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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Natural beekeeping

Natural beekeeping is a methodology which aims to imitate the environment and lifecycle of the bees and to satisfy their need with methods and techniques as close as possible to their wild and natural state.

Natural beekeeping refers primarily to the relationship between the bees and the beekeeper within the colony and apiary. The broader principles of sustainable beekeeping are usually endorsed, to include environmental and genetic factors along with management methodologies. The two terms, "natural" and "sustainable", are frequently used interchangeably. Other terms are "bee-friendly", since bee welfare is the first consideration in natural beekeeping, and "hands-off", referring to the minimal interference in the bee colony. 

Methodologies have developed with the use of hive types which differ from the frame hives used by many beekeepers in Europe and those parts of the world to which Apis mellifera has been transported but is not indigenous. Methodologies are based on key principles, however, which are not limited to hive types but which are generally applicable.

Natural beekeepers seek to work with and develop key principles rather than a book of rules:

  • The bee colony is treated as a complete organism
  • The natural processes of the bees are respected
  • Retention of nest scent and heat is crucial
  • Intrusion into the colony is minimised
  • Bees make all their comb with cell size of their own choosing
  • The bees' own swarming impulse determines reproduction
  • Colonies are overwintered on their own honey
  • Bees are local, adapted to local environments
  • Colony density is appropriate to local forage conditions

Regular observation allows the beekeeper to understand and recognise the health and development of the colony. Management interventions are informed by the bees' own needs. Intervention is minimised, using three broad principles:

  • Do not put anything into the hive which did not come from the bees
  • Do not take anything out of the hive which the bees cannot afford to lose
  • Be guided by the bees

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