Keeping Bees stress free

Honey is truly the nectar of the gods. I eat a lot of honey – I even use medicinal honey on cuts and abrasions. So I decided Beekeeping to harvest honey would be a great skill to add to my ever increasing repertoire of sustainable essentials. In 2009 I completed a 16 hour Beekeeping course at Elizabeth Macarthur College in Camden.

Here I discovered the incredible world of Bees and hive life. The course was ultimately based on popular commercial style Beekeeping, that uses the Langstroth Hive. This hive was designed to obtain maximum honey production. The dimensions of the box; 241mmH x 487mmL x 420mmW is designed on the maximum space the bees can deal with when building comb to fill the internal frames. Too many gaps between the comb and the hive walls allows for too much air flow thus making temperature control difficult.

Threats to Honey Bee survival are many. Now well publicized worldwide, most of us have some grasp on the importance of Honey Bees for the continued pollination of all food on the planet. Things like Verroa mite are yet to hit our shores, but the Small hive beetle, several kinds of Brood diseases and adult viruses exist which place bee colonies under a lot of stress. Industrialized man has manipulated, prodded, poked, sprayed and dragged honey bees from one end of the countryside to the other – all in the efforts to obtain the best yield. Vast mono-cultures like almond fields rely heavily on bee pollination. All mass production mono-culture style farming also relies heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Bees are similar to humans when it comes to needing variety in our diets to maintain good health. Bees need a diverse range of floral sources to provide essential nutrients needed to fight disease. ‘Pollens differ in their capacities to supply natural antagonists of bacteria/fungi and antibiotic substances’ – David Heaf  The friendly Beekeeper.

As I see it, transporting truckloads of beehives to forage on  mono-culture crops that are routinely sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, starts to look like Bee abuse.  Colony Collapse Disorder is what you get. Not surprisingly as this excerpt from Wikipedia suggests that it is ‘environmental’ impacts that seem to be the cause and not so much mans persistent manipulation and control of the poor dear honey bee –  “based on an initial analysis of collected bee samples (CCD- and non-CCD affected), reports have noted the high number of viruses and other pathogens, pesticides, and parasites present in CCD colonies, and lower levels in non-CCD colonies. This work suggests that a combination of environmental stressors may set off a cascade of events and contribute to a colony where weakened worker bees are more susceptible to pests and pathogens.”

So with all this in mind and my plans to locate some hives put on hold until next spring, I kept reading and came across information on the Warré Hive designed by Abbé Émile Warré (1867-1951) . In essence, a smaller hive box that imitates a more natural situation for bee colonies to build their comb. The Warré is slim and tall – a bit like a hollow tree trunk – (thats where wild Bees prefer to live). Bees need to keep the hive at a constant 35 degree C. Popular beekeeping techniques call for regular monitoring  of the hive by opening it for inspection several times a year. To do this the top box is removed – thus letting all the heat out of the hive – an additional stress factor for the bees.  Warré Hives are rarely opened and if so the bottom box is removed or another added to the bottom of the hive stack, therefore retaining heat within the hive. A healthy colony will fight disease well – and is also a lot happier – therefore stinging incidents are low for beekeepers that maintain a Warré style hive. There are free plans available and I have successfully built my own hive that is ready and waiting to be colonized in spring.

I have only touched on a few of the important elements needed to keep healthy happy bees. Putting it simply bees need good shelter, sustenance and seclusion. If we can do our best to look after bees they are sure to keep working hard pollinating our crops and providing us with delicious honey well into the future.

To learn more about Natural Beekeeping –

Milkwood Permaculture Natural Beekeeping Courses

‘The Bee-Friendly Beekeeper A sustainable approach” by David Heaf

‘Natural Beekeeping’ by Ross Conrad

Here are some pictures I took at the last Natural Beekeeping Course.

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