Transitioning to Natural Beekeeping

398px-Lord_Howe_Island_forest
A path to natural.

The principles are simple:

  • get the bees into clean equipment
  • let them build a natural broodnest
  • or approximate a natural broodnest with a mix of small and large cell size frames
  • keep the broodnest clean

Always:

  • 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
  • comb rotation is fast and easy

Standard Equipment Transition

Top bar hives are great when just starting out. But building them is a waste of resources when other beekeeping equipment is available. Standard frame based equipment can be easily transitioned to a natural comb approach.

Clean Equipment

Bees need a clean broodnest. Combs treated with miticides must be replaced. And if hives have been sprayed, dipped or fumed  with pesticides, the wood frame is probably contaminated and should be replaced.

Foundationless Frames

Foundationless frames allow the bees to construct an undisturbed broodnest. The comb is 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 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.

Or simply get your bees on a small cell core in the brood box. They would build one if permitted.

From Small Cell to Natural Comb

A small cell beekeeper, understanding broodnest’s structure and seasonal dynamics, can easily transition from small cell to natural comb. Just add some large cell size frames to approximate a natural broodnest. The bees would build the larger comb if permitted.

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 broodnest core. 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% s assets and survive. Treat your bees using a non-contaminating method. It will:

  • prevent hive loss from mite overloads
  • allow bees to establish a natural broodnest
  • and keep bee equipment 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.

Changes

When making changes, always make small, judicious ones. Plan 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.

-bW