Natural beekeeping and organic honey production are closely related terms, which thus far have not acquired formal definitions. The latter term is based on distinct criteria for the source of nectar. You can be a natural beekeeper (or close to natural), but still not fulfill all of the requirements for organic honey production. On the other hand, organic honey producers must apply natural beekeeping techniques, which in general are more restrictive.
The more significant difference between the two terms is the fact that natural beekeeping is a term created and applied internally by beekeepers. As such, it is not subject to any legal standards. Organic honey production, however, represents a process regulated through the Organic Apiculture Standards. For this reason, any beekeeper who wishes to declare his honey as organic must abide by these regulations.
In this article I will further explain the differences between these two terms, based on limited discussions available in modern beekeeping literature as well as my own beekeeping practices.
Today almost all beekeepers, and especially those in the commercial sector, do not apply natural beekeeping techniques that were used in the past, which has led to a large-scale weakening of bee colonies. For example, almost all beekeepers now use immense amounts of chemicals to fight mites and other diseases. In addition, they feed their colonies with syrups and other supplements. My bee colonies are healthy because I have been practicing only natural beekeeping. In this article, I would like to explain all aspects of this beekeeping methodology.
There are two main aspects of natural beekeeping: the source of the nectar and hive management.
1. The source of nectar and location of the apiary
Proper apiary location is a very important issue, especially if you plan in the future to certify your honey as "Organic honey".
You should select each apiary site carefully. Otherwise, you may jeopardize the efficiency of your investment.
Locate bee yards in a protected area near water and flowering crops or wild flowers. Throughout the foraging season there must be nectar and pollen sources within a short distance of the hives.
In order for honey to be certified organic, the apiary must be placed in isolated areas miles from the dense population, industry, traffic congestion, and farm fields treated with chemicals and landfills.
In addition "The producer of an organic apiculture operation must not maintain colonies in an area where a significant risk of contamination by prohibited materials exist within a 4 mile (6.4 kilometers) radius of the apiary, as described in the operation's organic apiculture plan." (NOSB Apiculture Task Force Report Organic Apiculture Standards October 16, 2001) Therefore, finding area which can be certified organic is extremely difficult, which is why there are so few certified organic honeys on the market.
Avoid placing bee yards near areas frequently used by bears.
My bee yards are located in a watershed zone, controlled by DEP (Department of Environmental Protection).
Therefore, there are many restrictions not only for the farmers, but also for all homeowners.
In addition, thousands of acres of forest have been preserved as state land.
"NO TRESPASSING" - except my bees!
This photo shows how wasps prefer to locate an entrance of their nests - SW in my area.
Probably we can use this information for our hives.
All my hives are under full sunlight from 8 am. to 3 pm. There is partial sunlight from 7:30 am to 8 am and from 3 pm to 5 pm. Here you can see my hives' exposure to the sun.
2. Hive design, materials, ventilation, paint colors
- Design: standard hives, modified,
- Materials (pine, cedar, polystyrene)
- Foundations, comb size: I have read a lot of beekeeping literature in several languages, but never saw any practical recommendations on how to choose the correct cell size that will fit to your specific strain of bees.
3. Management of hives
My approach is very close to this typical recommendation: "The bulk of the evidence suggests that new combs optimize overall honey bee colony health and reproduction. These finding suggest that beekeepers should eliminate very old brood comb from their operations." BEE CULTURE, December 2008, Page #61
Unfortunately, very often you can see a comb condition, that in my opinion is totally unacceptable. This screenshot is from the YouTube video.
c. Water Source
"Bees store their food and raise their young in the honeycomb nest. Honeycomb is made from beeswax, which is secreted by young worker bees, and fashioned into the familiar honeycomb hexagonal shape. Because bees live in these wax combs, though, they have to keep the nest at a constant temperature, not only to keep the colony from overheating, but also to prevent the wax from melting. In hot weather, bees cool the colony much like your swamp or evaporative cooler does - by evaporating off drops of water. Bees collect water and spread it throughout the colony in droplets. Then they fan the air to create an air stream over the water drops, causing the water to evaporate and thus lowering the nest temperatures. When bees forage for water, they are not too fussy about where they collect it. It could be from a small, muddy puddle, a stream or your swimming pool, irrigation system, swamp cooler or birdbath." by USDA ARS.
d. Strains of Honey Bees
The best bees are the bees that can overwinter in your area and build up in the spring.
I prefer ARS Russian bees (not original Russian bees from Russia!), because they are really mite resistant and "... are less likely than other bees to lose hive members during harsh, cold weather. Russian bees appear more frugal with their winter food stores." by USDA ARS
Try to choose a queen from a strain of bee less inclined to swarm!
I strongly recommend you to install any thermometer with a sensor to monitor temperature inside of your hive. Such a small investment will help you control temperature inside of your hives year-round. During wintertime, if you notice an unexpected temperature drop, you will get a chance to prevent a possible loss of your colonies. I prefer "AcuRite" brand thermometers; they are very affordable and reliable. This is the best investment I have ever made in my beekeeping practice. However, direct sunlight, rain or wet snow can damage your thermometers. Therefore, it is your responsibility to choose a proper location for the thermometer on your hive. Acurite Thermometers: $7.99-11.99
Sensors are located in the center of the area above the frames.