Paleo Diet for Bees

Paleo diets for humans is a simple concept; we don't eat the same food as our ancestors, and our bodies simply cannot adapt fast enough to the changes in the modern diet. Even changes brought about by the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry 10,000 years ago occurred too recently on an evolutionary timescale for the human genome to adapt. A Swedish study found that 75% of calories consumed by the population would not have been available to their ancestors.

We see effects in the so called "diseases of civilization": obesity, diabetes, auto immune disease, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and it is estimated that one third of cancer in the USA can be attributed to nutrition (1). In the book Honey and Dust: Travels in Search of Sweetness, the author Piers Moore Ede recounts talking to the elders of a Lebanese village who said that people traveled from across the country to see the first person with cancer in the early 1900's. Our diets have changed, but our bodies remain the same.

A Paleo diet is one that attempts to get close to the food of our ancestors. Typically this means no cereal grain, refined fat, dairy or sugar and all food fresh and minimally processed. Is is difficult to define one ancestral diet as there many climates and ecologies in the world, but for the honey bee the paleo diet is much simpler to define: Honey and Pollen.

In beekeeping we often force our own mistakes on our bees. Bees are routinely fed sugar to either replace honey that is taken from them, or to avoid starvation, but is this non Paelo diet working for them? There is strong research that shows it is very detrimental to bees:
  • Immune system impairment
  • Increased pesticide susceptibility
  • Increased infections
  • More fungal and bacterial growth
  • Greater viral replication
  • Weaken gut performance and changes gene expression
Is there a case for feeding in the case of averting starvation? As a Trustee of the BBKA put it last year "The answer to poor bee forage is to feed one’s bees". However, rather than promoting sugar, would it not be better to lobby Government and the National Farmers Union for better bee forage and alternatives to toxins put into the environment.

We can't continually fix our world with short cuts. The unintended consequences stack up year after year. It is clear that to restore health we need to restore our world and produce healthier food. Restoration of the honey bee environment would be a great place start as the world of the bee is our world too.

(1) American cancer society, Cancer facts and figures 2004

Non Treatment for Varroa Appears is Working for Some

Once again interesting winter loss figures* from Clive and Shân Hudson from Lleyn & Eifionydd BKA comparing the winter losses of 1096 colonies not treated for Varroa with 477 treated colonies.


Interesting to note that during hard winters the gap between the two approaches increases, revealing otherwise hidden stresses in the hive.

Bees allowed to find their own solutions is the only sustainable solution. It's great to see so many people across the UK reporting similar successes.

*some participants treated hives and not others

Update: This is the video I put together on the graph with my friend Tom Gfeller:

Has Varroa Lost Its Sting : Published on Jul 19, 2016

Should we continue treating our bees? Or is it time to put our trust in nature? Across the UK beekeepers see wild unmanaged colonies find a balance with the much dreaded varroa mite. But bees must be allowed to find that balance, and more and more beekeepers are letting them. This also means also letting them follow their natural instincts in other ways.

The world renowned bee researcher Professor Tom D. Seeley from Cornell University commented in "Following the Wild Bees": "probably the greatest shortcoming to repeatedly dosing colonies with pesticides is that it blunts the process of natural selection for bees with resistance to the mites and viruses" We better take notice.

Lovely hackle

Last Saturday I had the privilege of teaching this lovely group how to make an oak log hive complete with a bio-dynamic rye hackle for their pollinator sanctuary located in an organic small holding. This sort of project really chimes with me: local people getting together, having fun making a hive and a pollinator sanctuary not for honey, but for the bees.

The Zeidler (tree beekeeper) of old used to attract bees to their tree hives, they were not artificially introduced. The challenge for the new Zeidler is to not only make a hive attractive to bees, but to find or create a habitat that is sustaining for the bees.
Traditional and not so traditional tools - Sharp tools!

Just a week earlier I helped make this monster of a lime log hive at the WestField Farm Tree Beekeeping convention. Again a great farm free of toxic chemicals.

We tried to make a hackle for this hive also, but it would have needed to be 7ft in circumference and we did not have enough rye for that. All the same I think the bees are going to like this hive and the farm. A log hive was also installed in a tree.

The next tree beekeeping project will be special. The first true Zeidler hive inside a tree in the UK at Pertwood Organic farm in May.

Pertwood farm - Picture By David White
Pertwood in Wiltshire is a home to people, sheep, cattle, abundant wildlife and is one of the oldest organic farms in the UK. It covers 2,000 acres. The tree which will have the tree hive sits next to a large wild flower meadow.

The Pertwood Tree Hive Tree

Working with people to restore habitats for bees gives me great pleasure and hope for the future.

The Tree Beekeeping Field Guide

"The Tree Beekeeping Field Guide" - Everything you need to know if you want to make a tree hive is now published.

It is designed as an eBook for iBooks, but it should work in any reader that can handle epub 3.0 format. There are many browser plugins for eBooks. If you do not have a reader, then the link below also provides a web view of the book and even a pdf. The readers give better navigation and formatting, and if you add it to your phone reader you can take the guide into the forest!

Click here if you would like to preview the book

The Tree Beekeeping Field Guid

Learning from Wild Bees and Tree Beekeeping

Photo by Piotr Piłasiewicz of Bractwo Bartne
I recently completed an article for The Beekeepers Quarterly, issue 123. You can find the article here.

I have been thinking more about how tree beekeeping has been used in the past, and how tree beekeeping might be used in a completely new and inspiring way in the future: A platform for the Bee message as we move into a challenging period for the world. 

The story of the Bee is of being without destroying, forming dependant relationships with each other, the comb organisms, flowers and environment. Existing solely from what is local to the hive. All important messages, and there are many more to be discovered.

I hope you like the article and would be happy to receive your feedback comments.

Tree Beekeeping Climbing with a Leziwo

My tree beekeeping friend Tomek demonstrates an ancient form of tree climbing used by Polish tree beekeepers, or Bartnik. In Poland the skill was almost lost after World War II, but Tomek painstakingly (I think he fell off a few times!) recreated it from old archive footage, and he now teaches this skill to others. The technique is also used in Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. Tomek makes it look easy, but I've tried this method and it is very difficult to master. I will get my leziwo next month, so hopefully I will improve and not fall off myself.

Past and Future Zeidlers

A thoughtful piece by Michael Joshin Thiele on past and future Zeidlers (tree beekeepers)


my own, not quite so eloquent Zeidler faces interview ...


and one from my good friend Przemek who has done so much to revive Tree beekeeping across Europe


Is it Feral or Wild bees ?

WILD - and that applies to ALL bees.  Bees have never really been domesticated. In my view the term “feral” (having returned to an untamed state from domestication) is inappropriate. Often I see the phrase "escaped unmanaged bees" where the author wants to separate bees from native wild bees.

Does it matter? I think so, as some people seem to think bees need us. They just need us to stop poisoning and removing food.

Tree Beekeeping Course - Poland

A great opportunity to learn about Tree Beekeeping from experts, on an Tree Beekeeping International backed course ... and have a fantastic experience.

My Log Hive Video

I hope you like this log hive video on the new Zeidler channel (German for tree beekeeper), if you do, please share and give the thumbs up as the feedback is always encouraging. I am making an ebook on tree beekeeping which I hope to release at the end of January. A little later than previously indicated due to several other bee projects, which I hope I can talk about soon. My thanks to Jan Michael for his tireless work supporting the Bee with his films.

It's exciting to see this happening all across Europe. Today my friend Piotr Piłasiewicz sent me this video link of a hive being made in Poland. Deep inside us all, whatever our background, we feel the need to connect with nature, and bees can help us.

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