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Will my bees die if I stop treating them?

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New Bee

Joined: 14 Feb 2014
Posts: 1
Location: Winchester, Hampshire, UK

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 11:08 am    Post subject: Will my bees die if I stop treating them? Reply with quote

I want to move to natural beekeeping this spring. I have been reading Bush Bees website and am making up foundationless frames to gradually convert my commercial hive to a foundationless one. I would also like to stop using all chemical treatments. However I bought my nuc last year from a supplier who uses chemical treatments and I treated my bees in the Autumn. I am concerned it may take some time (years?) before I have bees who are more able to cope with varroa etc and if I have a high varroa count in the Autumn and don't treat them, they will not be able to cope and will die.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Should I requeen during the year with a queen who has been bred in a natural, chemical-free way? I don't want to lose all my bees!

Thank you for any help,ideas, thoughts....
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Golden Bee

Joined: 31 May 2010
Posts: 1551
Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 11:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I fear we are a long way from the holy grail of the resistant bee. If you look at the national pattern of losses in conventional bee keeping, I am not convinced that the odds are worse with non treatment.
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Golden Bee

Joined: 30 Nov 2009
Posts: 1137
Location: UK, North Yorkshire, Bentham

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi tab & welcome to the Forum.

I'd suggest first moving from "treatment by the calendar" as often recommended on training courses to treatment when necessary. Monitoring bees more frequently is easier than taking the hive apart regularly! Smile

You can also opt for "softer" treatment like powdered sugar. It's more intrusive (repeat treatments are needed at weekly intervals) but less damaging to bees, brood & honey.

It appears that some bees cope better with the above and need less support than others, so if you want to keep your bees no matter what, be prepared to step in and help. The other option is to accept that some bees are not "survivors" and allow them to die - a hard decision for most.

Good luck
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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is no hard and fast answer to that question I'm afraid, but you can assume that there is a significant risk.

I'm not a fan of requeening. I believe we should respect the integrity of the super organism, not swap parts from other colonies because we perceive an advantage. I'm also not convinced that a so called "survivor or hygienic" queen from another locality will flourish in your neighbourhood.... as Dave suggests, it's a bit of a mythical "Holy Grail" concept at the moment in my opinion.

I used to treat my bees when varroa initially became a problem. Then I became a little lackadaysical and didn't treat routinely, but only when the colony looked like it was being overrun with mites..... when I was seeing quite a number of baby worker bees with deformed wings during an inspection and quite noticeable mites on the back of mature bees on the comb. I found they would go 18 months-2 years without needing treatment and then 3+ years, until I have the situation that I am at now where by main colonies have not been treated for 5 years and the younger ones, not at all.
I think it is important to incorporate other Natural Beekeeping principles like free comb instead of foundation (as you are doing) and very importantly, allowing them a brood break in the summer, ideally letting them swarm and possibly cast as well if they wish. This means it will dramatically affect the quantity of honey available for harvest (sometimes I get none) but you gain extra colonies if you are lucky enough to catch the swarms and can therefore be less worried if you do lose one to varroa.

That is the route that I came to my current situation.... I suppose you could say, I weaned them off varroa treatment. My advice would be, don't get too focussed on becoming treatment free, but let it happen when they are ready.


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Foraging Bee

Joined: 16 Aug 2009
Posts: 242
Location: UK, Wiltshire, Amesbury

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are treatment free beeks quite nearby to you who will be happy to advise on how you might plan to become treatment free. Have a look at or pm me here.
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Golden Bee

Joined: 04 Apr 2009
Posts: 1681
Location: Canada, BC, Delta

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you asked M. Bush he would likely tell you that starting with the right bee will go a long way in having surviving colonies. I'm of the same mind as the others and don't have much to add other than to re- mention Barbara's comment on summer brood breaks.

If you search for Mel Disselkoen on You Tube, his video should help with understanding the principles and why it works.
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Che Guebuddha
Golden Bee

Joined: 31 Jan 2012
Posts: 1551
Location: Hårlev, Stevns Kommune, Denmark

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 5:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I must repeat what was already mentioned because it IS SO IMPORTANT if going treatment free and that is BROOD BREAK.

Brood break is my No.1 "treatment". Next one is Natural Comb, letting bees build their own comb with various cell size. Another one is letting them have as many Drones as they see fit and to let my Queens mate locally.

During brood break bees dont have to feed larvae anymore and Im sure bees will do other stuff instead like ... grooming maybe Smile

Also, if bees follow their own bio-clock and swarm (or get split), raise new Queens, mate them with Drones there is a big chance they will evict the drones earlier than conventional colonies, which means Drone raising stops and all drone pupae will be thrown out.

This alone will reduce Varroa alot. And no other Drone from surrounding apiaries will be able to enter this colony anymore Smile Also this colony will not send anymore Drones out to surrounding apiaries, so if conventional beeks say that your Drones will spread Varroa in their hives you can explain them that that cant be the case Wink
At least this is how colonies behave in my TBHs.

Swarm control is the worst thing one can do to a bee colony in my opinion.

Everyone to its own of course Smile what works for one doesnt for the other. But if one does not try ...
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Moderator Bee

Joined: 26 Nov 2007
Posts: 3097
Location: Germany, NorthWest

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 5:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gain experience with bees first. If there is a treatment-free group near you, that is the best place to learn it.
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Wise Bee

Joined: 29 Oct 2008
Posts: 3060
Location: UK, England, Cotswolds

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 6:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Talk to the folk in the Hampshire group that Cie suggests. There are non-treatment beekeepers there with considerable experience. This will be my third season with no treatments on any hives and some of those hives are the daughters of hives that themselves had gone for 4 or 5 years without treatment.

The surest approach is to start with a swarm from a wild hive that has been untouched for a number of years. Don't believe folk when they say they don't exist; in southern England they are all over the place but most of the time go unnoticed.

It is tougher to start with a nuc from treated stock but I know folk who are going down that route.

Don't encourage the bees in any way to enlarge the brood nest (eg by spreading the brood). In the words of a bee inspector: varroa is a problem of forced bees. I know a local former commercial beekeeper who would tell you the same thing.

Also, it is the viruses that varroa carry that do the damage and most (if not all) treatments harm the bee immune system, making it more difficult for the bees to cope with the viruses. So treatment is to some extent a self-defeating circle.
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