MY APPROACH to BEEKEEPING
“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Any honest beekeeper will tell you that they will never know everything there is to know about bees and that they are continually mystified, amazed and surprised by bees, and that they never stop learning from the bees. Each colony functions like a single body, a wonderfully hard working democratic unit, operating with great inborn intelligence and an exquisite ability to communicate through senses so keen that we are barely beginning to understand how they function.
I began my beekeeping experience with guidance from a wonderfully calm and gentle beekeeper. My first hive was a Langstroth hive kept at his farm. He taught me how to relax around bees, how to inspect a hive, what to look for and how to stand back and let the bees do what they do best, which is collect pollen and nectar, raise their young, and make honey.
I have since worked in a treatment-free apiary with many types of hives (single brood chamber, double brood chamber, top bar and observation). I have found many, many queens, inspected hives with both gentle and ornery bees, caught swarms and rescued bee colonies. I learned that there are many different ways to keep bees and that methods employed vary depending on the breed of bees, the setting of, and therefore microclimate of, the apiary and external influences such as proximity to forage crops or to crops that are sprayed with pesticides, fungicides or treated with neonicotinoids.
I have the greatest respect for bees. They are not pets. Those that keep bees are privaleged to work with them. To have bees you must provide a safe house for them. Here in Ontario it is against the law to house bees in a hive that can not be inspected. So yes, even though we have created an unnatural situation, (keeping bees in boxes instead of in trees where they origionally resided), we can, non-the-less raise bees in a natural way. By not using any chemicals in our hives, by letting bees requeen when they choose and encoraging them to build their own natural comb, we can work with bees in a mutually benificial state. We provide safe housing for the bees and they provide us with wonderfully fruitful gardens and delicious, healthful honey.
Over the years I have remained solid in my commitment to treatment-free beekeeping. There are many pests and diseases that can afflict honey bees and just as many chemical products, pesticides, antibiotics, essential oils available to treat them. I strongly believe that not only can bees survive without these treatments, but that they are better off in the long run without them. There are many beekeepers that speak eloquently on the topic such as Michael Bush.
"A bee colony is a whole system in itself of beneficial and benign fungi, bacteria, yeasts, mites, insects and other flora and fauna that depend on the bees for their lively hood. All of the pest controls tend to kill the mites and insects. All of the antibiotics used by beekeepers tend to kill either the bacteria (Terramycin, Tylosin, essential oils, organic acids and thymol do this) or the fungi and yeasts (Fumidil, essential oils, organic acids and thymol do this). The whole balance of this precarious system has been upset by all the treatments in the hive. And recently beekeepers switched to a new antibiotic, Tylosin, which the beneficial bacteria has not had a chance to build up resistance to and they have switched to formic acid as a treatment which shifts the pH radically to the acidic and kills many of the microorganisms of the hive." Michael Bush
I also believe that the best way to have bees that survive in our area is to keep bees that are raised locally. Bees imported from California or Australia are not going to survive as well genetic stock adapted to survive our relatively short summers and harsh Canadian winters. My bees are from locally raised bees, from feral survivor stock and from nucs raised here in Ontario. I do not requeen my hives but let them make their own queens.