What is organic beekeeping?  by John Adams – 2014

How can there be any organic beekeeping with so many harmful chemicals coming in contact with our bees?  Until the harmful chemicals are gone, there cannot be pure organic beekeeping. However, we can use organic methods.  That is about as close as we can get.

In my opinion the “Queen Bee” of organic beekeeping is Dee Lusby, who manages hundreds of hives in the desert of southern Arizona.  You’ll easily read about her by searching for her name on the internet, or by looking for “Dee Lusby Organic Beekeeping.”   Her honey is the purest in the country.  The traces of pesticides found in Dee Lusby’s honey is measured in parts per billion–everyone else’s is in parts per million.  That says it all.  She has thousands of followers on this internet discussion group:

Dee reminds me of Eva Crane, who was a well-known honey bee researcher and author, and head of the International Honeybee Research Association located in England.  She died in 2007 at age 95.  (Look her up on the internet, too.)  I had the privilege of meeting Eva Crane years ago when she was a guest at my house before her speaking engagement with the Southern States Beekeeping Convention.  Both these women are notable for their abundance of passion and determination when it comes to honey bees.  I will always admire their integrity.

It may be helpful to point out a few organic beekeeping ideas and practices that are under discussion these days.  A rather simple outline of organic beekeeping “do’s and don’t’s” follows:

1.  Use no medications, essential oils, acids of any type in or around your bee hives.

2.  Do not place your hives near agricultural areas where there may be pesticides, fungicides, or GMO crops.

3.  Do not feed your bees sugar, corn syrup or pollen substitutes.  Feed only honey and real pollen if needed.   Some purists may even suggest not feeding anything to your bees during a drought or cold weather, thus allowing only the strongest colonies to survive.

The weak bees are eliminated from that area, and the hive that is left is the one that you want for queen rearing.

4.  View swarming as natural and good for the bees. The strongest genetics survive.

5.  Make your splits from the strong hives.  From the medium strength hives make honey.  Combine the weaker colonies with the hope that they will survive.  Some purists would say to let the weaker hives die and not combine;  but on the other hand, I like to think that we are, after all, “beekeepers,” which means we should be willing to take a more active role and not just simply observe that our bees are dying.  This, of course, is debatable.  The choice is between what I think and what I feel.  However, our energy may be better spent in attempting to plant more honey bee plants that have different nectar-producing periods throughout the year.

6.  Look down on top of an open Langstroth or top-bar hive and mark each frame or top-bar with arrows to remind you of the direction the comb should be facing when the comb was first made in the hive.  It is less confusing to the bees and the beekeeper.  For more information, search for “Housel Positioning” on the internet.

7.  Let the bees draw out their own comb using at the most a 1 ½” strip of wax for the bees to build on—or use small cell foundation.  This process may help get rid of American foulbrood, if any is present.  If using a strip of wax, the bees will draw out the needed comb–worker or drone or honey–depending on the time of year and/or nectar flow.  It can be said that the bees will tear down old comb and rebuild what they want.  As it is, large bees make large cells and small bees make small cells.

8.  Be aware that some organic beekeepers very much believe in the benefits of small cell foundation. The decrease in cell size gives extra space for more cells for the queen to lay her eggs. The resulting bees are smaller and the hive population is increased.  Also, the decrease in cell size leaves less space for the varroa mites to survive.  Dee Lusby has researched changes in bee body size of the past, and her conclusions favor raising the smaller bees. All this gives rise to the strong argument for a small cell operation. True or not, I don’t know, but I love every one of these radical thinkers as compared to the traditional thoughts of today.

9.  Every year remove a frame or top-bar from both sides of the hive.  These two are removed from service.  Place two new frames or top-bars in the middle of the colony.  With a ten frame hive all the wax will be replaced within five years.  This process is good in that pesticide buildup will be reduced.

10. Use care when handling frames or top-bars to observe what is going on in the hive.  In earlier days a beekeeper learned to pull out a frame gently and rotate it without tilting it parallel to the ground.   Back in those days the comb was probably not reinforced, which meant that in some cases newly built comb (heavy with honey or brood) would fall out when a frame was held parallel to the ground.  This also happens when handling top-bars, if beekeeper is unfamiliar with the proper method of handling T-B’s.

11. Recognize that drones are good.  In old, well-established, healthy hives that I have observed, the number of drones present shocked me.  Also, propolis (“bee glue”) is more than glue–it works like an antibiotic for the bees.  In fact, the bees will coat the inside of the hive with it.  Yes, it does get sticky with the frames or top-bars but that propolis is a very big part of the bees’ health care system.  Mama nature knows what she is doing, while we can only wonder.