What is "Treatment-Free Beekeeping"?

What is treatment free beekeeping?

While I’m not the first treatment-free beekeeper, I have been doing it for a while. I’ve owned hives that were alive continuously without dying out or being artificially requeened for over 10 years. During my time, I have not treated my bees with anything. I have not used substances like pesticides, antibiotics, essential oils, sugar dusting, or even anything not typically used to treat bees. Above that, I have not used manipulations for the purpose of affecting disease. I have not frozen drone brood or removed the queen to break the brood cycle.

I have in the past used screened bottom boards but found it to be unnecessary for the purpose I pursue in beekeeping. At this writing, I don’t have any screened bottom boards installed on any of my hives and only use them occasionally for ventilation while moving hives on a trailer. They are not used to affect varroa mites at all.

There has been a lot of nasty back and forth with those who treat, and so I wanted to come up with a definitive definition of exactly what is treating.  Though I thoroughly dislike the idea of having to have a definition, I am continuouly bombarded by people who want to only consider the the things that other people do treating.  This is not just about protecting my family and myself from harsh chemicals, though that is a nice byproduct.  This is really about returning the bees to a more natural state, one in which they are solely responsible for surviving, and I am keeping them as semi-wild farm animals.  They are not under my control, nor are they under my care.  They are under my affect.  I affect them.  They are affected by me.  I affect them in a way that gives them a home in which to live, I direct certain traits by removing certain members of the population, or by causing certain members to reproduce.  And the end of the day, I harvest some of the honey that they produce.  But surviving is wholly their job.

This is the definition I (with some help) came up with.

Treatment: Anything done in the hive, or introduced by the beekeeper into the hive with the intent of killing, repelling, or inhibiting a pest or disease afflicting the bees, or in any way "helping" the bees to survive when they ought to be surviving on their own.

Treatments include but are not limited to:
Apiguard (thymol)
Mite-away II (formic acid)
Apistan (fluvalinate)
Sucrocide (sucrose octanoate esters)
Mite-A-Thol (menthol)
Terramycin/Tetra-B (antibiotic)
Tylan (antibiotic)
Gardstar (permethrin)
Fumagilin (antibiotic)
Paramoth (p-dichlorobenzene)
Checkmite (coumaphos)
Oxalic Acid (dicarboxylic acid)
Formic Acid (carboxylic acid)
Mineral Oil (food grade mineral oil, FGMO)
Sugar Dusting (sucrose)
HBH (essential oils)
MegaBee (diet formula)
Honey Bee Healthy (feeding stimulant)
Bt Aizawai (bacteria)
Thymol (crystals, feed, or fogging)
Essential oils (in general)
Grease patties (Crisco etc.)

Manipulations or equipment that are done/introduced with the intent to "help" the bees survive when they ought to be surviving on their own are considered treatments.  However, it may be necessary for freshman beekeepers to perform some of these manipulations as a stop-gap measure in order to have bees to multiply.  It is imperative that these only be stop-gap measures though.  Every opportunity should be afforded for the bees to survive on their own and to become adapted to the local conditions.

Manipulations and equipment include the following:
Frequent queen replacement
Systematic splitting
Artificial brood breaks  (these can be very effective along with splitting for the freshman beekeeper, but the thrust should be splitting, not varroa control)
Drone brood killing  (Bee Informed Survey shows this to be ineffective)
Screened Bottom Boards  (Bee Informed Survey shows this to be ineffective)

We generally consider feeding to be "treating against starvation."  However, since many freshman beekeepers will be working with bees that are not yet adapted to their area, and may not have sufficient stores due to conditions outside their control, we do occasionally talk about feeding.

Feeding includes the following:
Sugar syrup
Dry granulated sugar
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Pollen substitutes

The equipment that makes up the hive is not a treatment, it is simply the hive we put the bees in.

Hive bodies, wooden, plastic, or otherwise which it is assumed have no direct effect on the pests of the hive
Frames, wooden, plastic or otherwise
Foundation, wax, plastic, or otherwise
Small cell foundation (this is simply an attempt by some beekeepers to return the bees to a more natural cell size, all foundation is by nature unnatural)
Foundationless methods (foundationless methods are also technically unnatural as they happen in a man-made hive)
Frequent replacement of comb/foundation (may be necessary in some chemically saturated areas)

Why treatment-free? The term organic has been around quite a while, and it used to mean something. But the law stepped in and decided what organic was. This in itself was not a bad thing, but what the definition (shaped by lobbyists) came to be watered down the term. In some cases, it makes the label ‘organic’ almost impossible to apply, but in most cases, it means little more than ‘no really harsh chemicals.’ “What’s this chemical all about?” “We’re legally allowed to call it ‘organic.’” That’s not right.

There are ‘organic’ substances used to artificially color chicken eggs.

How I see treatment free on the other hand is not focused on the human body’s intake of chemicals. Yes, the effect is the same, and even more stringent, but I’m dealing on a more essential level. Treatment-free beekeeping relies on natural selection to maintain healthy stock and genetics. Let us not forget however that natural selection requires both survival and death. Let us not use the term ‘survival of the fittest’ without remembering that the rest die.

This type of program is for the ultimate benefit of the bees, and in true synergistic fashion, humans obtain some benefits as well. We get pure clean honey, and we don’t have to burn dollars to get the bees to make it. I’ve never spent a dime on any of the chemicals, miticides, pesticides, antibiotics, acids, or oils in the list above.

Yes, I realize it is difficult when starting out with commercially produced bees to get them to survive for a long time, but in nature, the unfit do not survive. It’s a harsh reality, but nature consists of one harsh reality after another. It’s why gazelles are fast and cheetahs are faster.  Many of the bees available for sale are simply unfit for the world, and die as they ought, treated or not.  What we do is reintroduce that chance we all get to survive in our local conditions.

So, what is ‘treatment-free?’ Treatment-free is the way bees live in the wild. It’s the way the species ultimately survives. And it’s why I don’t treat my bees and you shouldn’t either.