Bee-friendly Beekeeping

Humanity depends on the lowly honeybee

Honeybees are in trouble. Varroa mites, nosema, colony collapse disorder and foul brood have all taken their collective toll on the small but hardworking insect to which humanity owes so much. Besides furnishing honey for commercial bread-baking and beeswax for quite a few of the top of the line cosmetic supplies, bees regularly pollinate over one-third of the world’s agriculturally derived food supply. Needless to say, humanity depends on the lowly honeybee.

Thus it is our responsibility, our duty, as beekeepers to ensure the health and happiness of the bees in our care. We must practice bee-friendly and sustainable beekeeping.

To do this, we need three things: a bee friendly paradigm, or worldview, a bee friendly hive for the bees to live in and a bee friendly management system that puts the honeybee first and the beekeeper second. This does not mean that the beekeeper cannot expect to obtain honey or hive products…it simply means that he must always put the welfare of his bees before potential gain and profit.

We need a bee friendly beehive system

Gain and profit have driven many beekeepers to adopt hives and management procedures that are unnatural to the bees, all for the love of honey or money. We have often heard the phrase: “Bees are adaptable and can live in any type of hive cavity.” This may be true…but we quickly forget that along with some hive cavities come the management practices of the beekeeper who owns those cavities (aka beehives.)

As long as these management practices mirror naturally occurring bee phenomenon, the beekeeper will have a healthy hive. If the management practices contradict naturally occurring bee phenomenon, weakening of the bee colony is the inevitable result.

For instance, in frame beekeeping, a beekeeper often fills frames with ready made beeswax foundation. Pressed into the foundation are hundreds of cell bases, all ready for bees to draw out into wax comb. This seems all right…until we look at the fact each cell is exactly the same size. Do bees make each cell the same size in naturally occurring comb? Apparently not.

Naturally occurring comb has a large variance of +/- 6.1 mm to +/- 4.3 mm. Is it healthy to keep bees in cells that are all the same size? It is interesting to note that the current modern era of bee diseases coincides with the rise of the modern frame hive 150 years ago. Does forced cell size have a part in the problem?

To help the honeybee is to help mankind

In order to put the welfare of our bees first, we as beekeepers need to make sure that our bee hives and management practices match as closely as possible natural bee phenomenon, or what bees would do naturally in the wild.

We need management practices that are non-intrusive and bee hives that protect the synergy of the bee colony residing inside. We also need to have a paradigm in which we see honeybees as part of a greater network of life in this world. Bees truly are an integral part of the environment, and to help the honeybee is to help mankind.

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9 responses to “Bee-friendly Beekeeping

  1. Excellent observations.

  2. Hi Nick – nice blog – keep on posting.

    In response to the interesting questions you pose – . . .

    1. The main problem we have today is Varroa – and that problem has been caused by the import of a deadly parasite whose original home was in India – thousands of miles away.
    The mite has evolved to be a ‘non-fatal’ parasite in the far East – but European bees have never been exposed to this parasite in the last 10,000 years. There has been no time for natural selection to evolve a response to varroa – which is why it kills our colonies.

    2. I cannot see how keeping bees in a Warre Hive will make the slightest difference to any variety of Apis Mellifera – since the parasite will kill bees no matter what kind of comb or hive we use. Here in the UK almost all wild/ feral colonies have died in the last 5 years – and presumably wild colonies were making ‘natural comb’. One chap who has been promoting Warre hives in the UK lost all his colonies last season.

    3. Cell-size: once again – I can’t see how cell-size will affect varroa mites. The great apiarist E.B. Wedmore reported that he had used the same brood comb for 21 years and there was no loss of cell diameter even after 21 years of brood rearing in those cells. The bees simply removed silk cocoons from inside the cells if diameter began to shrink. He claimed to know of one beekeeper whose brood combs were 30 years old and accurate measurement showed no loss of cell size. The point being that bees will construct natural cells to a natural size – but nobody has yet explained why forcing bees to breed in smaller cells will stop parasitazation by varroa?

    Best wishes from the UK.

    • Hi Bordergilder,

      Smaller cell size will lower the brood cycle of a honey bee, hence interrupts the brood cycle of the varroa mite. (One more brood day can make a difference between having only 1 Mite or 3-5 Mites!) That’s one reason why Varroa is predominantly found in drone cells. By letting them build their own comb, our bees will hopefully go back to building their normal cell size over the years. Obviously all these problems are created by the homo sapiens that is not really as sapiens as he thinks he is. If we want to save the honey bee we should not mess with them in the first place. Let them bee…

      Beekeeping: Provide a clean environment, collect comb honey.
      Nonsense beekeeping: Replacing queens, swarm prevention etc…

      Now, if we use common sense and want to provide our bees with a clean environment in my personal opinion nothing beats the KTBH with an open bottom screen. Debris and mites will fall straight out without contaminating other parts of the hive.

      Happy beekeeping 🙂

  3. borderglider – Thanks for your comment!

    I have replied to your comments on the next blog post. Thanks for your inspiration!

  4. I appreciate and relate to your sentiments about bee-centered beekeeping. I’ll keep checking you out.

  5. Varsham Patvakanian, MA

    Borderglider,
    Your arguments are extremely weak.
    1. If bees were capable of occupying the entire South and partially North America in only 15 years, do You really think that they didn’t find time in the past 150 million years to “visit” Europe and bring Varroa? My ancestors have been keeping bees for couple of thousands of years in Armenia and the Varroa problems started from the introduction of man made foundations. Varroa has been bees’ natural parasite for many millions of years and by definition parasite should not kill its host and it hasn’t for many millions of years. Hence, we have to find the solution to the problem not in Varroa, but in other major factors in the lives of bees, such as humans.

    2. Your statement may be valid only if You wait for a few generations with free comb building system, so the bees adjust back to 4.9 mm. Your friend may have lost his Warre hives because of very many reasons. A neighbor farmer may have sprayed with a deadly insectide which effectively killed the bees because bees are insects. Now, is Mr. Emil Warre at fault because of what the farmer did?

    3. Bigger cells make slightly bigger bees, hence, more time to develop, which gives more time to Varroa to feast and develop, reproduce, etc. Besides, bigger cells allow more room for the unwanted “neighbor”.
    The queen inspects each and every cell before laying and she preferrs new and clean cells which were built yesterday and not 30 years ago. Your statement might have sense if You could say that we reuse the same comb for 30 years and we do not have problems in the UK.

  6. When I first looked at this type of hive my worry was what will it be like having to to lift it up all the time to put another box underneath with all of the honey in the supers, but then I realized that if you can’t operate some sort of swarm control the bees will swarm and cast and probably cast again until there will be very few of them left in the hive to make any honey anyway.

  7. bill o'sullivan

    i ‘am new to beekeeping but i think we need to look after our bee more . let the bee build there home the way they want to build it .
    ok we all want the same thing from our bee honey but some of us would like to see the bee happy . try to put your bee’s first and lets see if this will help our bees .

  8. Im new to bees and just entering my 3rd year with a total loss of all 3 hives,2 of my hives were 2 years old and very strong the 3rd was a spring swarm of about 6lbs ,, At the end of the year about 40 lbs of honey was taken from each hive and all hive bodies were heavy with brood and honey wrapped and made ready for winter,,One very warm day in December i expected to see bees out for a cleansing flight but none were seen,,Opening the hives showed them to be empty and only 100 or 150 dead bees in each hive,,I do not think the comercial hive boxes are thick enough so im packing out my boxes to 3″ thick raising the lower hive bodies to 20″ off the ground using screen floors and enclosing the whole base from the ground up as if it were a tree,,All the boxes have over lapping joints and raised lips to seal out drafts and the top is 3″ thick and hangs over 2′ all around and ,,I am trying this because i remember wild hives in my younger years that lasted several decades in one tree or shed and all the openings were at least 4′ off the ground,,I would like to hear from others about this

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