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  • General Q&A, Bee chat and only Bee chat please
General Q&A, Bee chat and only Bee chat please
 #1613  by Beeblebrox
 02 Jan 2019, 17:07
Hi. I thought it would be useful to mention this style of beekeeping to broaden the range of subjects here.

I realise this is a controversial topic in this organisation. Non-treaters tend to get, shall we say, a rough reception in many forums so we tend to disengage and go our own way. But I feel it would be a disservice to newbees not to offer an alternative perspective onbeekeeping.

So here's my story. I live in a rural area and have been non-treatment since 2012. The next Spring my Buckfast bees died, with a high varroa load. I repopulated from local swarms (up to 20 miles away) and have never lost a colony to mites since then; I have 6 colonies these days. I have talked to a lot of non treatment beekeepers, and this pattern seems consistent: it is much harder to get bees which thrive without miticides if you buy from a breeder, but getting local bees to thrive is like pushing an open door.

Most of the beekeepers round me don't treat. They find it just is not necessary. There is a low but constant level of mites (typically about 2 a day on inspection boards). The bees use a variety of control mechanisms, the most obvious being ejection of some pupae.

The less I open the hives, the better the bees do. My hives have been inspected twice by bee inspectors who gave them a clean bill of health. My main problem is queen failure - when you catch a cast, with a virgin queen, sometimes she fails to mate. Old beeks tell me this used to be rare decades ago.

Here's a key factor in the success of natural beekeeping: we're not that excited about honey yield. So our hives take a couple of years to establish, from a swarm, before they are big enough to generate an excess to harvest. We don't use stimulative feeding - seems pointless as we tend to have static hives, the local bees are attuned to the local forage rhythm! - so there are brood breaks, which act as a natural firebreak on parasites. Most bee pests and diseases are brood diseases.

Another factor often denied by hard line conventional beekeepers is the background population of feral bees who survive without human help. I know of six such colonies in my village alone; I monitor them every week or so from February to June to confirm they have not died out (generally 4 or 5 survive each winter, I think one householder poisons them each year). Allowing free mating with these strengthens my bees. I haven't had an aggressive colony since I stopped treating, which really annoyed the "mild mannered" Buckfasts.

Another aspect not spoken of by breeders is how crossing strains gives aggressive bees. They blame "local mongrels" but from the perspective of beekeepers using the local strain, the problem is that newbees believe claims from breeders and import non local strains. The BBKA strongly promotes the use of local bees!
 #1614  by Jim Norfolk
 02 Jan 2019, 18:22
Hi Beeblebrox, just what I like a provocative post. Except I agree with most of it as I suspect do many on this forum.

Local bees survive better and non treatment is a reality in those areas where it occurs. Also feral colonies can survive well for years. I agree we should only treat if it is necessary but having counted mite drop every day for years, I don't recognise a constant level of mites which you suggest. Instead for me the mite drop decreases in the spring to become undetectable but then increases at the end of summer when they are treated with Apiguard. I do however recognise ejection of pupae, which I have seen, particularly drone pupae. Herein may I suggest is a possible cause of your queen mating problems. Varroa seek out drone larvae in preference to worker and infested larvae will result in weak drones often carrying DWV virus. I put two foundationless frames next to the brood when it reaches about 6 frames in the spring and the bees usually fill it with drone brood. The result lots of healthy drones for mating. I can only do this because I am confident the varroa levels are very low. The feral drones you rely on for mating could be from colonies quite heavily infested with varroa.

I agree with you on aggression and that has been well debated on this forum.

On honey while I agree it is not the main reason many of us keep bees and shifting surplus honey can become a chore for relatively low return. The key to getting honey yields up is to manage swarming and that is where I part company with let alone beekeeping. I became fed up with collecting other peoples swarms, most of which were not wanted. The uncollected swarms take up residence in peoples houses and can become a nuisance, resulting in more calls to deal with them.

I don't feed my bees unless it is necessary and in established colonies enough surplus honey is produced for them to over winter on. Similarly in spring the bees get going when the forage arrives.
 #1615  by AdamD
 02 Jan 2019, 21:08
Beeblebrox, . For me your comments are not controversial; I am happy to learn from your experience. There is no need for you to be shouted down.
You are fortunate that you have bees in your area that can accommodate varroa - although the mite load may be the cause of your low honey harvest; however over time as the bees get better at dealing with varroa and with some selection, they should improve. My bees are good enough but do need treating. And some beekeepers have local bees that are both badly behaved and poor honey-gatherers which is why they buy-in queens.
I suspect, as Jim has mentioned, that varroa is the cause of poor queens - it's been something that has also been reported on the BBKA forum (the old one) that didn't used to happen until more recently.

The ejection of pupa - indicating a level of varroa resistant hygene - is interesting; I assume the bees can sense the varroa in the cells and open them which stops the varroa multiplying.
 #1616  by NigelP
 03 Jan 2019, 13:46
And your average yield of honey per non treated hive?

Most of the non treaters round our way tell they don't keep bees for honey...and boy oh boy is their definition of "thriving" different to mine. When I see their 4-5 seams of pitiful bees in a single brood box.
You have a duty of care to any animals you keep-not to spread non-treatment is fine without at least giving more information on your colony sizes and honey yields and swarming rates.
Your's survive despite your non treatment....but why don't you try treating say half of them and seeing what a difference it makes to them?
 #1617  by Chrisbarlow
 03 Jan 2019, 18:17
I agree with Nigel on duty of care to animals. You would not keep a dog or a cat that was full of fleas and say it's surviving so I not treat it.
 #1618  by Beeblebrox
 03 Jan 2019, 21:07
Jim, it strikes me you could argue that winter mite treatments are unnecessary as the bees are about to go into a long brood break anyhow. Varroa is a tropical parasite and not adapted to long winters. However I don't know anyone who's tried partial non-treatment, so I don't know if that strategy would work. Something to think about!

Adam, I spoke at length with Ron Hoskins, who's been breeding and improving varroa resistant stock since 1993, he already had decades of experience then. He told me he found his queen fertility plummeted when he used miticides. He didn't know the mechanism but it was like a switch: use them and you get queen failure far earlier than you used to. When he stopped using miticides the fertility returned. Some years later, a researcher showed it was due to the miticides shortening drone lifespans by about 3 days. They're most fertile at the end of their life... there may be another effect on the queens themselves from neonics, I don't have a link to that research to hand though. Neonics were a much later phenomenon but are much slower to degrade in the environment than the manufacturers claimed.

Nigel, 4-5 seams of bees early in the year is presumably what a non-forced colony finds works. My honey yield is low: I've only recently turned my attention to honey, being more interested in establishing a healthy and resilient local population first. To my mind it makes more sense to do this, and establish a varied genetic pool, than try the other way round (honey yield first, then pest resistance from a highly inbred pool). But I understand that honey oriented beeks want a quick result.

I agree we have a duty of care. Natural beekeepers can't understand why intensive beekeepers continue to propagate weak bees that need continual meddling and medication and propping up, combined with dramatic interventions like drone culling, resulting in massive stress for the bees, and have been doing this since varroa arrived in 1992 while waiting for someone else to create a strain of bee that would be resistant. As if a one-type-fits-all strain would work across the whole country.
 #1620  by Patrick
 03 Jan 2019, 23:53
It’s an interesting debate and thanks for bringing a different perspective. Personally I don’t see a simple “natural” beekeeping vs “conventional” beekeeping split though it is sometimes portrayed as such. If you put more than one beekeeper in a room you will quickly find they advocate several practices different to your own. I am sure that is true within the “natural” group.

I never stimulative feed, move my hives to crops, buy in queens, have never culled drone brood or put honey production above bee welfare, but would probably still be termed conventional because I do treat for varroa, then again I never used the synthetic compounds initially used as miticides nor felt inclined to. Those friends of mine who kept bees without treating all lost their bees, without exception. I would personally love not to have waste money, time or disturb the bees by treating but mite drops simply do not work as a reliable proxy of mite infestation, in my experience.

I also never go into the brood nest without good reason - outside the swarming season, for the other 9 months of the year, the brood nest is pretty much left undisturbed.

I do actively manage swarming because I do not want to lose bees and local householders ending up with swarms setting up in their properties, the bees being destroyed by pest controllers and beekeepers being viewed as an liability and public menace. Most swarms naturally succumb in their first winter, so it is not really doing most bees many favours either in our crowded island.

In nearly two decades I have never met anyone locally who actively culls drone brood, I wonder if it’s a bit of an urban myth? It’s certainly not a widespread practice in the South West.

I suppose what I am saying is it’s rarely an either or when it comes to keeping bees and we all generally try to do the best by them but hearing from others with different experience is always thought provoking. :)
 #1621  by NigelP
 04 Jan 2019, 09:25
Beeblebrox wrote:
03 Jan 2019, 21:07

Nigel, 4-5 seams of bees early in the year is presumably what a non-forced colony finds works. My honey yield is low: I've only recently turned my attention to honey, being more interested in establishing a healthy and resilient local population first. To my mind it makes more sense to do this, and establish a varied genetic pool, than try the other way round (honey yield first, then pest resistance from a highly inbred pool). But I understand that honey oriented beeks want a quick result.
I would be vary careful of what Ron has to say...he used to claim his bees where biting the found the varroa where carrying an unusually mild form of Deformed Wing Virus....this is one the diseases carried by varroa.

4-5 seams of bees in spring at first inspection... but we then need to define this further to numbers of bees befiotrre we can even do simple comparisons. Local bees tend to have 2-3 seams in sporing and an oval brood pattern. with pollen and stores around the edges. Buckfast from reputable breeders usually have 6-7 frames at first inspection in my area and this is wall to wall brood. Already the same number of frames contain a 1/3 more buckfast larvae than locals.

I know of several natural nests in my own area....what I can never tell is whether the bees entering them are the inhabitants or spring robbers or possibly both. Al though I had to rescue one this year...pitiful...three small frames of brood and DWV all over the place. I took them to an isolated spot so they didn't get robbed nor infect my bees with their obvious huge varroa load....I treated for varroa, but alas a little too late.

Many people using local treated bees south and north of me are seeing yields of around 100lbs per hive...I won't tell you what my Buckfast bring in annually. B Ut there are one or two on this forum who have seen the buckets.

What all you unnatural beekeepers do is rhetoric and more rhetoric.
You need to realise that you are keeping sick bees...but as you don't treat how would you have any comparison as to how sick they actually are? They survive.... give you bugger all honey and I can already tell you they are annual if not bi-annual swarm attempts.
 #1622  by DianeBees
 04 Jan 2019, 12:09
Whether you treat your bees for varroa is entirely up to you, but swarm control needs to be carried out. It is stressful for the general public to happen upon clusters of bees or have bees descend in their gardens or chimneys. It creates work for other beekeepers who then have to collect these swarms.

There is some interesting research Prof Steve Martin is doing at Salford about varroa.
 #1623  by Jim Norfolk
 04 Jan 2019, 12:19
Nigel, while it is quite clear from your posts that your local bees lead nasty, brutish and short lives, I don't believe you can extrapolate from them to the rest of the UK. I have experienced local bees from 2 areas nearly 200 miles apart and both give good yields, are well behaved and only need a little help to keep on top of Varroa. I for one don't doubt that there are colonies of bees in some localities which are Varroa tolerant to the point where they do not need treatment. Whether this is due to their having type B DWV or hygienic and or other behaviours does not matter. I think such populations should be encouraged and any claims subjected to research. I am hopeful that the studies currently being undertaken at Salford will help resolve some of the issues around the distribution of DWV types. Otherwise as you say it is all just rhetoric. Meanwhile the bigger threat is asian hornets and it would be interesting to hear ideas from natural beekeepers on how they propose to defend against them.