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Natural Beekeeping

There is a saying in many of the beekeeping circles, if you ask a group of ten beekeepers a question about keeping bees you will get fifteen different answers.

There are many ways that a person can keep bees. There are tools, medicines, food, supplements and the like that can be used when keeping bees. Read the many thousands of books on the subject and you will quickly see that there is really no right or wrong way to keep bees. One thing that many beekeepers will agree on is the need to treat bees for mites and other diseases. This is where I split off into an area that quickly leaves me alone in beekeeping meetings.

Dr. Leo is my go-to source for everything about Natural Beekeeping. I highly recommend all of his work.

People that get into beekeeping do so for a variety of reasons. Some start off as just a hobby, others want to become large commercial operations, some are farmers looking to improve pollination on their farm and maybe some feel like I do that the problem with our dwindling bee population is more about man destroying bee habitat than the actual use of chemicals in the field. Healthy feral bee colonies are losing useable habitat to man as he continues to clear large areas of trees for his planned housing complexes. Bees suffer malnutrition because man clears large areas of diverse native wildflowers that are needed for pollen and nectar. In its place man plants large acres of single source plants like beans, corn or wheat.

I started this Apiary because I wanted to return to the natural way of keeping bees because the large commercial operations that are complaining about bees loss are clearly doing something wrong because nothing they are doing is helping. Instead of feeding our bees substitute syrup and pollen during periods of dearth or before winter hibernation we've taken a stance not feed our bees. Instead of using harsh chemicals and vapors to treat our bees for mites and disease we've decided to not treat our bees. These practices are frowned upon in our community of beekeeping. If you mention that you are a natural beekeeper you are looked at as a menace to the practice. Nobody wants to bring other bees into your area if they know you are a natural beekeeper because they fear your bees will make their bees sick.

Bees have lived on this planet for 120 million years. In contrast, man has been on this planet for just 200,000 years. It is safe to say that the bees had figured out what they needed to do well before man found the need to exploit their hard work for their own benefit. I personally feel that many in the field of beekeeping feel that they must interfere with the process of a bees life and that man must be the solution to fix their issues. When in fact it is man who has caused all of the problems.

There is a known theory that I'm certain many of you have heard, Natural Selection. Darwin, Wallace, Henslow to name a few understood that Natural selection is the differential survival and reproduction of individuals due to differences in phenotype. It is a key mechanism of evolution, the change in the heritable traits characteristic of a population over generations. Organisms adapt to their environments and thus produce more offspring that are adapted for the environment..

Man and his chemicals, subdivisions and large commercial farms are not the only reason for the decline in the bee population.

Why are the bees dying?

Varroa destructor - an external parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on the honey bees Apis cerana and Apis mellifera. The disease caused by the mites is called varroosis.

The Varroa mite can only reproduce in a honey bee colony. It attaches to the body of the bee and weakens the bee by sucking fat bodies. The species is a vector for at least five debilitating bee viruses, including RNA viruses such as the deformed wing virus (DWV). A significant mite infestation leads to the death of a honey bee colony, usually in the late autumn through early spring. The Varroa mite is the parasite with possibly the most pronounced economic impact on the beekeeping industry. Varroa is considered to be one of multiple stress factors contributing to the higher levels of bee losses around the world.

The prevailing theory to combat this nasty bug is to use an organic compound called Oxalic acid. There are a few other "natural techniques" for treating but this compound has proven to be the most effective. Even though this compound occurs naturally in many plants, it is a dangerous compound to humans if ingested and can cause burns, nausea, severe gastroenteritis and vomiting, shock and convulsions. This is the go-to method for treating hives that have mite issues. It is very effective but can only be done when all of the honey supers are removed from the hive. So vapor applications can only be done in the fall and early spring.

Another great source for Natural Beekeeping.

Being natural beekeepers we stay far away from such treatments in our hives. Instead we firmly believe in letting the process of natural selection take its course. The Varroa mite is an organism and bees as another organism should be able to adapt to the presence of the mite. I believe that the treatments are actually having a negative impact on the bee by making it less able to protect itself from the mite and in turn making super mites that will at some point start the process of adapting to the treatments making them harder to kill. I think of humans and how they have been introduced to powerful antibiotics over the years. Doctors have warned that continued exposure to powerful antibiotics eventually makes you less likely to fight off viruses as it will weaken your immune system. I see the same correlation with the honey bee and the treatment of Oxalic acid.

Instead of introducing our bees to this compound that is harmful to humans why don't we let natural selection help to create tougher, stronger bees that can adapt to the presence of these mites? Breeders have been working on developing a strain of honey bee that is extremely hygienic, to the point that they actually will pick off mites from other bees in a hive. This is a great start. But if we refrain from treating our bees and letting them go to winter with enough food stores to survive until spring and be willing to accept the winter losses of weaker hives. We can take the surviving bees in the spring to start new stronger surviving colonies. After time your hives will have begun the process of adapting and producing new generations of bees that have a self built resilience to mites.

While we work to keep the strongest of colonies at the start of spring to make our bees tougher we can spend more time in providing our bees safe habitat to grow and provide us with clean, all natural honey free from chemicals and vapor contamination of honey comb.

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