What is Natural Beekeeping?

Well it’s Friday so am I going to ruffle any feathers?  I hope not.  I just am looking for the answer to, “What is natural Beekeeping?”  I read and hear of natural beekeeping all of the time.  Normally it is on some forum where someone is touting a specific hive design over another.  I will admit, though it is one of my tags, I cannot claim to be a natural beekeeper.  What I do with my painted boxes and frames is inherently un-natural.

Neolithic cave painting of someone harvesting honey.

Here is a picture of what I call NATURAL BEEKEEPING!  These guys are what I call HONEY LOVERS!!!.  No one would think it a good idea to go around and decimate wild colonies to fill the world’s honey demand.  I think that would be a horrible idea, but it would be natural no doubt.

Personally I would have loved to been a fly buzzing around as one neolithic guy said to the other, “Hey man I have an awesome idea!  Why don’t YOU climb way up there and get us some honey and brood to munch on!  Here is a torch we can’t keep lit, go on… everything will be fine!”  Back then nobody would have been ashamed of having a crazy uncle.  They would have HOPED they had one!

So if true natural beekeeping is something we cannot practice with any sustainability perhaps we can do some things to mimic it.

I have seen bees living in trees, crawlspaces, overhangs, block walls, wood walls, old car motor compartments, as well as several different hive designs.  They seem to make a pretty good go of it anywhere they decide to call home.  So why the big fuss over hive design?  Every design will have its own pros and cons.  How bout instead of labeling a certain design as more natural or more commercial we focus on trying to keep our bees alive and sharing information.  I hope to dabble in alternative designs in the future.  I might just learn something.

Can you tell me what natural beekeeping is?  Leave me a comment…

I am going to be working bees most of the day today and I have my tripod at least “rigged” together.  So hopefully next week I will have more content about what is going on with them.

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9 Responses to What is Natural Beekeeping?

  1. Sam says:

    This is true I never thought of “natural” as unsustainable, I know that heating houses with wood is totally unsustainable and I am glad that we have oil or hydro / nuclear / electric ect ect. It would be a horrific shame to cut down all our trees just so we can burn them.. When it comes down to it a lot of this stuff is pure semantics marketing jargon, sustainability is what we should be driving towards, importing all our queens, re-queening with said imports every year and importing all our nucs is undeniably unsustainable, especially since all those bees are being bred while being treated, severely stunting their ability to adapt to pathogens ect. Then by importing all our stock we are setting back our local feral stock..

    • Jason says:

      The other part of moving bees all around is that little hitchhikers come along like varroa and SHB. Anita said she had a friend that had SHB in a new package this year. They figured the bugs came in the package.

      I hived another trap today. Small group. While I was at the hive site I was checking out a HUGE group I hived last week. The bees coming and going from that box are awesome. They have individuals ranging from Italian features, brown ones, black ones, and some a dusky golden color I have never seen before. I need to get over there with a camera when I have a little more time. They are multicultural!! I don’t have any other hives with that much variation in appearance between the sisters. Cannot wait to see what they do. It is probably one of the best places I have bees too.

      Wanted to let you know. I have been adding open brood every three to four days to that group I brought from the firehouse. Today I finally found a hive that had more than 1 frame with eggs in it in one of my newly hived swarms. I removed one and added it to the firehouse box. I hope they can make a queen still. What do you think? Still easy peasey Or too late?

      • Sam says:

        twenty eight days +-5 days for a queen from just layed egg, that would be 24 days +- 5 days since they use a just hatched egg (3.5 day old egg)

        Queen cast.
        3½ days 8 days +-1 16 days +-1 Laying 28 days +-5
        (from bush bees)

        I think you have time.

  2. Mil says:

    Good question. I like RFF (ruffle feathers Friday).

    What is natural? It seems to be defined now by what you don’t do. I have fed my girls sugar syrup, but it was made with natural spring water I collected, and not tap water. Is that more natural than if the girls decide to collect syrup from the maraschino cherry factory (true story from NY, I think) and bring it back to the hive?

    Is TBH more natural than Langstroth? Is it better to just check the bees only twice a year like Kirk at Backwards Beekeepers does? Is it better to let them swarm in your neighborhood than checkerboarding?

    Yeah, I don’t like it when people use the moniker to divide rather than share info with each other.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll be pondering this one for a while.

    • Jason says:

      All of your questions are ones similar to the ones I ask myself all the time. Some day I hope to answer a couple of them.

  3. Sam says:

    I’m starting to think that “are you natural” is the right direction but the wrong question, “are you sustainable” is a better question. Since natural rhythms are the essence of sustainability and balance the two are unequivocally joined and perhaps better expressed together then apart, ie wood is natural but woodfired heaters are unsustainable.

  4. Bill says:

    (I know this was posted a month ago but I’m just getting caught up with the blog.)

    I suppose another question to ask is: What do you call it when you use un-natural beekeeping equipment (anything that is not a hollow of a tree), but you don’t use chemical treatments or foundation? Just as the imperfect (and sometimes loaded) word “organic” is used to describe the more sustainable agricultural practices, I think there should be a name for beekeeping practices that are alternatives to the norm used by the majority of the commercial outfits. I feel it’s important that a distinction be made so that people know there are alternative methods to what 90% of the literature available on the subject teaches.

    Trying to use the term “organic” with beekeeping is troublesome because people associate bees with food and in the food industry “organic” is a label that requires approval by the government. There’s too much baggage with that word.

    I feel like “sustainable” is becoming a politicized word. And, although it does describe the purpose, I think it also doesn’t carry much meaning to most people.

    Perhaps “natural” is not a perfect word either, but it seems to be the least objectionable word (or at least the word that is getting the most use at the moment) to describe the practice of not engaging in chemical warfare. But you’re right, beekeeping is fundamentally un-natural.

    • Jason says:

      Have you read Langstroths – On the Hive and the Honey Bee ? If not as a beekeeper I think you should. It is in audiobook format if you don’t have time to read it. It is free in both forms. Do a search on Google.

      I beleive that Langstroth is unjustifiably vilified by some modern beekeepers. This goes especially for top bar beekeepers. If you read his book you can tell Langstroth had a LOVE for bees. I don’t know what to call what I do with bees, but I try to honor them and not exploit them. Sounds cheesy I know. The way that I would prefer to say it is as follows and I hope that I don’t lose you as a reader of this blog……. The way I try to conduct myself is to realize that “Bees are not my bitch”. I cannot expect them to produce for me if I mishandle them.

      There is an idea that I hope gains traction. It is called Agritrue. I hope that this movement gains some steam. “Truth in agriculture”, sounds like an idea to me. I would like the opportunity to know as much as possible about the things that go into the mouths of myself and my family. As a food producer I hope others feel the same way.

      When people call things natural they refuse to look at the harsh realities found in nature. If everything was “natural” our world would be vastly different than what we wake up to every day. In nature there is now “law”. If another organism is competing for a resource my only resource is to eliminate the competition. That is no way to conduct a society. People don’t think enough about the words they use… 🙂

      Differences in opinion should once again be used as reasons to HAVE discourse as opposed to a reason to go talk to people who already have our opinions. Very little can be learned there.

      • Bill says:

        I agree completely. I’m not sure what kind of opposition you’ve come up against, but it sounds like you’ve had top-bar beekeepers telling you that Langstroth hives are un-natural and that top-bar is the only natural way. I’d argue they are wrong. But it sounds like they gave you a bad taste in your mouth regarding the term “natural beekeeping.”

        I read Langstroth’s book. In fact it was the first book I read last year when I began my research. Then I read “Beekeeping for Dummies” (yuck…not a fan), then “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping” and Ross Conrad’s “Natural Beekeeping.” Both Ross Conrad and the Idiot’s Guide promote what they call “natural beekeeping” and also promote Langstroth hives. So to those authors it’s not so much about the equipment as it is about the methods. (They do mention top-bar and other equipment, but they say they use mostly Langstroth.)

        No foundation. That is natural. No chemicals or medicines. That is natural. No queen excluder. That is natural. Leaving the bees with sufficient honey stores for winter. That is natural. Taking them out of a tree and putting them in a box (of any shape) on the ground. Well…that’s un-natural, but we need to draw the line somewhere if we want to be a part of the process and maybe get a little honey out of it without destroying the entire hive.

        “Apitrue”? Hmm…needs too much explanation. How about the term “naturally managed”? A nice oxymoron that is also kind of self-explanatory.

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