I started learning about beekeeping on an orthodox weekend course run by the local beekeeping association. It was fascinating and further whetted my appetite to become a beekeeper but I felt I had been given a lot of pieces of information without any great understanding.
It takes years to become an experienced beekeeper. A modest crew, they tend to call themselves beginners even after 10 years’ experience. Why did I expect to understand anything much after one weekend?
Natural beekeeping course
Only in retrospect could I say that it is possible to gain a solid (if basic) understanding of beekeeping – after going on a course run by the Natural Beekeeping Trust. The key difference is that natural beekeeping comes from the perspective of the bees’ needs whereas the orthodox way is a confusing mix of beekeeper’s needs, interventions and bee well-being. By getting the bottom line clear – how bees manage themselves naturally; it’s much easier to see beekeeper interventions for what they are and then to be able to make your own mind up about what position you want to adopt on any particular issue.
Choosing a hive is one of the first decisions to make as a new beekeeper and understanding what bees are looking for in a home is extremely useful. Overwhelmed by the choices and not really understanding why one was better than the other I chose on cost alone and later regretted it (to some extent – see article Bee hives for sale). I bought a standard National hive immediately after the first weekend although it took a further 3 years to populate it by which time I knew more and would have chosen a different model.
On the issue of bee health I already knew I wouldn’t want to medicate any bees I looked after because of my homeopathic background and its principles that have stood me in good stead since I discovered homeopathy 18 years ago. On the orthodox course such a position would have been considered, I felt, irresponsible. On the natural beekeeping course people were open to finding methods other than medicating to help the bees maintain best health. Here I started to learn how some of the conventional beekeeping practices aren’t helping bees overcome their various challenges and how husbandry more in line with their natural way of being can help.
Feeding sugar solution, breeding queens and destroying drones to deter the ravages of the Varroa mite are some of the other areas of debate between ‘natural’ and orthodox beekeeping methods. I must say that almost all the beekeepers I have met care deeply for their charges and naturally would be offended at any suggestion that they weren’t doing their best for the bees. There is a spectrum of views on any subject and no two keepers will agree on how to approach them all yet new beekeepers bring fresh eyes to beekeeping. At a time when honey bees are under a barrage of challenges these naïve or innocent questions deserve to be given renewed thought. Why is it done this way? This is no time for the man or boy rule!
For more information Natural Beekeeping Courses