The Big Debate: Follow Up from Stroud BKA

I have received the following from Peter Lead, the Chair of Stroud BKA .  He has asked me to post it here to encourage discussion.  This is a great opportunity for dialogue, so please continue the discussion by posting your comments or observations.  I have said enough about the debate on other threads, so will try and keep off this one

Having chaired the Big Debate I would like to follow this up with discussions to explore the different methods of bee husbandry. Those put forward by the Natural beekeepers and those by BBKA members. I believe there is much to learn and understand.

Honey is a good food and as importing poor quality honey is not in our best interests for many reasons, the use of local honey has to be beneficial. Therefore surely there is a place that benefits the bee and human?

Peter Lead

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13 Responses to The Big Debate: Follow Up from Stroud BKA

  1. Paul says:

    One thing to bear in mind is that most low intervention beekeepers in the UK are less interested in honey production than in the bees themselves, as a fascinating creature. And even in high intensity beekeeping, the amount of honey bees produce as food for us, is dwarfed by the amount they help produce through pollination.

    I’ve heard of low intervention beekeepers who were seriously into honey production, so it’s possible. But recently I’ve come across a number of beekeepers being trained in the conventional path who aren’t interested in honey per se.

    On another subject – I’m quite interested to hear from people who have tried Natural techniques in conventional hives. I know this is done by some Americans who term themselves “organic beekeepers”, they eschew the use of chemicals and some avoid the use of foundation. They use Langstroths, being in America. What I don’t know is if anyone’s tried this in Nationals or WBCs. What intrigues me about this path is that it melds ideas from both traditions.

    I would also note that when I speak to old beekeepers who have been doing it since the 1980’s or earlier, they often have a relaxed attitude to miticides. They mention using oxalic acid once a year and just letting the bees sort themselves out for the rest of the year – they seem to find the varroa problem is overstated. Again, this is like a melding of the ways.

    • peter lead says:

      Paul, in our Association we have many members who put the bee before honey and many who take only the excess honey from the bee. We also have many members who are very interested in learning all about the bee and what is best for the bee. That is why we want to learn more.

      I have this last year allowed my bees to draw their own brood comb in my National hives. With guidance they will draw comb in parallel lines, however not always! I have also used a predating mite to control varroa. I am waiting to see how they come through the winter before judging benefits or otherwise.

      Paul I do believe that there is still much to learn and using knowledge and experience from all can only help the bee.

    • jen3972 says:

      I use Nationals and WBCs with my bees, but they build their own comb on regular brood/super frames from a couple of centimetres of foundation at the top of every other frame. I don’t use varroa products, and although they do have a fairly heavy mite load according to the floor board it doesn’t seem to unduly affect them. I like to think that the mites are all on the board as the bees remove them…

      My management regime consists of observing them by sitting close to the hive entrance for a few minutes as a matter of course when they’re active, and during the peak swarm season I ensure I am available to collect them when they swarm, and check the apiary and bait hives 3 times a day. I take a super of honey from each hive in good years and keep back every scrap of spare but unsaleable honey to feed them – which I do by simply putting a jar in the top of the hive (easy with WBCs and Nationals).

      I guess anyone who is used to keeping animals learns to quickly and effectively notice when things are amiss and act accordingly – I rarely open the hive itself as I don’t see the point. I think it is worth looking in the nest occasionally to familiarise yourself with what things look like when the bees are happy as sometimes observing the bees from outside isn’t enough so a look inside is beneficial (and a deeply enjoyable experience) and can determine what, if any, action should be taken. If this is done on a warm day and the mood of the bees is noted and respected then I don’t think this is unduly problematic for them to recalibrate the interior of the hive. It is usually possible to tell from looking at the 4th frame in from the edge what is going on so there is no need to undo the whole nest and then the hive is only open for a few minutes.

      I do believe that if the emphasis was put on seasonality and observation and occasional intervention then it would not take more time or expenditure than conventional beekeeping (in fact the costs may be lower) and a smaller/sustainable amount of honey could be harvested from more hives. Of course that demands that the bees have sufficient, varied, uncontaminated forage but that is required for so many reasons anyway. I am a self employed beekeeper and gardener so I can be flexible and put the bees’ needs first when necessary. I think a lot of problems are that the bees are expected to fit to our timetable and criteria rather than theirs – they are seasonal beings, but they stay inside when it’s cold and/or raining so it’s not exactly a hardship to spend time with them – and they don’t swarm in the middle of the night!

      • peter lead says:

        Jen, it would seem that your approach is the middle of the road that may be best for all concerned and is very much how I am trying to keep my bees. Training is very important for new beekeepers and that is something that I want to explore with Gareth so that we can offer the best training to our new beekeepers both young and old.

  2. jonbinspired says:

    I think the bee might say

    When you restore the lost forage
    When you stop drenching the fields in pesticides
    When you stop filling the hives with acid and pesticides
    When you stop cutting the wings of queens and culling the drones
    When you stop taking more honey than we can afford to lose and replace with inferior sugar
    When you stop killing queens to harvest royal jelly for your cosmetics
    When you stop shipping bees around in boxes from one mono crop to another
    When you stop inseminating queens and thinking that you know better
    But above all when you stop exploiting nature and learn to love nature

    Then we can discuss how much honey is good for you no matter what name you call yourself as a beekeeper.

    Jonathan (Somerset)

  3. salp111 says:

    Thank you Jonathan. I guess all I’m going to do is repeat what you say so eloquently in a more prosy ( & much longer!) style.

    If bee people were beecentric rather than exploitative & abusive toward the bee for the sake of honey-money (& rearing & selling queens) , then I would be with those honey producers in this country.

    There is nothing too wrong, I feel, with taking some of the surplus in a good year; honey the bees can easily spare, so long as there is no great haste in its consumption, bearing in mind, our unpredictable climate variations. But the practices that come with honey production are so barbaric, I balk at buying honey anywhere.

    Honey for money production seems to involve queen rearing where the queen cell is chosen by a human being who has no real idea what a bee is looking for in a new queen. Oh I know we assume it’s the biggest & best of the bunch, where the queen lays the most eggs etc & so forth, but what if it’s more about the genetic s about which we know little from just looking at the cell? What if it’s the pheromones the young queen is exuding? What if it’s something else entirely about which we have no idea at all? What if they know best?!

    Only today, I heard with much sadness the following emphatic quote from a BBKA top examiner at the SBKA meeting at Cheddar: “Beekeeping is all about the honey!” followed later on by “losing a queen is neither here nor there”….but…”losing foragers is like losing a lot of honey” (Money). ” Clipping queens wings is abhorrent to some people but it works”….talking about swarm prevention. Preventing swarms?? Clipping wings??

    I had no sense of any respect for the existence & order of a fellow inhabitant of this earth from this person; an inhabitant that has been here a damn sight longer than have we & managed all this earth can throw at it and more. It was as if without us, the bee would not survive. Only in reality, it’s the other way round.

    The engine of the BBKA is a powerful thing that seems to have its’ own momentum that many of its members don’t actually agree with. Maybe it’s about time the “ground” members of the BBKA had more say & sway as many I meet are people who have much love & respect for this body of insects & don’t agree at all with those on the higher steps of the echelon. These are people with whom we, as natural beekeepers, have much in common; with whom we can have a real & informative exchange of experience & much sympathy.

    I say it’s time for a grand shake up of outdated & outlandish practices. Time for a change of heart & mind. Time to try something a bit different.


  4. peter lead says:

    Sal, the idea of having discussions to explore the various methods of hosting bees or bee husbandry is to create more open minds and learn. If at ground level we can practice best bee hosting then that might spread upwards and outwards.
    I run our Buzzclub where we educate 5-12 year olds all about pollination and our environment and how the honey bee and other insects fit into it. They may well look after our world better than we have.
    We have recently collected two wild bee colonies that have been felled during tree surgery. Bats are protected but wild bee nests are not. Maybe they should be?

    • salp111 says:

      What a great idea put you are putting into practice. Get all those budding bee bonkers people right from the word go! Young & open to fresh ideas with no corruption from the benefits of money-making schemes and the desire to control. It has given me food for thought about our local primary schools & how to get them more involved too.
      I regularly take my grandchildren to the bottom of the garden to sit & watch the bees….they love it.

      By the way, wild bee nest protection sounds like another great idea but I would imagine much opposition from a certain association!!

      • peter lead says:

        If you are thinking of introducing bees into your local school then I have a risk assessment that I used and am happy to share.

  5. johnmkubwa says:

    Peter, I think it is the beekeeper’s greed to maximise his honey harvest which is killing the bees. If one analyses intensive beekeeping husbandry, it is clear that the husbandry is working against the Bee.
    1. Stealing all the nutritious honey and replacing it with non-nutritious sugar reduces the immunocompetence of the bees, making them more susceptible to attack by pathogens and mites. Whether it is raising brood or sustaining adult bees, poor nutrition will contribute to ill health.

    2. Constantly opening the nest to supress any swarming activity interferes with the brood nest temperature and atmosphere resulting in less than ideal conditions for brood rearing…

    3. The suppression of swarming, to retain a workforce of honey gathering bees, is interfering with the Bee’s natural reproduction process which is timed to occur under ideal conditions for the Bee.

    4. Culling drones as ‘non-productive’ reduces the males needed for queen insemination; it is a waste of resources as the colony will likely raise more males. This will take time and delay any subsequent mating; with the knock on effect of delay on colony development.

    5.The delayed use of artificial swarming reduces the time available for the new swarm to prepare and stock its nest in time for winter; inevitably beekeepers will feed sugar!

    6. Selective breeding for docile, productive bees is reducing genetic diversity and the natural selection of genes for adaptability and survivability. In the extreme, artificial insemination using selected drones as well as chosen queens will result in in-breeding.

    7. The resultant stress on the Bee will lead to ill health, the loss of queens and the incidence of disease and pest epidemics. Subsequent swapping of brood combs and treating with chemicals and in-hive pesticides will exacerbate the problems.

    What is needed is a fundamental reappraisal of how much honey might be harvested, with a concious effort to reduce stressors of the Bee colony.

    John H, Stockbridge hants

    • peter lead says:

      John, man’s greed is at the heart of many of the world’s problems. There is an excess of consumption leading to a desire to maximise production over quality and sustainability. It is the sensible balance in all things that should be sought, including the provision of good beekeeping husbandry and our environment.

  6. grahambrookbanks says:

    Very well put, Sal.

    I am a member of Winchester & District BKA. Last Tuesday we heard a talk by a senior member of the BBKA, Roger Patterson. The title of the talk was ‘A New Approach’. The ‘New Approach’ involves treating four National Hives and a separate brood box as a ‘Unit’ and swapping frames between hives in order to ‘manage’ the colonies. This seems to be taking interference with the bee to even greater levels. This is the method of beekeeping which the BBKA now teaches. As Pete Seeger put it: ‘When Will They Ever Learn?’

  7. salp111 says:

    To all who live within easy reach of Clevedon, Somerset. There’s a film called “More than honey” on at the Curzon for one night only on Sunday, 23rd March, followed by discussion. Should be interesting.
    It makes for gruelling watching ….some scenes made me want to throw things at the people in question. It raises a lot of questions & illustrates much of what we, as more natural beeks abhor in honey-money-making.
    If you can’t make it to the big screen, the DVD is available but I can’t remember where from. If you search the internet, you can buy it for about £15.00.

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