The Super-charged Apiary - Bad for Bees

I recently listened to an interesting talk by renowned bee researcher Professor Thomas Seeley comparing natural tree hives to apiaries.

Natural tree hive
  • High off the ground
  • Small nest (40 ltrs median volume)
  • Small hive opening
  • Thick hive walls covered in propolis
  • Queens live long on small brood comb (1Msq)
  • Hives well spaced (1 hive per Sq Km)
  • Regular annual swarming
  • Brood nest consists of high proportion of male drone (17%)
  • No treatments for mites
These  attributes had measurable and significant positive effects on the hive health. The Arnot forest bees Professor Seeley studied had even adapted to the deadly Varroa mite and no signs of foul brood diseases have been found in the forest studies spanning 33 years. Compare this to the characteristics of the typical apiary where the beekeeper manipulates the hive for honey production.

Conventional apiary
  • Close to the ground
  • Large nest (70+ ltrs volume)
  • Large hive openings
  • Thin wooden floor and walls cleaned at least annually
  • Queens regularly replaced (1-2 year cycle by beekeeper) on large brood comb (2Msq +)
  • Hives closely packed together
  • Swarm prevention
  • Brood nests often culled to remove/reduce drone
  • Regular chemical treatments for mites and common diseases 

We do not have to look far to find many causes of bee stress.

Seeley quoted the great Wendall Berry in his talk :- "We cannot know what we are doing until we know what nature would be doing if we did nothing."

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