Natural, Treatment free Beekeeping

What is natural, treatment free beekeeping?

Helping your bees survive naturally

Natural beekeeping can mean different things depending on the beekeeper.  My definition of natural beekeeping is our hives are not treated with chemicals, our bees are not fed sugar water, and we do what we can to help the bees stay healthy in natural ways.  For example, our hives all use entrance reducers making it easier for bees to defend against predators and pests.  The hives also have protected screened bottom boards with a tray of diatamaceous earth below the screen.  Hive beetles love to enter hives from unprotected open screened bottom boards.

Don’t wear out your welcome

Minimizing hive inspections was another lesson that was learned early on in beekeeping.  One experienced beekeeper suggested I inspect hives once a week during a certain time of the year.   As my hives got VERY aggressive, I was told from another experienced beekeeper that by going in once a week you promote aggressive behavior from bees.  He was right.

Cool bees are happy bees

In Thomas Seeley‘s book “Honeybee Democracy“, his research shows that bees prefer a shaded location over a full sun location when they swarm. So we try to provide some shade to our bees.  The general consenses among most beekeepers is to put your hives in full sun because varroa don’t like the heat from the sun.  Regardless, varroa still thrive in colonies that are in full sun.  Full sun also makes bees work harder to cool their hives (especially in Florida).   There’s a reason the bees prefer shaded areas.  Now this isn’t to say that bees won’t do well in full sun ….  but ours get some shade.  Plus the sweating beekeeper greatly appreciates working in shade.

Don’t follow blindly – consider the possibilities !

There are more and more messages being broadcast within beekeeping circles that make you feel irresponsible if you don’t use chemicals in your hives.  Several years ago there was pressure on the chemical companies with an outcry about neonicotinoid’s and how these pesticides and geneticlly engineered plants were harmful to bees.  Now the focus seems to have completely shifted.  Coincidence?  Or maybe a  well planned campaign to shift public perception away from neonicotinoid’s.   I really don’t know.  Just something to consider when you decide how to manage your bees.  And when it comes to honey bees, it’s smart to remain open minded because there are not always a right or wrong way because of all the variables and exceptions in the world of honey bees.

An Experiment

Somebody recently shared with me that several years ago a local beekeeper decided to treat a portion his hives and leave the others as treatment free.  It turned out that  the treated hives didn’t fare any better or worse than those that were treatment free.

New Age in beekeeping

Our bees now deal with many pests that weren’t around 25 years ago.  Beekeeping was easy and the Bees just did their thing.  As the global economy kicked in more pests and disease from around the world have made their way into our hives and these pests have become a big problem for everyone.

High Supersedure

Some believe that chemical buildup in wax may produce sterile
drones which could be causing the high rate of supercedure of the queens.

Battle Cry to re queen

After dealing with aggressive Africanized bees in the past I can understand the push toward re queening in some circumstances.  In the future if I must re queen, I’ll try to utilize local queen breeders or make my own.

Unfortunately, the new trend among many beekeepers is to re queen annually.

Genetics

Using large commercial queen breeders inhibits genetics to adapt to the pests and challenges of your locality.  So frequent re queening plus treating with chemicals means propagating bees that are unlikely to survive while propagating resistant pests that are strong enough to survive treatments. This can perpetuate a cycle of weaker bees and stronger pests.

Feral bees in the wild are more likely to naturally adapt and better to genetically advance to resist the challenges they’re facing.  Weaker feral bees die while the stronger feral colonies adapt to strengthen the genetics of the local bee populations. The way of nature.

Natural Beekeeping references:

http://bushfarms.com/bees.htm – Michael Bush’s website

http://kirkwebster.com/  – Kirk webster is a treatment free commercial beekeeper

https://www.facebook.com/groups/treatmentfreebeekeepers/ – Facebook treatment free beekeeper group

 

From Michael Bush author
“The Practical Beekeeper”

Hive Eco System

A bee colony is a whole system in itself of beneficial and benign fungi, bacteria, yeasts, mites, insects and other flora and fauna that depend on the bees for their lively hood.

Antibiotics used by beekeepers tend to kill either the beneficial bacteria (Terramycin, Tylosin, essential oils, organic acids and thymol do this) or beneficial fungi and yeasts (Fumidil, essential oils, organic acids and thymol do this). The whole balance of this precarious system is affected by treatments to the hive.

Also use of formic acid shifts the pH radically to acidic which kills many microorganisms of the hive.

Feeding

Honey and real pollen are the proper food of bees.  Sugar syrup has a much higher pH (6.0) than Honey (3.2 to 4.5) Sugar is more alkali.  This affects the reproductive capability of virtually every brood disease in bees plus Nosema.

Honey and real pollen are more nutritious than pollen substitute and sugar syrup.  Artificial pollen substitute makes for short lived, unhealthy bees.