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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm going to buy some 50 odd nucs from a commercial beekeeper in the coming weeks when he brings his hives down from mountain pastures to hibernate on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Most of the local beekeepers move their hives to follow the various flows, basically going uphill as it gets hotter and moving back down to the plains in as it cools down. I'm a hobbyist so that's not an option and I will be working with three permanent apiaries all within 20km of each other and one of which is near my home. The two outyards are in the back of beyond with no hives (commercial or otherwise) within miles. The home apiary, on the other hand has a few hobbyists nearby with treatment-dependent hives.

My objective is to develop into a sideliner and use TF to produce and sell nucs in the future. The only honey I will be taking off the hives for the forseeable future will be for my own consumption and to compensate the landowners so it will be negligible. Given the mild winters and availability of forage, no feeding should be required.

I will be acquiring treatment-dependent stock of the local iberian bee with contaminated wax and big cells. The intention is to move to natural wax, small cell and no treatments with a minimum of losses. In order to do this I had thought of the following apiary management:

Home apiary: Sorting apiary where I identify those nucs with TF potential. These are then transferred to Outyard 1. This apiary will be using treatments (OA dribble, sugar dusting, brood breaks) to keep TF failures alive as production units.

Outyard 1: Treatment-free apart from sugar dusting for mite counts. The better nucs are moved to Outyard 2 and the failures go back to the Home apiary for treatment.

Outyard 2: Treatment-free apart from sugar dusting for mite counts. Further selection to isolate the nucs from which I will breed queens. Failures go back to Home apiary or Outyard 1 depending on level of infestation. The interesting thing about this outyard is that bees have survived and thrived for four years in three abandoned hives (the owner fell ill and gave them to the landowner who hasn't gone anywhere near them) which I will also be managing.

Basically, I want to keep my nucs/hives alive as production units until I can produce TF queens to requeen them. Meanwhile I will be phasing out the big cell frames for natural wax frames and using the home apiary and Outyard 1 to prevent infested hives from potentially overwhelming healthy ones.

I will be using Langstroth mediums with top entrances and trays in the bottom board for mite counts. If I can find a supplier of reasonably priced timber I will be using 8 frame hives on the Michael Bush pattern otherwise it will have to be the standard 10 frame boxes.

I'd be grateful for any constructive criticism or suggestions.
 

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I wish you well - I'll let others who have been successful with TF speak to your strategy.

Starting TF from treatment dependent stock is hard - most who have done it experienced heavy losses along the way. Small cell is a fringe concept with some swearing by and others at it. I am starting to mix in some foundationless frames to avoid the contaminated wax issue and to let the bees draw whatever size cells they want.

This is a grand exercise for a hobbyist. Whatever you do please don't take on debt that depends upon the bees ultimately making a profit for you.
 

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Snowhitsky, it sounds like everyone around you treats. There could be a reason for this.

Can you find anyone at all local who does not treat? If so, this would be a much better starting point. Not just from the bee type etc but also to establish it can actually work where you are, plus see what they are doing that works and follow that.

The abandoned hives you mentioned that are thriving, the harsh reality is you do not know if they have really thrived, or if they are the same bees as the originals, so their existence should not be taken as proof that you can bet the ranch on your endeavour financially.

I would echo what Andrew said about money. 50 hives plus plant is a big investment. If your treatment free ideals do not result in a profit financially, you could actually lose a lot of money. I talk from experience, I tried treatment free beekeeping in an area not suited to it and it cost me quite a bit.

All the same, I encourage you very much with your endeavour and will follow your posts to see how it goes. But to me it would be important to be financially aware, plus attempt to find and make use of a local TF beekeeper if one exists. If none exist at all, be doubly careful about how you invest.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the replies.

Nobody does TF around these parts as most beekeepers are commercial and move their hives around a lot. It just isn't feasible. The hobbyists don't do TF out of ignorance. They literally haven't heard of it and a fair number of them just look blank when you mention the Internet...

The two outyards are isolated. I've checked. Most of the commercials have their apiaries around 20km further north on the other side of a mountain range.

I'm trying to hedge the risks of TF by maintaining on apiary as a fallback for those hives that can't deal with TF. As soon as I detect a risk of failure they will be rotated back from the outyards to the home apiary for treatment. This hopefully will save the hive for future requeening, spare successful TF hives from massive re-infestation and allow for artificial selection of succesful bees.

Thanks for your concerns over the financial risks but to be honest, I can afford to lose the investment. I wouldn't be jumping for joy if I did but I have the cash and what the hell, what's the alternative? Head for Las Vegas and a have a wild party? Hmmmm, thinking about it that doesn't sound like a bad alternative! :rolleyes:
 

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I talk from experience, I tried treatment free beekeeping in an area not suited to it and it cost me quite a bit.
Oldtimer, how would you describe an medium infestation of 3% at this time of the year? Is this suitable for TF?

I haven't treated since last Autumn and even then I only used OAV... not much of a mite fall. I'm asking as I have only 2 seasons experience. I don't necessarily aim to go TF but plan to go with a very minimalistic schema - one OA dribble in Autumn. It seems my bees tolerate high infestations in my area (?): I have one nuc with high % - 20 that is thriving and has lots of honey. Anyway... I treated it :D. So far I don't see varroa as being much of a problem; at least there are so many ways to avoid them(thanks to this discussion forum).

The only problem I see is the amount of time/gear/money dedicated to treatments.

Regards,
Cristian
 

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Sounds like you covered all your bases as much as you can Snowhitsky looks like you will be in for the long haul. Hey, trade my bees and bee time for a party in Vegas? Me, I'd take the bee time it does me a lot more good.

Cristian, I just can't answer your question, as my own TF venture eventually failed I don't have the qualifications to answer, especially how it would pan out long term. However last autumn ='s 1 year ago? If so 3% infestation is a pretty good effort thus far on your bees behalf and hives can function reasonably well at that level. Pleased to hear it's going well for you hope those queens are doing good :).
 

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However last autumn ='s 1 year ago? If so 3% infestation is a pretty good effort thus far on your bees behalf and hives can function reasonably well at that level. Pleased to hear it's going well for you hope those queens are doing good :).
The "Mother" is also doing great: starting from a 3 frame nuc in May, has almost filled the whole box by now using only foundation less. I think it's also the locality factor involved here. I'm lucky to have only stationary beekeeping around and a great unpolluted area right at the bottom of the mountains.

... yes a year ago
 

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I am wondering if you have expanded your search for stock as much as possible? Are feral hives in your locality or from a similar environment available? Abandoned or neglected hives that have some of the first culls already done?
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I am wondering if you have expanded your search for stock as much as possible? Are feral hives in your locality or from a similar environment available? Abandoned or neglected hives that have some of the first culls already done?
Feral hives are hard to come by largely due to local agricultural practices. Imagine acres of almond and olive groves kept "clean" by ploughing and herbicides in an arid climate similar to California's. Basically , apart from the odd oasis of uncultivated land like my patch most ferals would die of starvation before varroa had a chance to get at them. You are more likely to find them up in the mountains but the park rangers take a rather dim view of people taking anything out and the fines are rather hefty.

I currently have hives from two local commercials that are doing OK with minimal treatment and two swarms from a neighbour's apiary that are doing quite well (probably due to the brood break). The ones that really interest me are the hives at Outyard 2 which have been continuously occupied for 4 years without anyone so much as opening them. The landowner lives about 60m away and has never seen them without bees so I see it as a hopeful sign of a varroa resistant strain. My first inspection revealed plentiful stocks honey, comb filling every available space and plenty of the aggresive iberian bees. I didn't have the tools to do a sugar shake but i didn't spot any mites nor DWV bees so I'm keeping my fingers crossed until the next visit.
 

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You might consider raising queens from the abandoned hives, might be your only source of treatment free bees in the area. I think you have a good understanding of what you are trying to do, good common sense way to go about it in my opinion.
 

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Feral hives are hard to come by largely due to local agricultural practices. Imagine acres of almond and olive groves kept "clean" by ploughing and herbicides in an arid climate similar to California's. Basically , apart from the odd oasis of uncultivated land like my patch most ferals would die of starvation before varroa. . . .
Uhh, and why do you think this region will support a new concentration of bees?
You are going to need a whole lot more than a "patch" to keep three 15-hive drops happy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
The two outyards are situated on land at the foot of mountain ranges with good pasture except from June to September. My own land is on the terraces of a wide and deep dry river bed which due to difficulty of access and building restrictions has been largely uncultivated for a couple of generations now so there's enough wild flowers to keep a fair number of hives. It's not as good as the outyards but it will do. So basically, no ferals in most of the plains except along the dry-river beds and these are mostly from managed treatment-dependent hives. Ferals exist in the mountains but the few access roads are regularly patrolled by park rangers.

Also, bear in mind that apis mellifera iberiensis is well adapted to the arid conditions and produces abundant honey from seemingly nothing.
 

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The only place to begin is the beginning. Will follow your efforts if you keep posting.
 

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Beg, steal or borrow some old brood frames and put out some boxes as swarm traps. One old frame per box. The rest empty (but wired) frames. See what you get.
 

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"I'd be grateful for any constructive criticism or suggestions."
For my goals and level of risk aversion, I would pursue two tracks: Quickly breeding as many queens as practical from the three survivor hives in outyard 2 and placing swarm traps near the foot of the mountain range in the outyards. I would rather build up than build down, and I would not try to be part treatment free and part treatment, particularly if the goal is to sell treatment free stocks to others. Others would disagree with me. I hope that what you decide to do works for you.
 

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"I'd be grateful for any constructive criticism or suggestions."
For my goals and level of risk aversion, I would pursue two tracks: Quickly breeding as many queens as practical from the three survivor hives in outyard 2 and placing swarm traps near the foot of the mountain range in the outyards. I would rather build up than build down, and I would not try to be part treatment free and part treatment, particularly if the goal is to sell treatment free stocks to others. Others would disagree with me. I hope that what you decide to do works for you.
why not? As long as he can keep them separated, if he can keep them alive on treatments elsewhere as production hives it's diversifying his investment. If he treatment free yard fails his whole enterprise wont go under.
 

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Those 3 hives if as strong as you say could probably be split into 10, 15, or perhaps even 20 nucs. Or, you could study up queen raising techniques and actually raise queen cells in those hives to put into nucs made from hives you buy. They should be mated at the site where the 3 hives are, if you can get permission to do all that.

Other than collecting ferals from the forest that is the most likely route to achieve your goal. Commercial bees? Frankly I don't fancy your chances of success. Commercial beekeepers don't spend large sums of money on treatment just cos they feel they have too much money. They do it cos they have to.

I use a "low treatment" regime so I can identify the most mite resistant bees, sadly, when I find one I consider mite resistant it is nearly always an aggressive one. However you are breeding for yourself, not for sale, so once you have a resistant bee strain, you can then start selecting for other traits such as gentleness.

Having said all that, I still think your venture is high risk, in terms of achieving TF bees, because of what is going on around you, and because the exact circumstances of the 3 hives are not certain plus may not be able to be duplicated on a larger scale. But your plan is solid and worst case you will also not lose everything, so all the best with it. :)
 

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why not? As long as he can keep them separated, if he can keep them alive on treatments elsewhere as production hives it's diversifying his investment. If he treatment free yard fails his whole enterprise wont go under.
That's how I would "use TF to produce and sell nucs in the future." Others would do it differently.
 
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