Squarepeg suggested that I chronicle my efforts in treatment-free beekeeping- and after considering it, I thought it might be helpful in the future.
Though I have little (o.k. very little) to offer thus far, I thought it might be helpful to outline the perspectives of a rank amateur that might be helpful in the future to those just starting out.
A brief introduction- I am pushing 40 and my wife and six (count 'em six) children live on a small farm we bought a year-and-a-half ago in Western Kentucky (Climate Zone 7a) that is predominantly mixed hardwood forest and is surrounded by a mix of large row-crop areas, smaller pasture areas and numerous small woodlots along fence rows, at the back of fields and along the numerous creeks and watersheds that feed into the Clarks River.
I kept bees as a youngster in New Mexico prior to varroa becoming the scourge it now is (never mind small hive beetles), and gave it up while going to college, marrying, starting a career and raising a family- but getting back into beekeeping has always been in "the plan".
While preparing to get back into beekeeping, I happened upon "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping" and it opened my eyes to the possibility that there are people out there practicing apicultural husbandry without resorting to any of the myriad chemical options currently available. This idea was appealing and intrigued me, so I read everything I could get my hands on relative to the current streams of thought in the Treatment-Free realm and I jumped-in last winter with little experience and boundless optimism. Based on what I read, here are the most fundamental decisions/goals I made:
1. Standardize around all eight-frame medium equipment for both broodboxes and supers.
2. Utilize screened IPM bottom boards with small-hive beetle trays.
3. Refrain from queen excluders - i.e. "unlimited" broodnest.
4. Source "regressed" bees and utilize all 4.9 mm foundation.
5. Employ Housel positioning.
6. Refrain from treatments of any kind (o.k. so some might call SHB trays and/or supplemental feeding treatments, but I digress).
7. Seek to get new package starts to five boxes (8 frame mediums mind you) of drawn comb and stores by the end of the season by feeding to support brooding / wax production.
While I will save my observations from this year for a subsequent post, I imagine many of your experienced beekeepers can already anticipate many of them. I made enumerable mistakes this year (which I hope to outline too). In short, here is how the year went (so far):
1. Installed two 3# packages of regressed bees on 4.9 mm foundation in mid April.
2. Caught two swarms in early May.
3. Made two nucs in early July (one of my many mistakes).
4. Gathered-up an usurpation swarm from one of the hived swarms in late August and installed it in one of the struggling nucs (one of my few successes).
5. Watched both packages explode like gangbusters only to crash-and-burn due to varroa in Mid-November and early December respectively (I apologize for the mite bombs that I released).
At this juncture, I am simply hoping earnestly that some of the swarmed stock that remains in my yard will make it through the winter. In follow-up posts, I will outline the most important lessons-learned (which will be obvious to you experienced beekeepers) and follow this up with my goals for this coming year in deference to Squarepeg's judicious pattern of doing so.
In closing for now, I still have little experience, but what little I gained came at the cost of a now cautious optimism. I am still enthralled with these amazing creatures and consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with them and the sage souls around here who keep them.
p.s. While riding with my third daughter (age 7) recently, I asked her what she wanted to do/be when she grew up. She thought about it for a moment, got a sheepish look on her face, and suddenly got very quiet. When I gently pressed her to tell me what was on her mind she said, "Dad, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I don't want to be a beekeeper when I grow up."