The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping would have to be one of the best books on beekeeping ever written.  Despite its name this book is filled with details that make it a great book for both beginner and expert.  There are many standard beekeeping books on the market that all teach the same old wrong and disturbingly similar information.  This book breaks away from the sameness of other books and teaches how to have bees without chemical treatments in a world where almost every other book tells you to treat with chemicals. When it comes to bee books and beekeeping this is what i would call the one book that all beekeepers should read.

 If you are interested to buy this book I have provided a link to AbeBooks by clicking on the image below where you can find a copy at a great price.

 

 

 

 

Varroa is considered the biggest killer of bees in the world with neonics running a close second.  So with this in mind we ask the Question is it possible to keep bees that have mites and not use any treatments. If you go to your local bee club they will likely say it’s not possible and if you try they will blame you for all there misfortunes.

Yes it is possible to have Varroa mites in your hives and not use any treatments but how to do this is the big question???

? Don’t want to use small cell because you are not convinced it works.  Ok.

That’s fine. There are a small number of people who have succeeded on standard 5.4mm cell size foundation without using any chemicals (treatments) in there hives so how did they do it. There are examples in England and America of people who have never used treatments in there hives for Varroa and yet there bees have survived for the last 25years with Varroa present.

The use of treatments in beehives has shown very clearly that it stops the bees from developing resistance to the Varroosis (viruses) of the Varroa mites.  Farming and garden chemicals such as Neonics can also weaken the resistance of bees and make them vulnerable to the Varoosis of the mites so a clean environment is also needed.  Part of this resistance also comes from how Queens share immunity to the colony so localised locally adapted queens are going to work better than queens imported from places outside your local environment.  Bee colonies that are weakened for any reason can become vulnerable to a whole host of fungal and viral issue so it’s important that your bees be very healthy and strong prior to any attempt at going chemical free.  Commercial beekeepers will find that there two main practices of feeding sugar and moving bees around will exacerbate any issues the bees have and make this process harder.

Firstly you will need 5 to 500 hives or more, all in good condition and then you need to find which hives have the right stuff required to keep varroa under control enough to stop the colony from dying.  In order to find these magical survivor bees it’s important to understand that you will need to let most of your bees die.  You cannot achieve natural survivor resistance without going through this process.  Hive size should be on the larger size and wintering in a minimum 2 box hives but preferably 3 box hives and no queen excluders on any of your hives.  It’s important that the queen have freedom to lay eggs where she wants throughout the hive.  Queens will rarely move above the third box so all 4th or 5th boxes will most likely be pure honey stores.  Good large strong colonies are needed.

People who attempt going chemical free with less than 5 hives in there care might find they need to purchase new bees from a local source several times over till they achieve success with a survivor bee stock.  Bees collected from feral forest colonies are often great survivors.  These feral forest bees are reported as being smaller and darker so would probably benefit from the use of smaller cell size foundation 4.9mm but either way they will likely have better survival than the standard commercially available queens.  Some breeders claim to be selling special varroa resistant queens and maybe this can help.  These queens originally came from feral survivor bees so it makes sense they have a heightened resistance to mites but you will still need to go through the process to find the best of the best.

It will take several years for the survivor bees to show they can survive whilst all the other bees will likely die.  In most cases you could expect 70% to 95% bee death in your apiary and in some cases 100%.  Often it’s during the second year when the bees die so it’s important to know your bees and look for those hives which are doing really well compared to the others and start making nucs to replace those that die.  Constantly making nucs and replacing bees with survivor stock is really important if you don’t want to completely loos all your bees.  This process will take some 2 to 5 years but at the end of this period you will have bees that have developed natural resistance to Varroa and no more chemical treatments will ever be needed ever again.

One of the preeminent success stories in this regard would have to be Dennis Brown from www.lonestarfarms.net .  He has published several books about his experiences of the past 51 years being treatment and chemical free and has about 500 people in his forums that are also treatment free following his methods.  Dennis Brown has never used chemicals in his hives for any reason both before varroa and after varroa and was one of the first American beekeepers to have varroa resistant bees along with people like Dee Lusby who choose a similar but different method.  They represent the future long term survival of bees and show clearly that the issue is being prepared to let bees die to reveal the survivors.  Bees should not die due to starvation etc. but must be given all the care one can to help them develop resistance, just don’t use any mite treatments or the whole exercise is stopped in its tracks.  Finding and then working with survivor bees on standard 5.4mm foundation has proven to be very difficult for most people but Dennis Brown has shown clearly that it is possible and we should all try harder to achieve having bees without the use of any treatments.

I personally see advantages in using a smaller cell size of 4.9mm but at the end of the day I don’t personally care how a person achieves being chemical free because chemicals are a very short term (not a solution) product.

 

Update  After reading Dennis Browns books I cannot recommend his methods as he uses many practices that are not needed and continues to use powdered sugar etc. as a treatment method and other tools which are simply not needed.  His methods are better than most but they are not "treatment free" although he avoids the mainstream Chemical treatments and claims chemical free he is by no means treatment free. and i can now understand why he is a better writer than a beekeeper and has only a handful of people following his methods.

 

Happy beekeeping

Steve

Life the Universe and Bees

As a kid I loved bees and would capture them in a handkerchief and see them sting the material then let them go unharmed leaving only the stain of venom on my handkerchief.  Playing with bees in this way I learned that bees are not aggressive and once freed would just fly away as if nothing had happened.

Now I love bees because of there intricate connection to all life on this planet and with over 20,000 different species of bees it’s clear they are the reason we exist as we do today.  Without the bees there would be no beautiful flowers or fruits and nuts or vegetables.  This veritable cornucopia of fruits and vegetables would be reduced to wind only pollinators like corn, wheat, barley and pine nuts and most other insects would not be here either like butterflies that need nectar as an adult. 

If it was not for flowering plants and the pollinators they rely on such as bees and hoverflies the very air we breathe would have become so full of pollen we would not be able to breathe.  We would have evolved in bodies very different from the ones we have today and all life would be very different.  It’s not just humans that need bees it’s the entire planet ecosystem that relies on these 20,000 different species of bees to continue there efforts to pollinate plants and sustain this planets way of life.

It’s easy to forget that this intricate system called life has existed for millions of years and here we are tearing it to pieces and wondering why suddenly it’s no longer functioning like it used to.  This system has been through many changes and has always found a way to put itself back together as if nothing had changed.  Time was always in natures favour but now it’s different, man has come along and changed all the rules because somehow in our egotistical stupidity we believed we knew better. 

The rules are simple, look at nature and copy.  Nature always seeks a balance between all parties so that all parts of the system can continue to operate.  By understanding properly the way nature works we can devise systems that copy and even enhance the natural way of life without resorting to Chemical fertilisers and Poisonous sprays that attempt to override the natural order of nature.  Nature always fights back and the Poisons stop working and the chemical fertilisers kill the soil.

Bill mollison was right when he devised permaculture to mean it has permanence within culture.  To be sustainable into the long distant future will require a new thinking from everyone.  The current Chemical culture of the world is a short sighted view that’s proven it’s not sustainable and worse it’s damaging to the future of all life including man and the bees. 

With each passing day I read another story about mass bee deaths, not just honey bees (apis Mellifera) but bumble bees, mason bees, Asian bees (apis cerana) solitary bees of all types.  Arial spraying for mosquitos in Florida and Japan is killing everything and not just the mosquitoes.  This is done despite the alternatives available and the cries from people to change.  Governments are the worst offenders pandering to these multinational billion dollar companies who would go bust if the system didn’t need them.  Companies that lie bully and steel the very life from the planet all in the name of progress and the corporate dollar.

This planet is unique in the universe, not because it has life but because life here is different to every other planet.  Life is I believe inevitably similar as all planets are similar but unique and different for every planet is different.  There are no two planets that are identical so life cannot be identical from planet to planet.  People are all similar but equally we are all unique and different.  It cannot be any other way.  From my eyes I see the universe and my environment differently to any other, only my eyes can see all that I see, each person experiencing life in their own unique way that only they get to experience.

What legacy are we leaving for our future inhabitants?  If we don’t change current practices we will likely wipe out most pollinator species and in so doing we will wipe ourselves from this planet as well. 

A simple change in attitude and the knowledge of nature is all it takes to make life in a balanced way and guarantee the future of all life on this planet.

 

Steven Murphy

www.ikeepbees.com.au

What is Natural Beekeeping and does it work

 

It’s a simple question but the answers might surprise you.  Natural beekeeping is a method of beekeeping that attempts to fit bees into a more natural system that mimics the way bees live in nature. 

Let’s have a look… In nature bees mostly use a tree hollow that is often vertically elongated and has just one entrance and no ventilation but is insulated with many inches of timber from the tree.  The bees will mostly start at the top of the tree hollow and work there way down building there comb and utilising the entire space.  The available space in a tree hollow is highly variable from 10 litres to 100 litres and the conditions from one hollow to another can change dramatically.  The high degree of variability in tree hollows explains why bees are relatively adaptable to different box designs and sizes and man has tried a huge variety over the past several thousand years and possibly longer.

If we truly wanted to emulate a natural hive design that fitted better the model of a tree hollow the first consideration would be timber thickness.  Tree hollows are naturally at the centre of a tree and the hollow would normally have at least 100mm (3 inches) of timber thickness surrounding the hive.  This would make the hive design very heavy and construction would not be easy and moving of such a beehive would be very difficult.  There are records and examples of log hives going back thousands of years but management in these hives is rather difficult and in the process of harvesting the honey and wax from the colony it is likely that the colony will be killed as was the case with most skeps and pottery hives prior to the use of modern movable frame hives.

There are four main types of modern hives that claim to be more natural in there approach to bees and they are the Warre hive, Top bar hives, Kenyan long box hives and the sunburst hives.  All of these hives have one thing in common and that’s the use of Top bars rather than full frames.  So why the use of top bars rather than full frames like the langstroth hives?  Proponents of top bar beekeeping make many claims about there top bar systems but is it true.  Sort of true to a certain degree, but as natural tree hollows show us that bees are highly adaptable You have to ask does it make a difference.  Is the difference in the top bars themselves compared to using full frames?  NO.  Top bar users still use a guide to keep the comb built by the bees nice and straight.  Often they will use a small strip of foundation or a paddle pop stick dipped in wax to guide the bees rather than a complete frame of wax foundation.  Getting bees to make there own comb without foundation as a guide is said to be healthier for the bees and in polluted environments this would be very true.  Many users of langstroth beehives also use starter strips and paddle pop sticks rather than full sheets of foundation so there really isn’t any difference here.

 

large square hive 60mm timbers

 

Is it the box itself that makes the big difference……  No.   Be it a Warre hive or a long box top bar hive the timber thickness used is all relatively similar.  Langstroth is around 26mm and this is the same approx. thickness used in most hives of all designs worldwide.  Even the sunhive which utilises a woven basket structure covered in mud clay is about the same thickness.   So the timber thermal properties of most hives used today are all fairly similar and are based on ease of use by MAN and not what’s best for bees….  If you wanted to make a beehive that was really closely derived from nature you would need a beehive with a minimum timber thickness of 60mm plus.  I did this and I know it works well for the bees but it does make the hive rather heavy and difficult to move once it’s been setup.   Log hives are still used in some countries but there use is limited due to there difficulty in harvesting honey, checking for disease and they are super heavy and difficult to move.

Next we have the issue of hive ventilation and the different types of ventilation available for different hives.  Natural tree hollows don’t have any ventilation and only one entrance so ventilation is an issue created by man and the use of overly thin timbers that suit man rather than the bees.  With the use of 60mm plus timbers there is great insulation and little or no issues with moisture in the hive in winter.  All modern beehives used by man have issues to some degree concerning moisture build up in hives due to condensation.  The Warre hive seems to provide a suitable solution to this issue and the sunhive using a clay mud covering seems to alleviate much of this issue as well.  The standard long and top bar hives have issues with moisture in winter and its not recommended for people in cold moist temperate zones for this reason.  The langstroth hive in Australia uses a migration cover and this has several vent holes for ventilation but is easily modified and many users of Langstroth hives simply use a flat board under there lid to simulate a tree hollow and this seems to work well for most beekeepers here in Australia and alleviates most of the moisture issue.

Natural beekeeping philosophy can be practiced using any bee box available to you as it’s about the ideas of how to look after and manage your bees. 

Doing what you can to create a more harmonious relationship with your bees. 

The biggest difference between natural beekeepers and mainstream beekeepers is the use of foundation.  In a natural hive the bees will make a range of cell sizes that can range from 4.6mm up to about 5.7mm with the smallest cells normally in the centre of the brood chamber and larger honey stores and drone cells on the periphery or away from the brood chamber. 

Natural beekeepers make the bees build their own comb from scratch with top bar guide and allow the bees to build what they want.  This is great for the bees from wild tree hives which make natural small cells but what about the bees coming directly from commercial sized foundation?  Bees will act in accordance with their current size so bees coming directly from commercial 5.4mm un-naturally large foundation will unfortunately build the same size as they are used to building or just 0.2mm smaller cell sizes and sometimes without a guide they just build a whole bunch of odd sized cells as if they have forgotten what they really need to make.  Bees like humans get used to doing stuff in a routine way and when you suddenly change that routine it can cause some strange side effects in some colonies.

For those who wish to change over to a more natural philosophy in there beekeeping methods you can use wild colonies after checking cell size which should be around 4.9mm or below and if purchasing bees from commercial beekeepers, swarms etc. then for just one season it may be useful to use full sheets or half size sheets of small cell foundation to help the bees back to a more natural sustainable size before going completely foundationless.  As to the use of wire in frames I have found no difference and no effects good or bad associated with the use of wire and thus this is down to the beekeepers personal preference or philosophy.  Some claims of wire limiting the vibrations of the bees waggle dance etc. through the comb are just conjecture on their part and I find this thinking to be on the fanatical side and no actual proof is available to support this claim.  It is often the case that in a natural tree hollows there are bits of timber and stuff that go across the hollow and bees build over and around it and use it to support their combs just as wire is used in full frames.

The other big difference in natural beekeeping is the complete lack of additives used in beehives.  Not true.  Many natural beekeepers use a variety of what they call therapeutic oils to help them with there beekeeping.  Things like thyme oil, lavender oil, lemon grass oil etc. compared to standard beekeeping which often use the same oils but also use a range of commercially available miticides etc.  Are there times when I might think its ok to use an additive in the hive mmm yes but I hesitate to say this as any additive you put in a hive can have major long term ramifications on the pro biotic relationships that bees have with their environment.  Some oils like Borage oil and evening primrose oil and tea tree oil are very effective in combination at treating things like American foul brood and European foul brood and Nosema but the application method, qty to be used and timing for effectiveness has not been properly studied or determined and certainly no data is available on any adverse effects if any if used incorrectly.

Does natural beekeeping equal or mean Organic beekeeping and what is organic beekeeping.  If you follow the Organic way of Dee Lusby then no additives of any type ever should be used in your bees once they have been regressed back down to their original natural size range of 4.9mm or below in the main brood chamber.  As stated by Dee and witnessed by many the only bees that need treatments are those that are still unnaturally large bees of 5.4mm and this has been proven and demonstrated time and time again. 

The real key to organic natural beekeeping is the cell size and once this issue is dealt with properly in a hive or apiary then all other issues become less (unless you’re in the middle of a farming area spraying toxic crap every day) but actually its true.  Most all diseases and mite issues become minor issues and within a year or two of getting bees back to their original smaller size beekeepers can throw away there poison potions.  Large Migratory beekeepers are a special class of beekeepers that place a high level of stress on there bees and as I have stated in the past this practice should be banned.  Even so I have read of several medium sized migratory beekeepers that have been able to do away with almost all treatments by utilising natural small cell beekeeping practices.

There are only 4 things we do differently today compared to 150 years ago. 

  1. The use of foundation to guide bees and manipulate cell size.  Man chose to make bees bigger and this in turn made them more susceptible to disease.  We need to get back to a more natural cell size.
  2. We keep bee colonies for longer as previously most beekeepers killed there colony in the process of collecting the honey and wax.
  3. The sheer quantity of bees we migrate around the country.  Very large trucks full of beehives are not natural or sustainable and this needs to stop.
  4. The use of and quantity of chemicals used both in beehives and the environment. This also needs to change.

 

At the end of the day I don’t care what box design is used or what beekeeping method you want to use as what’s important is the cell size.  Fix this and most issues will disappear.

 

Did I answer the Question?  You tell me?

Thanks for reading

Steve

Recommended reading of my blog www.ikeepbees.com.au or for those wishing to read in depth have a look at www.resistantbees.com