Article - Natural Beekeeping

Natural Beekeeping

(Outyard - home page)

   This section was separated from Honey Bee care due to popular demand.

   This is not so much about natural beekeeping, as it is about beekeepers who want to do nothing for their bees.
   If your method of natural beekeeping helps your bees manage the mites and diseases, deals with the chemicals and other problems they bring home, then I am behind you all the way!!!

   The FIRST thing I wish to do, is draw a line in the dirt. There is a vast difference between trying to keep honey bees as naturally as possible, and doing NOTHING to care for your bees and claiming your a natural beekeeper.

   If you are a "Natural" beekeeper who advocates doing NOTHING and letting the bees do what bees do, live or die, then I hope I get to meet you one day so I can SLAP the SNOT out of you!
   Yes, I wrote that, it is my web site, I will say what I mean, not what is politically correct.

   I often see arguments between the lazy good for nothing, do nothing Natural beekeepers, and the beekeepers who like keeping bees as naturally as possible. They usually go something like this;
   "Would you tie your DOG in the back yard and then not feed him?"
   "A dog is a domesticated animal and needs care, a Honey bee is not domesticated!"

   Think again. Stating obvious ignorance like this should be a sign for the other beekeeper to walk away.
   Beekeepers have been working for hundreds, if not thousand of years to make honey bees more docile. To make them less swarmy, to make them propolize the hive LESS, and most recently, to resist mites better. It is called... domestication!

   Bees that are aggressive and swarmy are typically re queened with better stock..    STOCK, = Livestock.
   WE, have introduced things to their environment, that makes their survival without our help an unlikely event.  Given time, I believe honey bees can adapt to about anything, BUT, that adaptation is something that in nature evolves over the course of a thousand years or more. WE are asking the honey bee to adapt overnight. If we give them time, and help them along the way, they will do fine.
   Helping them along the way, does NOT mean altering their DNA and their very nature, it means helping them along, gently, slowly. It should NOT happen in our single lifetimes, it should take several lifetimes....    The results of manipulating the bees too quickly, and with too little concern is already out there with the Africanized Honey bee now taking over the southern states.

   We already HAVE bees that are resistant to the Varroa Mite. The trick it would seem, is to convince beekeepers to USE this stock, rather than to keep proliferating non resistant bees!
   Adding a resistant queen to your apiary will add the drones from this queen to the gene pool, and the general resistant genetics of the area will be improved!!
   Adding NON resistant bees and queens dilutes the resistance, and turns all the efforts of those trying to help the honey bee into futility.

   If you want to keep honey bees and do NOTHING for their care, then you should be one who is on board with proliferating resistant bees, MN Hygienic, VSH, Survivor stock, etc..  It IS the only way your lazy butt will ever keep (have) bees and get honey from them on a consistent basis!

   I have no argument with anyone who wants to keep their bees "MORE" naturally, using soft chemicals and brood breaks to treat varroa. If you want to use round hives with removable frames, thicker boards around those hives, and place them over natural waterways so the harmonics resonates with the bees naturally...   I say GO for it!!  I am behind you all the way!
   IF, on the other hand, you think you should put bees in a box, and come back in the fall and get your honey, then you need smacked upside the head, because you are only hurting your bees, and your neighbors and THEIR bees.

The most popular questions I get goes something like this;

   "Why did my bees die?"

   Did you feed them for winter?


   Did you treat them for mites? For Nosema?


   Did you check to see if they had mites?


   Did you check to see if they had enough reserves for winter?"


   Did you prepare their hives for winter in any way?

   Well why did you expect them NOT to die on you?

   "In the "NATURAL beekeeping class for gullible new beekeepers" We were told NOT to feed them, that sugar is BAD for bees."

   And... Dying isnt bad for your bees?  Why didnt you treat for mites?

"In the "NATURAL beekeeping class for gullible new beekeepers" We were told NOT to treat for mites, the bees cannot build resistances if we dump chemicals into the hive."

   And...  They can build resistances if they DIE?

   Your not taking a WOLF from the wild and putting it into a small cage. You are providing a HOME for BEES who fly freely. Because of what WE do, those bees are in danger. They do not understand that the pollen they bring in can contaminate their hive. They do not understand that the mites transfer viruses and diseases. They only know to do what they have always done, it is up to US, to take the extra steps that insure they survive, and adapt. If you do NOTHING for them, then you will have dead bees. To make that one step worse, when YOUR hives die, other bees will rob them out, and those bees will take the mites and diseases back to their own hives. As your hives die, some of YOUR bees will leave, and go find a healthy hive to live in, again, taking the problems with them.
   NOT treating is a strong pull, especially to a new beekeeper already in a state of information overload. If you buy good genetics, you will need to care for the bees less, but you STILL need to care for them.

   High humidity, according to some research causes the varroa to mate a little less prolifically. Coupled with GOOD genetics from resistant strains, and using Integrated pest management, like a screened bottom board and small cell. Splitting hives, allowing them to raise their own queen so the brood cycle is broken may be enough that they can survive on their own from there. You still had to do something.
   Varoa Sensative Hygienic, Minnesota Hygienic, or Survivor stock, like Old Sol and Wayne's Bees are a good first step toward treatment free and natural do nothing beekeeping, but they are not the final answer.
   My bees won't make it without treatment and care. I am working toward making them more resistant, but my method is going to be slow, because I want to keep them ALL alive while I do it.

    As far as I know there is no exact formula that guarantees success. Taking bees that can live without treatment from one location, and transferring them to another location has been shown to fail miserably. Two, three, or four years after they have been moved, those bees that lived in their original location for many years, and were now moved to a new location will become overrun with Varroa and die without treatment.  So plan for the worst. IF.. you have three or four hives, I do not recommend this strategy. I have read in multiple places that it takes anywhere from 50 to 200 hives of well picked stock to begin a treatment free operation.  Why so many? Because a LOT of them will die. You need diversity to choose from when raising your resistant queens, and you need numbers to replace the losses.

   Maybe you will get lucky with good genetics and never lose a Hive to Varroa, but it is my belief that the odds are currently stacked very highly against you.
  The one thing I DO believe, is that this method is what it will ultimately take to breed bees that can live in harmony with the Varroa Destructor. This method is what has created the resistant strains, but it is unclear (to me) WHY those strains can live in harmony with the mite where they were developed, and then be over run by them when moved to another location. Perhaps, it is just a matter of RE developing that resistance in the new location.

   Nosema will also get some of your hives if you choose not to treat for it. I have lost hives to Nosema.. 
    Research indicated that making sure the bees were well fed reduced the number of Nosema spores. Apparently it does not reduce the number of spores enough. I will NOT lose another hive to Nosema if I can help it.   Choose NOT to treat, and I guarantee your apiary will be impacted. I am not claiming you cannot work through the problem or that you cannot help the bees build immunity, I am claiming you WILL lose hives.

   Enough with the NOT crowd....  Some of them are gullible, some just plain ignorant of the facts of beekeeping.

  Bees ARE domestic stock and NEED care, just like a dog, a sheep, pig or cow.
 It does NOT take a lot of care, but it does take some.
   As stated above, doing nothing may seem the best choice to someone who is confused by all of the information available on beginning beekeeping. I try to give you the "BASICS" in my getting started section. BASICS that everyone, no matter the type of bees, or the type of hives needs to do. Simple basics that you can easily learn and do, and keep your bees alive.
   Once you learn those basics, Once you get through your first winter with live bees, THEN, you can decide to try "Natural" beekeeping.  If you do, I suggest that you get the BEST survivor stock you can find, from a climate that is as bad, or worse than your own to start with.
   Bees from a southern California Apiary "MAY" not do exceptionally well in Montana. Bees raised and bred to raise more bees for packages in Texas, "MAY" not do as well as Minnesota bees bred and raised for COLD winters and mite resistance.
   The choice is yours to make.   Buy the packages, and refuse to re queen them, the chances are, when your hives collapse from Varroa, they will also cause the hives of your neighbor to collapse..  They may well cause the Feral hive to collapse..  the feral hive that had some resistance, and was doing well, but the influx of Mite infested bees was too much for it to handle, so it too slowly dies.  

   One more issue to speak of.. 
  The fastest, and easiest way for bees to "adapt" to the Varroa Mite, is to become Swarmy..  If they swarm often, they proliferate their genetics, and increase the chances of their progeny's survival..   It is like a fish laying eggs, they deliver THOUSANDS of eggs, in hopes that a few survive..   I believe this is the direction the bees will go on short notice, just like the AHB has done, and it will undermine the work we have done for hundreds of years to STOP them from being so swarmy.

   YOU can be part of the solution, or you can cause problems for everyone else. The choice is yours!

   From Randy Olivers site,

    Ive been encouraged in recent years by the number of beekeepers who appear to be successfully keeping locally-adapted stocks of bees without treatment for Varroa. i am a strong supporter of their efforts, and see them as the wave of the future. Unfortunately, there is also a great deal of confusion as to what treatment free beekeeping really means. Allow me to use an analogy to explain;
   Dairymen prefer to keep Holstein cattle. Holsteins are thick skinned, thoroughly domesticated cattle selected solely for milk production. Their normal care requires shelter, supplemental feeding, routine vaccinations, and treatment with antibiotics. If a dairyman turned his Holsteins out on the range to fend for themselves without care, and half of them died each year, he would be accused of having committed animal neglect. The failure to provide basic care required for an animal to thrive.
   Yet, this is exactly what thousands of recreational beekeepers do every year. under the misconception that they are practicing treatment free beekeeping, they are in actuality simply neglecting their domesticated animals.
   The reason for this, is that they are starting with commercial package bees akin to Holstein cattle, in that they are bred for high brood and honey production under standard management practices (notably mite management, but also supplemental feeding or antibiotic treatment if indicated.) Most commercial bee stocks should be considered as domesticated animals. There is absolutely no reason to expect that your wishful thinking will miraculously transform your newly purchased domesticated bees into hardy survivor stock able to survive as wild animals without standard care and treatment.
   Do not delude yourself. Allowing domesticated package colonies to die year after year is not in any way, shape, or form a contribution to the breeding of mite resistant stocks. There is a vast difference between breeding for survivor stock and simply allowing commercial bees to die from neglect! by introducing commercial bees year after year into an area, and then allowing those package colonies to first produce drones, and then later die from Varroa, these well meaning but misguided beekeepers screw up any evolutionary progress that the local feral populations might be making toward developing natural resistance to varroa. not only that, but these collapsing mite bombs create problems for your neighbors. Referring to yourself as a bee-keeper confers upon you a responsibility to the local beekeeping community. Allowing hives to collapse from AFB or varroa makes you a disease-spreading nuisance!
    Update, April 2014;
   I have recieved a great deal of positive feedback from experienced beekeepers who have been frustrated by all the well intentioned, but sadly misguided, feel good dreamers who don't understand the difference between working with nature to promoite varroa-resistant bee stocks, versus neglecting livestock that you have taken under your care. I like Rusty Burlews blog, let the bees be bees Really?

     This is the blog from the Honey Bee Suite.

      “Let the bees be bees” Really?

Once again I’ve been asked why this phrase bothers me so much. So here goes.

From what I’ve heard, the “let the bees be bees” camp are “beekeepers” here and abroad who advocate laissez-faire beekeeping. They capture colonies, hive them, interfere with swarms, but otherwise ignore the bees’ needs. They dismiss pathogens, parasites, and predators by avowing a belief in “survival of the fittest” and “letting nature take its course.”

I have several issues with this philosophy. First off, if you want bees to be bees, then leave them alone. Don’t capture. Don’t hive. Don’t interfere. Most likely the colony will die after a year or two, but in the meantime, the bees can do their own thing and you are off the hook.

But once you capture that colony, everything is different. You have made a conscious decision not to let the bees be bees. So stop pretending.

If you take another being into your care, you are responsible for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a horse, a dog, a kid, or a goldfish. When your family Fido comes down with heartworms do you walk away and say, “Let dogs be dogs?” When your first-born child contracts meningitis do you shrug and say, “Let kids be kids?” No? That’s different, you say? Not on your life.

Here’s the thing. Once you captured that colony and put it in a location of your choosing, you acquired livestock. You are now a caretaker. And, like it or not, you are responsible for those bees. Remember, this arrangement was your choice, not theirs. It doesn’t matter if you are in Brooklyn, New York or Ollie, Iowa—it’s still livestock and it’s still your bailiwick.

Being a caretaker means you tend to your charge, look after it, and keep it as comfortable as possible. If it happens to be a horde of honey bees, you make sure it has fresh air, a water source, and a place to forage. You treat foulbrood and, yes, even mites.

The details of how you proceed are up to you. If you prefer not to use chemicals, fine. Great, in fact. But you will need to use another method, be it mechanical separation, brood cycle interruption, or weekly applications of confectioner’s sugar. The choices are yours alone, but they are choices you must make.

Do I think there are exceptions? Sure. I believe in scientific inquiry and research. I believe in carefully designed experimentation with controls, data collection, statistical analysis, and peer review. But if you are not doing research, if are going around half-cocked pretending you are Darwin and preaching “survival of the fittest,” if you are letting your bees die from Varroa mites, you are just plain lazy. How much easier it is to do absolutely nothing and proclaim you are “letting nature take its course.”

The “nature” we provide our animals is not the nature they evolved with. We have added all the optional extras, including pesticides, pollution, contamination, urban sprawl, climate change, and introduced species that include pathogens, parasites, predators, and billions of humans. Seriously, how can nature take its course when there is no nature left?


“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.” –Saint Francis of Assisi.

   I continue to see people arguing, that honey bees are NOT domestic animals. Angry people who threaten violence when they are argued with.  I try to stay away from such idiots now, but it goes to show, that once someone believes something, no fact, no study, no influence on earth will change their mind. That is NOT a place for a beekeeper. There are too many variables in beekeeping to be an absolutist.   Please don't contribute to the problems the bees already have, be a part of the solution!