So-called “treatment free beekeeping,” does not mean we do Nothing,
“A non-zero-sum game”.
A situation where one faction’s gain (or loss) does not necessarily result in the other faction’ loss (or gain). In other words, where the winnings and losses of all players do not add up to zero and everyone can gain: a win-win game.
Given that the Varroa mite is not going to go away, how do we reach a “Non-zero-sum game” between the honey bee population and the Varroa mite population? Given that both populations aim is survival and expansion, also that a Beehive or “honey bee society” is now recognized scientifically as a “superorganism”, which means that the whole community is regarded as an individual and that single bees, in that society are like the cells of a body with their various tasks.
“Curing = restoring to health.” Unfortunately very little of the modern so-called “treatments”, for human beings or bees have anything to do with cure or restoring to health. These so-called “treatments” are about modifying the symptoms so that those modified symptoms can be lived with. However, these so-called “treatments” ignore the longer term problems that the so-called “treatments” create.
So-called “treatment free beekeeping,” does not mean we do Nothing.
Regarding bees so-called “treatment free beekeeping” is about regaining bee health by eschewing any form of bee husbandry (I prefer the words bee collaboration) that is detrimental to the “Real Health” of the bees.
In this context, “treatment” is considered anything that is interfering with the bees natural immune response, controversially this includes keeping alive a naturally failing, dying or weak bee society, there are various degrees of understanding, opinions, and beliefs about this.
We have to constantly ask and refine the question “What do the bees need from us in order to successfully reach a symbiosis of commensalism with Varroa”? In a symbiosis of commensalism, one benefits and the other is unaffected; in parasitism, one benefits and the other is harmed. If we can somehow help the bees achieve a symbiosis of commensalism it would be a great step forward.
It must be clear to all (but dinosaur thinking minds), we cannot just try to poison or kill whatever we do not like. This obsolete strategy is unsustainable; it never takes into account the future. “A sustainable apiary is not instant. It can’t be bought. It must be learned, experienced and nurtured. A sustainable apiary requires the beekeeper to adapt to the bee, not the other way around”. (Taken from a comment by Ginger Kelly)
“Treatment-Free” doesn’t mean we do Nothing.
Someone recently asked a question about treatment-free “methods.” If I understood their question correctly, they were asking, “Even with a commitment to treatment-free beekeeping, what do we do to help our honey bee colonies thrive (meaning, typically in this context, not be overwhelmed by Varroa)?
For myself, I believe that the bees are teaching me that the question I need to be asking myself is not “what do I do,” but, rather, “what do I provide?” What do the bees need from me in order to successfully reach a symbiosis of commensalism with Varroa?
So, I am constantly trying to learn the answer to that question. A smaller hive cavity? Ventilation they can control? A better-insulated hive? Less disruption? Foundationless frames (contributes to natural cell size among many other things)? A rough interior surface that stimulates a propolis coating? Leaving their propolis and burr comb intact? Leaving them all their honey? An eco-floor?
As humans, we may not be able to see a direct correlation between any of these things and their possible effect on mite loads in hives. But what if some, or all, of these things, allow the bees to better control the micro-climate and micro-ecology of the hive so that they can reach a symbiosis of commensalism they’re striving for with all of the other organisms in their hive?
We need to remember that a hive is not supposed to be a sterile environment. In a healthy hive, the bees coexist with thousands of other organisms. If we give the bees the ability to successfully operate their ecology, that may result in all kinds of differences that help the bees reach a symbiosis of commensalism with Varroa mites – differences that we cannot see with our naked eye or even measure with scientific equipment. There may be countless differences we have not yet imagined.
Here’s just one example. Honey has a pH value of around 3 or 4, and sugar water has a pH value of around 6 or 7. Guess which pH range Varroa mites thrive at, and which one not so much.
Another very useful short article by Christopher Stephen Ibbertson, who along with his friends at (Northamptonshire Treatment Free Beekeeping) are constantly trying to refine their questions around this topic of “What do the bees need from us in order to successfully reach symbiosis with Varroa?
Christopher writes, 8 seasons ago, before we had any colonies, we tried to first learn how a colony operates. I don’t just mean how they make a new queen or what a drone does but how they make their bee bread, what bacteria are in a hive and the mechanisms they use to maintain their health. A couple years later I watched this video.
Beekeepers who try to control all illness, disease and even the bees must realize that 99% of the time we do not benefit the colony with our interference using treatments, manipulations, sugar, and management. This is not to say we can’t keep bees but that we must realize the vast array of processes and balances within a colony are far too delicate for us to understand and control. Only the bees can effectively maintain and balance these things through natural selection by putting pressures in the correct places. We, beekeepers, are here to watch and learn, monitor diseases are kept under control, but most importantly we should make sure that the strongest and healthiest are the ones that build our future. (Christopher Stephen Ibbertson)
This whole article is about a regenerative or sustainable attitude not about mite control technique as some have correctly pointed out. If a beekeeper is seriously attracted to this attitude then it is the beginning of a long road of reading, studying and corresponding with and/or meeting bee-keepers, who have experience and success in this field (there are many). Only then eventually after all that; changing their approach to beekeeping. No one is forcing anyone here. Most beekeepers on this road do not advertise their interest, as it tends to invoke a huge amount of criticism and smoke from other beekeepers. Talking about smoke, we are professional beekeepers and we have not used smoke to subdue our bees for a number of years, most do not know that this is even possible or why it might be advantageous! Most assume that because some technique has been practiced for hundreds of years (or in the case of mite control, only for quite a short time) it is the best or only way do it!