How Much Honey Can I Give My 3 Yesr Old Restoring the Balance in Beekeeping

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Restoring the Balance in Beekeeping

Honeybees cannot be domesticated in the sense that cows or pigs or sheep were. They are essentially unchanged by man, despite many attempts to breed them according to our needs. Their unique mating behavior and reproductive cycle ensure that diversity and adaptability will continue to be the dominant themes in their evolution.

As I see it, our main job as beekeepers – or beekeepers, or beekeepers – is to be attentive and understand our bees to the best of our ability. We cannot fully enter their world, but we have the opportunity to gain a greater appreciation of it. And as we begin to understand how deeply embedded they are in the natural world, and what sensitive indicators they are of disturbances in the natural world, we may find ourselves unable to envision a functioning planet without them.

So before launching headlong into keeping bees, I encourage you to take a deep breath and think about what really interests you about them, as this will give you some important information on how best to proceed. An hour or two of careful thought at this stage could save you weeks or months of time, trouble and money.

To help you decide where you stand on the “beekeeping” side, I’ve identified six types of beekeeping, three of which fall on the “conventional” side and three on the “natural” side:

  • Honey cultivation: production-focused, intensive management of bees for maximum honey yield or for migratory pollination. Typically involves routine sugar feeding and prophylactic medications, including antibiotics and acaricides. Queens are usually raised using artificial insemination and replaced frequently, while drones are suppressed and swarming is prevented by excision of queen cells or by splitting colonies. Usually involves some movement of hives, sometimes over great distances. This is a business profit, but like other agricultural work, there will be good and bad years.
  • Lateral beekeeping: a smaller-scale, part-time version of honey farming. The main goal is profit, but your livelihood may not entirely depend on it.
  • Beekeeping Association: a miniature version of commercial or sideline beekeeping, as advertised and taught by most beekeepers. Usually the intention is to still produce the maximum amount of honey, but from fewer hives and not necessarily for financial reward. Queens are often marked and clipped and in most other respects the methods resemble those of the honey farmer.
  • Balanced beekeeping: the emphasis is on bee welfare and facilitating the natural behavior of bees, with the intention of providing conditions in which bees can find their own solutions. Restricted intake of honey and other bee products only when abundant and suitable. Beekeepers may or may not use mite treatments or medications, but if they do, they use non-toxic, natural substances that support bee health rather than targeting specific disorders. Queens are open-mated, separations are optional and swarming may or may not be managed.
  • Natural beekeeping: similar to “balanced beekeeping”, with the emphasis on “nothing” approaches. Little or no management is attempted, and rarely is dispersal or queen rearing done beyond what the bees do themselves. Hives rarely open; routine inspections are discouraged; honey is rarely taken; other bee products hardly at all.
  • Beekeeping conservation: bees for their own sake; no honey taken and no inspections, treatments or feeding. Bees do as they please and take risks with the weather and forage. Bee-friendly plants can be incorporated into a conservation-style scheme that can include other pollinator species.

While I have shown these as separate categories, they should really be considered segments of a continuous spectrum, from most to least invasive and from most to least ‘production-focused’. It is also possible – at least, in theory – for a honey producer to operate apiaries along “Darwinian” lines – without drugs and relying on a survivor – thus closing the circle.

You may notice that in the above list I did not mention any particular types of beehive. While it is true that certain designs are better suited for specific applications, it is possible to be a ‘balanced beekeeper’ using a conventional frame hive, and in France there are honey farmers using Warré hives – a vertical variant of the top bar hive that was designed for honey production.

It would also be perfectly possible to be a ‘meddling’ beekeeper in a top bar hive, so I don’t think it’s useful to categorize beekeepers just by the shape of their hives or even by personality traits: it’s their intent and attitude. that matters to their bees.

The origins of “natural beekeeping”

Some of you who have read my books and are familiar with my methods may wonder why I seem to create a category of beekeeping – seemingly out of thin air – just as we used to use the term “natural beekeeping”. Where did this “balanced beekeeping” come from?

The term “natural beekeeping” was first (to my knowledge) openly discussed at a meeting of about a dozen interested parties at the Bees for Development offices in Monmouth in 2009. We were trying to find a general term for what we were all trying to do. – in slightly different ways – to achieve, and differentiate ourselves from the conventional methods as widely taught in Britain and elsewhere. While we recognized the paradox embedded in the term, we also felt that it encouraged discussion and drew attention to the distinctions we wanted to make.

Since that meeting, there has been an ongoing discussion about what ‘natural beekeeping’ actually means – because no beekeeping is completely natural – and just how natural we should be, and what is unnatural about conventional methods. This conversation generated further distinctions and it became clear to me that some “natural” beekeepers have come down – at least temporarily – on the “non-intervention” side of the fence, preferring to observe bees and keep them in containers not designed for. be opened very often – or at all, in some cases – while others want to keep bees in a way that still allows for some swarm control, meeting inspection requirements and with the possibility of removing some honey when abundant.

In short, “natural beekeeping” seems to have shifted to the “conservation” end of the spectrum and created a gap between itself and the “amateur beekeeping” promoted by conventional beekeeping associations. This is the gap in which, I suggest, ‘balanced beekeeping’ happily sits.

Balanced beekeeping: bridging the gap

Balanced beekeeping, therefore, allows the use of a wide range of equipment and methods, while tending to favor the “natural” over the conventional. It is for people who want to do more than just watch bees: they want to be bee “keepers” rather than just bee “keepers”; they want a more intimate relationship with their bees than is allowed by never opening the hive – understanding that this should always be done carefully and not too often. They want to keep healthy bees without resorting to medication, but they are also happy to have the bee inspector call occasionally and check their charges for signs of disease. If a hive becomes ill-tempered and starts to cause a nuisance to neighbors, they are willing and able to replace the queen if appropriate, or move the hive to another location. When combs turn black with age and propolis, they can be easily removed. If a hive becomes honey-bound, they can correct the problem. They know how to raise a few extra queens – if it becomes necessary – and they can tell when a colony needs a little extra nutrition and can provide it: they recognize that beekeeping is both a science and an art and constantly strive to improve their skills.

So the point of balance is somewhere between doing too much and doing nothing; to be overbearing and let nature take its course; being a bee farmer and bee keeper.

I would suggest that the three principles I have outlined The Barefoot Beekeeper fully applies to this sector and there is still no need for a ‘book of rules’ – everyone can decide exactly where the balance is for themselves.

Balanced beekeeping is about working with the natural impulses and habits of the bees, respecting the integrity of the hive, leaving them ample honey stores during the winter and generally arranging things to cause their bees as little stress and disturbance as possible, while being . willing and able to intervene when the bees need help or when their activities cause inconvenience to others.

Compared to the more “honey-focused” approaches, more time is spent observing the bees and some operations may have to be done a little more frequently: honey harvesting, for example, is likely to be done taking smaller amounts over a period of weeks or months, rather than the typical all-time, smash-and-grab attack practiced by honey farmers and most hobbyists.

We do not aim to extract every possible drop of honey from a hive. We respect the bees’ need to feed on their own stores – especially during the winter – and regard sugar syrup as an inferior supplement that should only be given when bees are short of their own food, due to prolonged bad weather or other causes.

Support of other species

Our natural allies are gardeners, small farmers and especially those who understand and use the principles of permaculture, which are also the principles of nature. A mutually beneficial and sustainable relationship with our bees must be based on such a truly holistic approach: we must learn more about how the colony functions as a complete, living being and the many ways in which it interacts with its environment, with us and with other living things. For too long we have been locked into an unbalanced, outdated, reductionist approach, treating bees as if they were mere machines created solely for our benefit, instead of the highly evolved, wild creatures we are privileged to be. work

I believe that keeping bees for honey should be small-scale, local and done in the spirit of respect for the bees and appreciation of the vital role they play in our agriculture and in the natural world. I reject large-scale, commercial beekeeping because it inevitably leads to a “factory farming” mentality in the way bees are treated, handled and robbed. I believe we should think of honey much less as a food and much more as a medicine, and adjust our consumption accordingly. We shouldn’t expect to see supermarket shelves piled high with jars of honey from around the world, as if it were jam or peanut butter. Honey should be valued as the product of countless bee miles and the assimilation of priceless nectar from a myriad of flowers.

An important aspect of ‘balance’ is to ensure that our activities as beekeepers do not have a negative impact on other species. Honey bees have evolved to live in colonies distributed across the earth according to the availability of food and shelter. Forcing 20, 50, 100 or more colonies to share the territory that – at most – half a dozen would naturally occupy will inevitably lead to concentrations of diseases and parasites. Unnaturally large concentrations of honeybees can also threaten the forage and thus the very existence of other important pollinating insects, such as bumblebees, mason bees and the many other species that benefit both wild and cultivated plants. This means we don’t overstock any place and we create habitat for other species, which can take the form of “bee hotels” or simply piles of old wood and leaves. Anything that is done to improve the environment for honey bees will also be beneficial for other pollinators.

Having a deep appreciation of the interconnectedness of all living things, and an understanding of the impact our own species has had and continues to have, leads us inevitably to the conclusion that we have a responsibility for everything that walks or crawls or slithers on earth. or under it, or who swims in the sea or flies in the air, and shares this precious planet. As beekeepers, we have a special responsibility to also be “earthkeepers”.

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