'The bee master must be first of all be a bee lover or he will never succeed'
The Lore of the Honeybee, Tickner Edwardes, 1923
At all times we aim to operate in a way that is ethical, sustainable and socially responsible. We aim to lead by example when it comes to bee friendly beekeeping practices and sustainable food production.
We pride ourselves on being fully transparent about how, where and why we produce honey.
We aim to increase the awareness of wild honey and natural beekeeping practices as we have something genuinely positive to communicate and wish to educate the public about it.
We freely share our knowledge about natural beekeeping in Australia via courses, workshops, public speaking engagements, articles and information on this website.
BEE-FRIENDLY APICULTURE IN AUSTRALIA
WHAT IS NATURAL BEEKEEPING
Natural swarms are the colony's way of reproducing
Natural Beekeeping aims to provide for the needs of the bee colony above that of the beekeeper. It is a holistic approach based on respect and love for the bee colony.
Of course, the term Natural Beekeeping itself is somewhat problematic, as the keeping of bees is never truly natural; bees exist and thrive naturally and have done for millions of years without the aid of a keeper, often living high up in a tree hollow.
However, despite confusion over the term itself, the concept of an alternative style of apiculture that is bee-friendly (or ‘api-centric’) and ethical is one that resonates with any person wanting to keep bees for reasons other than intensive honey production.
Honeybees offer a rare opportunity to glimpse a different world, where humans may gain wisdom and insight not only into the world of bees, which is defiantly wild, but also glean knowledge of how our actions impact on the life around us.
Honeybees are a highly resilient, beautiful and ancient species. The primary reason for the long-lived success of Honeybees around the world is their incredibly complex and vast array of behavioural and social abilities.
In recent years the term ‘superorganism’ has been used to describe the bee colony and Natural Beekeepers embrace this way of thinking, regarding each bee and colony as part of the greater whole, rather than merely an individual insect.
Using this new understanding and knowledge of the bee colony, Natural Beekeeping attempts to mimic the natural nest structure of the wild bee colony and give every opportunity for the superorganism to thrive, communicate effectively, and become resilient to disease and changing environmental conditions, whilst still retaining an element of the ‘keeping’ of bees – that of human involvement.
Natural Beekeeping often leads to a complete re-thinking of conventional beekeeping management and hive design. In these alternative hives, bees are allowed to construct natural comb, thereby determining their own cell size, population mix, colony size and rear their own queens.
A less intrusive style of beekeeping is also practiced in the knowledge that bees are creatures of solitude, and great harm may be done to the colony by frequently inspecting the hive. Despite the requirement for minimal intervention, natural beekeepers must increase their external observational skills – of bee colony and environmental phenomena – to be in tune with the bees and make the right decisions.
Various aspects of this new, holistic approach to keeping bees are already supported by scientific research into colony life not to mention the fact that it is a far more gentle, enjoyable way to keep bees.
Each individual bee is part of the greater whole
GENUINELY ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE HONEY
Wild honeycomb frame from one of our Warré hives, almost fully capped and ready to be harvested
Thankfully, community interest and awareness about ethical food production has increased dramatically in recent years. We have always chosen to put ethical considerations about the bees and the environment at the core of everything we do and are more than willing to share our methods with the public.
We have pioneered a new beekeeping approach for Australian conditions that incorporates modern natural beekeeping methods, an ethical framework and set of principles that informs how we produce our honey and manage our bees (or rather - let them guide us) and sell and distribute our products with the good of the bees, the environment and the community in mind.
Because of this, our products can be regarded as genuinely ethical and sustainable as opposed to other bee products sold with the same descriptors. Within the media, food industry and general public the terms ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘natural’ are overused and presented with no actual evidence for these claims. We are often questioned by consumers as to how our honey is different, which can be challenging to explain briefly as our Wild Honey is actually a different product across many dimensions.
Those differences can be explained in a variety of ways – from the different bee husbandry involved (often our methods are the antithesis of conventional practises), ethical framework (incorporated below in the principles of Natural Beekeeping and expanded upon here, sustainability and low carbon footprint, flavour of the honey (our honey is used by the leading chef’s of Australia and is a multiple gold medal winner at the .delicious Produce Awards) and scientific analysis of the honey itself (independent research has revealed stark differences between Warré hive honey and conventionally produced honey).
Malfroy's Gold Australian Warré Hive reaching epic proportions on a Yellowbox honeyflow in the Central Tablelands
Please find below a list of the principles outlining how some of our key bee husbandry practices differ and why the end product, partly as a result of these practises, can be considered ethical and sustainable when compared to conventionally produced honey and other bee products.
We hope to encourage consumers to enquire about where their food comes from and how it is produced. We appreciate the support of our customers as the consumer has an important role in the movement towards a better food system for all. Wider support for this style of apiculture and regenerative agriculture will mean an increasingly positive effect on the bee population and the environment, with flow on positive effects for food security.
PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL BEEKEEPING
Natural Beekeeping is a holistic, bee friendly approach which aims to cater for the species-specific needs of the bee colony superorganism. As part of our practice, we have developed the following five key principles. These principles crystalise in a simple format what is essentially an incredibly complex and multifaceted natural process and assists us in communicating our method to others:
1. NATURAL COMB Allowing the bees to build their own comb has a multitude of benefits for both the bees and the beekeeper. Comb building is the foundation of honeybee biology – made from the bees own bodies and crafted into a profoundly important part of the bee superorganism by the bees themselves – it can be thought of as the skeleton, skin, womb and liver of the colony, and also acts as a communication network, contributor to social immunity and functions as an extended gut of the colony.
All our hives are populated with natural swarms and colonies are allowed to build their own comb at all times, determining colony size and population dynamics, including mix of sexes.
In contrast, comb building is never allowed or encouraged in conventional apiculture – rather, to increase yield, artificial combs are given to the bees to increase worker bee population and capitalise on honey flows. Artificial combs (made of wax or plastic) are often re-used for decades and can contain contaminants.
The foundation of bee biology - natural comb built entirely by the bees
2. NATURAL REPRODUCTION Swarming is the ultimate goal of the honeybee colony. Allowing bees to reproduce naturally also has many benefits for the beekeeper. The colony receives a ‘brood break’ which is healthy for the bees and develops a young queen with new genetics from the local area, allowing the colony to adapt to disease and changing climate. The queens in our hives often live up to 5 years. Disease is basically non-existent and the colonies have developed resilient traits not commonly seen in commercially bred bees.
In contrast, it is encouraged in conventional apiculture to ‘re-queen’ (kill the queen and replace her with a young queen) the hive annually to prevent swarming (reproduction) ever occurring, primarily to increase yield and to maintain a ‘docile’ strain of bees. However, colony defensiveness has as much to do with colony size, weather, honeyflow conditions, pollen type and availability and how the apiarist manages the colony during hive inspection, as much as the genetic makeup of the colony.
Natural queen cell. New queens are raised during the reproduction process that refreshes and continues the life of the colony
3. NATURAL FOOD Nectar and pollen gathered by the bees from the surrounding environment and transformed into honey and bee bread inside the hive is the only essential food for bees. Due to the unique design of the Warré hive (which gives the bees a warm and dry environment) and sensitive management, we have never had to feed any of our colonies, even during times of dearth.
Unfortunately, most colonies around the world are fed heavily with sugar syrup, artificial pollen supplements and other dubious feeds to increase yield. Many are these practises result in disease and stress occurring in colonies and may potentially contaminate the honey.
Fresh nectar in virgin comb – the natural food for honeybee colonies
4. NO CHEMICALS No chemicals are necessary to keep honeybees healthy in Australia. In fact, any use of chemicals to control pests and/or diseases can have detrimental effects on the colony and the honey. We have never used any chemicals on the bees, hives or combs or in any other way in the business.
In contrast, chemicals are often used in conventional apiculture in Australia in the hive itself (antibiotics such as oxytetracycline/terramycin to control brood diseases, fipronil to control small hive beetle,) on the hiveware (copper napthenate to preserve bee boxes) and on stored combs (phostoxin to kill wax moth). In countries other than Australia, a multitude of chemicals are often used to control the Varroa mite.
In addition to chemicals, many beekeepers use combs made from plastic or hives made from plastic or expanded polystyrene which has a high carbon footprint and may leach chemicals into the hive and honey.
Healthy solid broodnest and honey stores on natural comb, no chemicals necessary!
5. MINIMAL INTERVENTION Honeybees colonies are creatures of solitude and benefit from being left alone most of the time. The opening of hives to inspect colonies should be done gently and swiftly during warm, sunny weather. Interestingly, the Warré is the only hive that allows beekeepers to check colonies from beneath the cluster (by tilting boxes) and also from above, by removing individual combs.
We recommend brood inspections three or four times per season, as does the Department of Primary Industries. Many beekeeping books and clubs recommend more frequent openings, even on a weekly basis, which is disturbing to the colony in a number of different ways.
To find out more about this style of beekeeping, please see our Articles and Resources page for extensive reading lists, links, and information.
A worker bee from one of our wild colonies which we allow to reproduce naturally resulting in genetic diversity and resilience.
The principles can be seen in our daily practise as professional beekeepers:
• We use bee-friendly Warré hives instead of standard conventional Langstroth hives
• Our hives are populated with natural wild swarms from the Blue Mountains instead of intensively bred commercial bees
• We let the bees build their own comb rather than giving bees artificial beeswax foundation or plastic combs
• We allow the colony to swarm (reproduce) naturally and do not practice routine queen culling/replacement
• We have never treated our bees, hiveware or stored equipment with chemicals
• We have never fed our bees sugar syrup or pollen supplements
• We make our hives with local salvaged timber (many new hives are made from plastic, polystyrene or plantation timber)
• We do not migrate hives; our apiaries are semi-permanent with an average size of 15 colonies (the average commercial apiary is 100 hives)
In order to communicate the philosophy and practise of Natural Beekeeping, we have attempted to summarise and simplify what is in reality a complex, detailed and somewhat intuitive craft. We hope you get a sense of how our Ethos shapes our beekeeping approach in a practical sense. You can read more about our unique approach to Natural Beekeeping on our sister site: www.naturalbeekeeping.com.au
From 2010 to 2018, in partnership with Milkwood Permaculture, we ran dozens of Natural Beekeeping courses and workshops across NSW with over 1,000 students attending from all over Australia and the world.
These courses, the first of their kind in this country, kickstarted a grass roots revolution in bee friendly beekeeping and a greater awareness and understanding of not just the art and craft of Natural Beekeeping, but the role that bees and other pollinators play in the environment and how we can help them to thrive.
Adam Kennedy, Natural Beekeeper and teacher support for our Natural Beekeeping courses with Milkwood Permaculture
We are currently taking an extended break from teaching commitments and hope to resume this work again in the future.
INTERNATIONAL BEEKEEPING COMMUNITY
Tim is active within the international natural beekeeping community, contributing to various forums, collaborating with other natural beekeepers and writing articles for beekeeping journals.
We also work with selected, experienced natural beekeepers who travel from distant shores to help us during our Australian bee season. This is an invaluable time for both parties as we can share experiences and comradery working in different climates and ecosystems.
Jaro Bajko - Czech Republic (Warré hives and natural beekeeping, permaculture, composting and forest garden education) Website | Facebook