Do you keep bees the "Darwinian" way?

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Beebe 

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I love the fact that there are so many ways to keep bees. I have just re-watched the Tom Seeley video about this. In many ways it seems like it's not much different from traditional beekeeping. But it definitely goes against the direction of many of the current trends in beekeeping.

Superficially, it amounts to restricting the brood to one deep box and allowing no more than one shallow box for honey. Prof. Seeley accepts he will always get swarming; obviously, with good observation and management, you could avoid that. Yields per hive will be limited, with the major bonus supposedly being that V. destructor populations will be naturally supppressed.

In many ways,to do this is the opposite of how I was planning to operate this year, but he maintains a convincing, evidence-backed argument. I'm wondering if any UK-based beekeepers operate like this in its purest form?
 

Boston Bees 

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The first question is - are you prepared to kill a colony? As in, close them in and pour soapy water or petrol into them to euthanise the entire lot? If not then you cannot follow this Darwinian Beekeeping approach in its entirety.

Plenty of treatment-free beekeepers think they are following Tom Seeley's advice, but they neglect step 10 of his plan because it is deeply uncomfortable to carry out:

"10. Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa. WARNING: This last suggestion should only be adopted if you can do so carefully, as part of a program of extremely diligent beekeeping. If you pursue treatment-free beekeeping without close attention to your colonies, then you will create a situation in your apiary in which natural selection is favouring virulent Varroa mites, not Varroa-resistant bees. To help natural selection favor Varroa-resistant bees, you will need to monitor closely the mite levels in all your colonies and kill those whose mite populations are skyrocketing long before these colonies can collapse. By pre-emptively killing your Varroa-susceptible colonies, you will accomplish two important things: 1) you will eliminate your colonies that lack Varroa resistance and 2) you will prevent the "mite bomb" phenomenon of mites spreading en masse to your other colonies. If you don't perform these pre-emptive killings, then even your most resistant colonies could become overrun with mites and die, which means that there will be no natural selection for mite resistance in your apiary. Failure to perform pre-emptive killings can also spread virulent mites to your neighbors' colonies and even to the wild colonies in your area that are slowly evolving resistance on their own. If you are not willing to kill your mite-susceptible colonies, then you will need to treat them and requeen them with a queen of mite-resistant stock." Tom Seeley

But if you are going to treat your colonies for varroa then sure, his advice on keeping hives relatively small, carrying out artificial swarming (allowing natural swarming isn't great for most beekeepers who have neighbours) etc is good advice in terms of varroa management, and I try to follow much of it.
 

Boston Bees 

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I love the fact that there are so many ways to keep bees. I have just re-watched the Tom Seeley video about this. In many ways it seems like it's not much different from traditional beekeeping. But it definitely goes against the direction of many of the current trends in beekeeping.

Superficially, it amounts to restricting the brood to one deep box and allowing no more than one shallow box for honey. Prof. Seeley accepts he will always get swarming; obviously, with good observation and management, you could avoid that. Yields per hive will be limited, with the major bonus supposedly being that V. destructor populations will be naturally supppressed.

In many ways,to do this is the opposite of how I was planning to operate this year, but he maintains a convincing, evidence-backed argument. I'm wondering if any UK-based beekeepers operate like this in its purest form?
Some of his recommendations, like keeping hives 1km apart, are also somewhat impractical. I honed down the principles that most beekeepers could follow in reality as follows:
  1. Don't buy bees from outside your area
  2. Use small hives (one brood box, plus one super for honey)
  3. Ensure that your hives "swarm" (artificially is OK) (75% of wild nests swarm each year)
  4. Allow 10-20% drone comb
  5. Minimise nest disturbance (i.e. inspect from bottom of box, and never break up brood nest)
  6. Cull highly varroa-infested colonies to avoid bee-bombs (or treat!)
 

LeaBees 

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Some of his recommendations, like keeping hives 1km apart, are also somewhat impractical. I honed down the principles that most beekeepers could follow in reality as follows:
  1. Don't buy bees from outside your area
  2. Use small hives (one brood box, plus one super for honey)
  3. Ensure that your hives "swarm" (artificially is OK) (75% of wild nests swarm each year)
  4. Allow 10-20% drone comb
  5. Minimise nest disturbance (i.e. inspect from bottom of box, and never break up brood nest)
  6. Cull highly varroa-infested colonies to avoid bee-bombs (or treat!)
How does one inspect from the bottom of the box?
 

Gilberdyke John 

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Crack the box from floor lift back as if on hinge inspecting the bottom of frames for queen cells.
We spend hours teaching beginners what to look for in terms of healthy brood, amount of brood, eggs in cells, amount of stores etc. I don't think it'll work out for most training apiaries.
 

Ian123 

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We spend hours teaching beginners what to look for in terms of healthy brood, amount of brood, eggs in cells, amount of stores etc. I don't think it'll work out for most training apiaries.
I don’t think I suggested it would, but Lea bees asked how you do it. Mind you it wouldn’t be the first or last time I have done it😉
 

hemo 

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It's been said before just because QC's aren't seen between two boxes doesn't mean there may not be one or two on frame faces or hidden on the side.
 

IndiBee 

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How interesting. I watched that just last night.
When varroa hit in France, we did not have the option of treating (long time ago), so we had to find ways of surviving without treatment. So many of the things discussed in that film we have been doing for a very long time.
As to culling a colony though, we never have had to do this, maybe as we set up a quarantine system to weed out the susceptible ones (do look at my introduction hello post if you can). Once the colony makes it to the 'honey production' apiary, they are not prone to die from varroa.
We found over the years that keeping hives too close together, too large a colony, stressing them, taking too much honey, feeding them (too easy to feed at the wrong times); basically intensive farming - that will be a problem as with all animal exploitation.
 

pargyle 

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I have the greatest respect for Tom Seeley who has done much to investigate some things in keeping that would not have otherwise have had any attention .. he's an excellent and convincing speaker and advocate for what he believes in. But ... and it's a huge BUT - this is one man's way of being treatment free - whether he is allowing bees to develop that can resist (or at least cope with) varroa in their midst I have my doubts - the conditions he promotes for this development are equally capable of providing conditions where there WOULD be low varroa numbers in the hives.

I do agree with some of the things he puts forward (as a non-treater).

1. You do need to be aware of what is going on in the colony and be vigilant - I would never kill my bees but if a colony exhibited a propensity for escalating varroa numbers I would isolate it and treat.

2. Low interference is key - the less a colony is stressed the more they seem able to cope with varroa.

3. Drone levels .. I am foundation free and they are allowed to build whatever comb they choose - if they want drones they can have drones..

4. Warm boxes without draughts (my hives are all well insulated) as this provides for high colony temperatures and high humidity.

I think, as I've said many times, there is a high degree of luck involved in keeping bees and not treating for varroa ... and the factors that also bear influence - location, local forage, the nature of the bees themselves are also in some way involved. Whether, in our lifetime, we have sufficient ability. by inducing Darwinian selection, to keep bees without generally having to treat them for varroa .. I rather doubt. Whether individual beekeepers can keep bees without treating them - it is possible - but it's not an easy path to tread.

Is Tom Seeley right ? Yes to some extent ...
 
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pargyle 

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Not treating seems an awful lot of work.
It is .. Is it worth it ? Well ... I've got this far and it seems wrong to give up, my bees cope with varroa and are healthy and productive . OA by sublimation is such an effective and innocuous treatment for varroa, if it were legalised without the stupid cost of Apibioxal and the mess it leaves behind I would be tempted to give in and take the easy route.
 
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domino 

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It is .. Is it worth it ? Well ... I've got this far and it seems wrong to give up, my bees cope with . OA by sublimation is such an effective and innocuous treatment for varroa, if it were legalised without the stupid cost of Apibioxal and the mess it leaves behind I would be tempted to give in and take the easy route.
I'd never tell anyone how to keep bees, they aren't mine so aren't any of my business. I measure and treat - works for me.
 

pargyle 

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I'd never tell anyone how to keep bees, they aren't mine so aren't any of my business. I measure and treat - works for me.
Neither would I - my comment was directed at me ... nobody else.
 

hemo 

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Philip has a regime that works well for him, if his bees get by without treatment then kudos to him. I also would like to have the same but doubt it will happen but one can try, at least monitoring more if time is available.
 

Beebe 

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Not treating seems an awful lot of work.
....but at least the emphasis of the "work" is directed towards beekeeping rather than varroa "un-keeping", which a superficial look at this forum and at most Facebook pages and You Tube videos might make one think this hobby has become. ;) (That doesn't necessarily mean I'm swayed by the "Darwinian" argument).
 

The Poot 

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Human interference, has introduced varroa to our bees from Asia. Having caused the issue do we now want to help the bees to “evolve” more quickly?
The thought of culling colonies solely for its inability to deal with varroa, is typical of our species destructive approach to our world, in my view.
Those same bees may have many other beneficial traits (for bee kind) that we would be wiping out.
Having caused the problem, we should raise our efforts to find bee friendly ways to deal with the mite.
 

Ian123 

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Having caused the problem, we should raise our efforts to find bee friendly ways to deal with the mite.
Many breeders/groups are look at the work B+ is doing or the various buckfast breeders. Many are incorporating vsh tendencies into their bees. I’m always rather dubious when some claim resistant bees found in trees or some bloke with 6 hives in his back garden. Whenever theses get seriously looked at they are normally found wanting. You could compare a bloke at the kitchen sink knocking up a COVID vaccine in comparison to big pharma😂 not impossible but very unlikely. I wonder how the local bee brigade will cope when big breeders offer vsh queens as a norm or at least those bred from decent vsh queens. Ian
 

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