Backwards Beekeeping: You can’t pretend to be natural, it will end in tears.

From Gerald in Cullowhee, NC:

So–I am now an organic beekeeper. But am cheating a bit–we have no other bees that we know of within a couple miles so no chance of catching something from other hives.

Hi Gerald,

Glad to hear you are interested in moving to a more beneficial environment for you bees.

Regarding the distance from other known hives. Even without checking Google maps for obvious hives, you are inevitably going to have wild hives in your area. This is a good thing. It gives your queens partners with differing genetic backgrounds which will eventually save your hive from some disaster we haven’t even heard of yet.

Sorry to break your heart regarding safety from mites. Even if you have no wild hives nearby, mites will drop off onto a flower and hitch a ride on a new bee in the hopes of ending up in a new colony. The reality is, you are going to have mites. The question is: Are you creating a situation where the bees are too weak to resist the mites and all of the other problems present in the natural environment?

Are you foundationless in the brood chamber? If not, you have workers the size of drones – the natural target of mites. Foundation was designed by a past era obsessed with the idea of bigger is better. The mites can kill Drones all day. There are plenty of extra Drones in a natural hive. Your Worker population has been raised in over large cells and look like Drones to the mites. When the mites attack the Workers, the hive dies. Workers raised without foundation are ignored by the mites or are groomed off. Let go of your attachment to foundation or it will end in tears.

Are you chemical and supplement free? If not, you are contaminating the wax and feeding the bees at a ph which reduces their resistance to their own natural environment.

The only way to keep your hive alive, productive and mite free is to let the bees build their own comb in the brood chamber, and ideally, throughout the hive. The best science available at this point suggests foundation is the bee killer. This gets amazingly little press because commercial beekeepers, and commercial bee suppliers, are not interested in hearing their methods are doomed.

Contaminated foundation is what weakens the hive to the point that all the other things present in the ecosystem of the hive overwhelm the bees. Since suppliers use contaminated wax to make foundation, the only way to help the bees is get foundation out of the hive.

Your hive is an artificial environment in the best of circumstances. What we’re trying to do is recreate a wild hive in a way which allows us to harvest the honey without destroying the hive. Letting your bees build their own foundation is the minimum you can do to redress the balance. Let your bees be bees!

Full Disclosure: If I seem to be a little hard on Gerald in this post it is because I have helped him open up the hive he is talking about. I have talked to him almost daily about his hive. He is the person who taught me how to keep bees, starting when I was only in fourth grade. He is in fact my father.

Like so many beekeepers of his era, he is still looking for an artificial resolution to the problems his hives face. He needs to look for a natural solution. Wild swarms are making their way just fine. The more you try to intervene, the more you place your hive in danger. As with so many things in this modern world, the giant chemical corporations are not the answer. They are the source of the problems. They are the cause of almost every problem their propaganda suggests they have a solution for. You cannot sell herbicide and compost bins. You cannot sell insecticide and organic honey.

Most Sincerely with Love,

Kevin and Natalie

-Backwards Beekeepers.

13 Comments on “Backwards Beekeeping: You can’t pretend to be natural, it will end in tears.

  1. I am in process of regressing bee size in my bee yard. If you start with large bees it takes a while to cycle out the larger comb that the big bees tend to make. You just have to slowly take out the old frames and let them draw new ones, as the workers get smaller, the combs get smaller. It is in all, a beautiful process. Thank you for this blog post!

    • Hi there Sewing Machine Girl!
      As I hope to make clear in the next post I am taking you through regression as well as conversion to foundationless with one process.

  2. Here’s a question: what if we went frameless in the brood boxes and put frames in the honey supers? I ask this for two reasons: one of us wants to go frameless and the other doesn’t; and, we already have frames in the honey supers but will need to buy more frames for the brood boxes!!

    • Hi Becca,
      Since I am not sure that we are using the terms the same way, please take a couple minutes to read this post and ask your question there as a comment. I should be able to answer very quickly.

      • Hi Kevin! Seeing this comment 2 years later. Although I don’t feel bad since it looks like you just answered it! 🙂 Anyway, looks like I meant foundationless in the brood boxes. At least, I hope that’s what I meant! 🙂

        • I have been discovering that many comments I thought I answered through the blog interface were not visible. I have been going through and trying to answer all the older comments again using the Discus interface.

          You should be foundationless throughout the hive. You don’t want chemicals in the honey stores anymore than you want them in the brood box.

  3. It looks like I’m a fellow backwards beekeeper. I’ve never used any foundation. I’ve got Warre’s and top bar log hives. Swarms have inhabited the log hives on their own (after I tried unsuccessfully to drop swarms into them) I’ve never treated and this year I didn’t feed (my Warre’s)
    I’ve got a new log hive almost ready for action. It’s 7 foot tall and because it’s “my passion” I got my three grandkids’ faces carved on it. The entrances to the hive are through the mouths of the kids. As soon as possible, I’ll bait the top bars, position the quilt box on top, then the lid and sit back and hope for a swarm. Is it possible to share a picture on here?

  4. Hi – this is helpful for me as a new beekeeper striving to be organic. I do have a question though about adding foundationless frames to a beehive – I’ve found that adding new boxes over my brood box don’t attract bees, and that the bees are not likely (in the 1-2 weeks they’ve had this new box) to start building comb in the new box. Instead, they’re using every last bit of space in their first single broodbox.

    Since these two boxes are different sizes (I’m trying to get to mediums, but my nuc was in deeps, so I have one deep box), would it make sense to move my first, strong brood box to be above my second, empty, med box?

    Thank you for your thoughts!

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