Northern Bee Books
Natural Bee Husbandry is published by Northern Bee Books. Please contact us at www.northernbeebooks.co.uk or telephone +44 1 (0) 1422 882751
Top

Letters to the Editor

Perhaps the magazine can focus on proven benefits of sustainable practices.

I have looked forward to this new magazine – and the fact that it is ‘out’ is great, and first attempts probably never satisfy all expectations.

So in a way it comes as no surprise that the ‘usual (mostly British) suspects’ were featured. However, having gone through a ‘finding the right hive phase’ myself, for years, and not having made the correct choice (with hindsight) I am somewhat frustrated that there was/is so much emphasis on HIVE types – rather than natural husbandry PRACTICES.

I am still a beginner, but:
a) I believe the debate between top bar and Warré disciples is a very British one. From what I have seen, there is a much wider natural beekeeping crowd in Germany, which uses the bee-box (http://www.bienenkiste.de/ – which does not seem to have made it to the UK), or the Einraumbeute (www.mellifera.de/einraumbeute – in use by professional beekeepers, too). Is this a language issue? When I meet (sustainable) beekeepers in Germany, they are aware of the Warré and the top bar hives – but I don’t know anyone who uses these.
b) Interestingly enough, the Demeter guidelines (who in my opinion are the most advanced/thorough rules in place) on beekeeping do not mention hives at all – but focus on what practices are ‘allowed’ (and not) under ‘sustainable’ beekeeping. I am not alone in believing that natural husbandry PRACTICES can be followed in a lot of ‘traditional’ hive types, too. Hence I hope that in future the magazine will focus on PRACTICES and not so much on hive types. After all, the bees seem to accept the whatever odd shapes is available, under rafters …: Cavities in old trees are rarely as spherically perfect as the Hobosphere (a type which is only possible thanks to the latest technology – -see below – but so far off the chart financially, as to be not of great interest; but then: People seem to ‘fall’ for the lure of the ‘Flow Hive’ in droves – the perfect example of technology having gone off the rails: Plastic in the hive, bees worse off then the poor on a Victorian treadmill …, all biology disregarded (hygiene, propolis, comb size, …).

But should we not be careful NOT to throw out the frame with the hive, so to speak. I.e. not everything modern is bad: I was somewhat aghast that David Heath listed under ‘aspects for consideration’ “no Langstrothian ‘bee spaces’”.

From what I have seen/read, recognising this space is a milestone – similar to Darwin’s and his ‘discovery’ of evolution: Bees seem to adhere to that space in free-style combs after all, too. What people do with the bee space is another issue (see the flow hive). But as with all other organic agriculture and husbandry: It must be aware of and if possible make use some of the most advanced technologies and developments. E.g. milking robots (in Demeter dairies): Hand milking may look idyllic – the robots are better for cows and farmers. Or do we contemplate going back to the middle ages, where skep hives were fumigated or dumped into water, in order to get to the honey?

So frames are good (as far as I can see) – even if one leaves them alone most of the time.

In any case, the Warré I used had top bars – i.e. ¼ frames, and they adhere to the bee space. The Australian Warré beekeeper featured in the magazine has ¾ frames – great!

The Fischermuehle in Germany, demeter, commercial and research, mentioned in David Heaf’s article (the picture does not show one of their hives) uses frames, and accepts wiring as a compromise (metal …) – working with sticks (in the frames) does not work well enough for the centrifugal forces. But if (as an amateur) one does cut and squeeze: No wiring or sticks is/are needed, and keeping comb fresh is easy.

Maybe the criticism of frames should be more focused on foundation – and even there: Darwin experimented with smooth foundation – which can give the bee a helping hand, while allowing them to build any size they want. Maybe not a bad compromise?

And if we, i.e. the sustainable lot, want to ‘convince’ ‘traditional’ beekeepers, expecting them first of all to change all their hives seems to be a bit of a non starter. How about suggesting to them to change some practices, like no queen clipping, allowing swarming, no queen excluders? Preaching about the benefits of a Warre (which for me did not work as described) or a top bar hive leaves the easy exit ‘well, I have my gear, I am not going to change …’ Perhaps the magazine can focus on proven benefits of sustainable practices.

Martin Kunz
UK

Replies

Martin –
As you surmised, it is well nigh impossible to meet 500 readers’ expectations in a single issue! But thank you for your comments, some of which we would like to address: “preaching about the benefits of certain hive types” certainly never was our authors’ intent. Nor do we specifically aim to “convince traditional beekeepers” – we find that the bees are quite good at inspiring better practice themselves. The journal is intended as a forum for people engaging in bee-centered husbandry to relate their experience, it is intended furthermore to provide such people with a unique reading experience which unlike all other beekeeping magazines extant does not oblige them to wade through masses of bee management advice that is alien to their aspirations. And of course, we also hope to impart confidence to those who, feeling estranged by what conventional teaching asks them to do, seek for affirmation and sound advice.

You mention the Demeter Standards. Yes, when they were first published, more than 30 years ago, they were the most advanced regarding bee-centeredness and they do indeed focus largely on husbandry, but also hive materials. However, the issue of treatment-free beekeeping, on which those standards remain silent, has gained prominence in recent years, and it would seem that British experience in this matter has much to teach us.

We share your concern for the wider promulgation of the fundamental principles of bee-centered husbandry. These will certainly be referred to in Natural Bee Husbandry Magazine, however, their exposition in detail will not be a focus of our author’s deliberations. The average reader of NBH, we are confident, is well aware that the mutilation of queen bees is an aberration of honey-driven beekeeping, and will not seek confirmation of this in NBH.

We heartily agree with you that natural husbandry practices can be followed in a lot of ‘traditional’ hive types, too. As far as the bees are concerned, their ‘traditional’ hive of choice is a tree hollow, and to this we intend to also turn our attention. Thank you for writing to us, we hope that you will find in future issues to cover some of what you missed in the first.

Heidi Herrmann
Advisory Editor

Looking forward to the next issue.

Received Issue 1 yesterday and finished it today. Loved it. Excellent variety of subjects. “A Bee Loud Glade” was stunning. Other articles very informative. Always like anything Phil Chandler has to say.

Warré hives are not well understood or popular here in the U.S. so it’s nice to learn more about them. It’s delightful to read a bee magazine that’s not pushing chemical treatments for varroa.

So thank you for a lovely break from that. Looking forward to the next issue.

Leslie Tiller
7410 Colony Point Rd, Norfolk, VA. 23505, USA

I have two questions...

Dear Editors,

First of all, let me share with you that I was thrilled when I heard about the news that a new magazine is born that will deal about topics on natural beekeeping. I read the first copy and subscribed immediately afterwards…

I am a ‘young’ (all is relative, I am 39) beekeeper, 8 years now, and I am the ‘VP’ of our local beekeeping association (190 active beekeepers) around Antwerp, Belgium. (www.ifang.be).

And I have 2 questions, which I hope that you may answer, in the form of an article, in your next issues:

How do I start?
I read all the books, all the fora, all the articles on how to keep your bees in a natural way. I do not cull drone brood, I do not move my hives, I don’t buy queens from our breeder, I do not prevent swarming (on the contrary), I only open the hives 3 times a year, bees winter on honey as much as possible, I avoid the chemicals and the complicated brood-frame-switch-methods, I switch to horizontal hives (deep frames…), and so forth,… but I am still struggling to keep my bees alive. 2 years ago I lost 6 of my 7 hives, most probably due to heavy varroa infestation as I counted over 50 mites a day in the tray in the days prior to their ‘collapse’ in autumn. I did not conduct the ‘James Bond’ method, so I treated with formic acid in summer and oxalic acid in winter, which I still do, but nevertheless I do not belong to the gang of beekeepers that can keep bees without treating.

Many articles, also the one in your magazine, describe the methods of beekeepers that do not need to treat against varroa, and in many cases they say that they are doing this for more than 15 years… But my question is: How can I gradually switch to not-treating, without having the risk of losing all my colonies? So what steps and guidelines do I have to follow and when exactly can I or should I intervene to avoid too many losses?

2. Carnolians vs dark bee
In the region where I live (Antwerp) 98% of the beekeepers have the carnolian bees (A. m. carnica). However, several beekeepers are switching to the European Dark Bees (A.m. mellifera). A small area in Belgium is protected for this species and they have much higher winter surviving rates (8% colonies died vs 30% in the last 3 winters). Not a surprise to many beekeepers, as this bee is locally adapted, and thus more resistant. And the dark bee is known to have a longer brood-free period and so forth…

Now, I am a member of this association (http://www.mellifica.be/) and I could order some queens if I would like to.  Would this be a good idea, given the fact that the large majority of beekeepers has another race in its hive?

I definitely do not request an answer to my email personally! But I would love that my questions would be answered in the next issues of your magazine, as many of my fellow beekeepers struggle with the same questions. Whether it would be in the form of an article, or in the form of  ‘readers question’, or whatever form, that would be wonderful…

In the mean time… good luck with the initiative… I will stay tuned in…

Kind regards,
Pieter Wuyts
Kasteellei 141, 2110 Wijnegem
pieter.wuyts@bijdepieter.be

Replies

Peter –

I have great sympathy with your position reflected in your questions and
the choices are very difficult to make.

As regards the varroa issue, it takes a great deal of courage to stop
treating colonies. I don’t know how many of your colonies will get through winter, but if you are able too, I would divide the colonies between two apiaries. In one I would put colonies with the lowest varroa counts (but take into account the strength of the colonies) in one apiary, not treat them and monitor them. The others, should you wish, could be treated in any non-chemical way. Results from monitoring of colonies may then determine what you do next. Our second issue of NBH has swarming as its main theme, and it is generally recognised that swarms are helpful in keeping down varroa numbers as there is a hiatus in brood production. See also: resistantbees.com/blog/?page_id=2158

As regards the bee race issue, I would go along with your instinct to go for the more native bees which are suited to the west of Europe. Whilst it is true that naturally raised queens may not be purchased, you will at least have some of the desired genes. By keeping these bees only, they will have some influence on the colonies in the neighbourhood in several ways.

Firstly, by allowing the bees to build comb freely there will be more
drones in your hives than in those which are managed and based on foundation. Secondly, many beekeepers unfortunately cull drones as part of their varroa control. If this is practised in your area then there will be more drones of your choice in the locality. Additionally, when summers are poor, mating takes place more locally than in hot summers where the queens might fly to distant drone assemblies. My good friend Beowulf Cooper who was the founder of the British Isles Bee Breeders Association, recommended going for honey in the good years and bee breeding in poor summers when matings would be local. Of course, there may well be other similar minded beekeepers in you area who will help you to establish native colonies and by giving away surplus queens others might be encouraged to keep them to.

No doubt there will be different responses to your questions from our readers, and I, like you, look forward to what they have to say.

John Phipps
Editor

Most attractive, encouraging and inspiring.

Dear Editor

Just about to start a first bee colony. In a country town, in south-east Australia. So thrilled to see your Bee Husbandry magazine. Most attractive and encouraging and inspiring.

THANKS !

Kind regards and sunbeams fall on your endeavours.

Ambrosia David.

Nothing in your magazine that showed anyone has yet designed a ``natural`` hive.

Dear John

There was nothing in your magazine that showed anyone has yet designed a “natural” hive to assist bees in their life ambitions. Bees need to control the colony temperature, humidity, ventilation, dew point, evaporation and condensation. That statement needs to be the starting point of any attempt to design a better habitation for a biological system such as a bee colony. The bees habitat of choice is a cave or a hole in a large hollow tree. These habitats assist the bees in temperature control, insulation and thermal mass to varying degrees. Any colony formed in such an environment has the benefit of easier thermo-regulation and will mostly have a compact, heat retaining shape closer to a sphere. The top bar and Warre hives both featured fail at this first hurdle. (Even a straw skep is better for bees). This is not eased by them having bottom entry and top ventilation causing a stack/flue effect. This works best in winter when not needed, because the difference in ambient and brood temperatures is greater.

The Einraumbeute hive has a better volume to external area ratio being much more compact, but its external envelope appears to still be (natural?) thin wood through which heat will readily be lost or gained, testing the bees thermo-regulation capabilities. Your first issue contents were therefore a disappointment. There was nothing there that addresses the bees needs in the physical environmental design sense.

I invite you to go on the ZEST webpage www.thezesthive.com where you will see a hive design that meets these bee requirements. Some of the ZEST hives basic drawings are attached here, which you may wish to publish. The external envelope of floor, walls and roof is “unnatural” insulating blocks which eases the bees thermo-regulation duties due to its combined insulation value and thermal capacity.

Natural beekeepers need to throw off their self-imposed anthropocentric convictions of what constitutes “natural” and start explaining just what is demonstrably harmful to bees about plastic frames and an insulated block external envelope. The use of “natural” wood needs trees to be cut down in their prime, yet plastic (in its many forms) is a waste product of the fuel industry. “****** ”natural”. What’s best?

Bill Summers
UK

I keep survivor stock feral from cutouts and swarms and trap-outs in Manhattan Beach CA.

Editors NBH
Hi, thanks so much for this! My friend, Michael Bush, of Nebraska, sent this to me. I keep survivor stock ferals from cutouts and swarms and trap-outs in Manhattan Beach CA – 28 colonies, foundationless, Langstroth, mostly deep bodies, no treatments or feeding. Our bees are very productive, vigorous, have AHB genetics (as does all of the Southern US) are lovely to work with, and can swarm year ’round. Because of the urban proximity of most citizens NOT keeping bees, I must control swarming artificially by brood nest management in Spring (but I do not use queen excluders – unlimited brood nest is allowed, no drone culling). We will get in trouble with municipal authorities if we allow swarming, viewed as a “nuisance”

Yes, the careful explanation of wintering characteristics by Dorian Pritchard were VERY interesting, and worth it to me to send to many contacts who may benefit from reading his piece.   Since I do not have these climatic conditions, I have very different bees!

The piece by David Heaf is very important. I have written exchanges with researchers and scientists all the time, and if they are not outright hostile, they are dismissive and deprecating when I debate their “varroa control” issues.  Here is a representative piece you may not have seen: www.wired.com/2016/08/jerry-hayes-how-to-save-the-bees-monsanto

Sincerely,  
Susan Rudnicki,
Manhattan Beach CA, USA

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.