Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Michael Bush and his family at their home in rural Nebraska. Known for his informative website and book, The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally, Michael is well respected in the beekeeping community and presents a philosophy aimed at helping honeybee colonies become more sustainable.
Beginning in the 1970′s, Michael started to catch feral survivor bees and slowly began to acquire beekeeping equipment when he had the funds to do so. Over the years, he has experimented with a variety of hive designs, bee varieties and treatment techniques. Through these experiences, Michael believes that natural beekeeping is the best way to create strong, disease resistant colonies that will be able to sustain themselves. To put it simply; natural beekeeping minimizes human interventions. Rather than propping up colonies with synthetic chemicals (antibiotics, “natural” mite treatments, et cetera) and commercial foundations (made of either plastic or contaminated wax), natural beekeeping allows honeybees to build their own combs and deal with issues on their own; some of the essential components to long term survival. At this point, Michael practices natural beekeeping with numerous colonies in foundation-less Langstroth hives and two in top bar beehives.
My interview with Michael Bush will further highlight the details related to natural beekeeping although, for now, it is important to understand the importance of this philosophy, in relation to the current issues honeybees, beekeepers and the larger ecological communities we’re a part of face. Beyond the fact that natural beekeeping helps bees become more sustainable (since they must find ways to adapt in order to survive), it is also deeply interconnected to the principles of permaculture, organic gardening/farming and our hopes of creating just and sustainable communities. As discussed by Michael, beekeepers of the 1970′s used to be very adamant against the use of chemicals in their hives, whereas most beekeepers today have become dependent on them and without question, use them regularly, in turn limiting the survival capabilities of colonies. Coupled with a toxic agricultural system, poisonous lawns, less nutritious foraging environments (i.e. green deserts), genetically homogenous queens/colonies and more diseases, we shouldn’t be surprised to find empty hives.
As we learn more and more about the dangers of pesticides, antibiotics, prefabricated foundations and other commonly used beekeeping/agricultural practices, natural beekeeping practices will become increasingly important. Whether you are already a natural beekeeper, someone interested in learning how to be a beekeeper or currently keeping bees using the “modern” methods, I strongly suggest checking out Michael Bush’s book and website. As a beekeeper committed to natural practices and the long term sustainability of honeybees, I plan on writing more on this subject and hope to discuss this philosophy with many of you folks in person or online! While there is a lot more to this, I hope this serves as a good primer about Natural Beekeeping.