How to develop a treatment free apiary?
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  1. #1
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    Default How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Well, I think I am hooked. I bought 2 packages last year after my wife and I bought a place in the country. I figured 2 beehives would be great. Now I find myself thinking 'Where could I put another 6-8 hives?'.

    So I've pretty much fully bought into the idea of treatment free, but I'm looking for advice on how to get there. I'm down to 1 hive from the 2 I started with last spring. The 1 loss could very well be due to my mistakes while learning. My remaining hive seems to be doing pretty well.

    I have purchased another package, but I've told myself thats the last package I ever want to buy. I would like to make a split (or splits) from my 1 established hive to start building up my hive count. What are the thoughts on this? I've heard that it takes 2-3 seasons for a hive to reach full strength, but can I get away with not treating during that time? If I build splits or queen nucs, do I risk weakening my 'good' hive?

    Also, what are thoughts on how to queen the splits? Should I let them queen themselves or try to introduce a VHS queen?

    I see lots of good information on BeeSource, thanks all for any and all perspectives.

    Grifon

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Any updates on the condition of your survivor? You can wish all you want but right now if seems to boil down to the remaining hive and its condition. If you are out two for two you will seriously need to answer the question "why"?

    What is the mite count? How many frames of bees at this point? Any sign of DWV? Snot brood virus?

  4. #3
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    hi grifon. you are a little south of me but it looks like we are in the same or similar 'terrestrial ecoregion'.

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fi...SA_CAN_MEX.svg

    there are a handful of us up here that are having success keeping bees off treatments. the stock we are using comes from a supplier who has been propagating them treatment free for almost twenty years. they were originally derived from tree cut outs that were surviving at a time when varroa was wiping out other bees.

    chances are you have surviving ferals in the nearby woods. you may want to consider setting out some swarm traps in or around 'wild' areas that aren't likely to have any 'kept' bees around. you may be able to find other beeks nearby who are working with stock like this and obtain some bees from them.

    so far i haven't been doing anything special with regard to equipment, cell size, ect. everything i use is standard mann lake with rite cell, although i am starting to rotate in some foundationless frames.

    i'm not sure how much or how little of a difference it makes but i avoid using artificial feed. i do this because i want the bees to regulate their colony operations based on the ebbs and flows of natural field forage, and i think that the natural diet may impart added immunity to pathogens.

    i have had some interest expressed by others to try out some of this stock. i would be interested to see how they do in other locations as well. it makes sense to try 'seeding' them in ever increasing distances from here to see if they show the same hardiness away from this immediate area. my supplier and i have been discussing ways to do this, including the use of an incubator and making ripe cells available for sale.
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  5. #4
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Quote Originally Posted by Honey-4-All View Post
    You can wish all you want but right now if seems to boil down to the remaining hive and its condition. If you are out two for two you will seriously need to answer the question "why"?
    with all due respect h4a, grifon is new to the forum and is making a reasonable inquiry in the appropriate sub-forum. i'm not much for rules myself, but why not show some 'etiquette'? questioning one's motivation for going treatment free isn't necessary and specifically discouraged in the guidelines for this sub-forum.
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  6. #5
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    I kept treatment free bees for years, and had no problems.
    It's the only way I kept bees up til last spring.
    My queens were nearly always sourced form treatment free apiaries, or those who only treated very rarely and then with "soft treatments that don't get absorbed in the wax.

    I very strongly prefer to avoid synthetic treatments.

    That said, getting commercially-sourced bees and putting them in a hive, not treating and expecting them to thrive isn't treatment-free beekeeping, it's negligent management.

    Let me illustrate:

    I left my bees on the east coast when I moved to Washington last year, and was offered 5 frames of bees from a fellow when I got here.

    I put them in a box and managed them as I always have, not treating, and since I knew had no intention of treating, ever, I didn't monitor mites.

    The colony built up as I expected a nuc to, filling 2 deep ten frames.

    We had several unseasonably warm days in a row during mid winter when it often would otherwise not be above freezing, one with temps up to 62F I think.

    During those warm days, I wasn't able to inspect.
    Earlier in the winter, I'd noted cleansing flights whenever the temps were above 48/49F.

    In December, I saw no bees flying even when it was above 50, and considered the hive almost certainly dead.

    First day it was in the mid-fifties, I opened the hive, and had bees!
    It certainly was a very small cluster, and I didn't want to stress them so did not inspect the brood nest.

    They almost certainly crashed due to mites, and the chances of them dying are still at least even with chances of survival.

    Had I monitored and treated with one of the soft treatments like oxalic acid, (which naturally occurs in the hive anyway, and does not build up in comb as it does not dissolve in wax) that hive would have a cluster covering several frames instead of being in danger of succumbing.

    What was different about these bees, as opposed to the ones I kept so successfully treatment free?

    1 - My friend who donated the nuc sources his bees from run-of-the-mill commercial apiaries that treat for mites with whatever is both cheap and effective.
    That is, these bees had no history of doing well without treatments to start with.

    2 - My friend treated had treated with popular miticides in the past of a sort that leave traces of the miticide (pesticide) in the comb.

    3 - The Pacific Northwest is a different climate, with a different rhythm of flows.

    SO, if you want a successful treatment free apiary:

    1 - Source your bees from a colony or producer known to have been thriving without treatment for over 2 years (three, at least).
    NOT run-of-the-mill package or nuc bees.

    2 - Use and keep clean comb.
    I tried all the stuff Michael Bush (whom I respect greatly and thank for all the work he does to share what he's learned) talked about on his website to keep bees treatment free:
    small cell, narrow frames, foundationless comb, and more.

    I also kept bees on clean comb drawn by "big" bees without regressing, on standard width frames.

    I saw no difference in performance...I think it is the clean comb that comes from regressing the bees rather than the cell size that makes the most difference. It's true small bees emerge faster and mites have less time to multiplying the cell, but that didn't seem to make a difference in survival or production in my bees.

    3 - Monitor mites with an alcohol wash.
    If the bees aren't doing well treatment free, you can treat them with Oxalic Acid Vapor or formic acid, leave no harmful residue in the comb, KEEP THE POPULATION ALIVE and requeen with a queen from someone whose bees do well treatment free ( I had good success with queens from Kale Luce of Allegany Mtn. Bee Farm NY_BLUES on Beesource).

    That way you can give bees with a history of doing well without treatment a try without sacrificing all of your workers to mites, as I did by not monitoring last year.

    I lucked out with my original colony -- a cutout form a sapce that had been cntinually bee-occupied for years and not treated.

    These are my observations, based on my experience.

    Summary:
    Bees with good history
    Clean comb
    Be willing to take the journey to get to treatment-free beekeeping, by keeping bees til you get there, treating minimally with non-persistent organic treatments not the commercial synthetic merry-go-round) until you have the skill and bees to be succeed treatment free.

    Have fun.
    Enjoy your bees.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    I think one of the keys to development of a treatment free apiary is to grow your own bees. Split from your survivors and produce your own queens. Then go into winter with more than you need next spring. If you buy queens, buy only from those producing treatment free stock. I believe you will eventually succeed as your skills as a beekeeper and knowledge of your particular situation improve. Good luck and have fun!

  8. #7
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Thanks everyone.

    It sounds like since the bees I have are very likely from treated stock, I really don't have any option but to treat them. Is there any consideration for being able to start reducing treatment over time? Does anyone have any experience taking packaged bees from treated, to lightly treated to treatment free? Or do I need to just work on finding a source for treatment free bees?

  9. #8
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    You may not be stuck treating them.

    Let them draw clean comb, preferably w/o using foundation in the brood nest ( commercial foundation carries miticide residue).

    Monitor your mites using an alcohol wash... instructions can be found in one of the excellent mite control articales at Randy Oliver's scientificbeekeeping.com.

    If ( and only if) you find a mite population over treatment threshold THAN treat with a non-persistent miticide as noted above.

    If you find yourself continually having to treat, when you requeen get a queen from someone liek Jason at Old Sol in Oregon or Olympic Wilderness Apiaries or Kale at Allegany Mountain Bee Farm...folks with lines of bees that do well with little or no treatment.

    During spring/summer, it won't take but a few months and all of your bees will be daughters of that new queen, and if you've kept your wax clean and follow commons sense, sound "treatment free" management, you will rarely if ever have to deviate form being free of treatment to treat with "soft", non-persistent organic acids that are already present in a natural hive anyway.

    Don't give up!
    If you want to, you can do it!

    Have fun.
    Enjoy your bees.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    it's really up to you grifon and how you would like to proceed. the chances of success are best if you can acquire proven stock from your area and emulate the methodology of the supplier. all of us will have losses, but with a tf approach the losses are viewed as part of a winnowing process that allows for the replacement of stock that doesn't have the right stuff with survivors that do. this usually means that one has enough hives and develops the skills necessary to propagate new colonies from the successful ones.

    i was lucky to get resistant bees from the beginning and haven't paid too much attention to mite counts and have not had to treat. others learn how to monitor their mite loads and make a case by case decision on whether or not treatment is needed to get the hive through long enough to requeen it from better stock.

    all chemical treatments will affect the microbial community in the hive, including the beneficial microbes necessary for bee health, but the effect of that is not entirely understood. the organic acids are popular and have the advantage that they leave no residue in the wax, unlike the synthetic miticides which leave residual toxins in the wax. there are totally non-chemical methods for mite control but they have been shown to be relatively ineffective.

    there's more than one night's reading here, but it would be a worthwhile investment of time to become familar with most of you can find on these two websites:

    http://scientificbeekeeping.com/

    http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  11. #10
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    First of all, Welcome to Bee Source, Grifon!

    Michael Bush share a link to the treatment process. I had read it entirely and learned a lot
    for my bee education going that route, eventually. http://kirkwebster.com/index.php/a-p...rcial-apiaries

    This last winter I had a nuc dying from the mites that the queen got superceded on. The new virgin did not make it to her mating flight and died inside the
    hive too. At the peak of the mite population I put a frame of bees with a resistant laying queen in there. This is in response to a post here on 'Euthanizing Hives with Mites.'
    This nuc hive is recovering nicely and expanded to 8 frames now. So yes, selecting for the right resistant genetics is the way to go on our journey to a tf apiary.
    Need to control the mites initially with OAV so the hive has a chance to establish itself. Then do your selection accordingly from the tf stocks you have bought or trap.

    Recovered nuc hive:
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Don't mix foreign bees into a virgin hive. She might get balled 100% of the time! When will you ever learn, huh?

  12. #11
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Grifon,

    Jim Davis is 10 miles north of Wetumpka. He breeds S.C. I think he uses soft treatments. Two weeks ago his nucs were reserved through early June. P.M. me for a phone number if you are interested.

    I had difficulty regressing large cell packages/nucs/bees. My best colonies came from swarms with attitude. Put up swarm traps. Go by the fire/police and tell them to call you if they are called about a swarm.

    When setting out swarm traps avoid chemical, large cell bee yards like the one you will see on a trip to PeaRidge. Some said he has had serious mite problems.

    You will learn Jefferson/Shelby county is large cell territory. All SC people in Shelby are expanding their yards so there are no local SC nucs/queens for sale.

    If you p.m. me be patient as I do not log on frequently. I am about 15 miles away. I will help you as time permits.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    the chances of success are best if you can acquire proven stock from your area and emulate the methodology of the supplier. all of us will have losses, but with a tf approach the losses are viewed as part of a winnowing process that allows for the replacement of stock that doesn't have the right stuff with survivors that do. this usually means that one has enough hives and develops the skills necessary to propagate new colonies from the successful ones.
    It boils down to:

    a) get the right genetic material

    b) select/breed from the right genetic material.

    To this second end its necessary to have enough hives to be able to lose a few, or, to be able to spot the weak ones and give them a better mother.

    Its also helpful to be distant from lots of systematically treated hives - you don't want weak genetics entering your apiary from their drones.

    So: its really all about standard genetic husbandry - choosing the best parents to make each new generation.

    It mystifies me why people who obviously know that, and do it, appear reluctant to come out and say it?

    Is it thought to be too intimidating to beginners? Is there a fear it will offend somebody's religious sensibilities?

    Can anyone answer that one for me?

    Mike (UK)
    The race isn't always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that's the way to bet

  14. #13
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    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: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    I have a question along this thread, this being the treatment free forum and all. Would love to be TF, and have access to the right kind of stock, per Kirk Webster's advice in the above referenced article.

    However, I'm in a semi-suburbia area with lots of beekeepers, most of whom treat in one form or another, and am just starting this year with a few hives (3). So I'm not sure I can safely go TF without a strategy for mating the queens against better drones that I'll likely find in my area.

    Be interested in any creative suggestions, other than the "check for mites and treat if you have to" mantra. That's certainly my backup plan, so telling me that's a good idea is non-helpful. Any other suggestions out there?

    Erik

  16. #15
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Quote Originally Posted by erikebrown View Post
    ...
    However, I'm in a semi-suburbia area with lots of beekeepers, most of whom treat in one form or another, and am just starting this year with a few hives (3). So I'm not sure I can safely go TF without a strategy for mating the queens against better drones that I'll likely find in my area.
    ...

    Erik
    My guess, you"ll have to secure mated queens from the same TF source whenever you need a new one.
    Last edited by FLBEEK; 02-18-2015 at 06:25 AM.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    > Any other suggestions out there?

    You're over thinking it. You can only do what you can do. You will be better off raising your own queens in your environment than buying queens from another environment.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  18. #17
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Quote Originally Posted by erikebrown View Post
    So I'm not sure I can safely go TF without a strategy for mating the queens against better drones that I'll likely find in my area.

    Be interested in any creative suggestions, other than the "check for mites and treat if you have to" mantra. That's certainly my backup plan, so telling me that's a good idea is non-helpful. Any other suggestions out there?
    Erik
    Erik, Grifon,

    Collect swarms (which may be adapted/feral) and offer to do cut outs (ditto), and make splits, aiming to be in a position where if you lose 50% of your hives is doesn't matter - you can replace them with more splits and swarms. Don't let them starve (or be robbed out). Keep records to help you choose the liveliest for queen material. Set them up to maximise comb building. (Lack of comb limits the speed of progress till you have plenty)

    Find and practice ways of making increase while minimising impact on mother colonies.

    Think a lot about how you are going to raise and systematically maintain the most self-sufficent genes. Try to find feral areas for mating.

    The more colonies you have, and the better you are at finding out which can thrive without help, the greater your chances of success.

    Also read Melissa's thread, which recently went over similar ground: https://www.beesource.com/forums/show...sa-s-questions

    For what its worth: I currently hold 57 hives which I've built up over 4 years this way. Something like 1/3rd to 1/2 of all I've owned have died, most often I expect from lack of mite management capacity. I've never looked for a mite. There are more important things to be doing - building hives and frames to put all the new bees in mostly.

    Build in: churn them, winnow them; repeat. That's what natural selection does - copy that. Do not mollycoddle them. You need to raise bees that don't need you to thrive (That one belongs to Michael Bush).

    Good luck

    Mike (UK)
    Last edited by mike bispham; 02-18-2015 at 08:45 AM.
    The race isn't always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that's the way to bet

  19. #18
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Grifon

    One of the State Universities (Auburn) holds a state wide beekeeping symposium once a year in Feb. This year was Feb 7th in Clanton. Two years ago over 600 attended. Two people admitted to being SC. The county association for the county you live in has over 200 people. Four people are SC keepers. Three of those feed. This is up from a couple years ago. Possibly 4 of the new students will try SC.

    Not all SC are TF but all TF are SC.

    Jim Davis is the only known, major SC supplier in the state and he is the major nuc supplier for the Montgomery metro area. Last year he sold nucs through August first then cancelled the backlog of orders and started preparing for this year. His backlog is already into June.(the honey flow ends June 30) I tried to buy a queen from him last year in July and he told me he was putting every queen he had into a nuc.

    The point is Squarepeg and Fusion Power are the early, early pioneers of SC in this state and SC is just starting to catch on a little. Supplies of SC bees in this state are very limited, especially in the county where you reside. The alternative choices are regressing chemical bees, feral swarms or buying SC from outside the state. I like the local feral swarms the best as they are already semi proven. You being close to Bibb county should have plenty of feral swarms.

    We are one of the two or three states left in the Deep South that does not have AHB. The state will not let you bring comb into the state without inspection so anything from out of state will be packages.

    Don't worry. After the cold snap we will help you get through this. Since you live by a creek make sure the hives are not on damp ground. Avoid high humidity in the hives during the winter.

    PM me as to if your driveway is heavy motorcycle accessible. She's 1,020 pounds.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Quote Originally Posted by ToeOfDog View Post
    Not all SC are TF but all TF are SC.
    I'm not. I let them build the cells they want, and get lots of different sizes.

    Mike (UK)
    The race isn't always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that's the way to bet

  21. #20
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    Default Re: How to develop a treatment free apiary?

    Quote Originally Posted by erikebrown View Post
    I have a question along this thread, this being the treatment free forum and all. Would love to be TF, and have access to the right kind of stock, per Kirk Webster's advice in the above referenced article.

    However, I'm in a semi-suburbia area with lots of beekeepers, most of whom treat in one form or another, and am just starting this year with a few hives (3). So I'm not sure I can safely go TF without a strategy for mating the queens against better drones that I'll likely find in my area.

    Be interested in any creative suggestions, other than the "check for mites and treat if you have to" mantra. That's certainly my backup plan, so telling me that's a good idea is non-helpful. Any other suggestions out there?

    Erik
    I agree with Michael about over thinking it.

    Some of my those years of keeping tf bees were right in town, and I had no problems.

    And if you do cutouts and swarm collections in town, thevqueens will not magically mate in different drone congregation areas resulting in better genetics.
    You'd only be sacrificing control of the queen-side genetics for unknown genetics, which is poor breeding practice if you want to select for mite tolerance/resistance.

    Do what you are able to, and after you have mite resistance, occasionally buy in a queen or two from other successful tf producers in your climate to maintain diversity.

    Don't borrow trouble with "what if" or "they might" type of worries.

    Just invest thinking in the challenges you actually encounter..

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