Lots of people I talk to say it's impossible to go treatment free.
I say it's impossible to go treatment free. ;)
What do the guys who are treatment free suggest?
And anyone answering your question and suggesting they are treatment free is wrong.
Let me explain.....
EVERYONE treats their bees. You do that by the equipment choices you use, the management you use, and the IPM approach you use. There is NOTHING natural about a beekeeper keeping bees in a poorly designed and under insulated hive, no matter the management.
"Treatment free" is a poorly selected term once used to suggest "without chemicals". But what some see this as, is a call for doing nothing. Many hear about others using the term "treatment free" or taking a "hands off" approach, and they sit by doing nothing for their bees. Add in some folks ideology that you as the beekeeper is the bees worst enemy, and that opening the hive is so stressful your bees will crash, and beekeepers are confused as ever.
There are traditional chemicals, soft treatments, equipment choices, management ideology, genetics, and other things that go into the overall "treatment" of bees. Each is used with the goal that a certain outcome is derived.
If you are not using treatments directly focused on minimizing the impacts of mites, whether hard or soft treatments, then you better be treating your bees in other ways. Take genetics for instance. Many times, Italians do not shut down in a summer dearth. While Russians do. This directly affects mite counts when bees go broodless. Does the mites just go away? No. You do break the mite reproductive cycle. But the bees with no brood also spend more time grooming and dealing with other issues in the hive. And this break allows the mites to build, then when egg laying resumes, there is a mad rush of mites into cells, overloading the cells. this triggers a reaction of hygienic behavior of removing these overloaded cells, beyond what normally might have happened otherwise with a normal nonstop egg laying scenario.
"Treatment free", a "Hand-off" approach, and other suggestions that doing nothing is the best option, and one that will have you succeed in beekeeping, is faulty.
If you want to go "chemical free" that is one thing. Going "treatment free" is another.
Here is a bit I wrote recently: http://www.bjornapiaries.com/beekramblings2013.html
It deals with the whole "hands off" approach to beekeeping, which is sometimes seen as "treatment free".