post
    I could not agree with you more that swarming is good. It is what bees did LONG before mankind and his manipulations came along.
    um, long before mankind came along, we were not BEEKEEPERS.

    I disagree that swarming is good, if your intent is to be a beekeeper. See my post, above.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    From everything I've researched and read, including success and failure stories here on Bee Source, location probably has more to do with success than anything. As with all things beekeeping, and witnessed above, you will get 100 different answers from 100 different beeks, and there is probably some truth to all of it. You just have to learn how to interpret those answers, and figure out what works in your location. I am still in my beekeeping infancy, but having a blast figuring it out. Have fun, and best of luck.
    Season 5. TF.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Clairesmom View Post
    um, long before mankind came along, we were not BEEKEEPERS.

    I disagree that swarming is good, if your intent is to be a beekeeper. See my post, above.
    The term "beekeeper" in your post could very well lead to a relevant discussion on the approach or attitude (dominator, steward, partner, or participant) towards beekeeping. However, I don't think that's where you intended to go.

    Regarding the post you quoted, I interpreted it as supporting that swarming is good. I guess it depends on the point of view. An excerpt from your quote states:

    Quote Originally Posted by Clairesmom View Post
    As long as we keep restocking the feral colonies with nonresistant swarms, we just create a huge reservoir of mites that will screw up our best efforts at varroa management.
    The premise here is that the beekeper has a colony of bees that isn't strong enough to fight off mites. Therefore simply letting the bees swarm is not a good thing for the bee population nor for the beekeeping community.

    If on the other hand, the beekeper has a colony that has the right genes to fight off mites then certainly swarming would be a good thing. On one hand swarming would be good for the bee population and the beekeeping community. On the other hand, swarming would also provide the colony with a brood break which can help in breaking the mite cycle.

    So I guess it boils down to whether the colony has good or bad genes and has learned how to coexist with mites. This leads me back to item 6 (A GOOD QUEEN). Feral queens and colonies (as J. Lee pointed out) may be the way to go. These colonies have, one way or another, figured out how to coexist with mites treatment free.

    This also leads me to Wieland's post.
    Quote Originally Posted by K Wieland View Post
    ... Also, the package bees I got must have been treated, as they didn't have any mites on them. I don't see the drawback in using package bees, as long as you get your genetics from a good queen.
    Package bees haven't had to coexist with mites because they didn't have to, as a result of continuous treatments. It may very well be that these bees have great genes, but these bees would be at a great disadvantage the very first time they encounter mites.

    Just my 2 cents.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by J.Lee View Post
    I do not think using frames disrupts a hive. They have been around alot longer than me. I do think screened bottoms or bottom boards are great both in resistance to varroa mites and reducing humidity in the hive.
    Quote Originally Posted by Nordak View Post
    From everything I've researched and read, including success and failure stories here on Bee Source, location probably has more to do with success than anything.
    I think Nordak makes a relevant point here. The point I made about frames was related to hive temperatures. Certainly a top bar hive colony would manage temperatures differently than a Langstroth hive. This may make no difference in North Carolina, but it could in Washington. I honestly don't know.

    Screened bottoms could very well follow the same logic. As I pointed out earlier, mites don't do well at the ideal hive temperature. Therefore, I'll do what I can to help my bees maintain those ideal temperatures and it looks like that may include closing the screened bottoms, at least in cold weather.

    The other point regarding frames, which I didn't make in the first post, relates to letting bees do what they know is best. Bees will adapt to survive. They would change cell size, comb spacing, comb shape, etc as soon as we let them. The problem is that what bees prefer may not be convenient for humans.

    I'd say that to be treatment free we may need to rely more on the natural instinct of bees. I think you would agree frames are not part of their natural instinct.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    I'm sorry but I think swarming is not a good idea, not the end of the world, but not something to plan on doing, for the good of managed bees even if it is a natural occurence in unmanaged bees.

    Aside from the fact that most swarms do not survive, a swarm takes with it your carefully selected TF-promoting queen and replaces her in the second generation with a queen with one-half local genetics, which may very well be more of a commercial strain.

    I think the most important thing for a would-be TF beekeeper (and I doubt there is any beekeeper who wouldn't be TF, if they could) to do at the outset is learn how to keep bees as their first goal. That may sound like a silly statement, but TF-bees are still bees and keeping any kind of bees alive, thriving and in good health over the long term is a fairly big challenge all by itself. TF-beekeeping is not easier than conventional beekeeping - no matter what is claimed on the internet.

    My bees are all from swarms, some likely to be feral origin since I live in an area with a still-extant feral population, and I am happy to say they are all still alive, thriving and in good health in their fourth summer with me, but it has taken a good deal of effort and intense focus to stay in that happy state.

    The very best advice I got in my first year was to keep things simple, and that meant forgoing any of the fancy hive-styles, arcane beekeeping systems, etc. My bees live in ordinary Langs, on plastic frames, and they are doing extravagantly well largely because I take common-sense steps to keep varroa under control.

    The idea that warmth in the brood chamber, by itself, will even constrain, much less control varroa is incorrect. Otherwise beekeepers in Brownsville, TX, Yuma, Arizona or Miami, FL would be free of mite issues, and they manifestly are not. Bees keep their brood nests at the correct temps for the brood under all natural conditions. There are some devices on the market that claim to heat the brood area to a higher temp, enough to kill or impair varroa, but it is claimed, not harm the bees. This may be true, but it is not TF-beekeeping, nor can anything like it be obtained by the bees themselves, or hive designs. Because if the brood gets too warm, or conversely starts to chill, beyond a very tight parameters they will give up their lives to try and maintain the correct temps.

    I'm not suggesting I think TF is impossible, just that it is not something that novices can simply jump into with little experience and good intentions, despite what is claimed on the internet. Some aspects of TF beekeeping are fundamentally sound practices for most, or even all, bees. Some are utter hooey, but novice beekeepers can't tell which is which.

    My advice: get some bees, put 'em in a couple of Langs and learn how to keep them alive and and thriving with the minimal intervention needed to suppress varroa in your area. After a few years success with that approach you will be ready to sort through all the TF ideas using your hard-won knowledge of beekeeping and be better able to choose which of the TF approaches may work best in your area. Then all it takes is to requeen your existing colonies with TF-queens and you're in the game. In six weeks all your bees will be TF.

    Enj.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by JeronimoJC View Post
    SWARMING IS GOOD: Swarming disrupts the brood cycle, which may give the colony a chance to break the mite cycle.
    Whether or not a brood break helps with mite management is still a question in my mind.
    But...in my opinion swarming is NOT good. Many swarms will ultimately become a nuisance to your neighbors. They will settle in the walls of houses. They may choose a low entrance to a structure or tree near a path traveled by children. Everybody doesn't want your bees in their face. As a responsible beekeeper it up to you to make a reasonable effort to be a good neighbor.
    Just my opinion.
    Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. - Emerson

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    >LOTS OF HONEY (Oscar Perone)

    I don't see how this works exactly... you mean LEAVING them adequate honey? Adequate should be the operative word. Too much may be more than they can guard or use and that's not very beneficial to the beekeeper. You need to take the excess so they don't have to guard it and you get some honey...

    >LOTS OF SPACE (Oscar Perone)

    I totally disagree. The right amount of space should be the goal.
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesspace.htm

    >LOTS OF PEACE (Oscar Perone)
    If you mean leaving them alone most of the time, I can't disagree with that, but I don't see that it is directly related to being treatment free.

    >PROPER HIVE TEMPERATURE (Various)
    The bees take care of this if you let them and don't interfere by trying to give them too much ventilation.

    >SWARMING IS GOOD (Various)
    For the species? Sure. For the beekeeper? Not at all. If they swarm you not only don't get any honey, but you have less bees. If you would have split them instead they would be in your hive instead of the trees.
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesswarmcontrol.htm

    >A GOOD QUEEN (Bernhard Heuvel comes to mind)
    Again, this is true of any beekeeping.

    >AVOID PACKAGE BEES
    This is a recent issue. I used to have very good luck with package bees... but in recent years, not so much.

    My bullet points:
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesfoursimplesteps.htm
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    On the topic of Hive temperature and the comment about ventilation. In general how many find it helpful while heating or cooling their homes to open the windows? This does nto sound right to me. The air in the home is conditioned. you want to keep it.

    So do the bees "Condition" the air of the hive? Take the issue of heating the hive in winter. many if not most argue that of course they do. that would be the reason to add insulation etc. yet those same comments are often followed by but leave an opening for ventilation. Sort of like turn up the heat and open the door in my opinion.

    I personally do not think the bees heat the hive, they heat the cluster. no animal other than man is known to heat the air around them. they heat themselves. Animals do not need warm rooms. they only need to remain warm themselves. We are the only ones that think the room has to be warm in order for us to be warm.

    Finally do bees actively cool the hive. I have found several sources that say they do as well as descriptions as to how. once again turn up the air conditioning and open the windows. Given the bees cooling method is evaporative cooling and that even a swamp cooler in a home works better with at least one window cracked. there may be some benefit in this case to some ventilation.

    For the most part though I think temperature control in the hive is best achieved with as little ventilation as possible. I make on opening in my hives and want it no bigger than 3 square inches. it is smaller than that most of the time. I want my bees to be able to control the temperature inside the hive. I see problems with this with simple wood hive. I think bees would do better with more temperature stable materials. Mainly ones that do not allow the interior to heat up.
    Everything gets darker, as it goes to where there is less light. Darrel Tank (5PM drawing instructor)

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    >So do the bees "Condition" the air of the hive?

    Yes. But there are other factors. They have to evaporate water to cool it. They have to create water (through metabolism) to warm it. They have to get rid of moisture to make nectar into honey. So eliminating moisture from the air is part of the issue.

    > Take the issue of heating the hive in winter. many if not most argue that of course they do. that would be the reason to add insulation etc. yet those same comments are often followed by but leave an opening for ventilation. Sort of like turn up the heat and open the door in my opinion.

    I agree to some degree. They have to breath (get 02) and they have to get rid of moisture so the door needs to be somewhat open. By keeping it small you give the bees control over the environment.

    >I personally do not think the bees heat the hive, they heat the cluster. no animal other than man is known to heat the air around them. they heat themselves. Animals do not need warm rooms. they only need to remain warm themselves. We are the only ones that think the room has to be warm in order for us to be warm.

    From late winter on they are rearing brood. And the part of the "room" where the brood is has to be 93 F...

    >Finally do bees actively cool the hive.

    Yes.

    >I have found several sources that say they do as well as descriptions as to how. once again turn up the air conditioning and open the windows. Given the bees cooling method is evaporative cooling and that even a swamp cooler in a home works better with at least one window cracked. there may be some benefit in this case to some ventilation.

    SOME, yes.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Hey guys, I really appreciate all your comments. I would love to address each one specifically, but to attempt to keep the dialog focused on what the key elements are I think it is best I address the specific items rather than the specific posts. I'll update post #1 to try to reconcile the various thoughts. New edits are shown in red.

    Please keep the conversation going. I am learning a bunch here.

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Location

    Location

    Location

    Your neighbor's hives need to be treatment free survivors also. If not, then each supercedure or swarm of your hives will lesson the good genetics that you have. And swarms in your area may or may not be from treatment free stock.
    Lawrence Heafner
    15 hives; 17 years; TF for 12; Zone 7B

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Valid comment, but I think the maintaining a GOOD QUEEN addresses that. In addition, please check out this other post and article:

    Quote Originally Posted by JeronimoJC View Post
    I came across a study you may find interesting. http://pubag.nal.usda.gov/pubag/down...62&content=PDF

    The study indicated a breeder queen mated with a breeder drone experienced lower bee population growth than a breeder queen mated with a natural drone. There wasn't a firm conclusion as to why, but one theory was: "a problem with the inseminations (e.g., diluting and mixing of semen, an insuf̃cient quantity of semen, or queen storage before insemination)."


    Interestingly, the study also conclude a breeder queen mated with a natural drone (openly mated) successfully carried the suppression of mite trait they were testing.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    This is regarding daughter queens, which would still carry the necessary traits to combat varroa related issues. The problems would start to arise in the third generation queens and on if no viable mechanisms for resistance exist in the open population, as heaflaw was stating. Dilution into the open population is inevitable. That can be really bad, or not so much depending on your surroundings. To combat a negative mating environment , you would need to keep a line of mother and daughter queens going.
    Last edited by Nordak; 08-11-2016 at 02:08 PM. Reason: Terminology

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Keys to Treatment Free Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Nordak View Post
    To combat a negative mating environment , you would need to keep a line of mother and daughter queens going.
    Agreed! There needs to be some sort of measure to maintain "A GOOD QUEEN".

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