Transitioning to Natural Beekeeping
The principles are simple:
- get the bees into clean equipment
- let them build a natural broodnest
- or approximate a natural broodnest structure with a mix of small and large cell size frames
- keep the broodnest clean
- make small, judicious changes
- evaluate every change for the long term
- let the bees teach you
Using natural comb hives, like top bar hives with an undisturbed broodnest, is the easiest way to implement natural comb.
- as the equipment must be built, it’s new and clean
- the bees construct the broodnest their way
- a top bar hive is self contained. So, there’s no need to shuffle equipment
- comb rotation is fast and easy. It’s an integral part of thb management
Standard Equipment Transition
Top bar hives are great when just starting out. But building them is a waste of resources when a beekeeper already has beekeeping equipment.Standard frame based equipment can be easily transitioned to a natural comb approach.
Bees need a clean broodnest. Combs that were treated with miticides must be replaced. And if hives have been sprayed, dipped, fumed or poured with pesticides, the wood frame is probably contaminated and should be replaced.
With clean equipment, foundationless frames in an undisturbed broodnest is another approach. The comb will be stronger than top bar hive comb making it easier to handle. And it is just as easy to rotate comb.
Large and Small Cell Sized Frame Mix
Still want to use foundation? A natural broodnest core is comprised of 40% small cell size comb. In theory, this could be approximated by running four small cell frames in the center of each brood box. I’ve run six frames that way, without any problems.
Third, simply get your bees on a small cell core. They would build one themselves if permitted.
From Small Cell to Natural Comb
A small cell beekeeper, understanding broodnest’s structure seasonal dynamics, can easily transition from small cell to natural comb. Just add some large cell size frames to approximate a natural broodnest structure.
Don’t sweat the small cell stuff. Don’t get all hung up on regression techniques or terminology. It simply isn’t necessary.
Think natural comb, with its natural size variation. Smaller cells are necessary in the core broodnest area. But they don’t have to be perfectly drawn or of a single size to be effective.
And always work with the bees.
Non-contaminating Mite Treatments
Don’t loose your bees while going natural. No enterprise can loose more that 75% of its assets and survive.Treat those bees using a non-contaminating method. It will:
- prevent hives from succumbing to mite overloads before becoming establish on a natural broodnest
- and keep the comb clean
I’ve found out that dead bees:
- don’t draw out small cell comb
- don’t produce a bit of honey
- can’t be selected for mite resistance
- and they certainly aren’t much fun
Get the bees on a clean, natural comb structure and then wean them from any treatments.
When making changes, always make small, judicious ones. Plan them for the long term. And let any changes simmer long enough for a good evaluation. A natural beekeeper wants to move his bees towards a better situation, not just a different one.
And that takes time. Not much can be evaluated in less than a brood cycle. And most changes require at least a season.
So, don’t get into a rush. Just let the bees teach you.