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Discussion Starter #1
A while back, squarepeg suggested others should chronicle their
experiences in treatment-free beekeeping. After seeing his recent
post on winter preparation, I am reminded to post my own.

I only have a few years’ experience with little success so far. I've made
just about every mistake I could think of, and a few that I didn't. My
approach is a little different, so perhaps this will provide another view
on how to (and how not to) keep bees without treatment.

The emphasis this winter continuing into next season, will be on
insulating hives to allow the bees more control of their hive environment.
Each hive has bottom entrances with no ventilation on top. Once the weather
warms up, some of the notched inner covers will be flipped to provide top
ventilation. I may leave a couple of the covers in the closed position as long
as I dare, to see how the bees tolerate it. I plan to spend this winter building
20-30 medium boxes, adding 1" of insulation to the outside of each box.
These boxes will be used as supers, Lord willing.

All the bees I have right now have been acquired through trapped swarms.
I am attempting to get improved genetics by making splits off the hives
that winter successfully, and this spring one hive was re-queened with a
purchased, local “survivor” queen.

Going into this winter there are 3 polystyrene hives, two 1.5”-thick lumber
hives, and a ¾”-thick single box with ¾” rigid foam attached to the outside.
All hives are topped with 1”-2” of rigid foam under the inner covers. All
hives contain medium frames.

My goals are to keep bees without treatment, and honey production.
 

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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

I look forward to reading about your bees.
 

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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

Get ready for the arrows:lookout: Good Luck, look forward to the reading.
 

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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

many thanks for starting the thread clong.

a little venting at the top through the winter months is thought to allow excess moisture to escape, but with the extra insulation you have at the top it's unlikely you get condensation above the cluster on the 'ceiling' inside the hive.

any ideas about from where the trapped swarms originated?

looking forward to hearing about how your wintering goes!
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

a little venting at the top through the winter months is thought to allow excess moisture to escape, but with the extra insulation you have at the top it's unlikely you get condensation above the cluster on the 'ceiling' inside the hive.
I first learned about hives without top vents from discussions between two guys on Beemaster. One of them, Derek Mitchell wrote a paper touching on the topic in the Aug 2017 ABJ.
Incidentally, when I have seen condensation, (early fall & late spring) the condensation doesn't appear above the bees. The heat plume rises from the cluster keeping the cover directly above the cluster warmer.
The water condenses on the outer edges of the cover.

any ideas about from where the trapped swarms originated?
I've captured 7 swarms in 2 years. Four queens were marked, three were not.

Of the unmarked queens, one was in a swarm caught 300 miles away in WV. I strongly suspect they are feral-ish, but I can't be sure.
They were very frugal on honey consumption last winter. They are going on 18 months with no treatments or intentional brood breaks so I am getting more hopeful that they might be survivor bees.

Another swarm was a large one caught early May 2018 in a suburban neighborhood, which has large tracts of older trees nearby. The queen was fairly dark in color, but I don't know if that means anything.
I made a split off this colony. It started to grow, but the daughter gueen failed, or was killed by August. The mother queen and colony still survives.

The third was captured off a road. The queen was dead.

Thanks for the encouragement. Last winter the survival rate was 50%. I am praying for at least 67% this year.
 

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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

The water condenses on the outer edges of the cover.
perfect.

Last winter the survival rate was 50%. I am praying for at least 67% this year.
not bad. 33% loss is easily recoverable from and comparable to small timers like us who are treating.

do you think you have unmanaged survivors in the woods surrounding your location?
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

Clong, since we are neighbors of a sort, I am glad to see you start this thread. John Davis is a local source of VHS queens if you are interested. Last year I also had 50% losses, but that was due to late application of Apivar treatments on hives with commercial queens. My one feral (swarm) hive survived, was very frugal with stores, and exploded in the spring. I made six splits from it and five are doing real well. One got robbed out and died shortly after making it. I think these bees show strong caucasian traits in that they are dark with grayish bands and are heavy propolizers. The capped honey is what is described as "wet".
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

perfect.
do you think you have unmanaged survivors in the woods surrounding your location?
Squarepeg,

When I first moved to my current property in Nov 2015, I set up my empty hive equipment. Over the following couple of weeks, on two different occasions I saw a lone scout bee exploring the hives.
The closest managed hive locations that I'm aware of are both about 1 mile away.

Since then I've caught four swarms in a trap on my driveway. Every queen was marked.

The short answer, is probably not, but I am still hopeful.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

Clong, since we are neighbors of a sort, I am glad to see you start this thread. John Davis is a local source of VHS queens if you are interested. Last year I also had 50% losses, but that was due to late application of Apivar treatments on hives with commercial queens. My one feral (swarm) hive survived, was very frugal with stores, and exploded in the spring. I made six splits from it and five are doing real well. One got robbed out and died shortly after making it. I think these bees show strong caucasian traits in that they are dark with grayish bands and are heavy propolizers. The capped honey is what is described as "wet".
JWPalmer,

Thanks. I've actually spoken to John about buying a queen, but haven't pulled the trigger yet.
If I have some die-offs this winter, I'll definitely buy a couple from him next year.

I would love to know if I had some truly feral bees, but I can't find a label or serial number on the queen.
What are the clues that your bees are feral?
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

There is another thread currently discussing the difficulty of establishing whether or not a swarm is "feral" or not. I do not know one way or the other but it is how I refer to them. The queen was not marked and they were captured in an industrial park near downtown Richmond, just south of the river. They also in no way resemble the popular Italian bees.True feral, probably not. But I don't think they came from a managed hive either.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

There is another thread currently discussing the difficulty of establishing whether or not a swarm is "feral" or not. I do not know one way or the other but it is how I refer to them. The queen was not marked and they were captured in an industrial park near downtown Richmond, just south of the river. They also in no way resemble the popular Italian bees.True feral, probably not. But I don't think they came from a managed hive either.
I'm sorry, I should have said how does "one" know bees are feral. I trust your judgment, but I don't trust mine. :)
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

To me, any colony that is at least one generation away from the hive is feral. That does not automatically imbue them with survivor characteristics though. Swarms caught from say a known unmanaged colony that has persisted for several years may be considered true ferals IMO. The four swarms with marked queens you captured would not even come close. Hey, last year I marked my new queens with a yellow dot. You didn't happen to catch one like that, did you? Little beekeeper humor there.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Re: clong 2018-2019 Treatment Free Experience

I did! :)

Seriously, I've been trying to scheme up a way to put a unique mark on queens. Perhaps a large dot of paint for the current year along with a tiny dot of the previous year's ?
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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Re: clong 2018-2019 Treatment Free Experience

Look into the tiny numbered circles that get glued to the queen's thorax. Breeder queens are often marked this way.

BTW, Applegrove is putting together an order for Perdue Ankle Biter queens for June 2019 delivery. Payment must be made by Nov. 30, 2018. PM me if you want the info.
 

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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

The closest managed hive locations that I'm aware of are both about 1 mile away.
understood. the swarms with marked queens are very likely from those.

for better or worse being in close proximity like that means all of you have the potential to impact each other with respect to competing for forage, providing drone genetics, sharing any yard type feeding, rob outs, ect.

if you haven't already done so i would consider developing a cooperative relationship with the other beekeepers. this would be beneficial for all concerned, especially if they have an interest in avoiding treatments and/or coming up with more resistant stock.

perhaps you could invite them to join our discussion here. maybe we could give them a hand with some swarm prevention techniques.
 

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Re: clong 2018-2019 Treatment Free Experience

I did! :)

Seriously, I've been trying to scheme up a way to put a unique mark on queens. Perhaps a large dot of paint for the current year along with a tiny dot of the previous year's ?
Well, the current mark also has built-in previous year information.
Red marks done this summer mean exactly that - summer of 2018 (nearly impossible to have red marked queens still alive from 2013).
Clearly, you do NOT need to add a tiny yellow dot for the summer of 2017 (to denote the previous year).
What am I missing?
Do share :)
 

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Re: clong 2018-2019 Treatment Free Experience

Dr Seeley, a feral bee expert of sorts, looked at genetic differences between established colonies - selected to be good at living under beekeeper-managed conditions - and feral ones. Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13592-015-0355-0 There was a difference... Which doesn't tell us a lot, other than the two pops aren't intermingling. We do know that at least in the Arnot forest, there are some slight behavioral differences - like a higher tendency to swarm and to choose cavities that don't ALLOW such large brood nests. So if you can get a genetic test, then maybe you could tell whether their genetic profile was different from the managed hives - you know, if you can persuade some scientist to come study your bees!

I want local stock because the tendency to "trust" the weather and brood up early is likely genetic, and in OH with our roller coaster springs it could be fatal. If it was NOT fatal to a colony, that's selection! I want bees that can handle our OH weather. I want bees with a "pedigree" - the breeder knows what their mother and grandmother was like, that they grew up around these parts. ;) That's not a feral hive.

I am doing beelining around my place when possible - https://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/bee-lining-the-oldtimers-way-to-find-wild-beehives . If you are going to do beelining, it has to be when there isn't a competing nectar flow, and it is fly weather - not easy to time in the spring and fall!

Here is a cool paper about the lifestyles of feral bees - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13592-017-0519-1 some were studied when the swarms were living in boxes, and some when the bees were in their natural cavity.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Re: clong 2018-2019 Treatment Free Experience

Well, the current mark also has built-in previous year information.

Clearly, you do NOT need to add a tiny yellow dot for the summer of 2017 (to denote the previous year).
What am I missing?
Do share :)
GregV,

The idea of adding another color to the mark would be so that I could unambiguously identify any swarms that left my beeyard, whether to one of my own swarm traps, or someone else's.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

understood. the swarms with marked queens are very likely from those.

for better or worse being in close proximity like that means all of you have the potential to impact each other with respect to competing for forage, providing drone genetics, sharing any yard type feeding, rob outs, ect.
A couple of weeks ago, I installed a homemade robber screen on a declining hive. It helped for several days, but then the hive dwindled and/or the robbers figured it out. It was probably a cluster the size of a racketball by this time. What could I have done better to prevent the rob-out? Would it have been best to just close up the hive and let them die?
 

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Re: clong 2018-2109 Treatment Free Experience

It was probably a cluster the size of a racketball by this time.
a colony that dwindled in november is pretty much a goner.

personally i would have closed it up and put it in the deep freeze.

that way the colony collapsing mites are done away with and don't get spread to other colonies.

the viruses will also perish. recent research suggests the dwv isn't viable much longer than a month without a host.

the comb and stores can be repurposed as needed.
 
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