Over recent years bees have seen a near catastrophic decline in numbers and commercial bee keepers are struggling to keep their colonies alive. Beekeepers have entered an arms race with a whole series of pests and bugs, treating their hives with pesticides, feeding them with sugar and pollen substitutes etc… This has led to genetically weaker bees which are vulnerable to disease unless medicated, a robust pests such as varroa which quickly become resistant to each form of treatment.
An alternative approach, which is beginning to find general acceptance, is to reduce or eliminate treatment of colonies and let them find their natural balance with their pest species. Genetically weak bees will die out and bees which are more capable of resisting mites and other diseases will thrive. Wild colonies, which have never been treated, are often genetically superior to inbred commercially raised bees and I actively seek them out as starter stock for new colonies.
Bee friendly beekeeping involves:
- No chemical treatment for varroa mites – I want bees with good grooming and hygiene traits that can manage their own mite load.
- Foundationless beekeeping – wax foundation is known to become contaminated with pesticides that are highly dangerous to bees. Endless recycling of wax to make foundation means bees are continually exposed to chemicals that can interfere with their behaviour. (Neo-nicotinoids are known to interfere with bees sense of direction – they simply can’t find their way home). My bees make their own comb which is regularly removed and replaced by the bees.
- Small cell sizes – bees have been forced by Beekeepers to make larger cells than they would do naturally, through printed wax foundation. Larger cells sizes makes the developing larvae more susceptible to varroa mite.
- No routine feeding – bees are left with adequate honey stores and should not need supplemental sugar syrup.
The end result is less honey per hive, but ultimately stronger and more resilient colonies that need less intervention and management.
With this bee-centric approach I don’t advocate handling inconveniently located bees with pesticides – there are always alternatives that can be used to rescue bees from buildings etc… Without destroying the colony and their precious genetics.