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Interventionist vs Non-interventionist

@Doug1 raised the interesting concept last week of interventionist vs. non-interventionalist beekeeping. I personally tend towards non-interventionalist as I like to believe that the bees know what’s best for them and it should be the beekeeper’s role to understand bee behaviour and characteristics of their colonies in order to know how to best support and protect themselves. But, as with all things beekeeping, there are pros and cons to each side.

What is your preferred approach and why? In Doug’s words, are you an interventionist or non-interventionist?

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I tried the non intervention approach and lost all my hives. I tried minimal intervention the following year, lost all my hives. I intervened, particularly with use of Apivar for mite management and guess what— my hives survived. I am an interventionist now. God save the bees…which is why we are here, to help them however we can.

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To be good beekeepers, we have to intervene. There’s no getting around it. Especially if we live in an urban environment. We don’t want to be responsible for a swarm freaking out neighbors or moving into a wall cavity.

People ask me “how often should I do an inspection”. That’s a hard question to answer. We should be aware of the status of the colony at all times. If the strength of a colony starts to dwindle at the wrong time of year, that’s when we need to intervene to find out if the colony has gone queenless or the colony has sucumb to a disease, or something else. If the colony population is blowing out, we need to intervene in order to prevent a swarm.

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given that bees are an introduced species and I live in suburbia, I agree with @JeffH, but I’m also lazy so I’d call myself a minimalist interventionist… :rofl:

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The level and frequency of intervention is also dictated by nectar flow, climate and pests/diseases.

I intervene but my frequency in a Mediterranean climate with predictable nectar flows and no varrora or SHB is much less than Tim, Dawn or even those in the eastern states.

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I don’t really have much to add, following all of the great posts above. I am definitely an interventionist. During the peak season, I inspect at least once every 2 weeks. Over winter, just once a month or less. Our winters are warm enough in southern California to inspect. My reasons for intervening are as follows:

  1. Like @Tim_Purdie, I have to treat for Varroa, even though I have “hygienic” bees.
  2. My hives are in a very urban location, and swarm control is also vital for me
  3. I need to know if the queen has been superseded. We always mark our queens, so if I see a queen without a dot on her thorax, I know that she is a usurper. Unless you are in the southern parts of the US, you may not care about that, but we have africanized bees in about 70% of the feral colonies around here. If a new queen mates with africanized drones (and she will, for sure), then the hive can turn very nasty, very quickly. Not good in an urban setting.
  4. We also have long nectar dearths, so inspection is vital to assess food stores and consider feeding. Between 2 hives, we have used about 60lb of sugar this year, just to make sure that they have enough stores for winter. We didn’t even take any honey from them, either but that is unusual. If we hadn’t inspected, we would never have known that they were light on stores, and they may well not have made it through the winter

So definitely an interventionist here.

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This topic gave me an ear worm yesterday, I’m predicting today as well. “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave.

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and an honest one :wink:

I can think of worse ear worms than Nick Cave :wink:

I guess I tend towards interventionist. I believe that once we decide to domesticate a creature for our own benefit, it’s reasonable to assume some responsibility for their care. They certainly know what they’re doing and don’t ‘need’ our intervention, but it’s also important not to participate in the spread of disease through inattentiveness. For example I had a hive with AFB a while back and picked it up very early as I was concerned about the colony’s failure to thrive and kept a close eye on them. If I’d left the bees to do their thing, it could have put other hives in the area at risk. If all looks healthy in the hive though, it’s fine to leave it a bit longer between inspections.

I’d say I prefer non-interventionist beekeeping in theory, interventionist in practice.

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I agree Free, hive beetle is another consideration. A neglected hive can eventually sucumb to hive beetles, which also affects neighboring hives.

I advise people to at least lift the roof of a hive once a fortnight, primarily to monitor the population level. That’s what I do while seeing what honey frames are ready to harvest.

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And burr or brace comb issues when left unchecked. It can be daunting and messy when cleaning up the frames with
infrequent inspections especially for newbees.

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Thanks everyone for your responses. This thread has become a great content resource for beginners that showcases the different requirements for colony ‘intervention’ that is directly associated with location, climate, time of year, experience, pest and diseases your colony is exposed to etc.

I’m feeling very fortunate for my location that is subtropical Australia where we have no varroa destructor and for most of the year a steady flow. During my time of keeping bees (4 years) and looking after up to about 30 hives, I’ve only lost 1 colony (AFB).

I inspect my hives multiple times a year but only as I see necessary so to keep it to a minimum and not disturb them but also maintain my confidence that they are happy and healthy. I make close and frequent observations outside of my hives (entrance, pest management tray, observation window) and follow the weather patterns and forage availability to support my decisions. My style of beekeeping is relatively laidback where I see honey as the reward and prioritise healthy and strong colonies.

Ok, I will stop what now sounds like boasting because of our privileged golden location and leave on the note of how important it is for every new beekeeper to speak and learn from their local and experienced beekeepers who will be the best resource to consult, in particular, how frequent they should inspect their hive and for what reasons.

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I heard from a PIRSA representative in South Australia that AFB affects perhaps 1 hive in 100 each year in SA. So if you only have one hive chances are you will only encounter AFB once in every 100 years. My friends keeps 100 hives across Sydney and she gets on average maybe 2 cases per year. So possibly in NSW AFB is more common. I have 20 hives here in SA and never had AFB yet (touch wood).

Because my friend has so many hives and sees AFB every year she now has a very controlled barrier system. She never moves frames or supers between hives, cannot donate brood to hives from other hives- and has all of her equipment irradiated before it is re-used. As she experiences the horrible but necessary job of euthanising hives every year she takes extra care to absolutely minimize potential AFB exposure within her apiaries.

that’s a simple yet interesting observation jeff. You can tell so much from a hive just by the level of activity and number of bees. A hive with a large population is a hive that is doing something right. A strong hive repels wax-moths, beetles, robbers etc. A strong hive is less susceptible to mold in winter. If you have gotten past spring and are into the honey season just seeing a hive is strong is enough to know that it is OK and doesn’t need to be inspected (non interventionist). Low bee numbers are always a reason to have a deeper look to see what’s going on (interventionist). Whether it is popping the top or taking a long look at the landing board you can gain a quick insight just by the number of bees you see.

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Thank you Jack,
I had to intervene this morning. I needed some frames of brood with emerging bees to slip into some nucs that needed a boost in numbers. I found 4 such frames in a strong hive. There was also 2 frames pretty well full of pollen, so I removed them also. I removed 6 of the 9 brood frames. I replaced them with new fully drawn, 100% worker comb stickies. That has been my strategy of late. I let the bees draw the comb in the honey supers, then after the honey is extracted, depending on how well the bees draw the comb, I use them in the brood boxes. Basically as soon as the bees clean the honey up, the queen commences laying in them.

Yesterday afternoon was an intervention-athon.
I had 3 nucs leftover after customers picked up their bees. One had more than enough bees to commence making queen cells. The other 2 were drastically low. So I moved a strong nuc to around the corner to let the field bees move into one of the nucs, then this morning I removed the brood frame they had, which wasn’t looking very good, then I replaced it with one of the 4 brood frames I got this morning. That frame was half full of emerging bees, plus the other half was new eggs & young larvae. Just perfect.

With the other weak colony: I had another fairly strong nuc which was making queens on 2 separate frames. I moved that nuc away & replaced it with the weak nuc, putting one of the frames containing starter queen cells into it. After the population was equalized, I locked up the original strong nuc, ready to take down to my Doctor’s place. I wanted to go there last night anyway to see how many toads were hanging around 2 hives there. The Dr came out & helped me catch 20 toads. About 7 were sitting directly under the hives. One’s his & one’s mine, spread apart by a good distance. I’ve been taking nucs there to let them make new queens also. They’re sitting on a pallet on a metal frame, way off the ground. I don’t expect them to attract any toads.

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