Early this year I attempted a prediction on a colony overwintering. see Animal Husbandry – Understanding Vigor 2016-02-05. In the post I was comparing 1512 and 1514. I stand by the observations, 1512 had less vigor than 1514. HOWEVER, even with less vigor they passed primary selection and survived. This is why I currently DO NOT make primary selections for my Apiary. Until I have more bees than I know what to do with, I must allow Eastern-Indiana to make these selections. Above all, unfed treatment-free survival is the selection criteria.
1512 was from Trap01 which came from a location I didn’t trap this year. Historically every swarm I have ever gotten there (EXCEPT 1512) has failed to overwinter. 1514 came from one of my very best trapping locations with productive bees that consistently overwinter. It’s a full 90 minutes one-way from the house, but I put 2 Traps there every year and happily make the trip every time I am lucky enough to get a HIT!
Most beekeepers would have either requeened 1512 or combined it with another colony. I wanted to see what would happen. Any time you make a “management decision” you are either deliberately or inadvertently influencing selection. Many beekeepers assess colonies on only a very few key points to make management decisions for their operation. Things that are commonly assessed are eggs, brood quantity and pattern, amount of drone brood, and quantity of stores within the hive. We observe and try to assess these points and it can give us a snapshot of hive health, but we never KNOW, what will happen with a hive unless we LET IT HAPPEN without intervention. Sometimes you may get a surprise. We must remember when inspecting hives, we are only assessing them on criteria WE believe are important while thousands of bees crawl around obscuring our view.
For instance, a capped frame of consistent brood looks pretty in a photo, but I am not convinced that everything should be “picture perfect” for a colony to be resilient and productive. We interpret and have our standard for a good pattern, but that means nothing in nature. A good pattern is one that allows your bees continue to survive and thrive no matter what it looks like. Asking the beekeeper to open a hive and assess it and correctly diagnose any-N-all problems is asking a lot. If a competitive advantage is conveyed to a line of bees BECAUSE their pattern is in a certain configuration we may not even be able to visualize what that is.. BUT if we allow the primary selections to be made by the environment we don’t have to determine what a good pattern is… it is determined for us by bees.
If worker brood is being parasitized by varroa, it doesn’t matter how nice the pattern looks. Bees will emerge weakened, deformed and/or diseased. This could easily be missed while looking at a frame of brood during an inspection capped or uncapped. If the bees are doing something amazing like killing all worker larvae affected by varroa it is something that could be misinterpreted by the beekeeper as a queen laying with a spotty brood pattern. The keeper may think…. “I need to requeen this poorly performing queen”, when there’s a chance they could be solving problems that we either misinterpret or are just too ignorant to interpret AT ALL.
Take the opportunity to see what an amazing resilient species Apis mellifera is! I see the results of “treatment” in my day job every day. Many humans are on many medications to treat the side-effects of OTHER medications. Meds are great for saving the individual at a time of need, but remember the concerns about sustainability of the healthcare system. Remember bees are bees, humans are humans. If you venture down the road of bee health-care you’re going to have sustainability problems in your Apiary.
It requires a faith in an organism that most bee practitioners want to “take-care-of”. Treatment-free beekeeping allows you stop the chain reaction of bad decisions and get down to the business of observational biology. Instead of focusing on trying to save honeybees that are poorly adapted to your environment, you can begin to visualize patterns that you will otherwise miss. If you allow the laggards to die, you will identify poorly performing strains. It will help you with making better sourcing decisions. Trapping locations can be changed, or if you are buying bees, you can make changes there.
Being treatment-free is seen by some as scary. Some even call it “do-nothing” beekeeping. It’s normally meant as a pejorative and shows the sheer lack of biological understanding of anyone speaking in this way. Are we so arrogant as a species to think that the creatures of this planet require us to make their existence possible? Humans are NOT essential to life on Earth.
If you are a beekeeper who does nothing to disadvantage your bees I applaud you. It’s not the same as doing nothing at all. We actually need fewer DooDoo-Beekeepers out there. These are people who make one observation and are immediately on social media asking WHAT DO I DO!?! Many times these are worded like the person is standing next an open hive with their phone waiting on a prescribed a course of action. If this is you, take a deep breath. When you DO this, then DO that in your apiary you are tipping the scales, playing favorites, making selections. In your haste to DO SOMETHING, you might do the wrong thing. I did nothing to 1512 and there are three shallows of honey on there. It’s not amazingly profitable, but I invested no further time or effort.
Observe without immediate intervention is a learning experience. So chillax and learn something. Poor selection decisions by a beekeeper could disadvantage your apiary for YEARS into the future, while allowing poorly adapted genetics to weed themselves OUT increases your efficiency so you can be a beekeeper in the future.
Don’t be a DooDoo beekeeper!
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