Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?
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  1. #1
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    Default Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    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.

    Russ

    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."

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    excellent opening post russ.

    many thanks for sharing and we're looking forward to following along as your journey unfolds...
    journaling the growth of a (mite) treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    With 48 years of beekeeping under my belt and 16+ years of following treatment free advice here on Beesource and Dee Lusby's group, this is what I would have done differently:

    Started with large brood chambers, I have been disappointed in the performance of my all medium hives. I am converting my all medium hives to have a deep brood chamber.
    Used solid bottom boards because my observations and others show that SBB's have little advantage over solid.
    Use queen excluders on most hives so that I can maintain white extracting combs that are easy to protect from wax moths, eliminate sorting at harvest and contain the queen in fewer easy to find her boxes.
    Use any old bee I catch and all normal size cell worker foundation in the brood chamber as small cell is a bunch of hocus pocus and natural cell makes for more drone cells and mites.
    Skip Housel positioning as it is impossible to maintain in ongoing manipulations and also Dee Lusby hocus pocus.
    Continue to try new treatments as they become available because a lot less of my bees died this last winter when treated.
    Refrain from buying packages because for the most part they have been money thrown way.
    Don't be such a stupid idiot and waste time and money following the teachings of treatment free Gurus.






    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.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    odfrank:

    Thank you for your feedback. I am honored that you replied to my fledgling post and I really respect and admire your perspectives. This Spring when I found bees fighting to the death at one of my bait hives, I found a post you responded to indicating that this was an indication of two sets of swarm scouts fighting for the volume, and you took a lot of flack for this. Lo and behold, a couple of days later, a large swarm occupied the prime downtown studio apartment (the box they were fighting over), and a smaller swarm had to settle for the ranch out in the suburbs (another box visited by scouts but not fought over).

    That said, your experience-based suggestions are well-taken and mirror several of my observations this year. This presents the opportunity for me to share my few observations, my thoughts about what I intend to do to rectify the problems I saw, and an open invitation for anyone to poke holes in my logic - you will not hurt my feelings.

    I'll start with 8-frame mediums- the purported and observed benefits of this configuration is that it affords you the ultimate in flexibility, as the same box can function as a brood box or a super depending upon its placement and time of year (assuming no queen excluder). This is a feature that I definitely under-utilized, as I can now envision myriad manipulations that one could undertake with this set-up. I contemplated going with all 10-frame deeps for the same reason but ultimately decided against this for two reasons:

    1. Weight- I was warned by many beekeepers that I respected that 10-frame deeps (for honey storage) would be hard to manage as I got older. After really studying honey being put up this year, I realize that there are other ways around this problem, so I certainly would not dissuade someone from giving all deeps a go strictly for this reason.

    2. Comb Building- I was taught as a kid (and still hear the argument) that bees don't like to draw out #1 and #10- so logic is that 8-frame equipment is more in keeping with the way they want to build the nest. I see that there are ways to get the outside frames drawn (and had to employ some of them in the 8-frame boxes), so again I would not let this fact in-and-of-itself disqualify a 10-frame set-up.

    That said, I have no complaints about the 8-frame mediums relative to these "Pros".

    The "Cons" that I observed all relate to the dynamics of the broodnest in two fundamental areas: 1. Stack Height and 2. Brood Anchoring. Before I expound on these two items, I want to clarify that both of these issues might be easily solved by a more experienced beekeeper- I am relating the problems that this particular beginner is wrestling with. That disclaimer aside:

    1. Stack Height- In order implement Mr. Walt Wright's "Checkerboarding" method with all 8-frame mediums, the consensus (at least based on the feedback I have received) is that the minimum overwintering stack height needs to be five tall. So before you can even begin to add supers for gathering surplus, the stack is chest-high or higher. This means in practical terms you spend most of the season working off a step ladder. So, I suppose you trade excessive weight for working off a ladder- both are considered hazardous duty...

    2. Brood Anchoring- Walt talked about this, but I didn't really appreciate it until I observed it first-hand. In short, a medium is just big enough that the cluster is content (apparently) to not occupy the bottom box of the stack going into winter. Obviously one can (and probably should) move the cluster down before real cold weather sets-in, but I was not prepared for this reality. The practical result is that I have two remaining hives overwintering in all mediums (photo below) and the four deep hive is clustered at the very bottom of the stack while the three deep hive is clustered at the very top of the stack. One difference between the two is that I provided supplementary feed to the hive in the background and Walt observed that successfully backfilling the volume above was one of the keys to getting the cluster down to the bottom.

    Hive Set-Up (2).jpg

    What do I intend to do differently based on what I know now? Well, at least for now, I am stuck with the date I brought so to speak, so I want to figure out how to maximize the benefits of 8-frame minimums and mitigate the shortcomings. I will save a detailed description of my thoughts for a later post, but in general terms they involve:

    1. Stack Height- Increase brood density within the boxes themselves by possibly running narrow-frames (i.e. 9 frames to a box) to maximize the total number of brood that can be raised in a given volume.

    2. Brood Anchoring- Possibly look at methods that involve moving brood down to the bottom of the stack (i.e. Walt's "Pollen Box" maneuver) and/or adding new volume for brood expansion either below or within the active broodnest (i.e. Tim Rowe's Rose Hive method). Within this I need to get a handle on how one successfully gets the necessary volume for Checkerboarding backfilled to a level that gets the winter bees into the bottom box without supplemental feed and without having to do extensive hive manipulations in November.

    This post is far too long already so I will close. I intend to outline my observations with screened bottom boards in the next installment.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    The most important thing is to get bees (queens) from an already long term TF apiary.
    It will save you about 10 years of struggling.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Juhani:

    Thank you very much for your helpful reply. Knowing that you have long-term success keeping bees in a treatment-free context, I sincerely value your perspective.

    I hope to expound upon my goals for bee sustainability in a subsequent post and welcome your feedback on my thoughts. In the meantime, let me succinctly say that I hope to avail myself fully of the available genetic diversity currently in my area but I am also quite pragmatic so I am open to exploring any and all avenues which might afford one to successfully keep bees in a treatment-free manner year-over-year. In other words, if our local mutts won't cut it, I am not above bringing in some pedigreed "survivor" stock.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts- I do value them.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Litsinger View Post
    if our local mutts won't cut it, I am not above bringing in some pedigreed "survivor" stock.
    ok, understood

    How about starting an experiment right from the start ? local mutts verus "pedigree bees"
    That would be interesting to follow - from our readers point of view

  9. #8
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    Juhani:

    An experiment between local swarms and purpose-bred stock sounds like a worthwhile exercise.

    Based on your extensive experience in breeding for treatment-free survival traits I wonder:

    1. Do you see these traits mitigated in subsequent generations after open-mating with local drones? And;

    2. Related to (1)- assuming that the local stock exhibits some degree of resistance in our specific locale, would bringing in outside stock seek only to augment this resistance in future generations, or could it possibly upset adaptation that has/is occurred/occurring?

    3. While it might be difficult for you to answer based on your location, are there particular lines you are following in the US that exhibit the most promise to you based on your own local observations?

    Thank you again for your input. It is most appreciated.

    Russ
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  10. #9
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    Screened bottom boards seem to elicit very strong opinions from beekeepers, particularly from the TF crowd.

    Not knowing anything about them from first-hand experience, I concluded that choosing to employ screened bottom boards came with little downside risk as I could always install cortex (or something similar) in the future, leave it in place and the assembly would function effectively as a solid bottom board.

    The rationale for screened bottom boards is that they provide the means to conduct mite counts via sticky traps, catch small hive beetles via oil or diatomaceous earth-filled trays and provide copious amounts of hive ventilation during hot and humid conditions to facilitate rapid capping of honey. I have even read that some advocate them for cold-weather use, suggesting that it cuts down on hive moisture build-up and thus improves overwintering success.

    The advice I was given was to leave the cortex board in-place while a package drew out its first box and to leave it open otherwise unless conducting mite drops or installing a tray to deal with hive beetle problems.

    At least in my area, small hive beetle problems started almost immediately. I would install the oil-filled tray and it would knock them down fairly well only to see them flare up again soon after the trays were removed. While I am not sure what the relative hive beetle load a healthy colony can successfully manage, the site of several dozen black armored tanks scurrying every time you pull the inner cover is not a comforting site.

    As for the ventilation component, I noted that a few colonies actually employed a layer of bees on the face of the screen in behavior I have been told is their attempt to minimize the heat loss through the opening- kind of like taking one for the team.

    These two factors led me to leaving the oil-filled trays in most of the season, and the bees appeared to be more contented with this approach.

    This also led to another observation- the oil-filled trays (crude a they may be) provide some glimpse of internal hive dynamics without having to pull the hive apart. As an example, one can complete an admittedly non-scientific 48 hour mite drop by renewing the oil and coming back two days later to see how many mites are in the oil.

    Additionally, you can see where brood is emerging by looking at the "lines" of wax cappings suspended in the oil.

    Maybe of even greater benefit is that I discovered by having the hives at least 18" off the ground, one can pull the tray and look into the hive from the bottom. It brings back bad memories of working underneath Volkswagon Rabbits as a teenager, but how often do you get to see how a hive operates from the bottom?

    Based on my limited perspective thus far, I am inclined to leave the tray in year-round, pulling it only for maintenance or hive observation.

    These are the musings of a greenhorn, so I welcome anyone to push back on my logic.
    Last edited by Litsinger; 12-10-2018 at 03:29 PM.
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  11. #10

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Litsinger View Post
    Juhani:

    An experiment between local swarms and purpose-bred stock sounds like a worthwhile exercise.

    Based on your extensive experience in breeding for treatment-free survival traits I wonder:

    1. Do you see these traits mitigated in subsequent generations after open-mating with local drones? And;

    2. Related to (1)- assuming that the local stock exhibits some degree of resistance in our specific locale, would bringing in outside stock seek only to augment this resistance in future generations, or could it possibly upset adaptation that has/is occurred/occurring?

    3. While it might be difficult for you to answer based on your location, are there particular lines you are following in the US that exhibit the most promise to you based on your own local observations?

    Thank you again for your input. It is most appreciated.

    Russ
    1. Mating with local drones depends on the local drones, but if they are totally non-resistant/unselected the effect of them is of course negative, resistance brought outside will disappear quickly.
    2.I donīt believe outside varroa resistant material could upset the good sides what possibly is (possibly not!) in local bee stock, it is only to benefit, maybe some minor things need to be adjusted, like wintering ability if the material is from far south
    3. BeeWeaver, VSH lines from Baton Rouge, mite biters of Purdue University, I have heard much about them but because we cannot import anything from US, I have no personal experience. Of course some people here on BeeSource say bad things of for instance BeeWeaver, but on average, in my mind, the reports are very encouraging.

    Iīm glad if I can be of any help.
    (Your language is interesting, sounds somewhat aristocratic or old to me, some phrases may have not opened to me totally.)

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Juhani Lunden View Post
    1. Mating with local drones depends on the local drones, but if they are totally non-resistant/unselected the effect of them is of course negative, resistance brought outside will disappear quickly.
    Indeed, these talks of so-called "local mating" (as for me) are mostly silly UNTIL you know with some certainty what drone is present in the area.
    In my case random "local mating" will most certainty amount to mating with drones imported from almond pollination.
    There is not much good in such "local mating".

    If any "good" drones are present in the area, need to coordinate the open mating with the presence of those "good" drones.
    One need to find out of the good drones somehow; time your splitting appropriately; move your mating nucs to better locations if have to.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Hi L,
    I have mesh floors with solid boards underneath them. These came with my long hive and have the squares marked out to make it easier to do mite counts.
    I find them as useful as you do for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I found that my bees do not like the bottom left open at all and run around like mad things, so I have stopped lying down to look up through the mesh.

    I heavily oil the solid boards and found that any wax moth that gets in under the hive gets stuck and dies, so too, the mites that fall.

  14. #13
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    Juhani:

    Again, thank you for your help and feedback. I really respect your opinion.

    Your responses were what I expected and it helps inform my decisions going forward.

    I do apologize for my archaic vocabulary- I read too many 18th and 19th century novels as a kid!

    GregV:

    Your points are well-founded and reflect my line of questioning to Juhani, specifically:

    If we assume that our local genetics are terrible, the importation of mated queens only supports (directly) the hive she is in and the drones they issue. Subsequent splits and supercedures (supported by open mating) would reflect increasing amounts of local genetics and thereby decreasing resistance.

    Assuming no local resistance, it changes my whole paradigm of how I am currently approaching genetics- such that I can only think of four paths forward:

    1. Learn how to AI queens (unlikely).
    2. Dominate my DCA's (unlikely).
    3. Move to the island Dr. Seeley did his swarm experiments on (highly unlikely).
    4. Hang it all and buy a vaporizer (possible).

    In all seriousness, you make valid points and I respect what you are trying to do.

    It seems the most prudent course of action is to take a couple of years to see how the local genetics play-out and then evaluate from there.

    Finally, I just noted that you are chronicling your efforts as well- I look forward to catching-up on your posts this Winter.
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Litsinger View Post
    GregV:

    2. Dominate my DCA's (unlikely).
    Litsinger, I would actually argue for this exact point.
    I think there is a merit in this particular effort in that you just need to be significantly present in the area and also propagate aggressively, to get the ball rolling.
    No need to totally dominate (not possible anyway).
    Of course, need to have some worthy stock to begin with.
    Which I did starting last year - got me few feral queens from the outside.

    This year I did a couple of things to put up some fight for the air space dominance (sounds like WWII deal very much - "control of the air"; which I kinda like, hehe..):
    1)placed my two survivors on separate yards (but within overlapping range - maybe a 1/2 mile apart directly)
    2)made all the efforts possible to hold the splitting/swarming until I had my own flying drones (my survivors were very, very slow starters - no drones until very end of June)
    3)when my drones were finally up - split both survivors as much as I could (ended up with 7 wintering units out of the 2 units)

    OK, so the point being is that I wanted these two colonies to cross-pollinate each other as much as possible (trying to compete with all the "almond" drones flying around me).
    We'll see, but I am optimistic.
    Using the year 2017 as my base, the survivability is looking better so far.

    4)also, I took a nuc to TF friend's yard and got me a queen from him (she also mated in his yard);
    I plan something similar again for the next year - sending mating nucs away to known TF yards to, hopefully, get me mated queens from those yards.
    I have at least a couple of guys who are doing what I am doing in driving distance - we should stick it together for the air control.
    Something to consider.

    Here is a fun topic, if care to review.
    https://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...(lots-of-them)
    Last edited by GregV; 12-10-2018 at 05:45 PM.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  16. #15
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    GregV: Thank you for that feedback. You may very well be on exactly the right path with this line of logic. In fact, it seems that Dr. Seeley's recent research from the Arnot Forest supports your position.

    Regardless, it seems I need to determine what the local bees are made of before coming to any conclusions about trying to introduce new genetics to the mix.

    That said, I am not opposed to introducing new genetics, and I look forward to seeing what emerges from your efforts.

    Thanks again for your input. I sincerely appreciate it.

    Russ
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  17. #16
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    Mischief:

    Thank you for your response. I sincerely appreciate you sharing your experience.

    While I haven't noticed pandamonium when I pull the tray, I definately notice an audible "roar". Reminds me that there are truly no manipulations/observations (save maybe at the hive entrance) that we can do without disrupting hive dynamics- Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle?

    That said, I appreciate your comment about wax moths. While I've not seen them in the tray, I have seen their larvae (I'll save that for another post).

    An example of one for the "Chronicles of the Bad Beekeeper" files, I noticed with one hive that there were a couple handfuls-worth of dead bees in the oil tray. Assuming they were gaining entry from the outside, I did what I could to plug any hole I figured a bee could gain entry by and renewed the oil.

    Some weeks later, the tray is again found to be filled with two handfuls of bees- investigating further I discovered that there was a bee-sized gap between the screen and the bottom board such that they were gaining entry from the inside!

    The lesson-learned is that I now check all my bottom boards carefully when assembling/renewing and have begun adding extra staples as a precaution.

    Thanks again for sharing your insights. Feel welcome to chime-in anytime.
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Litsinger View Post
    GregV: ...In fact, it seems that Dr. Seeley's recent research from the Arnot Forest supports your position...Russ
    Dr. Seeley's writings are, actually, got me to think this way.


    This is where a hive designs that favor small-cluster wintering plug in.
    Wintering on 4-5 frames in a normal thing to do for my bees as I watch them second winter now (gasp!).
    Totally normal.

    My non-ending toy these are - those darn hives.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  19. #18
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    GregV:

    Thank you for your input. I look forward to reading about your project and I am experimenting (o.k. I admit it is a mistake) with a single medium nuc. While I am not optimistic they are going to make it, I piled the sugar on and wished them well... I hear often of people getting bees to overwinter successfully in clusters a lot smaller than I would have assumed could make it- I'll enjoy watching your project unfold.

    Thanks again for sharing and always feel welcome to interject any words of wisdom you have.
    Ecclesiastes 11:4

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Litsinger View Post
    GregV:

    Thank you for your input. I look forward to reading about your project and I am experimenting (o.k. I admit it is a mistake) with a single medium nuc. While I am not optimistic they are going to make it, I piled the sugar on and wished them well... I hear often of people getting bees to overwinter successfully in clusters a lot smaller than I would have assumed could make it- I'll enjoy watching your project unfold.

    Thanks again for sharing and always feel welcome to interject any words of wisdom you have.
    They will be fine.
    KY - should not be too bad.
    I have wintered very late swarms on just about only dry sugar.
    Commercial bees too - did fine (until the next season).
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  21. #20

    Default Re: Treatment-Free Bungling 2018 - ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Litsinger View Post
    Learn how to AI queens (unlikely).

    It seems the most prudent course of action is to take a couple of years to see how the local genetics play-out and then evaluate from there.
    Needs some practicing but with a good teacher it is quite simple.
    Even when starting with local genetics only (putting all eggs in the same basket...possibly wasting couple years...) insemination would enable to save and concentrate if there is something worth saving. Insemination can be bought as a service, too.
    If we are talking about an area where there are other beekeepers around, I seriously doubt, based on my own experience, the ability to dominate DCA with anything less than 20 hives (all raising a lot of desired drones).

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