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Dear Bees for Development
I am thinking of keeping bees in my garden however, I am disabled and would be unable to attend to them myself. I wanted to find out if it's possible to keep bees in a hive without the need to take their honey, which I assume they would need during the winter. I have a lot of wildflowers in my garden which a hive of bees would really like! Thanks very much for your help.
A wildlife enthusiast who wishes to care for honey bees in the UK
We are so pleased that you would like to keep bees. Of course you can keep bees without taking their honey! Bees are wild animals and can live on their own - or at least they used to be able to before humans caused bee diseases to be spread around the world. Bees don't really like beekeepers poking about inside their nests, so owning bees without managing them is quite possible.
However there are some exceptions.
All honey bees in the UK suffer from the parasitic Varroa mite and with no treatment at all, eventually they may collapse if the Varroa mite population in the hive becomes very large. This may not happen in the first year, but perhaps the second or third. However, there are ways you can manage the Varroa mites to keep them under control. You may need to administer some kind of treatment once or twice a year.
The other thing you may need to consider is feeding. If you never harvest any honey and there are plenty of flowers around - from the beginning to the end of summer - you may never need to feed your bees. But this is something to watch - perhaps when you first have them (before they are well established), or when there is a period of bad weather. Checking whether your bees need extra feeding, and feeding them, are easy to do. If your colony becomes well established - after a year or two you should never have to feed them. They will manage their own population and breeding cycle and cope with periods of bad weather.
If you are not intending to keep bees for honey you may also consider using a top-bar hive instead of a frame-hive. There are a number of advantages to this - one of which is that you never have to lift any boxes!
We would recommend the book "The barefoot beekeeper" which promotes natural beekeeping in easy ways. You can purchase this book from the author's website www.biobees.com . This book will cover both the issues I mention above - managing Varroa and feeding.
We can recommend the following websites for interest:
Natural Beekeeping Forum
The Global Bee Project promotes the conservation of bees, and not the exploitation of bees.
The Yatton Bee Project promotes sustainable management of bees in their local area
Bees for Development