Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to be Successful at Treatment-Free Beekeeping



Very often, I hear of people who have "tried treatment-free beekeeping" and failed.  However, when I look into the situation, what I've found is that they've tried conventional beekeeping without treatments and failed.  This post is something adapted from just such a case, a guy who lives in Maine and bought Texas treatment-free bees.  He lost all but one of them and all but one in his treated apiary as well.  So I want to explain how it's done so people are not confused.

The solution is using local bees and breeding like a mad person, ferals, swarms, any bees that survived your last winter, (this guy has at least two hives that did that, these are now your local stock) and you multiply them.  You take those two hives and turn them into five or 20 or 50 if you have the ability and then you try again next year.  And when you get bees that survive consistently, then you work on other traits.  Many have tried what he tried, either with BeeWeaver's bees (outside of BeeWeaver's climate) or any other, dropped hundreds of dollars, and blew it.  All the time, I hear the argument "learn the basics and then try treatment-free" but in treatment-free, what I've outlined just here is the basics.  That's how it has to be done because that's just about the only way it really truly works.

If you want to know how to take two hives and make 50, I suggest grafting into a queenright cell builder (http://parkerfarms.biz/queenrearing.html).  The limiting factor is equipment and brood donors.  My equipment limits me to 27 nucs at a time.  Two hives will probably put a hard limit at about 10 nucs.  But if there are other hives to donate brood, the sky is the limit.  At this stage, you want unnatural increase (why this is treatment-free beekeeping and not "natural" beekeeping), to get as many new bees into your area as possible and let them figure out how to survive.  Many of them won't at first, but the more years of adaptation you have, the greater the strength of the result.

I say this year was great.  I lost all the bees that aren't going to survive a tough winter.  And since I'm moving to Colorado, that's an important trait to have.  It happened to this guy and many other beekeepers too.  The mindset that all hives should survive every year is conventional thinking and treatment-free is never going to stand up to that metric.  That's not how it works in nature and it doesn't work that way in treatment-free.  There is and must be an ongoing winnowing process that does and must kill some hives every winter and every summer.  And some years, both summers and winters, are particularly harsh, but as this case has shown, there are always some that survive somewhere.  It may be very few that take years to repopulate the area (naturally) but you as the treatment-free beekeeper use these things to your advantage and use your methods of rapid increase (I call it "Expansion Model Beekeeping") to give the process a kick in the hind end.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Jim Tew - Bee Diseases - NEOBA Big Bee Buzz

This is a real conventional treating sort of presentation and I'm not much interested in repeating it here but there are usually some bits of wisdom here and there.

Don't do the same thing and expect different results.  [Many things you can do differently, source, management, hive style, etc.]

He said we can't select on the varroa end of the occasion.  I completely disagree with this as treatment-free does exactly that.  He does admit that there is some selection going on, but he doesn't admit that we have anything to do with it and I see that we do, but only if we eschew treatments altogether.

Pulling frames gives you experience and you'll start evaluating it automatically after three years or so.

PMS (parasitic mite syndrome) became BPMS for obvious reasons.

I really must tell you how entertaining Dr. Tew is.  Though he seems to hate speaking, he is very interesting to listen to and keeps your attention easily.  If you have a chance to hear a presentation by him, do it.

You really need a mentor.

Bees are like an 18 month child.  They don't make plans, they just react to stimulus.

We need to get away from pest destruction and toward colony asstance.  [Of course I disagree with both.]

Treatments only work 40-60% of the time anyway.  Most don't work anymore at all.

Search for old book, American Foulbrood by White.

45 years of anti-biotic use, probably no better.




Grant Gillard - Sustainable Beekeeping in an Age of CCD - NEOBA Big Bee Buzz

It is really  much harder to keep bees now than it used to be.  Whether it's true or not, it is said that 80% of beginners will quit within two years.

He makes a big multi-point comparison between the conventional methods and the modern methods.

Mentions that Diane Sammataro has said that the worst thing we ever did with mites was start treating for them.

Grant likes keeping bees treatment-free but is not feeling the "let them die" method.  He's very convincing, he is after all a pastor, a group of people whose job it is to speak persuasively in public.

"I want to save the bees" is not a solid reason to keep bees.

Young beekeepers have all the answers without any idea what the questions are.

Need vision, focus, passion, purpose, and faith.  Believing you can do something often gives you the ability to do it.

Knowledge is power.  Lots of people swear by many things that don't work for other people.  The discontinuity there is the knowledge to keep bees in those ways.

Mite drops will change with different conditions.  It's totally arbitrary.

He explores a lot of treatment methods, from true treatments to soft to manipulations.

The right way to keep bees is the way that works for you.  [Totally disagree.  The right way is the way that is most sustainable for the bee population at large and that is treatment-free.]

You don't find time, you make it.

Don't fail because you didn't work hard enough.

If you're going to lose 30% of your bees, then make 30% more replacements.

Commercial beekeeping is dominated by chronologically challenged white males.




Jim Tew - Making Colony Splits, an Inexact Procedure - NEOBA Big Bee Buzz

Jim started out by talking about how he came to be working in Ohio while being from Alabama.

Jim talked a bit about being a young beekeeper and finding out that one day he was old and didn't know so much as he did when he was younger.

Jim repeated the fact that the days of yore are over, the old days of beekeeping with no diseases and no mites are gone and aren't coming back.  Old guys like him just need to step back out of the way and stop comparing now to then.  It's not coming back.  It doesn't work that way anymore.

Splitting is completely unnatural.  Need to learn to speak bee.  We can pick up where they would be had they done it on their own.

It's better to get or raise local queens.  Southern producers used to bring down northern queens, but he's pretty sure they don't do it anymore.

It's not as bad as you think to keep dead bees.  No requeening, no losses, no swarming.

Sugar syrup, no where near as good as comb honey for packages.

Modern bees require a lot of babysitting.  [I disagree.]

The bees haven't read the book, so they're going to be a bit confused when you do all your splits.

They're not bird feeders, they're animal feeders.

If you have a hive you can't control, leave town for a few days, it will resolve itself.  (Swarming)

You  can divide a colony to nothing, it just depends how many hives you want.

All sorts of things can go wrong, robbing caused by a pheromone field.  You're taking big colonies and make them weak, splitting them up an dconvusing them.

50 days from splitting day is when you get your first workers emerge.  The hive is losing bees that entire time, and will require feeding.  Splitting with pre-made queens gets things going much much quicker.  Feeding leads to robbing.





Ed Levi - Rethinking Beekeeping, Back to Basics Through Beeology - NOBA Big Bee Buzz

Bees that have a lot of propolis in hives don't have to work as hard to deal with disease.  It woulld be better if we didn't used planed lumber on the inside of hives.  [Gives me an idea to use a wire brush in the side to rough it up a little bit.]

We've copied the bees' methods but we don't do it exactly right because of our need for convenience.

A lot of the diseases we have have been swapped back and forth from Asian bees to European bees which eventually make their way here to the US.

This presentation is an exploration of the way bees operate, basic lifecycle, castes, swarming, and a precursory comparison of how the bees operate and how we want them to operate.

A lot of basic beekeeping info, biology, in-hive operations, etc.

Ed Levi - Bee Informed Partnership - NEOBA Big Bee Buzz

Ed was disappionted in the survey returns from last year from Okahoma.  Not many people participated.  [I participated and posted in several places encouraging other people to participate too.]

Very large losses this winter.  [I concur.}

Any state that has 300 participants will get its own set of statistics.

However, he was using the statistics incorrectly, saying that if you used a certain product, you'd get a certain result.  That's fundamentally incorrect.  You can only say what happened, not what will happen.  This is especially important when looking at the range of results, not just the average of the results.  You could use any or every treatment and lose all your bees but you would not appear in the results because you'd fall outside the statistical variation and therefore would not be included in the range of responses.  You'd still affect the average, but not much in a survey of thousands of beekeepers.

All the information is on the website, please do take the survey, and look at the results.

Iowa thinks they lost 80% this year.

At the end of the prpesentation, Ed played Marla Spivak's TED talk which I will embed in this space when I get the opportunity.




Friday, March 28, 2014

Les Crowder - Langstroth Beekeeping Skills Transferred to Topbar Hives NEOBA Big Bee Buzz

Les started out with a slideshow of some interesting pictures of his trips to south America and Jamaica.

He talked about how in many places around the world, beekeepers are revered.

Placement of the entrance changes where the brood is kept.

Idea:  Topbar super on a Lang hive, would make a good conversion plan.

Honeybees are ventilation experts.  Capable of full two way ventilation through a 1" tube.

Experiment with different types of hives, don't just assume that "this is the way we keep bees."

Les is the "Permissive Beekeeper."  He lets them build as much drone come as they want and whatever cell size they want.

Animals have become a cog in our industrial machine.  it is hard on them.  It's amazing that they do as well as they do.  Let's let them do what they like to do as much as possible.

Talk to older local beekeepers for insights into local issues like specific nectar flows.

Drones are kind of a "cheaper way to reproduce."

He has actually pollinated in Modesto with topbar hives, but he had a lot of bees die, so I'm not sure he still does it.  He talked earlier about how the bees were crawling out of the hives due to some fungicide that was sprayed.

Treatment-free is the future of beekeeping.  We don't need the treated bees.

Genetic diversity in the US is relativley low.


Grant Gillard, Reccord Keeping, Big Bee Buzz

Why keep records?

Can''t remember stuff.  Breeds inefficiency.  Need to keep on schedule.  Planning.

What information to track?  How to keep it?  Is it accessible?

Nothing important merely happens.

Use sheep ear tags to number the hives.

Google "hive inspection sheet" or some variation to find bookkeeping sheets, or build your own and print them out.

Keep "what I did, what I saw, what needs to be done next time and what to bring?"

There is a lot in this presentation that really doesn't translate well to blogging.  Suffice it to say this is an excellent case for keeping records.  It reminds me that I need to get back to keeping records for breeding purposes. 

Jim Tew, The Stressed Bee Nest, Big Bee Buzz

We have a high benchmark for today's bees.  We keep comparing to a world that doesn't exist anymore and won't exist again.

We cannot sustain such a high loss rate as we're having.

 Mr. Tew went through a number of aspects of how our hives are artificial approximations of natural hive construction and dynamics.

Everything we do has an effect.

Hives are usually high giving them opportunity to get rid of detritus.  We keep hives with entrances at ground level.

A colony surviving in perpetuity is our idea not the bees'.

Bees resist domestication.  [I say they are not domesticated, just slightly controlled.  Too much domestication is badly detrimental.]

The modern hive is for us, not for the bees.  Have we selected for bees that can only live in modern hives?

Insulation can work against you, will keep the coldness in the hive at times.  Wintering help died during the early '60s.

Hives are not close in the wild.  They hate each other.

Frost in the hive proves that bees only heat the cluster.

You are their primary problem.  Those bees hate you.

Les Crowder at the Big Bee Buzz

Les is a topbar beekeeper from New Mexico.

He started out talking about comb, some excellent material on how comb can become a sink for chemicals and pathogens.

Point to take away here:  If you hold up the comb to the sun and you cannot see any light through, the comb has reached its end of life.

He talked about some illegal uses of chemicals and talked about one case where a truckload of bees were treated so hard, they all died.

He confirmed an interesting thing that I had heard before, that in old hives, bees will actually abandon old comb and allow wax moths to eat it.  Once it is eaten, it can be cleaned out again by the bees and rebuilt.

Miticides are really hammering the bees, especially coumophos.  It reduces all sorts of things like fertility, worker longevity, and the ability to get rid of mites naturally.  Reduced lifespan reduces  the total population of the hive and therefore its productivity

Treatment-free in New Mexico is mainstream.

The more antibiotics are used, the more resistance to the antibiotics are bred into the pathogens.

Nature resists our efforts.  Treatment-free uses nature's resistance to eliminate pests.

We can breed our way out of the problem of Tropilaelaps before it actually hits us.

Autism linked to pesticide use.

Neonicitinoids destroy bees' mental acquity.  Bees more susceptible to nosema.

Topbar hives are very popular and may no longer be an alternate form of beekeeping.

Bees build cells in different sizes large to small top to bottom.

"I am so done with frames."

Jamaica has banned American beeswax.

Frames are too much trouble in developing countries where frames are hard or impossible to build.

We can grow food without poison.  We can keep bees without poison.

"The only way to rise is if we all rise together."


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winter of 2013-4 Will be One for the Record Books


This is what I've been going through lately.  In the picture above, you can see the eight remaining hives in my home hard.  The double stack on the middle left was my oldest hive, brought with me from Oregon, lasted for nearly 11 years.  After doing a post-mortem, I left the honey to be robbed out by the other bees.  The back left hive is gone also.  The two tan cube hives are doing great.

There has been more snow, more snow days, more days under 20 degrees, more days under 10 degrees, and more days under 0 degrees, than any winter since I have been living here.  I've lost six of 25 hives so far, and have gone days without stepping outside in several stretches.

The chickens refuse to go outside and we're down to two eggs a day.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

End of January Update

It's 35 degrees right now and I was heading home from a meeting and decided to stop and check on my north yard.  I set up this yard about a year and a half ago and it has gone through two winters.  Only last summer did I discover that it is actually within spitting distance of a commercial (ish) queen mill. 

I like to do quick checks on hives when the weather is cold.  I can look down in the hive and see how much honey is left and the size of the cluster.  It's cold so the bees don't fly out and the propolis is brittle so it breaks loose pretty easily.

Turns out, four of the six hives at that location are dead.  The other two have very small clusters and I expect them to be dead in the next month.

I'm not disappointed and I'll tell you why.  First, due to what I expect is the queen mill down the street, these bees were mean.  I visited the queen mill and his bees are mean.  My bees are not mean and I breed against meanness.  I replaced most of these queens last summer.  Second, it was a bad location for the reasons above.  The hives didn't make much honey due to over saturation of the area.  Third, I'm in the process of moving and don't need a plethora of hives to take with me.  Fourth, as I did not feed at all this past fall, the process of losing hives not adequately prepared for winter is actually a positive.  It is selection for hives which store a lot of honey and which are frugal with it.

I've also lost two more hives at my home yard which I am slightly bummed about.  One of them was an old queen I purchased from Zia several years back, and the other was my oldest hive, one continuously alive since I purchased it, 11 years ago.  So it lasted about 10.5 years.  It was however susceptible to robbing which is not very helpful, so there's a positive to that as well.

So that's six down out of 25, a 24% loss.  I expect I'll lose a couple more including the remaining two at the north yard.  If I get down to 18, I can fit them all on my truck and trailer and move them all at once.

As some of you already know, I am not able to raise queens and nucs this year.  As I said, I am in the process of moving and all my queen rearing equipment is in storage.  Any makeup splits I need to make will be with walkaway splits, with the goal of covering equipment and maintaining no more than 18 hives for the time being.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Paring Down for Winter, September Snapshot



Last Saturday, I undertook to combine some hives I had left over from summer nuc production.  Several five frame nucs survived the summer, however, only one was packed out with honey and a little brood like I’d expect a good nuc to be, so I saved that one and mooshed the rest.  That leaves me working with a total of 27 colonies.  I’d be comfortable losing around seven this winter, however, if the trend keeps up, the chances are pretty slim.

What this did was allow me to get rid of less desirable stock (probably lowering my winter loss rate) and enlarge hives that I want to keep but that are unable to build up sufficiently during our long summer dearth.  In doing this, I’m accelerating natural attrition and accelerating my selective process to produce better bees for human uses.

This is also one of the benefits of having a larger number of hives.  You can operate more like a population rather than an individual.  There are many more possibilities to achieve success and many more things you can do to affect that success.

Furthermore, it goes counter to the idea that every hive must survive.  That’s not how it works in nature, why should we try to pull it off in agriculture?

I am also finally coming into full utilization.  Right now, I only have two empty deeps that are not being used.  I think with the exception of a couple new medium hives that all hives are of the size of three deeps or bigger.  The only hives that will be fed granulated sugar only in an emergency would be the medium ones, they are new and I want the medium hives to make it because I’m making a partial switch to mediums.  Nobody else will be fed under any circumstances.

There’s my September snapshot.  During a time when many beekeepers are treating or thinking of treating, this is the sort of thing a treatment-free beekeeper is thinking of.