Certainly in some ways beekeeping is always natural because, in the end, the bees tend to do what they want. But in some ways it's never natural because, in the end, we keep the bees in situations that aren't what occurs in nature.
Things that we change from nature by the way we raise bees:
We breed less:
Nervousness on the comb.
We breed more:
Spring build up and fall let down.
We are now breeding:
More "hygienic" (meaning they tear out cells that are infested with mites or other problems)
Suppressed Mite Reproduction (I don't think we really know what this is except there are less mites)
Opening the hive.
Rearranging the frames.
Confining the queen with an excluder.
Forcing the bees through an excluder.
Forcing the bees through a pollen trap.
Pollen substitute instead of pollen.
Sugar syrup instead of honey.
Poisons and chemicals in the hive:
Organic acids (formic oxalic etc.)
Miticides. (Apistan and CheckMite)
Pesticides (from crop spraying and mosquito spraying)
Antibiotics (TM and fumidil).
Because of embossed wax foundation:
Organization of the hive:
Amount of drone cells.
Orientation of cells.
Distribution of cell sizes.
Population of the hive:
We try to get less drones.
We do get less subcastes of different sizes.
Accumulated contaminates that are wax soluble.
Because of frames or bars:
Spacing between combs.
Thickness of combs.
Distribution of thickness of combs.
Accumulation of chemicals and possibly spores in the wax of the foundation.
Ventilation around the combs. Frames have gaps on the top. Natural combs are attached at the top.
Because of supers, expanding and contracting volume of the hive to prevent swarming and to overwinter.
Natural hives vary in many ways anyway, but because of hives:
Communication inside the hive because of gaps between boxes and gaps at the top.
Condensation and absorption and distribution of condensation.
Beespaces above and on the ends where in a natural hive it is usually solid at the top with no communication there and only passages here and there at the whim of the bees elsewhere based on either convenience of movement or ventilation.
Detritus at the bottom (wax scales, dead bees, wax moths etc.)
Some clip the queen, which keeps her from making any kind of flights after she is clipped (and hopefully mated). Some of us have observed queens outside of the hive on occasion. For what reason I can only imagine, but what if it's important?
We mark the queen with some paint.
We replace the queen more often than nature does.
We often interfere with nature replacing the queen by not allowing swarming or supersedure to complete.
I'm not saying that all of these things we change are bad, nor am I saying all of these things we change are good, but if we want to create a natural sustainable way to keep bees, we do need to understand the natural sustainable way the bees keep themselves. I would like to see research on the effects, both good and bad, that all of these changes we have made have on natural balance of the colony of bees and their parasites.
Copyright 2006 by Michael Bush
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