Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Much Simpler Explanation of Why Mite Bombs Happen

Some hives are bad at dealing with mites. Pretty simple huh? If mite bombs were a real thing and were as bad as purported, then a mite bomb would take down just about every hive in the vicinity. But they don't. Instead, often, the mite bomb cannot even be identified in the area, and is only assumed to exist. What does happen is this: Let's construct a hypothetical hive. This hive is bad at dealing with mites. Even though it might have been treated, it is bad at dealing with mites, so the random mite load of all the bees in the area would tend to concentrate with that hive, they don't bite mites, they don't chew them out, they basically just ignore them, and so mites build up in this hive. The hives very nearby are going to tend to receive some of this load due to drifting and robbing and if they can't deal, they'll start suffering too, but some, even many of them may be able to deal with mites, or even deal with them well. So these don't suffer, even with an increased incoming mite load. Hives that are very mite tolerant or resistant will absorb this load and eliminate the mites, becoming what we call "mite black holes." They suck in mites, never to be seen again. But in the mite bomb hives, generally sourced from non-resistant or tolerant commercial stock, the mite load increases to damaging proportions and they collapse, forming a "mite bomb" or maybe a "mite big bang?" These hives, it seems, do increase the mite load around, but again, it is the responsibility of the nearby hives to deal with their own mite loads. Those of us who are in the habit of catching swarms will have these mite bangs most years. And we have been told many times about these mite bombs, but yet, they don't seem to do much if any damage to the surrounding hives. Mite bombs never seem to knock out whole yards. They haven't knocked out any of mine. When I catch a good batch of swarms, I start a new yard with them, so they're all in the same spot for the first year. Inevitably, around a third of the fresh swarms will die, mite collapse, yet the rest in the yard don't seem to suffer. From the early days of this "mite bomb" idea, I have never warmed to it. It just doesn't seem to fit what I've seen and doesn't seem to fit the data of the people around me. I know a good number of people who catch a lot of swarms and bring them home and some of them have mite collapses, and none of them seem to lose many, if any hives, to mites caused by mite bombs of the hives next door. So I conclude that mite bombs are just hives that don't deal with mites well and collapse. And any hive in the vicinity that also collapses is also a hive that doesn't deal with mites well. These are hives that in the final analysis need to be eliminated one way or another. What better test than real world conditions?

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Challenge of Treatment-Free Beekeeping

Humans are strange creatures.  Psychologists say that one of the interesting drives we have is to find things to do and do them.  In fact, we actually like to find hard, but not impossible things and to conquer them.  To find a challenge and to meet it.
Since the very beginning of my beekeeping experience, I have been told by people that keeping bees treatment-free was impossible.  Yet, I knew it was possible, because I had seen that at least one person was able to do it.  If there is something that most people say is impossible, yet you see one person doing it, that's a challenge.  You know not every one can do it, or they would be. You know it can be done, but you might not know how, and your inner drive as a human compels you to try.  
Or at least that's how it happened for me.
And I want to put that challenge in front of you.
Perhaps that's what's lacking in the decades long word fight between treating beekeepers and treatment-free beekeepers.  You can't do it, you can do it, you're doing it wrong, you're an idiot, so's your mother, etc. This fight is pointless and goes back and forth forever, not because one side is right and the other is deluded, but because there are two sides.  And debate doesn't serve to change anybody's mind on either side.  It only entrenches.  It creates and maintains tribes.  Neither tribe will be able to look at any subject objectively.  And they will lob grenades at each other's respective trenches and no one will go anywhere until the whole system is reframed. 
So here it is.  Treatment-free beekeeping is hard.  Not everybody can do it.  In fact, the vast majority can't.  They haven't figured it out.  And many of them never will.  As Max Planck said:  "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."  You have a limited time here on this earth.  Stop wasting it.  Get it done.  I'm here to tell you it is possible.  Now you figure it out.  Do you accept the challenge?

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Few Words about the Inhumanity of Allowing Weak Colonies to Die

I would like to take a moment to address the idea that letting weak hives die is "inhumane."

Firstly, everything dies. We can all agree on that. But it's an important point that gets lost here. So all bees are going to die, the question is when and how.

Secondly, bees are insects. Insects don't have a long lifespan. Honeybees live about six weeks. Their life is short and full of hard work. Unlike humans which are adapted to live many years and with high intelligence, bees live short lives with a limited number of learned behaviors.

Third, they don't feel the same way we do, they have different nervous systems, different lifecycles, and they're cold blooded to boot.

Fourth, letting a hive die is not at all like letting child or a pet die. A hive is a collective organism. And as I said above, it is cold blooded. A hive that dies in winter simply slowly ceases to function. A hive that dies in summer, the workers will find new hives to join. But eventually they're going to die anyway.

Fifth, in fact, I'd say it's probably more inhumane to requeen a hive, to physically go in and kill a long living insect with your own hand.

Sixth, bees short reproductive cycle allows them to adapt much more rapidly than people. And they have to because they don't have the brain power to learn things and they don't have a long life in which to learn them. They are entirely unlike mammals, most especially humans.

It is not inhumane for a creature to die in a natural way. It is not inhumane for a gazelle to be brutally killed and eaten by a cheetah. It is the way things are. It is how our planet works. Inhumanity comes from how we treat people and other animals, causing them unnecessary pain in the process of controlling or killing them. It is not inhumane to allow a colony of insects to cease to exist under their own power because they don't have the genetic tools to deal with their diseases. It is nature. It is not only the way things are, but the way things ought to be. Treatment-free Beekeeping seeks to return that natural balance to the bees and not interfere in dealing with things that they should deal with on their own. And the feral bees from which we glean our wonderful survivor bees are already doing that.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Beekeeping Show and Tell

I just got back from a show-and-tell at my daughter's pre-school. I came with my bee suit and a nucleus hive and some combs that I let the kids poke at. I gave a very short and simple talk about beekeeping and answered all the kids questions.

In engineering school, they taught us that we had a duty to our society to be involved with the public and teach people about what we do, and I apply that to beekeeping as well.

If you have one or more years of successful beekeeping, I suggest that you make yourself available to everyone that asks. I have had numerous opportunities to make presentations to elementary school classes and other places. By doing this we can get in early and promote good beekeeping practice before people get indoctrinated to the "conventional" beekeeping model.

Remember to bring some honey, and an observation hive really helps.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Stop Supporting Commercial Beekeepers

Dear treatment free beekeepers,
Please stop buying bees from commercial treating beekeepers.
It's like refusing to buy cheap plastic Chinese junk. Most people are still going to do it because it's cheaper and They are going to get cheap plastic junk. But I know there are many in this group who are much more conscientious than that.
When you buy packages from treating commercial beekeepers, you do one or more of the following:
You waste your money.
You perpetuate the problem of weak bees.
You show that the Commercial Beekeepers are right, that you're just a beehaver buying replacements for dead bees because you don't have any idea what you're doing.
You prop up a system of beekeeping which is bad for the environment.
You prop up a system of agriculture which is bad for the environment.
You prop up a system of beekeeping which is bad for the bees.
If you think you're "helping the bees" you're actually doing the opposite.
You feed a beekeeping philosophy which is intellectually bankrupt.
You hold this movement back by supporting its opponents.
You slow the progress of adaptation and evolution.
Look, we're gonna win. One day I will change the name of this group to "beekeeping" because treating won't be a thing anymore. But we need your help.
Buy only TF bees.
Better yet, don't buy bees at all. Invest in swarm traps.
Let no swarm call go unanswered.
Split from your own stock. Split early. Split often.
This movement requires we change the status quo. The last time I bought commercial treated bees was 2003. I will never do it again.
Most of all, do your job as a beekeeper and mentor someone. Tell them not to buy packages or queens from treaters. Show them how to catch swarms. Teach them how to split, raise queens, make new hives.
This is happening. You can push us forward or you can hold us back. I am one person. The ball is in your court.
For those of you looking four sources of treatment-free bees, check out this map.

For those of you who have TF bees and services to sell, send me your contact info and a list of products, and I will add you to the map.  Email me at Solomon W Parker at G mail.

Permanent home of the map is at Parker Bees.


The Commercial Conundrum

If you're familiar with my work, you know that I am strictly against "magic bullet genetics." One of the things that bugs me about all the so-called research is that they never seem to actually consult those of us that are already doing it. No stock available? Hardly, just not widely accepted by the scientists. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-science or anti-medicine as is admittedly common in this group. But when for instance, I read studies on small cell foundation, I can see almost instantly that these people not only have no idea what they're doing, they obviously hasn't asked for help from anyone who does!

This is a huge point of frustration for many of us in this movement. Bee scientists and commercial beekeepers absolutely refuse to do anything differently. They just apply our methods half heartedly and point and laugh when they fail. Of course they fail! You didn't actually do what we suggest!

I actually have made the point that commercial migratory beekeeping may be impossible due to the fact that bees are fundamentally not meant to move and be exposed to that much disease that often. But commercial stationary honey production absolutely is and there are already a handful, if not dozens doing it.

Breeding bees with specific traits like ankle biters and VSH is ultimately a futile effort. I have been saying for years that the only ultimate solution is to stop treating and let it work itself out. And it does. However, few if any commercial beekeepers can actually let that happen or they go bankrupt. I get that.

We have a major problem with newbees making a mess of things on the forums. But there are a lot of us doing this. And there are parts of this country where almost everybody is TF. The commercial conundrum is something that is going to have to be worked through for many years to come.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Freshman Beekeepers Dispensing Advice

There is something I've been thinking about lately.
I recently had to boot somebody from my Treatment-Free Beekeeping group who kept making incessant mentions of the fact that one might do something about one's problems, but one couldn't mention it because this is the treatment-free group. That's trolling.
At any rate, he (or maybe she) complained once booted that he/she had followed the rules, "I answer the questions on the page correctly when people ask about how you accomplish your mission, by brood breaks and selective breeding etc."
Here are the issue I have with this sentiment:
1. If you do not practice what you preach, then you are not answering correctly, unless you put with your statement a disclaimer that you actually don't know what you're talking about.
2. By advancing ideas that you do not practice, you are subtly introducing error into these ideas. You don't know what you're talking about so you don't know when you are in error.
3. Others will undoubtedly see these pronouncements and take them to heart, not knowing that they are actually forming an unknowing link in a game of Telephone.
4. The end result is that people go forth with ideas that are not quite correct and may end up with failing results.
You can see that as an educator who focuses on new beekeepers, this is absolutely the last thing that I want, people going forth with incomplete or erroneous information and having a bad time beekeeping. I don't want your hives after you've given up after one season of unsuccessful beekeeping (especially if they are 8-frame).
The fact is, I do not accomplish my treatment-free beekeeping practice through brood breaks. I just don't. It's not part of my program. And while I believe it can be very helpful for many beginning beekeepers, it should not be considered a long term strategy. The long term strategy should be building up hive numbers (either as an individual or as a collective) so that when losses come, they will push you back to a number you're more comfortable with rather than drag you back to a number from which is hard to recover.
When you listen to my podcasts, you may notice that I am very careful to buttress my remarks on topbar hives with disclaimers that I do not keep topbar hives and that the information I am passing on is gleaned from more knowledgeable and experienced beekeepers in that area. And this is incredibly important. It is vital that experienced beekeepers pass on accurate information to new beekeepers.
So when a treating beekeeper offers advice like this to this group, realize that they are just as inexperienced as any other freshman beekeeper. They are not qualified to dispense information. And I ask those of you that are new beekeepers and just learning this stuff, please do not offer advice to those asking if you have not likewise already done the things you are talking about. I know you are eager to share what you have learned, but please please, be eager instead to share what you have done.
I have seen countless examples of first year beekeepers trying to tell seasoned commercial beekeepers that they are doing it wrong. This is unfathomably counter productive. Please don't do it. It really puts our movement in a very bad light, and galvanizes opponents to our cause.
Thank you for your time,

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Feeding dry sugar:

I ONLY recommend feeding dry sugar if feeding is necessary to accomplish YOUR goal of keeping a hive from starving. Let me be very clear that the proper way to keep bees in the TF concept is to let an established hive die if it refuses to gather enough honey to survive the winter. They are not pets. They are not rabbits. You don't need to dump food in their home. Their very purpose is to go out, get food, and bring it back to you.
That being said, sometimes when you're just starting out, or starting with packages (not recommended) or the first winter with a swarm or a split, feeding might be necessary to accomplish YOUR goal of the hive not dying. I find syrups to be very risky because they cause robbing and bees will refuse to take them in the winter. Pollen substitute should never be fed for the simple reason that the best way to stimulate hive to make brood in the spring is to have bees well adapted to your area. Feeding dry sugar has the benefits of: minimal amount of work, not stimulative, will not cause robbing, cannot be fed except in winter when needed, and will not end up in next year's honey crop.
How to do it, Follow these steps:
1. Open the top of the hive.
2. Find the cluster.
3. Remove empty boxes above the cluster. (If you have boxes of honey above the cluster, then you don't need to feed. Only do this if there is not enough honey left to survive the winter).
4. Place a paper towel on the top bars right above or on top of the cluster. Those shorter sheets work well because three of them are about the size of the box.
5. Pile sugar on the paper towel. If bees are flying, you may want to moisten it. I recommend not doing this until well into winter so bees aren't flying.
6. Place an empty box on the top of the hive around the sugar. The shorter the box the better. My favorite is the bottom three inches of a box sawed off a deep box to make a medium. But a medium or shallow or even deep will work.
7. Put the lid on.
8. As needed, open the top, lay down another paper towel, and pile more sugar on. The bees will only use what they need.
9. At the end of winter, remove chunks of sugar and store for reuse next year.
That's all there is to it. But remember, if you have a sufficient number of hives to absorb losses, it would be better to let poor performers pass on and replace them next year. Better yet, go into winter with more hives than you want or need so your losses will actually help your accomplish having the number of hives you want rather than work against it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Drones (the case that drones are not PALTs)

Unlike what you may have been taught, drones are not just partially autonomous loafing testicles (PALTs) hanging around the hive eating up honey and being a drain on the colony. They are actually useful and cultivating a natural amount of drone comb is good for the hive, especially the treatment free hobbyist's hive.
One of the major benefits for the TF hive is that drones are a sink for varroa. Varroa are naturally drawn to the larger meatier drones with their longer development times. If the bees can successfully keep varroa in the drone brood (through smaller worker cells) then the damage the varroa do is confined to the drones. Damaged drones are then removed and ejected from the hive, costing little more than the bit of pollen and honey it took to make them, but saving a worker who would have cost not only the construction materials, but also the loss of a worker to do the work. I have seen hives that didn't have much hygienic ability but because they were confining the varroa to the drone brood, were able to successfully maintain operations with a relatively high mite load.
Secondly, I see drones as very useful for influencing the surrounding genetics to your location. It has been said that drones raised in more naturally sized cell hives fly faster and are healthier than extra large treated drones. That means your drones can have a much better chance of getting out there and mating with new queens in your area, and if your drones are TF survivors, you are pulling up the genetics in your area to match yours. That means even treated hives that swarm (or supersede their queen, which they often do) can have a measure of TF survivor genetics which in turn can re-benefit your operation when your queens mate.
As far as the food drones are supposed to be eating, bees eat relatively little. We all know that a single worker will only bring in about 1/20 of the teaspoon of honey (about one worker cell volume) in its lifetime, but may bring in sixty times that much weight (40 times the volume) in pollen. All the drones produced in a hive in a year may cost the hive only a couple pounds of honey and a couple pounds of pollen. Many times that are spent making workers. So do we reduce the number of workers? Of course not. It does cost the hive to make drones, I estimate it takes the honey production of one or two workers to make each drone. But if that drone prevents a varroa from infesting a worker, then you have pretty much made that worker-equivalent back. And how valuable is having a good drone to mate with your virgin queen? And let's remember that there are 4-9 times as many workers as there are drones, even in the worst of times. And the workers know how many drones to make, don't forget that.
Fourth, numbers from the Bee Informed National Survey show that removing drone brood does little to nothing for the survival of the colony, ostensibly due to varroa. You may be removing some varroa, but then the rest are going to have nowhere else to go but into worker brood, further damaging your hive's ability to deal with varroa and in fact selecting for varroa that infest worker brood, which we absolutely don't want. Every action we take in the hive selects for something. We are TF because we want strong bees and weak mites. Let's not muddy the waters by selecting for mites that like worker brood, that only hurts us.
In conclusion, I would say that you're not helping yourself all that much by getting rid of drones or drone brood, and in fact, the bees are going to want to build that drone brood back anyway, so you've perhaps cost yourself time and energy to build that comb again. You are hurting yourself by removing drones due to the selection of worker brood infesting mites, limiting your beneficial effect on the surrounding colonies, and by not sacrificing those drones to the mites which will protect your workers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ethical Dilemma

I have a dilemma I'd like to discuss with you. You see, medical science has shown that local honey cures allergies no better than placebo. However, medical science is also now using the placebo effect to treat actual conditions, usually involving pain.
It goes like this, for the past century or so, medical science has tested new medicines against a placebo, sugar pill, fake medicine, whatever you want to call it. Medicines that have more effects than the placebo are shown to be effective. Medicines that are shown to be around the same as the placebo are tossed out, assuming they don't work, since the placebo has no actual medical effect.
The problem is, the placebo works, lots of times, maybe in around a third of the population. There are many people here who believe in homeopathy who will be happy to tell you that the placebo works (though they'll call it homeopathy).
I have for the past several years, avoided saying that local honey helps with allergies because medical science has demonstrated that it does not work better than placebo. But we know that the placebo still works in a portion of the population. So lately, I have taken to saying "that's what they say" when people bring up this folk remedy. The other day, I went a step further. I sold some honey to someone who after they bought it mentioned something about allergies. The problem was, I never told them it wasn't local honey. They never asked.
So, since local honey works no better than placebo, but placebo still works, and I sell honey (local or otherwise) I am effectively administering a placebo. People believe it works, so it works. I don't want to lie to them, but the very nature of a placebo requires that the patient assume effectiveness, or even in some cases, knowing it's a placebo, they will effectiveness into it.
What do I do? I am a very honest and forthright person. But I also want to help people and sell honey.

Friday, April 24, 2015

New Podcast Host

For those of you still coming here for the podcast, thank you.  However, I have found a more reliable and utilitarian host for the podcast files.  You can find the podcast at tfb.podbean.com.  The new RSS feed for your feed reader is tfb.podbean.com/feed/

If you are currently subscribed to the old feed, no worries.  The old feed is currently reading the new feed, so you should still be getting automatic feed updates.

Podbean offers some excellent tools for me as the producer, but also for you as the listener.  You can now listen to episodes directly from the page without worrying about download problems.  The player is built into the page.  Also, each episode has its own Facebook powered comment section.