Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Natural Beekeeping means to me

Whichever type of hive you keep bees in, there are some essential elements of natural beekeeping that are common to all. Established beekeepers may already be following most of this but new beekeepers or those converting to natural beekeeping may have to adjust step by step as and when they can.

The five main elements are -

1 Minimum Interference.

2 Only increase from untreated survivors.

3 Do not use synthetic chemicals in the hive.

4 Feed sugar only when absolutely necessary.

5 Do not use foundation.

1 Minimum Interference.
Every time you open your hive it causes stress to the bees. The queen can go off laying for several hours and the whole balance of the hive may be upset. Nest scent (and heat) is lost, and the pheromones that control everything that goes on within the hive have to be re-established.

2 Only increase from untreated survivors - once you have your required number of stocks, don't buy queens, as you may add potential genetic weaknesses. Unless some bees are established that will survive untreated, you cannot fully develop natural sustainable bee-keeping. By only increasing from survivor stocks, this mimics what happens in nature.(Survival of the fittest) Allowing for dead outs because they will happen, baiting feral survivors and splitting of surviving colonies is the way forward.

3 Do not use synthetic chemical varroa treatments in the hive, to which mites are likely to develop immunity and which prolong the bee/mite co-adaption process. At first, bees may not survive without doing something (bio technical IPM), but the less you do, the better in the long run. This may have to be a gradual process.

4 Avoid feeding sugar unless there is a danger of starvation. By allowing bees to keep enough of their own stores for them to survive the periods of dearth (winter in northern climes and summer in hot countries), their health is not compromised, as they would by feeding refined sugar. This view is supported by a number of studies.

5. Avoid using foundation, as it prevents bees from building as they choose. Typically, bees build cells of between about 4.7 and 5.7 mm diameter. Cells can vary in size through the season and between different strains of bee. Allowing bees to build their own comb puts them in charge of how, where and when it is built - and they know what they are doing better than we do.

For more information see here and here.


  1. Hi There

    I am a novice and have a question, Hope you can help.I did a varroa count recently and it's very low- averaging 3 mites drop per 24 hours. My local association is advising everyone to treat the bees. I am disincline to do so. Given the my count is so low do you agree that I could leave and see what happen. One member of my association suggest that the problem may increase over winter- I am not sure this will be the case. What shall I do? Any suggestion will be most welcome.

  2. "By allowing bees to keep enough of their own stores for them to survive the periods of dearth (winter in northern climes and summer in hot countries), their health is not compromised by feeding refined sugar. " You write. That reads ambiguously, Norm. I can read it as "Health is not compromised by feeding ... sugar" when that is not what you mean (I think).

  3. By "synthetic", do you include Apiguard. Isn't thymol natural? Some beeks say that it annoys the bees and put the queen off lay for a few days. But if the varroa drop off, what's not to like? I'd rather suffer a sub-optimal strain of bees than lose my colony. Short-term vs long-term, I guess.

  4. ChisBees, I had answered you but it seems to have not been posted. Your v. count is low so I would suggest if you feel comfortable with it not to treat.
    Stephen thanks for pointing out the ambiguity, now amended.
    Thymol is natural in minute quantities not in the concentrated form you would use to kill varroa in the hive. If your aim is to eventually go treatment free, how are you going to tell which are your more v. tolerant bees if you treat them and they subsequently survive just because of the treatment. Everyone has to find a level of treatment they feel comfortable with and I don't want to insist everyone takes my absolute method!