Bees are truly amazing insects. As a child growing up on the farm I occasionally saw the clump of white boxes sitting in a neighbouring paddock, however I never really knew how important bees were for the pollination of many of the plants we rely on for our survival.
A study that was conducted in 2006 by CSIRO scientists from England, Germany, US and Australia found that one in every three mouthfuls of food we consume comes from insect pollinated crops. This study was conducted in over 200 countries worldwide and found that 87 of the 110 global food crops we rely on require animal pollination (to varying extents).
Personally I found these figures astonishing, especially when most of the time we regard bees purely as creatures that sting and give honey.
This blog post is not aimed at commercial production of honey but rather a way to introduce bees into your backyard, garden or farm for the purpose of plant pollination and honey for personal consumption.
A natural way to keep bees?
Keeping bees will never be purely natural unless you leave bees alone in the wild to do their thing. I was introduced to a more natural way in beekeeping after attending a two day natural beekeeping course on the subject. I tend to make judgements on what makes more sense to me rather than “idealistic values”, therefore I try to read books or articles and talk to people about different ways to do the same thing, only then do I feel like I can form my own view. Natural beekeeping, using ‘the peoples hive’ (more on that later) made sense to me immediately. there are a few keys points that differentiate it from beekeeping in conventional hives:
1) The inside of the hive is observed less frequently (As little as 2-3 times a year) thereby reducing chilling of the brood, which can lead to weaker colonies that become more susceptible to disease.
2) The hive box is square and of a dimension where the bees are easily able to regulate the internal hive temperature during colder periods (the larger hive boxes of conventional hives entail a large amount of air space that requires more energy to heat).
3) The hive is expanded from below (hive boxes added) and the honey harvested from the top. This mimics a tree trunk. This may sound crazy but bees that build colonies in hollow trees draw comb downwards during a honey flow, they then move up to their honey stores to feed during winter. By mimicking this action we can let the bees draw comb down through the hive boxes and take the top boxes off after the comb full of honey has been capped and the brood has moved into lower boxes.
4) Less equipment and time is needed to prepare the hive – Frames or top bars can be used and are fitted with starter strips rather than foundation that requires wiring (conventional hives). This allows bees to natural form their own comb to their needs.
5) The more natural ‘peoples hive’ system produces less honey – From a commercial standpoint this is unfavourable, however from an amateur beekeepers perspective this is something that leads to an eventual saving in time, money and bee health. Less disease is apparent due to decreased disturbance of the hive (The bees regulate the inner temp of the hive at a constant 35°C and whenever we observe the hive the bees have to work hard to raise the temperature again) and less time is needed to manage the hives. This is not to say that careful observation of hive health and the monitoring of activity at the hive entrance is not necessary).
As a sugar, honey is hard to beat. The form of glucose that is found in honey can immediately be assimilated and taken into the blood stream, whereas artificial sugars use invertase that is released from the stomach and intestines. This invertase is also used to break down fats and starches, therefore by consuming artificial sugars we increase the demand on our organs. Honey also contains formic acid, which makes an effective antiseptic. There are many health benefits to honey and many practical uses for bees wax.
To learn more about ‘the peoples hive’, natural beekeeping and bees take a look at the free ebook “Beekeeping for all” by Abbe Warre, The bee-friendly beekeeper by David Heaf and the biobees website.
To learn more about general beekeeping, the conventional way and bees check out the NSW DPI – Bee agskills publication (Australian residents), The bee book by ann cliff, The dancing bees by Karl Von-Frisch and backyard beekeeping by Courtney N. Smithers
Where to from here?
We will hopefully be establishing a few “peoples hives” on the farm in the future, with two already built and ready to go. Having said that it is certainly possible to become a beekeeper in an urban environment with many councils allowing 1-2 hives per backyard. I will add another post to the beekeeping category soon about how to build your own “peoples hive” aka Warre hive with observation windows. If you are interested in attending a natural beekeeping course and you live in Australia check out the Malfroys gold website and make sure you grab a copy of the free ebook by Abbe Warre – Beekeeping for all. I have no commercial interests in this blog therefore any recommendation I am giving are purely based on positive experiences.