Treatment Free?

Treatment Free is the Only Way to Be!
By: John Miller

What is the attraction to so-called treatment free (TF) beekeeping?

Treatment Free propaganda infests clubs populated by new beekeepers. It is a false narrative.

It is disingenuous. It is a 100% hive-fatal philosophy. Treatment Free is sometimes proselytized by some of the most ignorant among us. New hobbyists really want to do the right thing, and like a new convert to this week’s deeply held conviction, rely on the least qualified who postulate TF as good beekeeping. Newbies want to learn beekeeping; good, foundational beekeeping. Newbies are done a hive-fatal disservice by the TF crowd.

I have done a few mite washes. I’ve done mite washes with science-driven TF practitioners, Randy Oliver, for one. Oliver will bloodlessly toss a candidate hive from a study if the hive fails to suppress Varroa. No blaming others for the failure to control Varroa. No blaming corn seed treatments for a hive infested with, but untreated for, Varroa. Randy takes responsibility for his positions and his science. If the club TF guru won’t do an on-the-spot mite wash – the guru is a fake.

We treat children for polio. We treat children with preventative measures against childhood disease because preventative measures are always, always more productive than redemptive measures. We treat livestock to prevent disease and death. It’s less expensive to treat a cow than buy a replacement cow. It’s less expensive to put oil in the engine than replace the engine. Many of us got a couple of shots to prevent a COVID infection; and went back to get a booster. Staying out of the hospital is a lot less expensive than watching my mom languish in a hospital ICU because someone would not treat themselves against COVID.

Disease spreads, untreated. Varroa spreads, untreated.

In the beehive, the white box sits atop sturdy posts to make it easier to ‘keep’ the hive.

Hobbyists endlessly fret over the type of inner covers, top covers, drone escapes, excluders, in-hive feeders, jar feeders, entrance reducers, smokers – the fuel therein, the best hive tool, the number of frames. They want to do the right thing. Bee supply houses leverage anxiety to profit – with suggestions the well-meaning new beekeeper grasps for. Some harken to stimulate propolis gathering, because it is the healthy thing to do for a hive. Some sweat over the stove mixing granulated sugar slowly, slowly, slowly because sucrose is better than fructose and my new hive will never dip her tongue into high fructose corn syrup. Hobbyists: spend less time thinking about the hardware and more time thinking about hive well-being.

The orthodox of TF beekeeping neglects, denies a simple, simple hive health toolbox.

A bottle of Dawn. A bottle of water. A half-cup measure. A dish pan. The intellectual honesty to question the TF guru. Take our own mite washes. Every month take a mite wash. It takes about two minutes to do a mite wash. Ledger results. Those counts are facts. Facts are stubborn things.

There is one TF in every club. Plant that hoe! Ring that bell! Stamp those feet! Join me in the round the table march! Treatment Free! Treatment Free! Is the only way to be.

Every TF missionary should perform mite washes, every meeting, from different beekeepers, upon request, especially if charging the hobbyist/newbie – who remember – hobbyists want to do the right thing for their hive.

The Bee Informed Partnership has for a full decade, 10 years documented thresholds beekeepers can rely on as fact-based science. If your hive throws a 5/100 sample – it’s dead. It just doesn’t know it yet. The beekeeper who knows this and does nothing about it is a sadist.

Treatment free is honey bee cruelty.

As the Varroa infestation intensifies, so too the suffering in the beehive super organism.

In humans we call it multiple system failures; cardiac failure, renal failure, respiration failure.

Beehives suffer too. Reproductive capacity collapses. Foraging efficiency systems fail. Caste task systems flounder. The marvel of the healthy hive superorganism – dies. Chaos overwhelms order; robbing or absconding (entirely abandon a hive or nest) occur. Bees won’t tolerate too much neglect. Swarming happens for a reason. Absconding happens for a reason.

Here is the greatest fallacy of TF. Dying hives spread Varroa. I detest setting next to three and four framers in almonds. I know they’re rotten with Varroa and I know when the bloom is over and releases are almost given, those wretched, suffering hives will be robbed on, and the clean outfits setting amongst the lousy outfits will get re-infested. It’s how a mite wash gets from one to 17 in a month. Varroa infested hives are a continuous Varroa reservoir.

Varroa is just a 35-year warm up for Tropilaelaps.

‘Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun.

Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home.’

Neil Young

If you are of a certain age, you’ll recognize the lyric from a 1970 song. I thought the song was about humans destroying the planet (pick your reasons), and in a last desperate effort a few chosen ones depart to save the human species. After the Gold Rush. If you’re lucky enough to be a Varroa with ears – or a human trying to understand Varroa, understand that the ‘loading had begun’ is the mite’s clever way of keeping the reservoir continuous.

TF damages the industry, verb. The bee instinctively does its job to the great benefit of mankind. The honey bee is arguably the most beneficial insect on earth. Why treat it with disregard? Why damage the surrounding village?

TF damages the industry, noun. Millions of dollars are spent annually, just in the sale of packages bees and queens to repopulate dead hives. Hives that did not need to die. A legal, $5 hive treatment that does not damage frames, bees, honey, wax or any other claim is a lot less expensive than a $200 package, right?

Consider a great, but under rated superpower. Changing our mind is an under rated superpower. Question everything. Do not be afraid to change your mind. Listen to your own inner voice about honey bee husbandry.

Lastly, a new book caught my eye. The Mind of a Bee, by Lars Chittka.

It might change your mind.