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Natural Beekeeping

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Honeybee colonies have been dying more often in recent years, largely due to the stresses inherent in commercial beekeeping. Thomas D. Seeley, a retired Cornell University professor, suggests in his 2019 book,The Lives of Bees, that the solution involves creating more natural environments for bees.

Commercial honeybee colonies are transported across the country and then placed in orchards, “where they are overcrowded and exposed to pesticides.” Commercial beekeepers breed queen bees for “high honey production,” not to resist the mites attacking their hives. “In the wild,” Seeley says, “adult worker bees (the queen’s daughters) have evolved to kill Varroa mites by biting off their legs. This adaptation is preferable to using miticides to kill the parasite.“


Seeley writes, “If you let an animal live naturally, it is able to use its full toolbox and set of skills to survive and reproduce.” 


Brenda Kiessling, a retired physician and an Eastern Apicultural Society of North America-certified master beekeeper, reminds us that bees survived ecological changes for more than a 100 million years.


The challenge now is to mimic a more “natural environment” that will enable to adapts and evolve. Seeley says this means creating small hives about the size of a natural nest in the wild, and in urban areas maintaining at least 100 feet between hives. Also hives should be as far as possible from areas treated with insecticides.


“To get mite-resistant honeybees for a new hive, Seeley says, beekeepers can capture a wild swarm by putting out bait hives in remote places, far from colonies kept by beekeepers. In spring, when the hive gets too crowded, the queen and half the colony will swarm, or leave the colony to find a new home. Kiessling recommends capturing the swarm while they are hanging out on a tree branch or bush.” Buying bees online will not provide a healthy bee colony.


Hives should be built with rough-sawn lumber, as these surfaces “encourage the production of propolis, a mixture of resins, beeswax and other materials made by the bees that boosts the colony’s ability to fight bacterial and fungal infections.” If only smooth lumber is available, the interior surface should be heavily scratched.


Do you live where a natural wild beehive might be created? With your friends, might this be an eco-choice for you?


Marissa Hermanson, “A once-obscure type of beekeeping could help save colonies,”    


Thomas D. Seeley, The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild.

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