The Barefoot Beekeeper

I’m a sucker for old ways of doing things, new ways of doing things, different ways of doing things, so I was always going to have a soft spot for a book like this.  And despite advocating natural beekeeping methods, there was no mention of feeding honeybees chamomile tea.

So what did I make of this book?

The Synopsis

Philip is very concerned about the traditional Langstroth hive, conventional beekeeping methods and the use of pesticides.  He’s made me concerned too!

Philip is an advocate of the Top Bar Hive (TBH).  The key reasons for this, is that he believes, the thicker material makes them easier for honeybees to maintain their colony temperature and he likes bees to make their own wax foundation to their natural specifications.  He also believes they are more ergonomic due to their height and they are cheaper and require less equipment than the Langstroth. He uses a horizontal TBH (hTBH) as opposed to a vertical TBH, which is the Warre Hive.  I’m learning!

Philip is an advocate of “natural beekeeping” which means lower, but adequate, intervention, not smoking the hive and not doing things like clipping queens.  It also means taking less honey and spending more time observing the bees.

I also understand that barefoot beekeeping allows for the use of swarm management techniques and feeding the bees when they need it.  It also allows the use of sprinkling them with icing sugar and use of oxalic acid (if needed).  But hopefully, if you get the rest right, the bees will be in better health to look after themselves and hence less intervention is required.

More research is needed into the health of honeybees and how conventional methods might be having a negative impact, and hence the book is based on a mix of ideas and facts.

One of the authors’ objectives is to challenge the conventional approach to beekeeping.  This is a big task.  From a personal experience, all the courses and books and most of the beekeepers I have so far been exposed to are the conventional type.  (Conventional in terms of beekeeping, unconventional in terms of personality).  I had taken it as fact that I needed to smoke my bees and use wax foundation.  Who was I to challenge this?

The author can consider himself successful in his impact on my thinking and behaviour:

  1. He has made me curious about natural beekeeping
  2. I am going to experiment with doing a few things differently with my Nationals immediately
  3. A TBH would be an interesting addition to my hive-mix and I will consider buying one
  4. I am going to further research any scientific papers available to help me make decisions based on evidence

I have already done some reading and am in the process of writing a post titled “Evidence-Based Beekeeping”.  If you would like to be one of the first to receive this post, please follow this blog (top right of page).

Will I Use A Top Bar Hive?

Making a TBH as cheaply as possible seems to be an important part of the initiation into being a barefoot beekeeper, though the author does talk about using champagne corks from his cellar to plug entrances as required.  Corks from our wedding have long gone and I don’t have the tools, skills or innate ability to take a hive plan, some bit of wood and make a hive.

But Yes, I will definitely consider buying one.  I love wild comb and I believe in focusing on bee health as a way to creating honey.  The only thing putting me off is that others have said they have tried to use one with limited success.  So before taking this step I will investigate more and also I need to think about where I can put more hives.

Read the Dave Loveless review of the Top Bar Hive for more information.

Will I Be A Barefoot Beekeeper?

In writing this blog and researching hive types, I had started to pick-up on this fringe of natural beekeepers so some of the ideas had already started to infiltrate my psyche.  These included:

  • I wanted to focus on the health of my bees as a route to honey production
  • I located my hives in the countryside with plenty of flower and plant diversity, no rape in sight and fields devoted to live stock rather than crop (hence less pesticide I think)
  • I had bought a 14×12 brood box as I felt this would give the bees more space for brood and to store their own honey for winter
  • I was also planning on insulating the hive in winter so they used less honey during this period
  • I had considered a beehaus for their insulation properties and ergonomic height (though natural beekeepers will shudder at the use of plastic)
  • I already had no intention of clipping Queens (though this might have been more to do with my fears than for natural beekeeping reasons)
  • I wanted to have fewer and faster inspections than advocated in many books as there is a direct impact on honey production
  • At every chance I speak to fellow allotmenters about the bees and explain swarming so as to reduce anxieties

As a direct result of reading this book I am going to try the following:

  • Not using smoke or anything else when I inspect the hive
  • With future National hives experiment with using wax starter strips in the brood box to at least give the bees some chance of creating the cell sizes they want

I will let you know how it goes! I might discover for myself why people use smoke and wax foundation!  Any thoughts before I embark on this experiment?

Reminder of some useful links

If you want to buy The Barefoot Beekeeper, or other natural beekeeping books, please click here.

As I have said elsewhere, whilst building your own TBH is to be encouraged (it’s part of the initiation process), if you are like me, this is not an option. These links below might be helpful.  A particiapant in a beekeeping forum says “don’t faff about with a 3′ hive, go for 4′ “.

3’ TBH with viewing window

4’ TBH with viewing window

(US Link)

Reading this book led me to Evidence-Based Beekeeping.  Note: evidence gathering is still in progress!

Holiday reading for beekeepers

We’d had our mini-moon – two nights in a B&B in Devon off Vouchercloud – but she wanted a week in the sun, on a beach.  As the Summer progressed it became more evident that I could not persuade her that this exotic dream could be achieved by me offering to pack up the tent and drive us down the M5 to a deluxe* Cornish campsite.

* i.e. it has nice clean loos.

A week before the Greek voted on their new government and whether they would stay in the Euro, we booked our last minute honeymoon to Skiathos.  It was the only place that met my wife’s criteria for relative luxury and my pursuit of a good deal.

On a side note, I read a few weeks ago in A Short History Of The Honeybee, that the word honeymoon comes from a tradition of newly-married couples drinking honeymead for the first month of their marriage in order to increase the likelihood of having a boy.

For my new wife, lying next to a pool in soaring temperatures is like some kind of spiritual retreat.  But for me, such holidays are like an M&S meal for two, it tastes good but it only feeds the body.  Camping near beaches in Cornwall is my Zen and, like a home-cooked meal, feeds my body and soul.

Whilst my fellow holiday makers worshipped the sun, tested their brains on Sudoku puzzles, read The Mirror and books with people like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs on the cover, I had brought the adult version of The Famous Five – proper old-school adventure with some big words thrown in for good measure.  (My wife had banned me from reading beekeeping books due to me waking her up on two consecutive nights with bee-related, anxiety nightmares).

Holiday reading for beekeepers

I had come across The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy whilst browsing in Waterstones.  A few words spun off the back cover which prompted me to buy it: desolate, beautiful, award-winning, two cowboys, drifters, journey, coming-of-age (I relate to the coming-of-age thing despite coming-up-to 40.  Is that true of all early-middle-aged men these days?).  The only word missing was bromance.  I half recognised one title in the trilogy, All The Pretty Horses, and I recognised some other books he had written: The Road, No Country For Old Men.

I haven’t read enough books to know if it’s a “masterpiece” or a “landmark in American literature”, but it contained wisdom and meaning and made me want to jump on a horse and travel.  Unfortunately, if I did that back home in Bristol, people would just think I was crazy.  In fact, many of the things I dream about doing would mark me out as crazy, so I’ll stick to my backyard beekeeping adventures … and then I will appear relatively sane!

I checked the bees as soon as I got home (it had been two weeks).  They looked good from the outside.  The clip below is of my newest colony (the swarm I hived three weeks ago).  I’ll let you know what I found in my next post … Proud Dad.