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Hi, I'm pretty new to this forum-thing so hopefully I'm getting this in the right place.

I've been having this thought crystalizing in my mind over the last 2 years after having totally dumped the miticides and trying to manage my hives in a more 'natural' form.
In regards to honeybee survival and colony losses: are we asking the wrong questions?
1. It seems that the prevailing thought of the day is that we are losing way too many colonies each year over the US and beyond.
2. Tom Seeley says in his book The Lives Of Bees that only 20% of feral swarms each year actually make it through their first winter yet it seems that the population of feral bees that he studied managed to maintain themselves over time.
I guess my question is this. Should we be surprised and so distressed over losing, say, 50% of colonies each year? Those of us who have dropped miticides may find this a reality (at least I have) yet I believe that even 50% is still sustainable. (Granted, you won't find a business advisor who promotes this theory but who said beekeeping is a 'business'. It looks more like Ag to me.) As the saying goes "bees make more bees". To me, as long as I have some good hives left to work with in the Spring I'm happy even if it's only 50% or less of what I went into winter with. I know, to most beekeepers out there this would be terrible if not devastating. But here's the point. . . If I want, say, 40 hives to work with in the Spring then my goal is to go into winter with maybe 120 colonies with a lot of those as 4f or 8f nucs. Even if I lose over 50% of this number I still will have a few good overwintered nucs to sell to help recoup expenses.

This train of thought has definitely affected the advice I give newbees. Folks ask me what the best way is to keep bees if they only want 1 hive in their backyard. My answer to that is 'you won't be able to do it, at least not sustainably and without miticides. If you want 1 hive next year then you need to go into winter with 3 or 4.'

I'm really excited about the teaching I see coming out about using nucs for sustainability. I believe this is the message that should be 'shouted from the housetops'.
It's time that we stop trying to raise/manage bees like other livestock because they are radically unlike any other livestock. Just ask any beef farmer how he would like to be able to grow his herd 4x each year without having to spend a dime on new stock. And you thought us beekeepers have it hard???

I know, I'm liable to destroy my relationships with commercial beekeepers by this view point and I recognize my advantage in that I'm not making a living by my beekeeping. . . but is it time to accept honeybees as they are instead of trying to force them into some 'industrial ag' mindset and then prop up our hives with chemical treatments?
Enough of my rant. . . I certainly welcome any input on this. I recognize that on a TF forum I may have a lot of support for my theory but from what I see it doesn't seem like many of the Big Shots in the beekeeping world are saying anything like this. It's all treat, treat, treat or else you're not a responsible beekeeper. Which, btw, is what I tell newbees as well. I'm not saying everyone should go off miticides 'cold-turkey' but, again, are we asking the wrong questions. . .
 

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It's time that we stop trying to raise/manage bees like other livestock because they are radically unlike any other livestock. Just ask any beef farmer how he would like to be able to grow his herd 4x each year without having to spend a dime on new stock. And you thought us beekeepers have it hard???
You might not get many answers to your question as this subject has been hashed and rehashed but I do know that there are some very successful TF beekeepers and it is doable in some situations the trick is finding out if you can do it in your area.

As a beef farmer sure 4X increase every year would be great, if we had to take a 50% loss, then still in the clear. But in a beef operation no farmer would accept such a loss and even with a 4X increase they would be seen as inept and incompetent.
IMO beekeeping is like beef farming, you raise them as you wish but because you are the ones charged with their care and you are the one who keeps them confined to your requirements you are responsible to do what is needed for them to survive. To get to that end TF can be the answer for some, for others not so much.
 

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Should we be surprised and so distressed over losing, say, 50% of colonies each year?
As I started my "treatment-free" project I postulated - if I get stable 50% survival, I'd be happy with that.
Well, fast forward 5 years.
I stayed with the program.
My average TF survival turned out to be 13% over 5 years.
Enough.
This is not sustainable at my location.
Change of plans.

Short answer - you should find out what your local conditions are and go from there.
Right on this forum some people have 80% of survival practicing TF (find out who and where they are).

So - this is not YES or NO.
This is - it depends.
Find out for yourself.
 

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I've kept bees TF for a few years, but like GregB above, it was more like 85-90% losses and what did survive were so weak they'd take all spring and summer trying to build back up and never got much or any honey off of them. Each year that went by, the losses were greater over winter, and they'd come through so weak that making splits was problematic, to the point of it being a lost cause. My location is one problem. The other problem was my management style. I've thought of trying it again, changing my management somewhat, but I don't see it working out for me in my location. It's just too much easier to treat. So many dead or diseased as winter ended was getting depressing. I know others do OK or even well with it, but none that I know of in my location.
 

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Several beekeepers around me were treatment free. Now they are bee free. I’m sure it works in some places with very low mite loads and intensive work on brood breaks and such but you have to try it and see if it works in your location. Find other keeps in your area who have tried it.
 

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We are pretty rural so TF worked quite well for a long time for us. Our losses were between 10-30% each season for many years. We 'try' to have a dozen or so colonies go into Winter, so we're not a big outfit by any means. We just like bees and honey.

Then a BK with more money than time set up several yards all around us (2016-17), convincing many of our neighbors he was trying to 'save' the bees.

His bees mostly died the first and second years, despite heavily treating, and he has since moved on (Thank Goodness), although the bee yard fences he installed remain. Our own bees began dying the year following this fellows dismal attempts at creating an income. No one must have told him it was hard work. We never once caught him working his bees, and we've come to believe he would just set them up in the Spring, install packages and 'hope' for some form of miracle success.

We have since learned that he sold his few survivors that were split into as many NUC's (as few as one frame of brood) as fast as orders came it (I've spoken about this unscrupulous practice in these pages before), making some return on his investment I suppose, even if acquired perniciously. We don't know if any of these artificial/fake NUC's survived.

Anyhow, we've since began treating our bees 'lightly' - but we don't believe it will work in the long run, but will instead enrich the suppliers of 'treatments' and will assuredly extend the amount of time bees would require to fight varroa themselves.

What's killing honeybees? It's us, it's always been us.
 

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As a beef farmer sure 4X increase every year would be great, if we had to take a 50% loss, then still in the clear. But in a beef operation no farmer would accept such a loss and even with a 4X increase they would be seen as inept and incompetent.

If you let 50% of your beef die because you refused to treat them properly the authorities would lock you up. And rightly so. Bees are livestock and need to be treated as such. They are a responsibility we take on and as beekeepers we should be held to account for their health. Imagine letting your dog die because you have twice as many puppies as you think you need every year so you don't get them vaccinated.
 

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This train of thought has definitely affected the advice I give newbees. Folks ask me what the best way is to keep bees if they only want 1 hive in their backyard. My answer to that is 'you won't be able to do it, at least not sustainably and without miticides. If you want 1 hive next year then you need to go into winter with 3 or 4.'
Have read you really need more than four to allow for random factors. So just one would be extremely difficult and disappointing without a back up plan.

There are treatments that do not involve miticides such as thermal, however they are quite expensive for just one hive. Plus the one I personally believe is best is still unavailable due to supply chain issues. Used ones do come up for sale occasionally and are snapped up instantly.

Year one, overwintered seven out of seven (one summer loss) six of which were 100% TF.
Year two, overwintered four out of twelve :( Eleven 100% TF. One that received a single thermal treatment was amongst the survivors.
 

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it is a math game,, so if you are OK with wintering 100 to get 25 in the spring then that is certainly your choice.
different areas can be done TF and some , read Gregs posts, cannot be.
so a several year test is in order.
you will know if this is the path for you or you need to change.

some of us are on the path, some have changed, really it is a matter of what your results are.

bee race , location, your abilities, all will factor in.

try if you feel you have a good chance at it.

GG
 

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Successful rearing bees TF is statistically much more difficult in colder climates. The varroa mite and its vectored disease is a greater handicap in the north. Having total isolation from migratory bees would up the odds, but not many places provide that. It is generally considered that being TF demands more knowledge and dedication than treating. I would not depend at all upon luck:rolleyes:
 

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I've been having this thought crystalizing in my mind over the last 2 years after having totally dumped the miticides and trying to manage my hives in a more 'natural' form.
Years ago, I tried TF as well and like others the losses are 85% to 90%. I think most beekeepers try TF at some point and get a reality check. There's nothing wrong with trying it as long as you keep mite numbers down with IPM and euthanize colonies that get infested with mites. Just like owning a dog kennel you need to treat dogs for ticks, fleas, or mange mites, or have them euthanized before they spread to other dogs, or worse to your neighbors dogs.
 

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Should we be surprised and so distressed over losing, say, 50% of colonies each year?
And BTW, if one to reliably have 50% loss year after year - this is actually a fine, sustainable model IMO.
You can actually target those lost colonies for the honey harvest (how I have been doing all along).

I have no problem sending each year 10-15 colonies into the winter - this is really trivial to do (not to mention catching 2-3-more swarms annually as partial loss make up).
Send 10 colonies into the winter - restart with 5 colonies in the spring (harvest the dead outs) - totally doable and sustainable, BUT the 50% needs to be a predictable and repeatable number.

However, once the reliable loss year after year is 80-90% - that becomes unsustainable and unproductive.
With such high loss rate, most of the annual work ends up being apiary recovery (and potential recurring expenses - if one to keep buying the bees).

So IMO if 50% reliable loss rate can be had while being lazy and very low maintenance (set it and forget it) - that very much makes sense to me.
I only wish I could do it - but no cigar.

You should try and see for yourself.
BUT - keep in mind several factors that play against the TF - if have any of these your TF chances are not as good:
  • urban/suburban location
  • having lots of beekeepers near (hobby or commercial - including migratory)
  • having a lot of imported packages/nucs sold annually in your area
  • colder climate/longer winter
Also, the following factors seem to favor the TF:
  • remote/rural location in Ohio valley/Appalachia region/Southern states (yes - again and again these areas seem to report the TF successes).
  • having strong feral/Russian/AHB population in your area (yes - better get used to working the hotter bees).
  • absence of migratory beekeeping in your area (obviously).
  • absence of imported packages/nucs sold annually in your area (obviously again).
  • presence of real, practicing TF beekeepers in your area - those who are repeatedly doing this and can actually confirm this and even sell the bee/queens (vs. just the story tellers and theoreticians with nothing to show for it and hiding their real losses).
These are some of the considerations.
 

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My question,
Do TF beekeepers onsider oxhalic and formic acids as chemicals, or as natural, organic options?
Well, consider that both oxalic and lactic acids don't really pollute the honey and the brood nest at the levels created by the treatments.
(I don't know about the formic, but it is still natural organic acid just as oxalic or lactic acids are).
Especially the lactic acid - we routinely consume it in our foods (the oxalic acid is little less common in the food, and yet still common enough).

The real question is:
  • is the chemical (however natural and organic it is) naturally occurring in the honey bee nest or not - at the levels created by the treatment?
  • and do you care? is it harmful to you or the bees to care (at the levels presented)?
Sounds like you need to study up as the chemical can be both natural, organic options and not.
 
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