Ph. 0490 399 319
Report a Swarm Facebook

Bee-Centred -vs- Conventional Beekeeping

Bee-Centric Beekeeping starts with the premise that understanding, respecting, and supporting the essential biological needs of the bee in a holistic manner is fundamental to having healthy bees.

Conventional (commercial / honeycentric) beekeeping is the style of beekeeping taught to hobbyists by those with, or those influenced by those with, commercial interests in bees

Commercial styles influence hobbyists (and generate income for equipment suppliers)
Now seen as standard but really not appropriate for most backyarders

Not polarise – middle ground is helpful – but also crucial to recognise influences and effects of influences

Hard to explain what beecentred is without first understanding conventional
Beecentred is as much about what it’s NOT as what it IS

Story of the bee is the story of all life forms caught in a commercial system
Analogies: backyard chickens compared to battery chickens; farmyard pigs compared to factory farmed pigs
Essence of the life form is ignored/suppressed in return for commercial gain

(write main headings on board as you go thru them)

1. Philosophy
2. Hive Choice
3. Hive Management
– Natural Comb
– Treatments
– Feeding
– Frequency of Inspection
– Queen Excluder
– Harvesting Honey
– Swarm prevention
4. Queen Breeding
5. Stationary (Sedentary) Beekeeping -vs- Migratory Beekeeping
– Migratory Pollination
– Migratory Honey Cropping

1. Philosophy
“A theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principal for behaviour.”
Many decisions will be based on philosophy.
How we look at the bees – a superorganism or a box of insects.
Beecentred – put the bee first
Conventional – box of insects that make money

2. Hive Choice
Most obvious aspect of beekeeping – providing bees with shelter.
Many different choices.
Techniques inside more important than hive but hive does make a difference.
Beecentred – mimic natural nest structure as much as possible (whilst still being legal)
Conventional – easy to mass produce and transport

3. Hive Management
The major determining factor over beecentred beekeeping is not the type of hive but the way the hive is managed

Natural Comb
A complex issue and fits with commercial beekeeping in many complex ways – too complex to mention now (spinning honey, drone control, buying foundation generates lots of money)
Biggest factor for bee-centred beekeeping – fundamental to how bees live – home, communication system, central organ, womb
Conventional beeks use foundation (flat sheets of wax (paraffin?) or plastic impressed with the shape of (enlarged) worker cells) which forces bees to build out cells of a particular size from a 2d surface
Beecentred way allow bees to festoon and build their own comb naturally down from a top bar
Conventional beeks will say giving foundation/recycling comb “saves” the bees energy – purely a commercial perspective and based on fallacy.

Meet Michael Bush – (vid on treating – – lots of reasons for not treating and also other interesting concepts (ecology of the hive, propping up and breeding bees that can’t survive on their own and breeding treatment resistant paracites)
Treating not such a factor in Australia – Commercial Aus honey relatively clean as we have no mites
Only a matter of time until mites arrive (varroa in Townsville)
But do use chemicals and antibiotics to treat for SHB, EFB (AFB “offlabel” surruptitiously?)
Chemicals are used for other things (fume boards to remove bees from honey supers)
Generally beecentred beeks will not treat
Let bees work it out
Natural selection means stronger bees in the long term (South African beeks with varroa)
This approach condemned as irresponsible by commercial interests (whilst bees work it out commerce impacted)
Conventional beekeepers are much more inclined to use treatments
Why mention this as a main aspect if not much treatment in Aus anyway?
Only a matter of time until varroa arrives
Chemical treatments have already been registered for approval
This is about philosophy as much a anything – natural or pharmaceutical approach
Chemical companies (commercial interests) control the narrative
Important to understand bees don’t need human help to be healthy
Bees do best left alone
Human interference at the root of problems with bees today

Generally, beecentred beekeeper  will not feed
If beecentred beeks do feed its in exceptional circumstnaces (splits? cutouts?) ideally with own honey fed back
In my opinion, best practice beecentred beekeeping means we never have to feed
If we do have to feed, there’s a problem
Address underlying problem (over harvesting, not enough forage) rather than addressing symptom of the problem
Conventional beekeepers feed as a matter of course – sugar or worse still high fructose corn syrup

Frequency of Inspection
Api – open hive as infrequently as possible in the least obtrusive way
C/C – inspect frequently and regularly
Told to open hives to check for disease but opening hives weakens hives and causes diseases
Middle ground: inspect lots in beginning in hope of less later on?

Queen Excluder
Mesh big enough for worker bees to pass through but not Mother or drones
Between brood box and honey supers
Idea to keep Mother confined to laying eggs in a controlled space
Brood and honey separate for convenience in honey harvesting
Beecentred beeks generally do not use
Believe its important for Mother to be able to move around the colony freely
Pheremones produced by queen useful to colony for many reasons
Makes sense for bees to determine brood nest size
Shape of brood ball very important (changing shape in different temperatures)

Harvesting Honey
Honey – bees winter stores for times when no nectar
Conventional beekeeping is honeycentric – honey is reason for keeping bees – harvest as much honey as possible
Beecentred beekeeping is about the bee – bee welfare is reason for keeping bees – honey a happy side effect
A subtle but very important distinction
Conventional beeks often harvest honey as soon as its there not leaving enough for a dearth – harvest all honey in autumn feed sugar in the spring
I’ve been experimenting with main harvest in spring
Also – lots of differences in honey harvesting techniques (covered later)

Swarm Prevention
Swarming is the bees natural means of reproducing
An integral part of the life form
Many things done to prevent swarming (expand brood nest, destroy swarm cells, splitting colonies, requeening with young queens, breeding non swarming bees)
To supress the reproductive method of an animal doesn’t seem like smart animal husbandry to me
Fear and seen as a loss in honey production
Loss of native habitat
Conventional beeks are told to do all they can to prevent swarms (apiary code – honeybee colonies must be managed to prevent or minimise swarming)
Beecentred beeks often do not prevent swarms
I choose a middle ground (work with Connecting Country)

4. Queen Breeding
Forcing bees to make Mother bees
Artificial insemination
Mother bees not locally adapted sold as packages
Almost all sold Mother bees produced this way
Causes a disconnect from the natural way (swarming)
Big business around this (requeen yearly)
Perhaps the most harmful practice causes genetic bottleneck (Mothers from the same breeder from the same breeder mothers)
Conventional beeks always do this (even requeen swarms)
Beecentred allow bees to decide when a new Motherbee is needed

5. Stationary (Sedentary) Beekeeping -vs- Migratory Beekeeping
In Australia virtually all commercial beekeepers migratory
Move hives to pollinate monocrops and to harvest honey
Bees not designed to move around… need to become accustomed to local cycles
Very disruptive… weakens them

Migratory Pollination
Moving bees on trucks to pollinate monocrops
Almonds worth $500 million in Victoria alone and increasing
Tens perhaps hundreds of thousands of hives in one place
Single beekeepers making $50k for placing hives for 6 weeks
Bees weakened by travel and then by limited nutrition (single source of pollen)
Disease spreading between colonies and then dispersed back out to the rest of the country
Incredible amount of embodied energy
Standard for commercial beeks (90% of commercial hives)
Main business for many commercial beekeepers – seen as bread and butter
Not something beecentred beeks would do

Migratory Honey Cropping
Moving bees on trucks out to where plants are flowering to produce honey
Almost never true local honey (local honey for hay fever)
Large amounts of embodied energy
Hard on the local ecosystem
Single source (varietal) honey
Standard for honey production in Australia (virtually all commercial honey)
Not something beecentred beeks would do
Honey produced from stationary hives contains nectar/pollen from 300 different plants

For more info go to: