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Michael Bush's Nebraska apiary is world famous for its ability to avoid Varroa build up. My observation is his methods have been implemented thousands of times by hopeful beekeepers. However, within my own circle of experience, the central Bush prescription -small cell- does not reproduce equally successful colonies. Nor do I see any compelling evidence that a small cell approach has any success in other regions.

Bush speaks of gathering thousands of testimonials, which would support the supposition of a broad success, yet there is no evidence of a network of newly emerging queen breeders and young up-and-coming commercial entrepreneurs. That absence argues that the Bush system only works at the non-commercial milieu, or the success rate is vanishingly small.

How do we resolve this apparent contradiction? One way would be to implement a side-by-side controlled trial to isolate and test the elements of the method. Oddly, Bush has never seen fit to perform this basic validation.

I think the time is ripe to consider an alternative theory that accounts for the Bush results.
Elements of Bush husbandry that he relates are:
Few if any queen introductions, but the stock has a very diverse and difficult to parse ancestry including feral, Buckmaster, Weaver and other bees. No mention of Russian or Minnesota VSH ancestry.
Use of All Mediums in 8 frame boxes.
Use of 9 frames within the boxes by means of shaving side width
Use of walk-away splits as a method of increase.
Use of plastic small-cell comb in about 1/2 of the boxes. Use of foundationless frames in about 1/2 of the boxes.
Feeding of small colonies

The Bush results are:
Undetectable Varroa in early summer at third party inspection for sales
approximately 20% overwintering loss (for unspecified reasons, but his is exposed to severe Winter in Nebraska)
Absence of other diseases.
Self-reported absence of Varroa at other seasons

The Bush apiaries consist of about 5 yards which would contain about 40 colonies each.
The number has fluctuated, as Bush states he is rebuilding the apiary after being away.

Bush's self-described main apiary was (up to 2013) at his home address. He has since moved, and sold the property.
The main apiary was situated along the county road, and was photographed in high summer by Google "Street View". This apiary is surrounded by thousands of acres of row crops, with small narrow wooded streams. No other farms scattered over the surrounding 5000 acres show sign of possessing bee hives.

The apiary consists of about 40 hives. About 10 of them are multistory, and the remainder (in the SV image) are 1 or 2 story young hives.

The young hives are likely the production of Bush's method of walk away splits. Bush says he sell few nucs, so the young hive production would about make-up his normal winter loss (20% or 40 hives).

Walk-away splits, done in mid-summer, enforce a major brood break in the hives raising emergency queens. Mid-summer splits with a 45 day lag to brood production also push young small hives into the fall season. I believe the split practice (more than the untested small cell) may have generated a locally determined low Varroa environment.

The splits are going to have reduced mite loads (a known effect of brood breaks). Any splits still carrying high Varroa will perish in the Nebraska winter (small weakened nucs are going to suffer higher colony mortality) -- this is a "Bond" effect using the most susceptible to mortality phase of the life-cycle. This leads to a virtuous cycle -- low mites and strong selection for resistant colonies which results in very rapid selection of traits.

It has been speculated that horizontal transmission from mite-rich colonies to naive neighbors is a major transmission vector. The Bush apiary (as shown by Google) avoids horrizontal transmission -- it is in a Corn and Soybean "desert" with no other colony survival space, it is largely based on very young hives with intrinsically low mite loads that have been further culled as small colonies entering a harsh winter.

Varroa-free refuges exist in North America (the famous example is Thunder Bay, Ontario). It may be that the virtuous cycle implemented by Bush has generated a local zone with very low mite loading, and a mechanism for persistence.

A trial could be designed, quite easily, to test my alternative theory -- paired blocks of small cell and large cell hives could be located within the Bush "bubble" and at a selected Nebraska commercial site known for the presence of Varroa.
 

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It would be nice to truly find out why certain treatment free apiaries are successful. Genetics is certainly one explaination. Isolation would be another, along with brood breaks, etc.

I don't buy small cell as being the answer. If that were true Apis ceranae wouldn't have varroa.

Tom
 

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I keep bees Bush style from the start 4 years ago. It has worked out well for me. I'm in an area populated with mainstream beekeepers. No bubble here. All my colonies are from feral colonies acquired from swarms and cutouts.
 

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I find it interesting that someone has to "explain" why his bees are thriving sans treatments.

Maybe you would like to explain why my bees are thriving treatment free.

But it would be more interesting if you could explain why you are still treating your bees knowing that you could also be treatment free.
 

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But it would be more interesting if you could explain why you are still treating your bees knowing that you could also be treatment free.
I don't think JWC believes it's possible. He regards those who do not treat as faith-based beekeepers. He's not in the right place, he has too many commercial beekeepers dropping hives in his area, he doesn't want to risk AHB genetics, selective breeding on a small scale can't really improve your stock, and so on and on.

I don't know. If it turns out that I can't keep bees without treatment, I'm just going to conclude that Michael Bush is just a much better beekeeper than I am, and I'll try to get better.

That might not be a palatable concept to some folks.
 

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we dont treat....we are totally foundationless. we have ZERO 'gourmet' queens. and our colonies thrive. i am not against small cell per say....but, i am totally for not directing them towards any specific cell size. some of our colonies rear bees which are identifiably larger than others...naturally. i believe the success of a colony fighting pests...any pests is in which size bees they seem fit to raise. i am not against Michael bush or any other beekeeper but, i will say that if it were 'wrong' for humans to create a larger cell foundation to force them on, what would be the difference in forcing them to raise a smaller bee ? leave it up to them. they always know what they need better than we do.
melt down that foundation and make candles because it is pointless and does no good. or...if u really enjoy buying it and love installing it,make ur own with no cells on it. has anyone ever done a study on foundation with no cells ? didnt think so !

no treatment
selectively rear from feral/local stock
give up the 'gourmet' queens with cute names and abbreviations
say no to foundation
split and rear queens as early as possible in the season
FEED !!
 

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I don't have much hope for a thread that starts out with such condescension. We can do better.
 

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jwc, i'm in the same boat with bush and fusion with the exception of not having > 10 years running treatment free with no appreciable varroa losses. i only have 5 years but the fella i bought my bees from is now in year 18 treatment free and significantly better than the national average on losses. my five winter loss average is about 10%.

it's the combination of methods, and can be done on commercial cell and natural cell as long as the other requirements are met, which are in no special order of importance and i believe it takes all of these:

1. being located where there is enough quality natural forage so as not have to supplement with man made food.

2. allowing the bees to keep enough natural stores so that it doesn't become necessary to supplement their feed.

3. respecting the biochemistry within the hive for the complex ecosystem that it is and strive to not tamper with it by introducing chemicals in the hive.

3a. a corrolary to 3 is inoculate weak colonies with frames of clean comb and brood from strong colonies to introduce beneficial organisms as well as boost the work force, as in the three cases of efb that deepsouth (who is also tf and no syrup) was able to remedy by combining a queen right nuc to.

4. make an effort to introduce locally adapted highly hybridized stock that has shown the ability to thrive unmanaged.

5. locate your apiary in a location where these 'supermutts' are thriving unmanaged in large expanses of woods.

if you ever find yourself in the southeastern u.s. jwc, say around atlanta, chattanooga, birmingham, or huntsville, al., give me a call and i'll take you around to show you living proof that these bees exist and that they can be kept this way.
 

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I don't have much hope for a thread that starts out with such condescension. We can do better.
it's ok barry. i interpret what jwc and plb are saying is 'show me'. i'm saying there are those of us who can.

just because you haven't seen it or can't reproduce doesn't mean it's not possible. i think the hardest commidity to come by is being located in and amongst unmanaged ferals. they're not dense enough just everywhere, and some pockets of these ferals are likely ahead of others in the aquisition of varroa resistance.
 

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5. locate your apiary in a location where these 'supermutts' are thriving unmanaged in large expanses of woods.
For most who have been unable to go treatment free successfully, I think that is the deal killer.

In areas that are flooded every year with imported bees of inferior stock it doesn't take too long for those drones to corrupt the local gene pool. It's a losing battle.
 

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It's interesting lately to see the attempts to discount small cell comb here on BS. It seems that some are trying to portray the small cell user/advocate as though they are saying small cell is some sort of miracle cure all for resistant bees. I am no expert or even experienced, but as I read about this from others like Michael Bush, I read that it's one piece out of the whole that gives them an advantage. Like Tommy, Bush isn't forcing anything on the bees by using small cell, he's just letting them build what they naturally want to build. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Bush does talk about loosing hives to mites on his site before he began his treatment free program. Did he move to some remote Varroa free island before he started doing what he's doing?

In most things, if you go against the mainstream, mainstream folks like to throw stones, especially when you succeed.
 

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I too am puzzle by Mr. Bush's unreproducible successes. My initial reaction is that if the mites can adapt faster than the bees, it was possible he bred a weaker mite more so than a stronger bee. That would support the hypothesis that an isolation island is necessary.


One way to answer these questions is for Mr. Bush to put a few hives back on commercial sized foundation, and compare the two groups. This would be an added expense for him, and i would understand his reluctance.

Another way would be for him to sell a few queens to another individual willing to place them on SC comb.

We tried about 20 hives on SC , and saw no difference.

Crazy Roland
 

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Until it's proven otherwise, I'm still convinced that the key to successful TF beekeeping is superior resistant stock, in a region that is more or less saturated with those genetics. Small cell comb may help, but it cannot do the job alone, IMHO.

If a successful TF beekeeper would move a few hives to a yard near one of mine for a couple of years, and they survive, then I would change my thinking. Guess I'm a "show me" kind of person too.
 

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zactly.

"I fully realized the great amount of apicultural meaning stored up in that one little word--locality." --W.Z. Hutchinson, Advanced Bee Culture "
 
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