Natural beekeeping would create habitat for bees that are more or less "in the wild". This may be a strategy you might want to use either alone or in conjunction with other strategies. Another strategy is a modified bee hive that gives larger space for bees to do what they do naturally.
My thoughts are that 'natural beekeeping' doesn't really exist, unless you are talking about robbing from wild colonies.
There is, however, a spectrum between commercial practices heading towards 'natural'.
Frame based - needed precision machined parts, relies on foundation (carries lipophilic contaminants such as pesticides), larger than natural cell sizes, hives moved to follow crops. Lots of active management.
Extracting from frames requires expensive kit (extractors, uncapping knives etc..).
Good points - it is efficient to manage a large number of hives and can service farmers for pollination. All kit is interchangeable - frames an be moved from hive to hive and boxes are totally interchangeable - not to be underrated!
The Warre Hive and Perone Hive use fixed comb and the idea is that you mess with the bees as little as possible. A the end of each year you take any honey surplus, but leave the brood alone. No medication is usually used, provided your bees have strong survivor genetics.
You may get into trouble with bee inspectors - they expect to be able to see the brood and have been known to cut into brood comb as part of the inspection. Your options are also limited to 'manage' your bees - no easy way to take splits, how do you re queen if your colony is aggressive?
Top bar hives
These offer a nice middle ground - you can move the comb to inspect and perform splits, however the bees build their own comb, comb is harvested and crushed to extract honey (a bucket and muslin cloth is all you need). The hives can be easily assembled with basic hand tools, and don't need high precision automated machining as frames would.
You can make splits to increase your colonies. This is how I'm setting up for when I get bees in the spring.
Where does permaculture fit in?
I think permaculture is then about choosing from all the different strategies to find ones which suit both you and the bees. Fixed comb and top bar hives both have a lot going for them from this perspective - perone hives can be setup and forgotten about aside from harvesting every 12 months. Time is an asset so this could be right for some. I am setting up one perone to see how it goes - if I don't get any honey from it that's fine- they will provide swarms for me to potentially collect and a chance to learn.
Horizontal top bar hives need a little more careful management, but can be built cheaply - probably from reclaimed timber, or timber harvested on site - they are bee friendly, not relying on foundation and regularly cycling wax out of the hive, honey can be harvested little and often - as little as a single comb at a time. There is no heavy lifting of boxes which makes them accessible for more people. If you couple this with medication free strategies you have a bee and people friendly system.
I recommend 'the barefoot beekeeper' as a good intro to horizontal top bar hives and 'natural' beekeeping methods.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
Natural Beekeeping means doing it how they did fifty years ago. With smoke, using whatever style of hive you like, and doing the management how you like. It means jack shit today because natural means jack shit compared to permaculture. People call their shit natural and they use tons of synthetic pesticides and antibiotics, plastic, nasty shit in their smokers, etc..
Permaculture Beekeeping is far more advanced. It is permaculture principles used in designing the elements of your apiary/beekeeping system.
Type of honeybees. Catching swarms, baiting swarms and breeding from hives not treated with pesticides and antibiotics. That is the permaculture standard. The natural standard is buying commercially produced queens that come from bees treated regularly.
Style of Hives/Houses. For style of hive you can do whatever you like, but there can be no foundation, no wires, no plastic, no paint. I personally recommend langstroth or top bar hive designs, and even hollowed logs for the northern climates. All designs are acceptable, and I believe the more artistic and creative, the more permaculture-esque it will be. Langstroth is far more efficient in terms of honey production and colony replication. I would recommend top bar hives for those who can't lift very much weight.
Frames are wonderful, you don't have to use foundation or wires. You can make them without very expensive tools. You can design and shape the frames yourself. A frame is a frame, plastic foundation is another thing completely. Bees will draw their own comb in a frame neatly and efficiently. You don't have to extract the honey from frames in expensive equipment. You can do comb honey in a frame without wax foundation. You can build your own extractor for next to nothing with basic tools if you are resourceful.
Management. A reverence for the bees and all of nature. A thoughtful mind state when working the hives. Being careful not to crush any bees while working. Natural beekeeping doesn't value individual bee lives over time. Permaculture does. Smoke has to be very limited use only, and never for harvesting. I would only allow smoke for very invasive processes like feeding frames of honey and manipulating frames to raise queens and when making nucs. Otherwise it is a tool to be used for the safety of the bees and for people. Natural beekeeping allows nasty shit to be burned in the smoke, and the smoke is used liberally to make working the bees faster and more pleasant for the beekeeper.
Feed. In a permaculture apiary, planting specifically for the honeybees and pollinators in general is the difference. Taking all plants into consideration and listening to what the bees are wanting at different times of the year. This is how you feed honeybees, planting seeds or plants for pollinator forage. Natural beekeeping relies on what the farmer plants which usually isn't placing what the bees need high on the list.
Design of a system. It means using honeybees as one part of your system to feed and interact in many ways with other elements of the whole system. What crops you plant, how you provide water and shelter for the bees is part of the permaculture design.
It means not sending your bees to pollination, but bringing the forage to the bees doorstep. The bear-proof bee-hut makes it a permaculture apiary.
It is expressed as the knapweed honey in your tea or bacon cure, your royal jelly harvested when the hawthorn, chokecherry and service berries are in bloom. It is dandelion pollen harvested from your polyculture, stock pastures. Its the wild areas left for predators and prey alike.
Doing what Paul advocates (catch/bait swarms, beehut, no foundation) is permaculture, feeding your bees gmo beet sugar water is considered natural.
I would like to emphasize that the design of the shape and style of the hive is not as important as doing what is best for your situation. It is not as important as what you build it out of, and how you manage it once it is established. The design of the hive structure will make the system as a whole, work for the better or worse.
Learn permaculture beekeeping from your home! You can find it here at :
I should like to say that for me Natural beekeeping does not mean going back 50 years . I see natural beekeeping to be more like that practiced by the likes the folks over at Biobees and Warréors on the yahoo site .
Many dont use smoke, many dont use any treatments ,No queen raising or swarm surpression often no sugar feeding , minimum manipulation of the hives like the management style avocated by Oscar Perone .
As for permiculture beekeeping I am unsure as to what this means as you cannot control the bees once you have them You have them or you dont . What the bees do is up to them How do you design for this ? Maybe design where you put them .
Did you know bees fertilise the soil ?
Living in Anjou , France,
For the many not for the few
David Livingston wrote:
Did you know bees fertilise the soil ?
Indeed they do - spot the occupied hive! This was the first year we kept bees here, and the soil was really, really poor. The bee-poop made a terrific difference by pooping as they left the hive. Over the years the whole area has become a whole load more lush, especially as we added more hives.
I forgot to mention something very important about what I believe to be natural beekeeping , NÔ Foundation , let the bees decide what size cell they want to build as the bees know best. Some people use different sizes for foundation but if you look in a wild hive there is great variation why I have nô idea . But it seems to suit the bees.
Great picture Burra and thanks for embedding the vidéo
Living in Anjou , France,
For the many not for the few
Here's a question pertaining to bees and permaculture practices. My friend who keeps a hive had a very large death toll this winter. He isn't sure if it was the unusually long harsh Michigan winter, or if the bees got some sort of bacteria in their guts and died off. His hive is still active and he has a queen that survived, but he is now considering antibiotic application to the hive to prevent this in the future.
I told him there has to be a better solution. Perhaps some sort of flowers or plants he can grow nearby to help encourage stronger immune systems and digestive health? I don't know anything about bee keeping, but I do know that permaculture has a principle that says "the problem is the solution". And I realize that his solution may be that his hive is a "wrong element, wrong situation" type of thing. Any advice would be great!
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