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If you are a beginner do not fall for the treatment free myth. It seems to be popular among first time beekeepers to think they can set up a hive and walk away to let it take care of itself. This attitude is fed by a few online “gurus” who claim that everyone should start out “treatment free”. I will make this flat statement without qualification;If you do nothing,your colony will die in less than three years,probably a lot less.

Things you should know:

99.999% of the beehives in the US have varroa mites.

Varroa mites,left alone, will kill 99.999% of the hives they infest.

You do not necessarily need to use harsh chemicals to keep varroa in check.

New beekeepers should learn to keep bees alive first.

After you gain some experience then try “treatment free”if you still wish to go that route.

There is no fixed definition of “treatment free”.Everyone seems to have a different definition. For me,treatment free” means doing nothing to the colony except adding or removing supers and feeding,if necessary,to keep them from starving in times of need. Anything else done to the colony is a treatment in my estimation. So,let's take a look at what some of the “treatment free” preachers do to keep their bees alive. I'm taking these things from posts on the “Beesource” forum. Some accept losses as high as 30- 50% per year depending on splits to keep them ahead. Some remove the queen and give their colonies a brood free period to keep them ahead of the mites. You can see where that might be a problem if one had a large number of colonies. These manipulations allow these people to survive as beekeepers and some even prosper but they are few and far between. They also have a LOT of experience managing bees. Now,I will say this. I hope the treatment free group continues and prospers. If there ever again is a true“treatment free” bee then it will either come from these managed hives or from wild colonies that have managed to survive on their own.

So,what can we do? I will only give my own experience and one other that I intend to use next treatment. I have used essential oils successfully and I have used “Hopguard with good results. Use it three times one week apart. Hopguard is made from the same hops used in beer and does not seem to harm the bees or the beekeeper. It is available from Mann Lake Bee Supply. Essential oils are oils derived from various plants. I use oil of thyme,wintergreen oil and tea tree oil separately or all at once. Used properly these oils work well. There is a recipe on the site Look for “Grease Patties”.

Finally,there is another treatment I intend to try next. That is oxalic acid vapor. Oxalic acid sounds terrible but is a naturally occurring substance found in many plants like spinach and rhubarb.It is said to be harmless to bees,brood and queen. Care should be taken not to breath the vapors while doing the treatment. After I have tried it I will add some comments here. Rotating between these three treatments should keep my bees in good shape.

When all is said and done,they are your bees. Do what you wish with them. As for me,I will continue keeping my bees alive.