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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
For the successful treatment-free beekeepers - Do you see a lot of mites in your colonies? Do you think your bees have a high tolerance to varroa and can coexist with high infestation rates or do you think they have adapted to keep mite populations low?

I am currently practicing IPM. Testing my colonies for mites this week I see a wide range of infestation rates >1% to 10%. While some of the colonies with a high infestation rate were poorer performers, others were some of my best colonies production-wise.
 

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hi adam,

i do see some mites in my colonies. i purchased the double screened jar for alcohol washes but i've only used it once, and that was to confirm that a colony which dwindled down to a couple of handfuls of bees and their queen had a severe mite infestation, probably close to 100%.

i lost 4 out of 19 colonies last winter, two nucs and two established colonies. they tended to be the lesser performing ones in my yard. only one was devoid of any bees by mid winter, and all four had observable queen failure by the presence of capped drone brood in worker cells. i looked hard for mite frass in these colonies but was only able to find a little here and there, and not anything like i found with the confirmed mite infestation.

in general, i feel like overall vigor in my yard is improving with each year. i haven't seen any dwv or diseased brood removal this season whereas i have seen that occasionally in previous seasons. out of my current 19 colonies there is only one that i would describe as a dink. i plan to inspect that one on friday and do an alcohol wash.

it's possible that not treating and allowing the winnowing process to work itself out is responsible for the overall improvement i am seeing, but it could be due to other factors or just chance.

during my spring inspections this year it was not unsual for me to break open drone cells that were bridged in the space between boxes. i took that opportunity to look for varroa, and even pulled a few larvae from capped drone comb on the frames. in all i was only able to find one foundress mite and her son, but i assume there were more that i didn't see.
 

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For the successful treatment-free beekeepers - Do you see a lot of mites in your colonies? Do you think your bees have a high tolerance to varroa and can coexist with high infestation rates or do you think they have adapted to keep mite populations low?
I am currently practicing IPM. Testing my colonies for mites this week I see a wide range of infestation rates >1% to 10%. While some of the colonies with a high infestation rate were poorer performers, others were some of my best colonies production-wise.
I see mites in them. Not just in dronebrood, sometimes walking on the bees. Very often in the microscope, when getting sperm from drones.
I used to see them on the hive bottoms, but not any more, for some reason I cannot imagine.

They must do both, tolerate and keep the numbers low, to survive in practical beekeeping environment. You cannot keep bees so, that they cannot get loads of mites from some other hives, sometimes. Sometimes advises are given to take all the suffering hives to their own yards, but in practise that is impossible.

Infestation levels vary, from almost 0 to well over 10%, they usually are getting high in some time during the summer, I suppose because bees get angry. Some of them change their queen to survive, but not very many. Usually they just calm down, and in the end of the summer they are normal again. Sometimes I reconed that 5% is the acceptable limit, but nowdays I don´t really know, I don´t care, how much they have mites. More or less, what does it matter!

In recent years I have not experienced any unexpected crashes, bees dying in mid summer or in autumn. This happend earlier, in the beginning of this breeding project.
 

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>For the successful treatment-free beekeepers - Do you see a lot of mites in your colonies?

I don't see a lot. No.

> Do you think your bees have a high tolerance to varroa and can coexist with high infestation rates or do you think they have adapted to keep mite populations low?

All the bees I ever had that had high infestation rates died. The Russians seemed to tolerate more before they died...
 

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Squarepeg, excellent post on an interesting thread. Have you always been treatment free? I've been reading about the "treatment treadmill" which seems to suggest that once you start treating, you'll never be able to stop. My husband and i have two hives, both of which currently have varroa issues. I never intended to treat, but the thought of losing both hives this winter is challenging my resolve a bit.
 

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thanks estraya,

i kind of fell into beekeeping when some hives were abandoned on my property after their keeper passed away. by the time i got involved most of those were too far gone, but i got interested enough to get some more bees. the bees i got just happened to come from an supplier that wasn't treating, so i decided to not treat and see how they would do. so far so good, although this is only my fifth season.

my supplier started his from tree cut outs in 1996. this is when varroa hit this area hard and colonies were dying left and right. he located and observed these feral bees and noticed that they weren't dying. he started out with five and has been propagating from them the whole time off treatments. two of the original five colonies are still going and haven't had to be requeened since they were captured.

it seems to be working here for some reason or more likely some combination of reasons. i got lucky. i think the best chance of being successful with tf is finding someone in your area who is successful, getting your bees from them, and emulating their methods.

a more challenging alternative would be to locate some feral bees. observe them at least through one winter of survival, and then collect them or a swarm from them.

as far as the treadmill goes, i'm not sure because i don't have any experience to pull from. my guess is that if you have bees that aren't going to make it this year without help, there's no reason to expect them to make it next year. one option to consider would be to help them this year and then requeen them next year with proven stock if you can find it. if you do treat, i would definitely avoid any chemicals that leave residues in the wax.
 

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Wow, what an amazing journey for you! It must be more than just "luck" if you've been at it for five years now ...

I think we'll just take it one step at a time here and try to make the best decisions as we go along. Thanks very much for your response, and continued good luck with your hives!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for the feedback and I certainly welcome further feedback.

Juhani, I read through your website and it is quite the treatment free journey you have been on. A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Helsinki and Espoo. You live in a beautiful country that reminded me very much of home.
 

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> I've been reading about the "treatment treadmill" which seems to suggest that once you start treating, you'll never be able to stop.

That is a bit of an overstatement. Any pesticide "treadmill" has its issues getting off, but Varroa has less issues than say, aphids on your soybeans... you spray for aphids you kill the predators of aphids and now you have more aphids and have more need to treat. You treat for Varroa, you may perpetuate genes that don't tolerate Varroa well, but you did not kill off any significant amount of predators. I'd say for a "treadmill" it's one of the easier ones to get off of.
 

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In this same vein, Tom Seeley checked some feral colonies...colonies that were so far from any managed bees as to be certain that they were genuine, long term survivors. Upon testing those colonies, he found that they were heavily infested with mites but seemed to survive all the same. From his observations it would seem that in those surviving colonies it wasn't a lack of mites but some form of coexistence.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I am trying to select possible breeders for next season. Intuitively I would select the colonies with both good production and fewer mites, but I guess there is a possible case to be made for colonies that have a high mite tolerance - or is it the mites in those colonies that are different?
 

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>I guess there is a possible case to be made for colonies that have a high mite tolerance - or is it the mites in those colonies that are different?

My guess is it is a combination of things, including mite tolerance and less virulent mites and better grooming and more hygiene and who knows what else. That's why I think you should look at the big picture. Are they healthy and gentle and productive? Isn't that what matters? Do I have to know the actual cause especially when it's probably some complex combination of things?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
>
Are they healthy and gentle and productive? Isn't that what matters? Do I have to know the actual cause especially when it's probably some complex combination of things?
While gentle and productive are more obvious, healthy can be hard to tell visually. A healthy colony can build up and look great and not show a lot of visual signs of high infestation until its too late and collapses.
 

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Intuitively I would select the colonies with both good production and fewer mites, but I guess there is a possible case to be made for colonies that have a high mite tolerance - or is it the mites in those colonies that are different?
If the answers were easy....someone would have done it long ago. Collect good data and keep complete records.....and in a few seasons you may have your answer. Until then just speculation.
Good luck.
 

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> A healthy colony can build up and look great and not show a lot of visual signs of high infestation until its too late and collapses.

In the short term, yes. But if it's been healthy and untreated for several years, it's more obvious. I never breed from them until they have survived a minimum of one winter and preferably two or three.
 

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This has been the most reasonable exchange of ideas I've seen on this subject on beesource in the short time I've been here. Thanks to each participant. :)

subscribed.
 

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In this same vein, Tom Seeley checked some feral colonies...colonies that were so far from any managed bees as to be certain that they were genuine, long term survivors. Upon testing those colonies, he found that they were heavily infested with mites but seemed to survive all the same. From his observations it would seem that in those surviving colonies it wasn't a lack of mites but some form of coexistence.
Vey interesting! Where can I read this study?

In my breeding work I have always selected for fewer mites, but I have doing tests only once or twice a year. Just to have some idea of the general situation and reinsurance to my thoughts of some particular queen or line. Look at the breeding quality: a big brood area with even cell caps is not good, a reasonable brood area with high cell caps is better.

Zhiv9, while visiting Kirk Webster 2011 we dropped by in Canada too. Immidiatelly when we crossed the border I felt something, familiarity maybe...
 

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I think this is the one Dan was referencing
That's it.

In my breeding work I have always selected for fewer mites,...
Yes...you and countless other queen breeders. And to my knowledge none have produced queens that can be sold and consistently maintain low mite populations.
In Seeley's study he introduced mites from maintained hives to those same Arnot Forest colonies and the mite populations grew at the same rate as in his conventional hives.....strongly suggesting that the Arnot Forest ferals originally had less virulent mites.
 
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