Treatment Free and Organic beekeeping – Why would you bother?

 In Bee Health, New Beekeeper, Organic Beekeeping, Tips & Tricks, Treatment Free Beekeeping

On every beekeeping related social media platform there is always controversy and elevated discussion on the merits and problems with organic beekeeping. But what exactly is organic beekeeping and how does it compare to treatment free beekeeping and other methods of looking after your bees?

This topic will no doubt stir up some controversy so make sure you put your view in the comments down below and share this post so we can put the case to trial with the broader beekeeping community.

So what is organic beekeeping?

“Organic beekeeping is the process of raising bees without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and other unnatural or harmful substances” (1)

The whole idea for organic beekeeping appears to come down to the status of the bee products requiring no residual evidence of unnatural or harmful substances.

And what about organic honey (or other bee products)?

There are many beekeepers claiming to have honey or other products that are organic. In many instances the use of the word organic ends up being an opinion by the beekeepers (and maybe a few of his friends) on the status of being organic. This tends to water down the value of real organically certified honey.

Well what is certified organic?

My research tells me that it is a variable standard depending on your jurisdiction and often it is very challenging to meet these standards. As previously mentioned many beekeepers that consider their efforts to be organic may well not meet the comprehensive certified organic standards. On the other hand there may well be some who far exceed the certified benchmark and never bother with completing the full process. Check locally what your standard is and see if this is something that is achievable for you.

I want to go organic. What do I do?

It is a significant commitment to take your beekeeping down the path of being genuinely organic. As previously stated the key to being an organic beekeeper is ensuring the products and substances used for the hives are safe for the bees and yourself.

Whilst you might have the very best intentions it is hard to control all the influencing factors on where your bees forage and what the impacts are by others in your area.

If you are keen to give it a go then here are some ideas that will get you started:

• Site the hive within an area of natural vegetation or organic farmland. This should be at least three miles or nearly five kilometres around the hive.
• Build your hives using natural materials. This will often include using unpainted and untreated timber and only using tools that are free from any sort of contaminant.
• Be prepared to weather the cycle of collapse and recovery. This is well defined in this interesting article (2) by Kirk Webster who states the following about those that decide to go treatment free:

“There is one thing all these beekeepers have in common– one experience they all share: like it or not, they all watched their bees go through at least two Collapse and Recovery cycles before their apiaries would stabilize enough to produce surplus hive products without treatments.”

• You should be content with leaving plenty of surplus honey on the hives so you don’t need to feed bees in times of a dearth.
• If feeding bees is required, you can only use organic products such as organically certified sugar and there is usually restriction around when this can be used.

There is more about this at the Buzz About Bees web page on organic beekeeping found here.

And what is treatment free beekeeping?
The name says it all, doesn’t it? Well there are many takes on what this actually means and I have settled on providing this definition of what a treatment is with thanks to Solomon Parker from Parker Farms:

“Treatment: Anything done in the hive, or introduced by the beekeeper into the hive with the intent of killing, repelling, or inhibiting a pest or disease afflicting the bees, or in any way “helping” the bees to survive when they ought to be surviving on their own”

Hmmm, so what is left for the beekeeper to do? Perhaps not all that much as he goes on to state,

“Treatment-free is the way bees live in the wild. It’s the way the species ultimately survives.”

I really like what Solomon has to say so to read more and see his comprehensive list of what you can and can’t do if you want to be a treatment free beekeeper visit his page.

Well it all seems too hard…

If it doesn’t sit right with you then don’t do it.

If you’re thinking maybe, then perhaps you could try adopting a few of the treatment free methods to slowly bring about a more natural state for your bees.

If you have been doing this for years, then keep up the good work.

Let us know in the comments below how you manage your bees, what works for you and what (if anything) has been a miserable failure.

So why would you bother?

In closing I have come to my own conclusion about all this and I might share it if I get some interest in the comments below. I hope this has been helpful and interesting. If you have any ideas of what blog topic we should explore next then drop us an email at simon@hivekeepers.com.

Cheers

Simon


References:

[1] http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-organic-beekeeping.htm

[2] http://kirkwebster.com/index.php/collapse-and-recovery-the-gateway-to-treatment-free-beekeeping

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Comments
  • Andrew Wootton
    Reply

    There’s a world of difference between “treatment-free” in Australia (where this blog is based) vs everywhere else. In the absence of varroa why would you need to treat with anything? On the other hand, with varroa, it’s a completely different story. And the debate about “treatment-free” is highly complex. Even the definition of what is “treatment-free” is open to interpretation and many of the claims by its advocates lack evidence with data.

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