Natural & Nontoxic Beekeeping

You’ve likely heard about declining bee populations, but do you know why they are declining? In Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, Ross Conrad explains that some of the reasons for declining bee populations are pests like tracheal and varroa mites, colony collapse disorder (CCD), and the use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. In fact, Conrad calls this “the worst of times for the honey bee in America.” Unfortunately, toxic chemicals like pesticides harm not only bees, but also butterflies, bats, birds, and other animals. In this book, Conrad focuses on natural, nontoxic beehive management including keeping bees without harmful antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals and hopes that this book will inspire more people to keep bees.

Conrad’s interest in bees began during a trip to visit the Bear Tribe, an American Indian tribe in Washington State. He describes a life-changing (positive) encounter with a honey bee, and credits this with giving him a new appreciation for nature and bees. Afterwards, he spent several years learning about beekeeping at Champlain Valley Apiaries in Vermont and was inspired by their apitherapy treatments – using honey, pollen, bee venom, etc. to treat diseases and other health problems.  Have you had success with apitherapy? Please share in the comments section!

Conrad now runs a small beekeeping business called Dancing Bee Gardens through which he produces honey, candles, and provides bee pollination services for apple trees. He also writes for Bee Culture: The Magazine of American Beekeeping and presents about organic beekeeping throughout North America.

Tips for Urban Beekeepers

You may think you have to live in the country to have bees, but not so. Conrad shares helpful information specific to urban beekeepers or for those who have neighbors close by. He says that bees actually do well in urban environments because there are typically lots of plants around, fewer pollinators to compete with, and less pesticide exposure. However, he offers the following tips for keeping your bees healthy and your neighbors happy:

  • Get involved with developing a city beekeeping ordinance rather than waiting for your city to set its own regulations if an issue occurs.
  • If you don’t want to call attention to your hive, locate it away from your property lines, place the hive entrance away from areas with lots of foot traffic, and/or paint it a neutral color.
  • For rooftop beekeeping, don’t put hives on buildings taller than 12 stories as high winds may be stressful for your hive.
  • Consider keeping 2-3 (no more than 5 hives) in an urban area.
  • Be considerate about hive management such as controlling swarming and avoiding using smoke or sprays when your neighbors are nearby.
  • Place warning signs around your hive.
  • Always provide water for your bees so they don’t venture to other public water sources.
  • Register your hives with your local or state bee inspector.
  • Educate your neighbors about bees and share your honey!

Book Content

The book includes 12 chapters as well as a helpful glossary, color photographs throughout, and a list of resources for beekeeping supply companies, breeders of bees with mite-resistant genetics, organic certification agencies with apiculture programs, and pesticide testing organizations.

The book begins with an explanation of the purpose and need for organic beekeeping. Afterwards, there are chapters about working with bees (including bee biology, anatomy, and how to get bees), hive management (where to locate your hive, what equipment you’ll need, what to feed your bees, resolving issues with the Queen Bee, seasonal considerations, and urban beekeeping). There is also a very helpful “beehive autopsy results” table which shows symptoms and their likely causes. Other chapters cover genetics and breeding information, parasitic mites, insect, four-legged, and feathered pests, diseases, and other potential environmental and human threats to beehives. You’ll also lean how to harvest honey and market your products for sale.

This book is very well organized, and I can’t imagine a more thorough guide to keeping bees naturally. Whether you are thinking about getting bees, are a backyard hobby beekeeper, or have thousands of hives, I highly recommend this book.

Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.

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6 thoughts on “Natural & Nontoxic Beekeeping”

  1. I love having bees, I am learning as I go, and mainly just let them bee. The hives that I have are from feral swarms that I have obtained and hived into warre hives.

    Reply
  2. we just moved to a huge plot of land in the country and I have been seriously toying with the idea of getting bees. seems like a lot of work but very rewarding!

    Reply
  3. I last year became a beekeeper for our community garden. We lost both hives this winter but are expecting our new ones here in the next couple of days.

    Reply

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