On our homestead we take a hands off approach to our animals (cats and dogs), livestock, and insects. This hands-off approach (except if there is an emergency) started after many years of taking care of animals and bad experiences. Cats with urinary tract infections, a vet that continued giving our dog steroids that masked an infection, a dog that had seizures and had to be put on thyroid medicine, treating chickens for coccidiosis and Marek’s disease, and on and on. Something had to change! Fast forward 10 years when we moved onto our homestead and started raising livestock…the same mindset came with us….we made the decision to take care of the animals differently through their diet and their environment. Our animals have to be strong, and we have to take care of them to the best of our ability and within our budget. Are we perfect? No. Do we do everything that we should? Probably Not. Are we working toward making changes that are attainable and sustainable? Absolutely. Does it take time? Yes!
One part of our homestead that we have been able to manage naturally and sustainably is in keeping bees…or as we like to say “being kept by bees.” Bees are insects…it is not easy to contain insects. We do our best to manage the bees well, but if the bees want to leave, they will leave…and they will live on their own just fine without us to manage them. In our limited time as beekeepers and in years prior we have seen colonies survive year after year in a building, in a dug out area under a sea train, in hollowed out trees, and in dilapidated hive boxes left in fields for years. Again, we have not been at this long, but the fact that we have heard about and have seen colonies survive for years without human management makes us want to be kept by bees. The bees don’t need us, but we desperately need them.
What is Natural Beekeeping? Well…that practice will vary depending on the beekeeper. For us, Natural Beekeeping is managing bees as close to God’s design for bees as possible (and as we can humanly understand). Even in our best attempt we will be far from God’s original design; but since He gave us dominion over His creation, then we can at least manage the bees and steward His creation well. Bees, in the wild, live in trees…so we replicate a hollowed out tree with horizontal hives…preferably Layens hives, but Langstroth Long hives work as well. In natural conditions bees forage for pollen and nectar which is converted into “bee bread” and used to feed the worker bees and larvae, and additional nectar is dehydrated into honey for their food during the winter. Both nectar and pollen have vitamins and minerals from the surrounding flora that provide nourishment to the bees and help keep a colony heathy.
What is Sustainable Beekeeping? Again, that practice can vary. We think of sustainability in this way… How can we maintain the bees, keep the bees alive, support the bees…with the express purpose of harvesting honey…without any inputs? That is important to us because if we can’t buy sugar to feed, oxalic acid or other chemicals to treat, or packages of bees to replace a colony, then we have to find a way to increase colonies and sustain colonies without those inputs. So, what did we do? We just stopped! We stopped purchasing bees, we stopped feeding bees sugar water, and stopped treating for varroa mites (we even tried treating “naturally” by dusting them with powdered sugar…I am not sure what we were thinking). What did we do instead? We started catching local swarms, we let the bees be bees and forage for their own food, we let the colonies swarm naturally, and we started managing bees in insulated, horizontal hives.
Is this a perfect method? No…that will be hard to find this side of Heaven. Is this method working? Yes! This method works for us…and it can work for you too.