Varroa is considered the biggest killer of bees in the world with neonics running a close second. So with this in mind we ask the Question is it possible to keep bees that have mites and not use any treatments. If you go to your local bee club they will likely say it’s not possible and if you try they will blame you for all there misfortunes.
Yes it is possible to have Varroa mites in your hives and not use any treatments but how to do this is the big question???
? Don’t want to use small cell because you are not convinced it works. Ok.
That’s fine. There are a small number of people who have succeeded on standard 5.4mm cell size foundation without using any chemicals (treatments) in there hives so how did they do it. There are examples in England and America of people who have never used treatments in there hives for Varroa and yet there bees have survived for the last 25years with Varroa present.
The use of treatments in beehives has shown very clearly that it stops the bees from developing resistance to the Varroosis (viruses) of the Varroa mites. Farming and garden chemicals such as Neonics can also weaken the resistance of bees and make them vulnerable to the Varoosis of the mites so a clean environment is also needed. Part of this resistance also comes from how Queens share immunity to the colony so localised locally adapted queens are going to work better than queens imported from places outside your local environment. Bee colonies that are weakened for any reason can become vulnerable to a whole host of fungal and viral issue so it’s important that your bees be very healthy and strong prior to any attempt at going chemical free. Commercial beekeepers will find that there two main practices of feeding sugar and moving bees around will exacerbate any issues the bees have and make this process harder.
Firstly you will need 5 to 500 hives or more, all in good condition and then you need to find which hives have the right stuff required to keep varroa under control enough to stop the colony from dying. In order to find these magical survivor bees it’s important to understand that you will need to let most of your bees die. You cannot achieve natural survivor resistance without going through this process. Hive size should be on the larger size and wintering in a minimum 2 box hives but preferably 3 box hives and no queen excluders on any of your hives. It’s important that the queen have freedom to lay eggs where she wants throughout the hive. Queens will rarely move above the third box so all 4th or 5th boxes will most likely be pure honey stores. Good large strong colonies are needed.
People who attempt going chemical free with less than 5 hives in there care might find they need to purchase new bees from a local source several times over till they achieve success with a survivor bee stock. Bees collected from feral forest colonies are often great survivors. These feral forest bees are reported as being smaller and darker so would probably benefit from the use of smaller cell size foundation 4.9mm but either way they will likely have better survival than the standard commercially available queens. Some breeders claim to be selling special varroa resistant queens and maybe this can help. These queens originally came from feral survivor bees so it makes sense they have a heightened resistance to mites but you will still need to go through the process to find the best of the best.
It will take several years for the survivor bees to show they can survive whilst all the other bees will likely die. In most cases you could expect 70% to 95% bee death in your apiary and in some cases 100%. Often it’s during the second year when the bees die so it’s important to know your bees and look for those hives which are doing really well compared to the others and start making nucs to replace those that die. Constantly making nucs and replacing bees with survivor stock is really important if you don’t want to completely loos all your bees. This process will take some 2 to 5 years but at the end of this period you will have bees that have developed natural resistance to Varroa and no more chemical treatments will ever be needed ever again.
One of the preeminent success stories in this regard would have to be Dennis Brown from www.lonestarfarms.net . He has published several books about his experiences of the past 51 years being treatment and chemical free and has about 500 people in his forums that are also treatment free following his methods. Dennis Brown has never used chemicals in his hives for any reason both before varroa and after varroa and was one of the first American beekeepers to have varroa resistant bees along with people like Dee Lusby who choose a similar but different method. They represent the future long term survival of bees and show clearly that the issue is being prepared to let bees die to reveal the survivors. Bees should not die due to starvation etc. but must be given all the care one can to help them develop resistance, just don’t use any mite treatments or the whole exercise is stopped in its tracks. Finding and then working with survivor bees on standard 5.4mm foundation has proven to be very difficult for most people but Dennis Brown has shown clearly that it is possible and we should all try harder to achieve having bees without the use of any treatments.
I personally see advantages in using a smaller cell size of 4.9mm but at the end of the day I don’t personally care how a person achieves being chemical free because chemicals are a very short term (not a solution) product.
Update After reading Dennis Browns books I cannot recommend his methods as he uses many practices that are not needed and continues to use powdered sugar etc. as a treatment method and other tools which are simply not needed. His methods are better than most but they are not "treatment free" although he avoids the mainstream Chemical treatments and claims chemical free he is by no means treatment free. and i can now understand why he is a better writer than a beekeeper and has only a handful of people following his methods.