Over the last couple of weeks I have been wrestling with an idea that I am still having trouble conveying. I listen to a bee podcast, and the guy is always going back and forth on whether to feed and/or treat his hives. He also makes statements that infer someone is an irresponsible or bad beekeeper if they don’t feed or treat for mites. I have not been beekeeping for a lifetime yet, but I think the exact opposite may be true.
I remember having similar notions in the fall of 2010. That is until honeybees taught me an amazing lesson. To honeybees preservation of the group is always more important than any one particular individual. This is always something we must have on our minds. Human beings for whatever reason seem to want to value the individual more than the group as a whole.
1001 was my very first hive. It came to me as an established colony in May with honey supers already on it. The guy I bought it from had been feeding and treating for many years. That first summer it produced almost a hundred pounds of honey, but it was heavily infested with varroa. In the fall the entire powdered sugar dusting regimen was performed just as described all over the internet. There was a hitch though, two weeks after completion of the third sugaring there were still varroa all over in there.
I was perplexed and frantic just like most first year beeks. So I ordered some ApiGuard, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it after reading all of the directions and warnings. I was eating my honey and didn’t want to be eating out of a hive I was putting poison in.
I remember telling my wife that I was going to see what happened If I did nothing. I didn’t have a lot invested in beekeeping, and if I couldn’t have them without all the complicated feeding and treatment regimens I just wasn’t going to do it. I knew it would be hard seeing a hive going into winter with less than optimal stores, or knowing that mites were in there and doing nothing. It was then and still is, but the story doesn’t always end badly.
One of the greatest success stories for treatment free bees in 2012 is hive 1001. It limped through the winter of 2010 and was only covering 2 frames in the Spring of 2011. I stuck to my guns and refused to feed it. It struggled through 2011 and produced no honey, but sometime during the year a new queen was reared in there and by the Fall of 2011 something had definitely changed. Instead of all the bees looking “Italian” as before, there was variation among the workers coming and going from the hive. The new queen had mated with a good number of different drones and the workers reflected it.
Last Spring when I got in there I was surprised to see that they were covering almost 6 full frames. They were under-supered with another deep and given two honey supers which they filled by extraction time.
The take away message here is that just because things look bad you can’t give up on your bees. Sure this hive could have died back in 2010, but it didn’t, AND IT’S BETTER BECAUSE OF THE TRIALS IT HAS BEEN THROUGH. This hive has gone from feedings and treatments to treatment free and surviving. I consider it a success story.
The advice of most old school mentors would have been to either combine 1001 with another hive or requeen back in 2010. I am glad I didn’t know what I was doing and my mentor had gone AWOL. I am going to tie this all together by saying that it doesn’t make you a bad or lazy bee keeper if you don’t feed and don’t treat. I don’t know who started that, but it’s bunk. What does it make us if we keep following the advice from the last 50 years? If all of these mentors knew exactly what to do there wouldn’t be concerns about all of the bees dying.
We can take a lesson from bees. If we look at the big picture it is better for weak genetic material to expire even if it our individual hive. It is bad for our pride and maybe our bottom line, but in the long run are we more worried about ourselves or bees? The genetics that are left will be better for honeybees as a species. I have gone from 0 hives to 20 in just 3 short years with no treatment and honey-crops to boot!
Who knows, you could do nothing and find out it was the right course of action.
Have a nice weekend…. Feel free to leave questions and comments.