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I eliminate any queens from my breeding program when mites rise above 3 to 4/100 bees.’
So far in my program, this will meant I need to eliminate just about ~100% of my bees.
This season only the purchased "breeder" barely makes the cut (but the daughters are already a suspect).
I can spend $$$ to get some magic queen, but will it make a long-term difference in my area?
Not optimistic.

I still don't see how people manage to consistently maintain 3 to 4/100 counts in heavily bee-populated areas.
 

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So far in my program, this will meant I need to eliminate just about ~100% of my bees.
...

I still don't see how people manage to consistently maintain 3 to 4/100 counts in heavily bee-populated areas.
GregV:

Good point- I had exactly the same thought given I am in the same situation regarding mite levels. In following-up with Mr. Combs directly, I learned that the key is:

... making increase from those colonies that had the least percentage of infection was the best way to go.'
Specifically, Terry responded as follows, 'Don't get too caught up in the details-they are a necessity for producing show quality fish, but not for producing Varroa resistant bees. This includes strictly adhering to the 3-4% infestation. Colonies in the wild have to develop resistance/tolerance with varying levels of Varroa and according to researchers are doing so. Several years ago Marla Spivak observed colonies surviving an 8-12% infestation rate. If colonies go beyond 12% requeening with a queen from a better colony should bring levels down. And I never make a decision on just 1 sampling- Varroa infestation rates fluctuate. Freedom from viral symptoms is another good selection criteria. My longest-surviving hive had an infestation of >17% one year, yet showed no viral signs, so I did nothing and now it is the hive with the lowest mite loads for the past 4 years. Some measure of trust must be given to the bees and natural selection to work this out on their own.'
 

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... making increase from those colonies that had the least percentage of infection was the best way to go.'


Sure.
It is just common sense.

Now that I have the rough mite estimates, it is already relieving to see how some of the low mite units I have are also the weakest units at the moment (see my update - colonies #2 and #3).
And so these colonies don't look to be ones worth saving - based on the superficial looks.
And yet...
Indeed, knowing the mite situation is needed for correct decision making.
 

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In part III he addresses his specific evaluation matrix and process- I will post it in a subsequent article.
In the third and final installment of his ‘Treatment-Free Beekeeping: A Practical Hands-On Approach’ article, Mr. Terry Combs lays out the actual mechanisms of his evaluation and selection processes.

It begins for him by trying to maintain a long-range perspective regarding the overarching goals that one has for their stock. Terry encourages his reader to, ‘Look at the big picture during the evaluation / selection process; don’t focus entirely on any one characteristic / trait / behavior. You may find some interesting and thoughtful decisions have to be made.’

As an example, we previously discussed how the ‘interesting and thoughtful decisions’ that one might have to make is whether to let a colony with a relatively high mite load hang around in the absence of significant disease symptoms.

That in view, Mr. Combs espouses keeping diligent and consistent records of the colonies to make relatively objective decisions regarding propagation. He explains, ‘We can do more than just select our “best colonies” based solely on what we see and remember. By keeping accurate records, making controlled measurements, using standardized testing, and making educated decisions in the selection process, we can develop a localized, reliable, predictable, pest and disease resistance and productive line of bees.’

For Mr. Combs, this evaluation process is materially contained in the ‘Colony Traits Evaluation/Ranking’ rubric outlined in Part III (attached), which is informed by his standardized ‘Inspection Records’ outlined in Part I (attached).

In this article he also outlines his two-step Colony Evaluation process, which can generally be summarized as follows:

Step 1- Evaluation in the nucleus: This step is largely focused on evaluating the queen, looking at, ‘brood pattern, build-up and egg-laying rate.’

Step 2- Evaluation in the full-sized hive: This step is evaluating colony-level issues such as, ‘wintering, spring build-up, production, and disease and pest problems.’

There are many other interesting observations in this series relative to local-adaptation, community breeding efforts, the use of swarm cells, culling, and the use of ‘Drone Mother Colonies’ (DMC’s) that I haven’t time to comment on but are concepts well-worth considering.
 

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Discussion Starter #1,665 (Edited)
Here at the mid-point in November all 25 colonies are still in the game.

After our killing frost on the first day of the month we have had a stretch of moderate temperatures which has some of the flora confused. Today I found both forsythia and ladino clover blooming.

I took advantage of the mild weather yesterday to provide sugar slurry to the hives I elected to feed. The only colony I found without sugar on top was #2011.

Today, I found that #2017 had ingeniously worked with the sugar to partially close-off their upper entrance- the photo does it no justice, but they left a single bee-sized opening on the top and bottom of the sugar mass. It is always interesting to watch individual colonies continuously work on the size of the upper entrance through the Winter by manipulating the propolis plug.

I also relocated #2001 from it's previous location in a Pin Oak to a hive stand- I closed them up near dusk and left them confined for 72 hours- only had a few foragers return to the original location once released. They occupy only one (1) Warre box, but it is heavy with nectar.

I also gathered up some Eastern Redbud and Winged Sumac seed today for the purposes of seeding the understory of my field edges- hoping to continue being proactive in removing some invasive understory material (i.e. Autumn Olive) and replacing it with native alternatives.

Unless I see something between now and then which deserves immediate attention, I will likely not mess with them again until sometime near Christmas to check the food situation on the hives that are light.
 

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Was just looking at a video I took of a Russian a few days ago. This gal was at least 1 full day late emerging, and was late in the year (late Sept mating). At about 25 secs she goes under an abdomen of a worker who clearly has a mite. I rarely see a mite, except when I take a pic (eyes are not that sharp).

http://instagr.am/p/CHlxitJF8ug/
Here's the thing. This queen has completely shut down, has about 200-300 capped and another ~100 eggs/larvae. Having seen a mite my impulse is like removing a tick from a dog (anyone's dog). However, there is almost nowhere for a mite to hide in this colony, and I really would like to see how this goes over a winter. Full disclosure: I used apivar on all the 10-frame hives (haven't checked counts), but all my nucs are Russians except 1 Italian (only nuc I treated). I realize no one else can make those decisions for you, just welcoming input. Reconciling that some level of mites is a reality, treatment or no, I guess is my issue.
 

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Reconciling that some level of mites is a reality, treatment or no, I guess is my issue.
Joe:

Thank you for your message. I watched your video- that's a good looking queen!

I concur that there is definitely a mite on the worker as you describe. While I can't be certain, I expect that this mite might truly be phoretic in the sense that it may only be hitching a ride and not actively feeding on that particular bee. I caught a similar photo a couple months ago (see attached). 9 times out of 10, I find the mites feeding on the underside of the bee, between their abdominal segments similar to the photos that Randy Oliver includes in this article:


I think that varroa is a fact of life no matter the treatment regime (or lack thereof). Even if it were possible to eliminate every mite at a particular point in time, there is always robbing and drift to contend with.

So at least in my mind, the question is not whether a colony has mites- but do they have the resources (internal, external or a combination of the two) to allow them to successfully keep the mite load at an acceptable threshold.

Which introduces the question, what is 'acceptable'? And this is the question that we all have to answer for ourselves based on the myriad factors which create the dynamic at work in our individual yards.

I think (at least for us in the relatively mild Southeast), Treatment-Free ultimately all comes down to whether a particular colony has a successful combination of enough internal mechanisms to rear enough healthy winter brood to successfully develop a modest winter cluster. If they can accomplish that and then shut down brood rearing for a couple months, they have a fighting chance to engage in the arms race with varroa again the following Spring.

So, if I knew that brood rearing were shut-down, the colony has 3-4 frames of healthy looking winter bees and plenty of stores I'd be inclined to button them up and let them have a go at overwintering.

I'll be interested to read about what you decide to do, and how it works out for you.

Have a great week.

Russ
 

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So, if I knew that brood rearing were shut-down, the colony has 3-4 frames of healthy looking winter bees and plenty of stores I'd be inclined to button them up and let them have a go at overwintering.

I'll be interested to read about what you decide to do, and how it works out for you.

Have a great week.

Russ
Thanks Russ, you are super helpful! :D

I haven't decided yet, but I'm leaning on let it go. This queen really didn't have time to fire up a great deal of brood. She was left in a nuc I raised a 4-5 queens from so they had decent numbers going in. I moved all the nucs (7-8) into Lyson 6-frame poly hives. In short, they have plenty of stores and a warm place to sleep, not a ton of bees, but Russians keep it tight (so I'm told).

I realize that the mite issue is more about how we keep bees than whether they would survive in the wild (drift, constant brood, etc.). Just on the fence with treating. There is a feral colony (I call them German) in a tree near my house that's been there for at least 4 years. Do they have mites? Probably. Will they perish if I don't go fog them. Doubt it. We shall see.

Thanks again,
Joe
 

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I realize that the mite issue is more about how we keep bees than whether they would survive in the wild (drift, constant brood, etc.).
Joe:

Thank you for your reply. I apologize for my delay in responding as I have been proverbially 'snowed-under' of late.

I think you are right that the management decisions we make as beekeepers certainly impact the varroa dynamic... but I am convinced that feral bees with the perfect non-managed environment but bad genetics are just as likely to succumb to the mite menace.

That said, my limited perspective based on my own experience, discussions I have had with other regional TF beekeepers and research I have read suggests to me that part of the secret of successful TF colonies (such as the Primorsky bees) is that their ability to raise an appropriate amount of brood (at appropriate times) sufficient to survive but definitely not in the running to win bragging rights for the most bees boiling out of the box when you crack the lid.

Here is a good write-up on the Primorsky stock- might give you a good frame of reference with your Russian bees: Primorsky Russian Bees

Do keep me posted what you decide to do. I can certainly understand and appreciate you considering carefully whether to experiment with TF. There are a lot of variables to consider, especially if one decides to run a side-by-side comparison. So I respect you taking the time to determine the most prudent course of action in your specific situation.
 

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What is your end-goal?
Once defined, that usually helps to figure out your moves.
Thanks Greg,

That is great advice for anything. But it particularly fits here as I haven't defined definite goals. In general, having a few queens to sell or give away locally and a few nucs to do the same, these are as close to goals as I have set. I was able to do both this year. Assuming 1/2 my bees make it through winter, this should be totally repeatable. Thinking in those terms I could afford to see what happens to a few colonies which have not been treated. Thanks, I'll think in these terms.
Joe:
.....
Here is a good write-up on the Primorsky stock- might give you a good frame of reference with your Russian bees: Primorsky Russian Bees

Do keep me posted what you decide to do. I can certainly understand and appreciate you considering carefully whether to experiment with TF. There are a lot of variables to consider, especially if one decides to run a side-by-side comparison. So I respect you taking the time to determine the most prudent course of action in your specific situation.
Thanks Russ,

I appreciate the info. Heading out in a few minutes to play a service in Murfreesboro tonight but will check it out tomorrow. Whatever I do, I will likely do this weekend as we have some warm temps expected.

I have a local beek friend about 30 miles away that has over 100 colonies. I think most of his are foundationless frames. He gives some essential oils and whatnot, but does no chem treatments. A couple weeks ago he mentioned a vendor trying to sell him some natural (or more natural) cell sized plastic foundation sheets. I'm told him if he put in an order I'd take 100 just to try them out. You have probably covered this thoroughly but do you think the cell size is a big factor here? If so, do you have to regress sizes over a generation or two? I read that somewhere.

Thanks,
Joe
 

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Assuming 1/2 my bees make it through winter, this should be totally repeatable. Thinking in those terms I could afford to see what happens to a few colonies which have not been treated. Thanks, I'll think in these terms.
OK.
Do keep in mind that even 50% wintering can be a tall order.
I had 100% loss last winter (as I reported in my thread).
This winter - will see.
T-Giving holiday when I usually go around and make the first round of Dead/Alive calls.

I wish I had 50% wintering consistently year after year.
This is one reason I counted my mites the first time this season to understand the situation better.
 

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OK.
Do keep in mind that even 50% wintering can be a tall order.
I had 100% loss last winter (as I reported in my thread).
This winter - will see.
T-Giving holiday when I usually go around and make the first round of Dead/Alive calls.

I wish I had 50% wintering consistently year after year.
This is one reason I counted my mites the first time this season to understand the situation better.
I also have had 100% loss, and it looks like something TF beekeepers just have to put up occasionally with until some magic bee pans out. It may be Russians or African crosses or whatever. Right now we are not there.

I am already at 40% loss this year, having had to combine a few weak colonies and had a couple of dead outs from mites and yellow jackets. I have 4 hives that I think have a decent chance of making it through winter, down from 10 active hives in August. This year was very hands-off, since I had so little time to work with them. I was barely able to keep up with catching the swarms, sacrificing much-needed sleep. I ended up with lots of swarms and mostly small colonies unable to defend themselves from the yellow jackets.
 

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You have probably covered this thoroughly but do you think the cell size is a big factor here? If so, do you have to regress sizes over a generation or two? I read that somewhere.
Joe:

For what it is worth, I think you are wise to consider as many of these variables as you can before diving in headfirst.

Based on what I have read, I am of the opinion that the jury is still out as to whether cell size (in-and-of-itself) confers any statistically-relevant benefit to mitigating varroa population growth.

What I know personally is that I purchased two (2) 'small cell' packages the first year I got back into beekeeping, dutifully installed them on 4.9 mm foundation and they drew it out beautifully. They progressed well through the season and then both systematically collapsed due to Parasitic Mite Syndrome.

That first year, I also hived two (2) swarms which were also installed on 4.9 mm foundation and they also drew it out successfully and presented the added benefit of overwintering successfully.

Currently, I mainly run foundationless but I do still have a box of 4.9 mm foundation that I utilize one sheet at a time in trying to convince colonies to draw straight comb in otherwise empty boxes- and have noticed that all the colonies I have done this with are perfectly content to draw it out at the 4.9 mm size.

So while your experience may vary, I would summarize my experience as follows:

4.9 mm cell size certainly can't hurt anything, provided the colonies will successfully draw it out.

If you buy some, you might try throwing one or two sheets in each colony as a trial to see how they do with it before integrating it on a larger scale.
 

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Discussion Starter #1,675
... but will check it out tomorrow.
And here is one other write-up from the Russian Honey Bee Breeders Association that has some great information with accompanying research:

 

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You have probably covered this thoroughly but do you think the cell size is a big factor here? If so, do you have to regress sizes over a generation or two? I read that somewhere.
I can safely claim I have been on natural cell for the last 5 year now and the bees had plenty of chances to regress as much as they wanted. I never used foundation and have no plans for it.
Normally bees that I observe do not regress lower than 5.0-5.2 spread (with few rear exceptions).
Nevertheless, ability to build natural cells (larger or smaller) did not prevent my bees from being killed by the mites.
I'd call it a myth - the "small cell" cure.

Conveniently, up here in high mid-west we are not able to keep the AHBs (naturally smaller bees that build smaller natural cells - where the "small cell" myth originated from) .
This demonstrates very well that the small cell is NOT it (it is the genetics, not the cell).
 

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Thanks to both of you. Russ, I've read the Primorsky article and I'm reading the mechanisms article now. Seems like the bottom of that page has a lot of other good resources.

Greg, I too have lost a ton of bees going from 0% to 100% to 75% so I might not have a single living specimen by Feb. The main reason I expanded this year was wanting to start a year with 4-5 living colonies. I've gone into winter with this many several times. I now have 14, so we will see. Either way, I enjoy bees more than any single thing I do, and if I end up buying bees in the spring, I'll buy bees.

As much as I want to "help" this little colony with the dark queen, I'll never know if these bees can survive varroa without letting them try. They have almost no brood at all, so if hygiene is the answer, they'd better get to chewin'. Perhaps someone will breed the bees that will not tolerate this pestilence in their home. It can't happen soon enough for me. Thanks again, js
 

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As much as I want to "help" this little colony with the dark queen, I'll never know if these bees can survive varroa without letting them try.
Joe:

For my part I think this sounds like a worthwhile experiment- do you have any inclination as to the mite load with this colony?

It sounds like you are making good progress with the development of your yard- best of success to you in overwintering this year.

Russ
 

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Hi Russ,

This colony is tiny. If they were crowded up, they would easily fit on 2 frames (front and back) and maybe less than that. I really have no idea on any of my nucs (or any hives) on mite load. The 6 nucs I have with Russian queens had not been treated in any way all year. I have one with an Italian queen and I gave that one an apivar strip 6 weeks ago mostly just because they are Italian.

I thought a lot about what you and Greg had said recently. The reason I put ~$1000 in supplies and equipment this year was fundamentally so I could go into winter with enough colonies to bring 4-5 out of winter. Given this, I mixed up an OA dribble and did the whole yard yesterday (7 hives, 7 nucs). Given the small size of several of the colonies I couldn't see adding pressure I could possibly alleviate going in.

I also bought an ebook of the new book from Coy and Kinderer about the whole process of importing Primorsky bees back in the 90s. It went into a lot of specifics about the Russian's disposition to mites and various mechanisms, along with stats on the experiments and objectives they had early-on.

Perhaps I'll have the nerve next year to set aside a completely treatment-free yard. As it is, I had to wait too long in the season to make much of a splash 2 of the last 4 years. February will indeed tell the tale.

Thanks,
Joe
 

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... I couldn't see adding pressure I could possibly alleviate going in.
Joe:

I do understand and respect your position. We are all investing a lot of time, energy and resources into our apiaries with the goal of being successful. While I recognize that we all establish our own goals, I imagine that having enough relatively healthy bees to replenish losses and make increase from each Spring is universal.

While I have no practical experience in this regard, your suggestion of a dedicated TF yard makes a whole lot of sense to me based on everything I have read. Assuming you utilize a similar treatment regime next year, maybe you could consider doing through mite counts throughout the season and use this as an initial evaluation tool to determine which colonies might make good candidates to move to the TF yard.

Do keep us posted on your progress and evaluation measures- many of us are trying to muddle our way through this TF experiment and the more data points (and even anecdotes) we have, the better.

Best of success in your overwintering efforts- looks like we here in the Mid-South are finally going to get a little winter weather here in the coming weeks.

I do sincerely hope that you and your family have a most joyous and blessed Thanksgiving.

Russ
 
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