Wigan Growing Network Logo

Information about Beekeeping

Home Beekeeping Information Sheets

The Bee Keeping Information Blog

Bees are fascinating creatures with complex behaviours some of which we still don't understand. In order to keep honey bees the best way possible we need to try to understand how and why bees behave the way they do, and endeavour to allow bees to live as nature intended with minimum interference - after all bees have been around for a few more million years than we have... Take a look at the sections below for information on the honey bee and natural bee keeping, and an introduction to the other 249 species of bee we have in the UK

Back to the main bee keeping page


07-02-2018 by 

Lets start with conventional bee keeping.

Why do we say conventional rather than traditional?

This is because recent bee keeping methods have become the accepted norm but they're by no means traditional. It wasnt until the C20th that people in this country started using the hives that are in common use today. Up until this point bees would of been left in the wild and honey collected from them or they would of been kept in vessals like skeps that would not have been manipulated by the bee keeper until honey harvest time.

It wasn't until the 'Framed' hive was introduced and honey harvesting become alot easier that the emphasis of bee keeping become all about honey and how we can increase the yield. And this is what conventional bee keeping has become all about. Which you could argue should not be the case with bees in the western world under such threat... Is it time to see honey and bees in a new, or is that old way?

Within the world of conventional bee keeping not only are bees always kept in framed hives (English national, WBC, Langstroth etc ) but also a quite regimented method of bee keeping is encouraged.

Whats wrong with framed hives?

Well not a lot really to be honest but... We are only just beginning to understand in detail about the behaviour of the honey bee and especailly how they communicate to each other. Its thought they use the comb to vibrate meassges around the hive. Does the wooden frame get in the way of the messages? Also in the wild bees will always make their wax comb in round shapes never in rectangles. Are we dictating how they make their wax? And most importantly with the frames and wax foundation used in conventional bee keeping (foundation is bee wax pressed in flat rectangle sheet with hexaginals pressed into them which fit into a wooden frame) we dictate what type of bees the hive makes i.e. more workers because of course they make the honey! And not male done bees (who dont make honey). The arguement here is surely the bees know what bees they need more of, female or male?!

Conventional bee keeping will also strongly encourage you to stop the swarming process. Why? Because it interupts the honey making of the hive of course! Swarming is a natural reproductive process of the honey bee. They must swarm in order to reproduce the whole hive. You have to think about a hive as a superorganism, that means the whole colony is a single entity acting together as one. Therefore to just reproduce in the hive is not enough the colony must multiply in order to increase the bee numbers.

You can produce a false swarm by moving bees about into new hives and splitting bees, queens and queen eggs. By doing this you trick the bees into beliving they have swarmed but you dont interupt the honey making process and you dont risk losing the majority of your bees, which is quite a real concern with swarms.

However by allowing the bees to swarm you are not only allowing the bees to behave how nature intended but you are also allowing the hive a break in the queen laying eggs. This is important in the relativey new threat of Varroa mites that hatch in the cells along with the bees and feed on the bee larvae. Bad news for the bees!

And also swarming season becomes quite a highlight in the bee keeping year, with many an adventure had catching your swarms from up trees, in overgrown prickly patches and anywhere else they decide to go!

Natural bee keeping

So I think I ve answered what natural bee keping is as well here. Just what is suggests really, allowing the bees to carry out their natural behaviour with little interference from the bee keeper. And dont worry most years you will also get a bit of honey from your bees.

The main hives used in natural bee keeping include the top bar hive and warre, but are other types as well, like the japanese hive, log hive and even one made from tyres. These hives allow the bees to make their wax combs without the interference from wooden frames. And the emphasis is the bee not the honey.