The Bee Space

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.