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Consequences of not monitoring and not treating for varroa?

 
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spenbroc
Scout Bee


Joined: 28 Jun 2009
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Location: UK, Wales, Pembrokeshire, Pembroke

PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 3:11 pm    Post subject: Consequences of not monitoring and not treating for varroa? Reply with quote

I have seen several posts suggesting that it is possible to have colonies survive long-term without any treatment for varroa and others maintaining that judicial treatments based on IPM using a variety of formulations is essential to ensure continuing bee health and colony survival year on year.

I am interested in gathering as much data as possible before I consider trying a non-treatment regime in my apiary - mix of horizontal topbar and Warre hives housing local 'mongrel' bees.

My existing method is entirely based on periodic natural drop mite counts and 'thymol string' treatment; for small colonies or nucs I have found sugar dusting a very useful alternative.

Please note that my West Wales location is predominately mild, wet and breezy - I believe this climate/weather may have some bearing on the levels of varroa infestation observed locally.

Jon
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Gareth
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Joined: 29 Oct 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll start the responses since I have advocated and used 'thymol string' in the past. This should not be taken as the last word from me and it would be very informative to hear other responses too.

I first became concerned about possible side effects of thymol string last year as a result of anecdotal evidence that mite treatments (including thymol) can affect drone and queen fertility. Earlier this year a scientific paper was published that showed a number of miticides, including thymol, have the effect of 'turning on' genes in bees that are normally activated in response to stressors such as toxins or infections.

I am also aware of more than one beekeeper who has bees that are naturally mite resistant and remain healthy without treatment of any sort.

This has caused me to formulate a plan going forward that avoids the use of miticides or routine sugar dusting (I don't class sugar as a miticide in the narrow sense of the term). I shall continue to monitor mite levels and use natural/assisted reproduction to create brood breaks if and when appropriate. I am also actively seeking naturally mite resistant bees from feral swarms and other beekeepers who have them in their apiaries.

Added to this, I have adopted a low interference/low stress regime that seeks to keep the internal hive environment as undisturbed as possible.

The reason for avoiding routine sugar dusting is that I want to see how the bees cope left to themselves. If I continuously scratch their itch for them, how will they ever learn to scratch it themselves? Or even show that they already can?

Do I expect to be faced with difficult decisions about straying outside of this regime to potentially 'save' colonies? Yes, I do.
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quioui
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 4:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is my second year in beekeeping and I didn't treat at all. Last autumn there were many bees with deformed wings that were thrown out, which is accepted as an alarming sign for varroa infestation. Despite that I didn't do anything and they survived the winter. So far I haven't seen a single bee with deformed wings and everything seems to be going fine.
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homegrown
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Joined: 05 Jun 2009
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Location: UK, West Sussex

PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Going into our fourth year completely treatment free with a colony in a Warre (captured swarm). Thought I saw a mite on an adult bee once but no sign of deformed wings seen at hive entrance. I may do a mite count this year just to monitor how populations fluctuate.
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spenbroc
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 8:43 pm    Post subject: Re: Consequences of not monitoring and not treating for varr Reply with quote

Thanks for the responses so far.

The following is a quote from David Heaf's book 'The Bee-friendly Beekeeper' ISBN - 978-1-904846-60-4

Varroa Control Page 101

'At the time of writing, the survival rate of my Warre colonies in their fourth season is 33%, with the losses probably attributable to three seasons in succession of poor forage (2007-9).'

The bold emphasis is mine and unfortunately he doesn't clarify that varroatosis was the actual cause of the losses. However, I could not tolerate losing 2 colonies out of every 3 in one season.

Jon
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FollowMeChaps
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Joined: 23 Jun 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jon - I don't treat at all and my colonies seem really strong.
I did a couple of sugar dustings on my horizontals in my first 2 years but nothing at all in the last 3. I'm not sure how you'd dust in a Warré, I leave mine well alone.

I hope this helps

Robin
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spenbroc
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 10:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FollowMeChaps wrote:
Jon - I don't treat at all and my colonies seem really strong.

I hope this helps
Robin


Reliable evidence based data from your +60 strong YABbeeP group giving treatment, non-treatment numbers together with yearly colony survival statistics would be very helpful.

Jon
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Gareth
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 10:23 pm    Post subject: Re: Consequences of not monitoring and not treating for varr Reply with quote

spenbroc wrote:


'At the time of writing, the survival rate of my Warre colonies in their fourth season is 33%, with the losses probably attributable to three seasons in succession of poor forage (2007-9).'

.... However, I could not tolerate losing 2 colonies out of every 3 in one season.

Jon


I have had losses at that level due to wasp attack and queen failures with the latter aggravated by robbing. I have had no losses over the last four seasons from varroa. I did not treat last year.
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FollowMeChaps
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 9:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

spenbroc wrote:
Reliable evidence based data from your +60 strong YABbeeP group giving treatment, non-treatment numbers together with yearly colony survival statistics would be very helpful.

What do you call 'reliable evidence'? We are a bee group not scientific researches. That said, the group's doctrine follows the line reflected in my posts on this forum. ('Doctrine' may be the wrong choice of word - I'd hate to be accused of being dogmatic again!Laughing)

I'm only aware of two who have treated in the last couple of years and they are both outside our geographic area and in both cases on horizontal TBHs. One of these lost her bees to poisoning, the other lost 2 of 3 colonies and probably not to varroa.

It's been too early to collect our anecdotal data on winter survival - after all we are just coming out of the most dangerous period now. Last year only two colonies did not survive the winter and one of those was because the Warré was knocked over mid-winter and not discovered for a few weeks.

Now none of this is scientific data, but it's good enough for me to continue along my low interference path. Indeed, the more I learn the more confidence I have to 'leave it to the bees'. I appreciate that for some this is a step too far, but from what I'm seeing it works.
I hope this helps.

Robin
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imkeer
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 10:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Last year, I treated only with bee-tea.
Survival rate was 50%, and I was so happy! I was dancing like a crazy man in the garden when I realized.
But last winter I learned this:
The only documented varroa destructor "tolerance" with European Honeybees so far, happened with colonies that were exposed to the pressure of natural selection. This is the conclusion of the study "Characteristics of honey bee colonies (Apis Mellifera) in Sweden surviving Varroa destructor infestation" by Barbara Locke and Ingemar Fries. (Apidologie 2011: 42:533-542)
One of the interesting results was this: there was a big difference in the reproduction succes of the mites. In the non-treated hives this was 48% and in the treated hives 78%. (Varroa mites have 2 to 3 reproduction cycles.)

In general, mites have an even longer evolution than bees. Bees are here since about 40 million years, and mites are about 365 million years old. Their succes is quite big, they are everywhere. They normally don't kill their hosts. So if we expose both bees and mites to the pressure of a natural selection, we actually breed for mites that make it so that they can stay with their host. Then we let nature balance out our mistake of moving bees around the planet.

How about that ?

Luc Pintens
Belgium
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FollowMeChaps
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think this thread needs to be put into context. We have to ask ourselves - is varroa really a big problem?

Certainly in the wider non-natural beekeeping world the focus of beek's is on varroa and it's seen as the big, probably No. 1 evil.

However, it's actually in several peoples commercial interest to keep up this perception - giant corporations make large sums of money developing treatments, probably even aiming at breeding a pesticide immune hybrid bee they can sell. In the last few years breeders (many of whom play leading roles in the bee world hierarchy) have seen the price of bees/nucs/packages multiply, even many local Associations that used to 'pass on' colonies to members ride this wave and sell swarms and nucs raised from them at large sums.

Most importantly, while beeks are being encouraged to focus their wrath on varroa, it diverts attention away from some of the REAL issues like the mass introduction of systemically treated seed both in the agricultural and now domestic arenas. Call me a cynic if you like but it wouldn't surprise me if certain giant corporations (you know who I mean) had people working full-time on perpetuating this belief as one of a planned means of diversion.

I and others believe, and there is a large and growing body of evidence to support it, that varroa is a red herring. The bees are coping with it and as Luc points out above evolutionary programming is on their side to do so.

While everyone panics about this mite they are monitoring mite drops and adding treatments all of which require the hives to be opened and further weaken the bees. I have posted elsewhere why I believe it's a paradox to jump into action when the mite drop increases as this may well be hitting them when they are dealing best with the problem.

In the UK both our untreated bees and feral colonies ARE surviving. I think we should know about and understand varroa, but we need to keep in context that it's far from being the big problem.

Robin
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AnthonyD
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 4:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FollowMeChaps wrote:

In the UK both our untreated bees and feral colonies ARE surviving.
Robin


I totally agree with everything you have said, at the end of the day there is big money in varroa and that says it all.

But I wonder are feral colonies surviving in the UK?

I know that in my country- Ireland - for instance there just isnt the same number of feral colonies anymore, many people claim there are no feral colonies anymore. Whilst I dont agree with this, the numbers are certainly down to a tiny tiny fraction of what they were say 15 years ago.
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Gareth
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 4:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

AnthonyD wrote:

I totally agree with everything you have said, at the end of the day there is big money in varroa and that says it all.

But I wonder are feral colonies surviving in the UK?

I know that in my country- Ireland - for instance there just isnt the same number of feral colonies anymore, many people claim there are no feral colonies anymore. Whilst I dont agree with this, the numbers are certainly down to a tiny tiny fraction of what they were say 15 years ago.


In the first years following the arrival of varroa, there will be heavy losses in any untreated colonies, whether they be feral or 'kept'. Hence numbers will fall, potentially dramatically. But some of the bees will cope, even if only just, and numbers will not fall to zero. This is the important point, because it is from that small base that a varroa resistant population will eventually grow.

If we let them.

And what we are seeing is the beginnings of that recovery. As Robin has pointed out, this is completely contrary to the vested commercial interests. Their PR folk are very clever at surreptitiously planting seeds of doubt in the minds of opinion formers.
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Bugscouter
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 4:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
But I wonder are feral colonies surviving in the UK?


I can't answer for the UK, but I can say that here in California's Central Valley (Sacramento area), we've collected five swarms since April 2, and received calls on three other swarms that either left before we got there or moved into a wall. With the first swarm I found dead verroa in the box. I also know that the Bee Collective in Davis has also been collecting swarms. So we don't have a shortage here, even with mites. But then again, we just finished a very mild winter. Smile

Ron
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spenbroc
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 4:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FollowMeChaps wrote:
I think this thread needs to be put into context. We have to ask ourselves - is varroa really a big problem?
Robin


My reason for starting this post was hopefully to help myself and others who may be interested to move from a light treatment regime of assisting the bees in controlling severe varroa infestations towards a more hands-off 'the bees will cope' regime.

The bigger issues of neonicotinides and commercial ag/chem lobbying are important but beyond my narrow remit here; I just want to understand how my colonies might survive if I cease IPM and treatments. I'm not trying to change the world just my approach to beekeeping!

So, another simple question for those who already do not treat for varroa.

Within a large group of beekeepers managing colonies naturally and not treating for varroa, do colony survival losses attributable to varroa improve with time or remain fairly constant year on year?

Thanks for all the helpful responses so far.

Jon
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FollowMeChaps
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 7:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't answer that Jon. As I said above it's a red herring - we are not seeing losses to varroa so how can you improve on that?. Sure we loose bees to starvation, poisoning, animal attack, etc. but do we loose them to varroa?

I think when folk see high numbers in a living colony the bees are probably dealing with them. If you see a high count of dead varroa in a deceased colony then isn't that is to be expected? If the host dies then the parasite will die too. My point is that seeing varroa dead or alive is not a clear indication of good or poor health - it's just an indication that the bees have varroa. Around here that's not news as all colonies have it.

Robin
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spenbroc
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 9:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FollowMeChaps wrote:
I can't answer that Jon. As I said above it's a red herring - we are not seeing losses to varroa so how can you improve on that?. Sure we loose bees to starvation, poisoning, animal attack, etc. but do we loose them to varroa?


But you have just answered! You confirm that 'we (ie your group?) are not seeing losses to varroa'. Therefore year on year losses attributable to varroa are zero - brilliant.

FollowMeChaps wrote:
I think when folk see high numbers in a living colony the bees are probably dealing with them.
.

Probably?

FollowMeChaps wrote:
If you see a high count of dead varroa in a deceased colony then isn't that is to be expected? If the host dies then the parasite will die too.


In that case I wonder if the brood combs showed signs of infestation.

FollowMeChaps wrote:
My point is that seeing varroa dead or alive is not a clear indication of good or poor health - it's just an indication that the bees have varroa. Around here that's not news as all colonies have it.


I'm not trying to make a news story - I'm just searching for information on bee colony survival without varroa treatment.

Jon
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Gareth
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 9:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

spenbroc wrote:

Within a large group of beekeepers managing colonies naturally and not treating for varroa, do colony survival losses attributable to varroa improve with time or remain fairly constant year on year?

Jon


Like Robin, I cannot answer that directly because like him, and as I said above, over the last 5 seasons, I have not lost any bees to varroa. In the first few of those seasons I counted varroa assiduously and occasionally treated with thymol strings. Then I ran into the other issues I mentioned above, queen infertility, wasps etc, and I realised I had bigger and more immediate problems than varroa. If I cannot solve these (and the jury is still out on the fertility issue) varroa, for me, becomes irrelevant.

What I can say is that I met Ron Hoskins (near Swindon) last year in the company of Phil C. Ron stopped treating about 10 years ago because he too ran into fertility problems that he put down to miticides. He runs dozens of colonies (the number 80 comes to mind, but I could be wrong). When he stopped treating he saw heavy initial losses. But now he is back up to his original numbers and he does not treat, not even with sugar. He seeks out feral swarms and multiplies from his own stock. When I asked his advice about obtaining varroa resistant bees it was simple: go out and look for feral swarms. They are out there and they are coping.
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spenbroc
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gareth wrote:

What I can say is that I met Ron Hoskins (near Swindon) last year in the company of Phil C. Ron stopped treating about 10 years ago because he too ran into fertility problems that he put down to miticides. He runs dozens of colonies (the number 80 comes to mind, but I could be wrong). When he stopped treating he saw heavy initial losses. But now he is back up to his original numbers and he does not treat, not even with sugar. He seeks out feral swarms and multiplies from his own stock. When I asked his advice about obtaining varroa resistant bees it was simple: go out and look for feral swarms. They are out there and they are coping.


Thanks Gareth - So one should expect heavy initial losses of the original stocks with a long slow recovery of colony numbers boosted by collecting feral swarms and making increase from them. I think I'll maintain my IPM and minimal treatment regime for this year to accustom my existing colonies to fending more for themselves. Take stock over winter and see how things shape up in spring 2012!

Finally, how do you locate genuine feral colonies so that bait hives may be located appropriately to gather their swarms?

Jon
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Rupert
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2012 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have not treated with anything for anything for since sugar dusting twice in 2008. All my colonies are strong. I know of four surviving feral colonies that are several years old.

I posted on here that varroa was a red herring during the evolutionary beekeeping debate.

Bees will survive if left alone.

Rupert
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FollowMeChaps
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2012 8:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

spenbroc wrote:
So one should expect heavy initial losses.....

This does not necessarily follow. I think Gareth is saying that you can possibly expect heavy losses. Don't forget we are a few years and down the road form Ron Hoskins starting his project.

spenbroc wrote:
I think I'll maintain my IPM and minimal treatment regime for this year to accustom my existing colonies to fending more for themselves.
Why? By doing this you are only feeding the monster. Surely you are only accustoming them to more treatment? It's like a smoker saying "I'll give up but next year". IMHO we should be doing all we can to save the bees NOW.

Robin
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Gareth
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2012 9:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jon

It depends on your appetite for risk and for reward.

The ONLY way to find out if you have bees that are naturally varroa resistant is to stop treating - with everything, including sugar. Ron Hoskins supplies some of his bees to others, but only if they sign an agreement not to treat.

The REWARD is that you find you do have naturally varroa resistant bees.

The RISK is that you do not. BUT this is not the end of the story.

If you are uncertain about the approach of not treating, cease treatment but continue to monitor mite fall. If the mite fall reaches a plateau and then remains constant (whether that plateau be a dally fall of 2 mites or 12 mites), this indicates that the bees and the mite are in balance. If the daily fall just goes on getting higher, without any let-up, that suggests that the bees are not in balance with the mite. At this point you can make a further decision: do I continue to leave them alone or do I assist them in some way.

Assisting them does not mean that you have to treat. For example, you could work with the natural biology of the bee by allowing the colony to swarm. 2/3rds of the mites are in the brood and these are left behind when a colony swarms. The associated brood break further reduces mite numbers.

If you are not comfortable with a natural swarm, there are other approaches that mimic the same effect. You could encourage the building of queen cells and transfer a well developed one (or maybe two) into a separate hive and populate this hive with flying bees from the old hive. Again, the mites in the brood (2/3rds of the total) are left behind and the brood break further reduces mite numbers.

Obviously they are your bees and it is your decision. When you feel you are ready, give it a try. Smile
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spenbroc
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2012 4:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FollowMeChaps wrote:


spenbroc wrote:
I think I'll maintain my IPM and minimal treatment regime for this year to accustom my existing colonies to fending more for themselves.


Why? By doing this you are only feeding the monster. Surely you are only accustoming them to more treatment? It's like a smoker saying "I'll give up but next year". IMHO we should be doing all we can to save the bees NOW.


I fail to undertsand your logic!

You originally said that varroa are not news around here and are a red herring, and yet you now equate my plan to continue monitoring and applying minimal treatment for another season with feeding the monster. Which monster do you mean, the varroa mite or corporate greed? You finally infer, by an analogy to human nicotine addiction, that unless I cease varroa treatments immediately I am not doing my bit for the bees?

Varroa mites are here and are not going away. They are causing damage to my bees and they will be dealt with by me as and when I think necessary. When I feel the time is right, for my circumstances, I will move to a non-treatment regime together with monitoring of natural mite mortality.

Jon
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spenbroc
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2012 4:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gareth wrote:
Jon

It depends on your appetite for risk and for reward.



Thank you Gareth that is all very clear!

Out of interest and in support of my continued treatment regime, here are the daily average mite fall records from last autumn before final thymol dose and this spring.

Colony-----------------1 ========= 2 ========3 ========4
Date------------------------------Natural Mite Fall per Day
15/9/11--------------2 =========4 ========10 ======= 15

26/2------------------1=========1==========1========1

8/3-------------------1 =========1==========3 ========1

16/4 -----------------5 ========= 5 =========15 =======1

27/4-----------------10 =========10 =========33 ====== 3

Note: Colonies 1 & 2 are small; colony 3 is 'strongest' and 4 is on a slatted bottom rack, so I think those counts are unreliable. All colonies were last treated September 2011. Every week I sweep a load of deformed bees off the slab below the entrance of colony 3 and colony 4 to a much lesser extent.

Looking at my previous 2 years records I believe that non-treatment of colony 3 from NOW(!) would result in severe infestation and extreme brood damage before July/August. All 4 colonies are in the same apiary and so re-infestation will happen so any continued treatment will be on all 4 at the same time. If I had the luxury of 4 separate apiaries at least 3 miles apart I would treat individually according to need.


Jon
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Gareth
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2012 7:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jon

To replay your own words, that is very clear.

In your position, with those numbers, I too would hesitate to go cold turkey. Colony 3, in particular is showing a worrying spike, confirmed by the fact that you are seeing a continuous stream of deformed bees. I take those two pieces of evidence to indicate that colony 3 is not in balance with the mite and needs assistance if it is to survive. The last time I saw a spike like that, the next count was showing 80 a day. Colonies that are in balance do not show huge spikes, especially at this time of year.

Because I now have concerns about the effect on fertility of miticides (including thymol), I personally would go for a reproduction-led approach as I outlined above. This does three things:


    Breeding increases the mix of genes (through mating)

    Breeding helps reduce varroa loads through natural means

    Breeding increases colony numbers, buffering against colony losses


I have to say, however, that colony 3 does look as if it is very much on the edge. I would be tempted at this stage to find the queen, shook swarm it and dump the brood. Sounds harsh, but the alternative could be worse. I did exactly this with a colony last year and they subsequently went gangbusters.

Good luck.

Smile


(Note to Robin: You and I might have to agree to disagree on this one.)

As a PS to Jon: I am unsure in my mind about the risk of significant re-infection from adjacent colonies in the same apiary. Lateral disease spread is often beekeeper driven through exchange of brood combs etc rather than bee driven.
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FollowMeChaps
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2012 5:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gareth wrote:
Robin: You and I might have to agree to disagree on this one.
I agree we shall agree to disagree. Laughing Laughing Laughing

Given the mite drop now disclosed I now see why Jon is alarmed. That's why I don't monitor - it just gives cause to panic. If you are following the 'trust the bees' philosophy sometimes ignorance is bliss. Then I'm ignorant about most wildlife and it's coping quite happily without me. Wink
Robin
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spenbroc
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Joined: 28 Jun 2009
Posts: 257
Location: UK, Wales, Pembrokeshire, Pembroke

PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2012 9:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

FollowMeChaps wrote:


Given the mite drop now disclosed I now see why Jon is alarmed. That's why I don't monitor - it just gives cause to panic.


No alarm: careful observation, recording and analysis are all that's needed, panic just leads to knee-jerk reactions which are often counterproductive!

FollowMeChaps wrote:
If you are following the 'trust the bees' philosophy sometimes ignorance is bliss. Then I'm ignorant about most wildlife and it's coping quite happily without me.


But if I had followed that philosphy in the past and in the circumstances now presented here, I would have given up beekeeping after one season!

Those who have bees that cope with mites are very lucky, I would like nothing more but in my local area with my current stock of bees that seems a long way off.

Thanks to all who have contributed; the feedback has been very useful.

That is all.

Jon
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