The way of the Bee (Natural Beekeeping)
article by milkwoodkirsten
Bees just want to be bees. I’ve learned recently that, like most things in nature, a honeybee colony is most happy, calm and resilient when it’s left to do what it does best. For bees, this means forage for nectar and pollen, raise a brood, and make honey. And bees want to do this in their own time, on their own schedule, and with the freedom to respond to each unique season. Which is quite contrary to how we currently manage bees. So what’s going on here?
Our species’ treatment of the honeybee is a striking metaphor for our wider relationship with nature. In short, we started out okay, with a suitable amount of reverence, and then we progressively sought to bend the way of the bee to our wishes, convenience and ultimately, gross profit at the expense of all else. The result of this treatment has pushed the honeybee (a primary pollinator of most things we eat) to the point of collapse, and now we’re wondering what went wrong and how the heck to fix it. Sound familiar?
Until recently I thought beekeeping was pretty simple and straight forward. Don’t you just get a hive, plunk some bees in it, put it somewhere suitable, check it lots for disease, then harvest honey once a year? But once i started thinking, reading and chatting about it, I realized there are ways and there are ways…
…a bee colony is a finely tuned super-organism with about 40 million years of evolutionary backup. Bees have been refining what they do for a bloody long time, and they’ve got things pretty much sorted. Understanding how they operate in a completely natural system is a good starting point for understanding their needs.
So natural beekeeping (as opposed to not-quite-as-bad-as-conventional beekeeping, sometimes called by the same name) is all about letting bees be bees, and harvesting surplus honey when it is available. In the meantime, you get fantastic fertility from having so many pollinators around, and you’re creating resilient colonies which are disease resistant.