Natural Beekeeping Association „Free Bees”
Association and Its Mission
Almost two years ago (march 2015) few amateur beekeepers founded Natural Beekeeping Association „Free Bees”. The statute of the Association begins with our manifesto – with these words:
- permanent and systematically rising threats for the bees and beekeeping, connected with presence of parasites and pests in the hives, especially caused by the mite Varroa destructor, that is growing its immunity against chemical substances and destroying bee colonies, and whole apiaries;
- excessive exhibition of the honey bee to chemical substances contained in the medicaments for the bees, especially pesticides, acaricides and fungicides, which are often used in irrationally large dosage by the commercial and amateur beekeepers, that cause devastation of bee hive ecosystems, genetic weakening of the species and contamination of bee products;
- excessive reduction in the honey bee species genetic diversity, caused by the selection towards increase of the bees’ economic efficiency;
- usage of beekeeping methods that cause excessive exploitation of bee colonies;
- pollution of environment and degradation of ecosystem caused by excessive exploitation of agricultural areas, causing threats for beekeeping and the honey bee herself,
We, Beekeepers from all over of Poland, noticing the need for returning to the roots of beekeeping and the necessity of propagation of natural beekeeping principles, decide to appoint the Association, that will goal in reverse from negative tendencies of modern beekeeping and return to the principles of selection of honey bee towards the evolution of species in the direction of adaptation to the actual conditions of environment, and elaboration of methods favouring natural tolerance to the threats present in apiaries, especially the mite Varroa destructor.
We started our initiative, because we believe that honey bee can live a normal healthy live without chemical interventions – therefore bees can return to their historical habitats in nature, and we, beekeepers can gather uncontaminated honey for us, our families, and the customers. We wanted to say “no” to pharmaceuticals that pollute bees’ environment and the crops. We don’t want to scald our bees with organic acids and disrupt the hive ecosystems with essential oils. Therefore we made our goal to be treatment free – since now, or since whatever time it is possible.
Since the foundation of our Association we have done an enormous work. We have built our webpage (www.wolnepszczoly.org), and internet forum (www.forum.wolnepszczoly.org). We have published a lot of texts on our page and 4 texts in beekeeping magazine “Pszczelarstwo” (that translates “Beekeeping” – www.miesiecznik-pszczelarstwo.pl). We have also translated some texts of Michael Bush (www.bushfarms.com) and Kirk Webster (www.kirkwebster.com) so that the knowlegde would be accesible in Polish for the beekeepers that don’t speak foreign languages (of course with the permission of the Authors). All of that we have done for free – in the evenings, in our spare time. Now we have decided to write a little about us, for others in different countries in Europe that are looking for examples of treatment free beekeepers – just as we are looking for them.
We – The Members and Our Approach to the Problem
As We wrote earlier, we are a group of amateur beekeepers. Our apiaries are from 2 – 3 hives to about 60. Altogether we have about 170 – 180 treatment free bee colonies (three of us have 150 hives out of that number, and the rest are in smaller apiaries), that have been treated for the last time in autumn 2014. In 2015 we had altogether about 130 hives, and lost about half of them during last winter (the biggest loss was about 50 out of about 60 hives). This year our apiaries grew. The numbers we have now are new colonies made by splits of the survivors, and some caught swarms. This year bees are in different conditions. Some are thriving, and some are weak and dwindling. But we hope that at least 50% of the colonies will survive, and the next year the number of treatment free hives will grow again.
We have different approach to the treatment free success. Some of us want to gather crops, and some don’t care for honey in the initial years of selection. We use various methods in our apiaries – some believe in “expansion model beekeeping” (You can hear about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4U4j5yb_g9Y, or read about it here: http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?279799-Expansion-Model-Beekeeping), and some prefere to make the selection out of normal productive hives during their full development.
Most of us however believe in:
- natural selection;
- no treatments;
- no disruption to hive ecosystem;
- clean wax (preferably with 4.9 foundation or natural cell in foundationless frames);
- local genetics (making splits from survivors);
- natural food with minimum sugar feeding;
- minimum interventions and interruptions.
We have collected various bee genetics from any place where we could find “promissing bees”. Directly or indirectly we bought queens from: Erik Osterlund (www.elgon.es/diary), Juhani Lunden (http://www.saunalahti.fi/lunden/varroakertomus.html), Roger White (http://www.superbee-cy.com/), Alois Wallner (http://www.voralpenhonig.at), and also bees from Macedonia (http://www.macbee.org/en/), Spain (Apis mellifera iberensis), Sweden and Norway (Apis mellifera mellifera). We found that even bees with confirmed Varroa resistant traits often die, because of local problems (they don’t winter well, they often die of other diseases, even though Varroa is not present in big numbers). Therefore we also try to look for local genetics – local AMM bee (this genetics unfortunately is very marginalized in our country) that can be found in small apiaries, or AM Carnica that has been brought to Poland decades ago. We found out that the best strategy would be probably combining these two genetics – resistant (from breeders) with local (immune to local pests and hardy with polish climate conditions).
„Fort Knox” initiative
We suppose that probably the main problem of Treatment Free Bees in Poland and other neighbouring countries is lack of feral population of bees. Feral population had been marginalized, and had probably almost fully disappeared during last decades. Bees swarm less because of the management methods and genetics, and there is lack of places they can live unbothered by humans as well. Therefore we believe that a good strategy is to develop ones apiary every year, to have lots of drones, and try to spread resistant or at least promising genetics. That is why some of us who want (or have time) to have 5 – 10 productive hives for now, build more and more every year just to compensate for dying bees – and have 40 – 60 colonies. But some of beekeepers don’t have resources for that, and still have 3 or 10 hives in ones yard. Their chances of being self sufficient are not big – but they still want to be treatment free, and we want as many small apiaries to be treatment free as it is possible. That is why “Fort Knox” initiative has been founded in the Association.
“Fort Knox” is a gold reserve in the USA. That is why we used that name for the reserve of our “gold” – treatment free bees. The initiative is about giving “insurance” for all beekeepers that want to be treatment free, but are afraid of losing hives and start over again. Each beekeeper can declare some of his hives to “joint venture” – whatever number he or she wants, but no more than the number of project members (because we could have some problems of meeting the need in a bad year). We still have these hives in our yards – but they have to be treatment free, “promising” genetics, harvested only from surplus (only from what the bees don’t need for successful wintering – so with no, or only minimum feeding sugar). If a colony dies, beekeeper who is in the common project is given a new colony for free from other beekeeper, who had the luck of surviving bees. We started the initiative a year ago, but this year two of us have already been given colonies from others. We think the initiative in time has the potential to gather more and more beekeepers who would be less frightend by the vision of losing all hives and starting over again.
We hope that treatment free, productive bees in time will no longer be the impossible dream in Poland.