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Ok. I fully agree with the philosophy and have intended from the beginning to be fully treatment free with my colonies. I get my first bees this spring. Unlike those of you in the south, cutouts and swarms are fewer and farther between up here (I think). I'm more and more nervous that my bees are not going to do well, and that the dreaded varroa are going to be the end for me. I'm not sure I can afford to buy bees every year until some live...

Is powdered sugar an option for the first couple years? Is that a treatment? Does anybody intentionally setup brood breaks or freeze frames of drones to reduce mites? These seem like treatments to me.

To clarify, my viewpoint is not one of reducing "chemicals" in my hives, but one of growing stronger more independent bees....

Someone please talk me down.
 

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I don't think powdered sugar is a strong-enough suppressant on its own, and the bees hate it, so it wouldn't be my choice for a first year beekeeper.

Brood breaks are also not, IMO, a good choice for a colony in its establishment year when you are in a race against time to get the colony settled in, with enough comb drawn and filled before your first winter. It's a better tactic for the second, and subsequent years. And philosophically it isn't moving you toward where I think you trying to go in getting to a point where the bees can stand on their own w/o treatments (if such a thing is possible for you, your site and your bees.) It's just making more colonies with pretty much no change in the genetics. But it does interrupt the mite's annual build-up, so it works, sort of. But the mites can also build up to troubling levels in seasons where brood breaks are impossible, or inappropriate, so you can't count on it alone.

Drone trapping works for the same reason - it hammers the mites by killing enough to keep the population low enough that they stay sort of under control. I know of one commercial beekeeper near me who does only this. He has mid-range annual losses which he recovers from by making enough splits to cover them. But this isn't changing the genetics, just playing a numbers game.

I think a mildly experienced beekeeper could get by doing two of these three, but I think for someone starting out (especially with commercial bees, not re-queened with tolerant/resistant stock) you'll have more luck in the long run by learning to manage bees, first. Set up a strong mite monitoring plan and use one of the organic acid (formic or oxalic) treatments for your first year or so. This way you'll be much more likely to have live bees to get your skills built up enough to be able work the (re-queened) bees more successfully on a TF basis. And you won't have to endure the unpleasantness and expense of letting the bees die unnecessarily due to the compounding effect of your own lack of experience interacting the bees' initial lack of tolerance.

Fix the one thing you certainly can control, your own skills and experience, before you turn to the next step, the bees' biology.

A year, or two's, treatment with "soft chemicals" is not going to poison your bees or your hives (or you, if you are sensible). Your bees most likely weren't raised TF, anyway. So it's not like you are going backwards, away from your goal. You're just extending their current status a bit longer so that your skill level is up to the mark for the significant challenge of transforming them into TF bees.

Enj.
 

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It does´t matter much, Monkey, to purchase "resistant" stock or local treated stock, you will have high risks anyway.

That, because the "resistant"stock must adapt to your location and this could mean they suddenly are not "resistant" anymore.

The local treated stock should be the best to start with, but less treatments will not make them better stock if you don´t watch out for the better ones to breed from. This from tf or treated, no matter.
Less treatments could mean the same losses or survivors as going cold turkey, this depends on the impact of mites and how virus tolerant your bees are.

The time will come when you must decide to confront the risks and losses, no matter what. No guaranties envolved.

Experienced beekeepers tell me they had to start at the beginning like new beekeepers. They knew nothing about keeping bees alive without treatments even keeping bees for 30 years.
The managements you need at your location are special and often you have to abandon old school methods.

Powdered sugar can be a help if you do it right. The whole year through every 3 or 4 weeks. It stresses the bees but not so much as the mites do.
You may monitor mites and open cells in brood combs to see the infestation. The you can use culling if the infestation is high, so the best drones from the best colonies are still flying.
Be careful after the colonies breed no drones anymore, then the mites go into the worker brood cells.

You have to loose your fear of setbacks or people criticizing what you do.
If you want to use some technical methods like sugar, drone culling or caging of queen, why not? It´s your decision. You are just starting, you have no stock so far.
This must not be chemical treatment. Microbes are probably spared and the bees live longer without being confronted with chemicals.

In the end you are alone with your bees and must adapt to your circumstances, even if this needs years. And Circumstances change from year to year also.

So the best is to read how people do it on the tf sub forum or ask questions via pm or thread. The develop a system you will try after learning the basics of beekeeping.

Here some nice information:
http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?333480-Treatment-free-Bees/page3
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She hit it all with the pointers. Everything starts from the beginning, abandon old school methods, years of adaptation to local environment, and nothing is 100% guarantee once you develop a new system of beekeeping. Somehow I'm already doing here what she's writing there. Read up on my post if you want to go the tf route at http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?334803-Chosen-my-breeder then goto #16 on the blue link. It is a 2 year experiment to refine this method that is showing the result I like to see this Spring. No more hive crashed for me this year! It is a form of treatment but not a chemical treatment. You can say it is hive manipulation at its most natural almost like giving it a brood break but my bees cannot take a brood break because the queens laid all year long in a mild winter environment. This is more challenging trying to get rid of the most aggressive mites here. Left alone they will crashed the entire hive on early Spring time build up as they've done it before. The first step is to start with finding mite fighting survivor queens directly from the source. The second step is to grow your own local hive numbers. This is when you get to practice and develop your own methods and improvement. Don't be too nervous. Everybody is willing to help you out. Need additional help just do a PM. Fun, fun, fun!


Five year in the making and still going strong:
 

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Monkey
I don't know north dakota. I don't know if there are a lot of bees or not. One way for a quick check might be to take a cup of sugar water and on your first two 60+ degree days of the year, set it out and maby put one drop of lemon grass oil in it (though probly not needed) to help them find it. You may be surprized at how many bees really are around. I found that untill I got interested in bees, I never notice such things and do not remember seeing many but after I started looking they were everywhere.

Another way is if you know some who keep chickens, On the very few days that get warm, the bees will mob the cracked corn.

Is there a point to all this? I am guessing that north dakota is still pretty cold and has not had that many warm days. I had an uncle that lived there for a couple of years and remember seeing show piles as high as a house where parking lots were cleaned. The bees will be hungry on the first few warm days.

You could buy your bees and work them but maby hedge your bet with some traps. I don't know how much family that you have but what I have done is make a bunch of traps with every scrap of wood I could come up with for free and put one at each relitives house and ask them to call me if they ever see bees around the traps. The traps can be a little gaudy but also can be put about anywhere and have a chance of catching something. Non of my relitives are bee poeple and some are scared of bees but they didn't seem to mind the traps.

This may hedge your bet a little from the having to buy bees all the time and you could get your packages and try to learn from them but maby get a swarm every once it a while to help mididgate the mistakes you make while learning.

You indicate that you do not think that there are a lot of swarms but I have never seen one my whole life untill I watched one come to one of my traps.

I am thinking that a cup up sugar water (or half a cup) may be an eye opening experiance. It was for me.

Trapping is not really a cheep way to get bees if you have to do it all, but if you can just set them and have just a little help in watching them, it becomes a lot better and you can use some pretty junky wood to get some.

Now for the bad news. I had twelve traps out the first year and cought nothing and 16 out the second year and caught three. It is not a garentee. It does give some options of not getting on the buy/kill/buy treadmill and may give bees that might help you in what you are trying to do.

I just put this out as something to think about (though I am sure you have been thinking about it)

Good luck
gww
 

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Monkey,

I grew up in ND, but did not have bees there. Good luck.

You will have high mite pressure and genetics from every part of the country.

Your best bet is to find a local bk that overwinters there.

I think most do not over winter there bees there.

Honey is big ag in ND. Think Almonds in CA but on the honey side.
ND is the largest honey producer in the USA. 500,000+ hives are moved there annually and Honey is still made one frame at a time.
Some producers are responsible 10's of semi-trucks full of honey a year. Most ppl can not comprehend what it takes to feed the world.

My hats off to all the hard working family's out there that are farming so that I can feed mine.

google images "nd canola field in bloom" to get a small look at what it takes for just some of the worlds canola oil or rape seed production.

Hear is a link to the ND bee map. One can view the map 3/4 down the page.

https://beemap.ndda.nd.gov/
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I found that untill I got interested in bees, I never notice such things and do not remember seeing many but after I started looking they were everywhere.
I guess that's true of everything. Like getting a new car and then noticing it everywhere when you didn't before.

Thanks for the advice.
 

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Thanks to all of you. This has really helped quite a bit. I'm not normally a nervous person. Sitting around waiting for may is getting the best of me I guess. All my boxes and frames are assembled and I've got nothing to do but think, and think, and think...
 

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monkey....
Thanks to all of you. This has really helped quite a bit. I'm not normally a nervous person. Sitting around waiting for may is getting the best of me I guess. All my boxes and frames are assembled and I've got nothing to do but think, and think, and think...
I know what you mean, I sit for two years trying to get bees. Then when I got them I still have been in limbo never seeing what was good and what was bad before.

I do think if you could find anyone who has hives that would let you watch them go through one or two of them would help you. My mind still goes a little blank when I open my hive and I never really go through every frame but more look and see if I see capped brood and a little honey in the combs and see if I need to add room. When looking with someone else, You get to see them handling the comb and bees and even if you don't retain alot, it is sorta like sighting in your deer rifle before deer season, it give you confidence cause you know one part of the hunt is good. It helps in ways you might not think. If you can't then you can't but if you can, don't pass up the opertunity.
Good luck
gww
 

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When you start thinking too much then read up on queen rearing. All the details that go into it. To be sustainable in the
long run you need to go this route. You tube will give you some idea, some are good and some not, especially on Michael Palmer's
sustainable apiary which is a good method. You can spend 100s of hours on you tube to watch the vids on I.I. (artificial queen insemination) as
well as other good bee topics like how to take care of your bees through out the 4 seasons especially on the cold winter time there. Finally, know how to make Lauri's sugar bricks posted here and how to make your homemade patty subs as those are handy in the early Spring time build up. Lauri's bricks will get your bees through the cold winter days.
 

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You should probably buy an oxalic acid dribble kit just in case. Read the instructions and put on the shelf so that you have a Plan B.
 

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You said you wanted independent bees so don´t do this:

1. Putting bees in a container (e.g. skep, hollow log)
2. Providing top-bars with comb guides (e.g. Kenyan, Warré & Perone hives)
3. Providing frames
4. Providing frames with foundation
5. Providing plastic foundation
6. Providing a mesh floor
7. Nadiring / Supering
8. Opening the hive
9. Transporting the hive
10. Feeding (e.g. a. planting forage; b. honey.)
11. Removing honey
12. Controlling swarming
13. Drone suppression
14. Practising brood nest spreading
15. Providing a queen excluder
16. Clipping the queen's wing
17. Feeding sugar in emergencies.
18. Artificial queen breeding
19. Regular transportation of hives as in migratory beekeeping (i.e. transhumance) 20. Removing too much honey and feeding back sugar syrup
21. Medicating with so-called organic treatments (e.g. a. powdered sugar; b. organic acids present in the hive; c. essential oils present in the hive)
22. Medicating with synthetics and antibiotics

But then you are not a beekeeper.

You mean survivors? Maybe they will be strong after some years if you leave them in an isolated rural environment, never doing anything...
 

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i don't believe that you will find a universally accepted definition of 'treatment' and by extension 'treatment free'.

the problem with describing a beekeeping approach as being all 'natural' is that just placing more than one hive in a yard one already crosses a line on what the bees would do naturally if left to their own devices.

adding to that the fact that disturbances are made to the hive and resources are typically harvested takes us even further away from what occurs naturally with a colony.

by and large what is being talked about when it come to 'treatments' is whether or not any introduced substances (i.e. oxalic acid, maqs, thymol, ect.) or manipulations (i.e. drone removal, frequent splitting, ect.) is being used for mite control as opposed to allowing a colony to control mites without intervention of any kind.
 

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I am one year ahead of you. I got my first bees last spring, one colony that a local beekeeper split in two for me, so I got two sister hives. No idea what kind, and I didn't think at the time to ask. They are smallish and pretty dark, some are nearly black, and fairly hot, so I think they are not your typical commercial bees. I am in N Illinois, so a bit warmer than you but we got down to -10 last December for a week.

Except sugar dusting a few times, I did no chemical treatments for mites. One died a month ago, the second is looking good, starting to build up numbers. I will not be surprised if that one dies too, but I have hopes. I am putting up a lot of swarm traps at friend and family properties, and my back yard, in hopes of catching some genetic variety.

I see that as the only hope for me if I continue not to treat. Catching and splitting and building numbers, in the expectation of lots of hives failing each year. It is sad, but in the long run I believe that people have to be doing this. I plan to keep the hives well-separated, so that there is less cross-contamination as hives fail and send mites out with the remaining bees. If there were other beekeepers near me, I wouldn't do this and risk their hives too, but since it is just me and the bees, I accept the risk.

If you are buying bees, I'd say to treat! It is an investment, and unless you have money to burn, why risk losing them when treatments are cheap? After you get some numbers, then you can decide whether to risk losing a bunch of hives every year. Plus, purchased bees face a lot of stresses that my local bees did not. They came to me with full frames of honey and pollen, and a strong, active queen, that I knew could survive in this area.
 

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Anytime you deviate from the natural process of beekeeping then it is consider a treatment. So yes, feeding is
a treatment because you have intervene with their natural progression. Natural progression to me is pretty much what sum is already up in #14 above. You set the hive up and leave them alone. Of course, without any intervention then you are no longer a beekeeper just an observer from the outside. I think you are nervous because of thinking too much with many unanswered questions. Once you got your answer then it will be less nervous further down the road. And the only way to get your answers without the help sometimes is to experiment a bit once you feel comfortable around the bees.
 

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There's two ways to approach it..... keeping bees treatment free or getting treatment free bees. If you can get a good drop rate with powdered sugar, it can be effective, some people claim to be treatment free only using this approach. I have no issues with the claims except I wouldn't consider those treatment free bees, or in other words, bees with the genetics to be kept absolutely treatment free with no manipulations. Beepro has found a method that's maybe worked for him, but on the flip side makes claims about how hygienic his bees are when in fact I would put little faith in it since manipulations are being done and it's not even been a year, but he has so far kept his bees treatment free for the last season, so I would say yes, perhaps he's a treatment free beekeeper but I would not consider his bees as treatment free bees until they've been proven to survive multiple years w/o manipulation. Part of it is locational as well, good natural forage for most of the year plays a critical role in colony health as well but feeding good sub and syrup can also be a benefit. If you work hard to develop some methods and manipulations that can be effective, it can go a long way of keeping bees treatment free but there's no guarantees.
 

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mite control as opposed to allowing a colony to control mites without intervention of any kind.
Is selecting for certain traits not an intervention? Is requeening with a queen with preferable genetics not an intervention? Is monitoring for mites not an intervention? Is small cell not an intervention? It seems one man's treatment free is another man's treatment. The hardest thing I've found in beekeeping is understanding what treatment free is.
 

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Anytime you deviate from the natural process of beekeeping then it is consider a treatment..
What is the natural process? Removable frames? North America? What is the natural process? Selective breeding? Hive manipulations? I guess I do not understand the natural process from the unnatural process. It all seems unnatural to me. Could you elaborate?
 
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