Natural Sustainable Beekeeping: Alternatives to Medication and Swarm Control

top bar hive with honeybees photo

Image credit: The Barefoot Beekeeper

When I wrote about the native black honeybee being held up as a savior for the UK beekeeping industry, it set me off musing about the general state of beekeeping theory. Being a newbie who only just got done installing a bee hive, I make no claims to being an expert. But I am surprised at the focus in most beekeeping manuals on limiting the gene pool by stopping swarms, artificially replacing queens etc, and also on routine use of medication. Often only passing mention is made of the fact that some bee diseases like American Foulbrood have recently shown signs of antibiotic resistance. Given what we know about overuse of antibiotics, it seems to me we may be headed for trouble. For now, I plan mostly on following the manuals, learning what I can from the traditional beekeepers, and observing my bees closely. But I am on the hunt for alternative points of view. And it seems alternatives exist.
One site that I have come across is the Barefoot Beekeeper, a site dedicated to "sustainable, low-impact, low-cost, chemical-free, small-scale, 'organic' or 'natural' beekeeping, using simple equipment that almost anyone can make at home." The approach seems to be keeping bees in top-bar hives - a much simpler construction of hive that can be made for free and more closely mimics bees in the natural environment (but also produces smaller quantities of honey).

The site is, I believe, run by PJ Chandler - author of The Barefoot Beekeeper and includes a natural beekeeping forum that features discussion of everything from biodynamic beekeeping, to pest and disease prevention and treatment, to discussion broken out by hive type (including traditional box/frame hives).

There's way too much information for me to absorb in a quick scan - but I am delighted to find a forum where folks are discussing alternatives to 'business as usual'. As a firm believer in evolution, it seems like only common sense that overly limiting the bees' natural gene pool would lead to weaknesses, and conversely that routinely applying medication and antibiotics will only strengthen the diseases that are out there. So maybe beekeeping needs to evolve too...

But as I say - I am only a beginner. I would love to hear fro beekeepers of all persuasions, and I am definitely on the lookout for more resources about natural and sustainable beekeeping - so please leave your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below. Abd in the meantime, check out PJ Chandler's tip sheet on ten things you can do to help the bees.

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