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!

Author: Roger

regaining my sanity through beekeeping

8 thoughts on “The Barefoot Beekeeper”

  1. the cheapness and diy build is what drew my attention to tbh’s, didn’t fancy paying out £££££’s on a national, loading it with frames and wax, only to have someone pinch it from the allotment, here’s a few pictures of my 4ft tbh. it took 2 days and £10 to build, have started a second one already, both are slightly different design, square and can take 2 x national frames at the front.Top Bar HiveTop Bar Hive 2Top Bar Hive 3

  2. I anxiously await your experimental results. I have wanted to try a top bar hive for some time. I normally only get into my hives twice a year. I don’t think I could continue that with a TBH.

    Let me know how it goes for you.

    1. tbh’s are ideal for minimal attention, once bee’s are hived, I’ll aim to check around once a month or less, they can and have survived without us interfering for hundreds of years, inspections are also carried out without entering the hive, the hive has a drop down hinged base, meshed above, simply open and lay on your back looking up into the hive, Ive tried the side windows and prefer this way, Ive just moved the entrances on my hive to the rear and added periscope entrances,

  3. if you’e not going to use a smoker migt be worth keeping a water spray handy instead. Can be used to clear bees from top of frames

    I tend not to use a smoker on hives but keep one lit in case of stings – use to mask attack pheromones

    1. On a beekeeping forum another commentor mentioned going in when the weather is good. Am planning to not use smoke this weekend! Eek.

  4. Very interesting, thanks Roger.

    A couple of things still put me off top bar hives, although I think with some perseverance there are ways to work round them. One is that the frames are less stable and more likely to break when inspecting, although I’ve seen a top bar beekeeper who made them more stable by providing an empty frame outline rather than just a starter strip.

    Another issue for me is varroa control. Presumably oxalic acid can only be applied using the more expensive vaporiser method, as you can’t trickle the acid quickly over the frame gaps as you could in a National. Similarly, where would you put Apiguard trays? Icing sugar is not enough on its own as most mites are busy breeding in the cells during spring/summer when it’s warm enough to dust them.

    Having said all this I’m sure there are pros and cons to all types of hive design and National hives aren’t perfect either!

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