Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Natural Beekeeping - Why not?

You'd have to have been living under a rock for the last few years not to have heard about the worldwide decline in honey bee populations and how Australia is only remaining country in the world not to have the dreaded Varroa mite.  The loss of honey bees has direct implications for our food supply and this, of course, affects everyone.  It's not just honey we're talking about here, it's the large number of fruit and vegetable varieties that rely on bees for pollination.

It seems that this worldwide decline in bee numbers is due to many factors.  One thing it has done is raise concerns about the use of chemicals in relation to beekeeping -  those that are used on the plants that the honey bees visit, as well as those used in the hive itself to control pests and disease.  Here at PragSust HQ, we are certainly not experts on any of this and don't profess to be so, but the decline of honey bee numbers and its flow on effects, got us thinking how we could do our little bit to help.  

When we heard that a natural beekeeping group  was being established as a sub-group of Permaculture Melbourne, we joined up straight away.  Led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable convenor, we soon realised that we could indeed keep bees in our backyard in a low cost, sustainable way.  We've had a hive for a couple of years now and it has been a fascinating  experience.  As people who have kept bees for decades will tell you, there's always something new to learn about bees and beekeeping.

Our hive

We endeavour to keep our bees in a natural and sustainable way as described here.  The more we read about beekeeping, the more this approach resonated with us.  The US beekeeper, Michael Bush, provides a convincing argument as to why natural beekeeping is the way to go in his excellent book The Practical Beekeeper.  The following statement really hit home:

"The other side of helping bees with treatments of pesticides and antibiotics is that you keep propagating bees that can't survive. This is the opposite of what we need. We beekeepers need to be propagating the ones that can survive. Also we keep propagating the pests that are strong enough to survive our treatments. So we keep breeding wimpy bees and super pests."
Makes sense, doesn't it?

If keeping bees appeals to you there is lots of information available, both online and in print, on what is involved. Check it out and find out what you're getting yourself in for before jumping in. Some books we found very useful were:

Lastly, if you live in Victoria, Australia, you must keep your bees in accordance with the guidelines in the Apiary Code of Practice. This  document is free and can be downloaded here.

So there you go.  We're keeping bees!

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