THE HONEY BEE STORY

Honey bees have a long evolutionary history, shown by a honey bee fossil discovered 30-million years ago. Homo sapiens, in comparison, are a recent arrival just some 150,000 years ago. Our hunter gatherer ancestors did not keep bees, they hunted bees for their honey as in these times bees lived in tree cavities and rock faces high up in nature.  Bee hunting began to be superseded by beekeeping some 10,000 years ago, when people started farming and domesticating plants and animals.

The earliest indication of hive beekeeping was in Egypt where a stone bas-relief ca. 4400 years shows a beekeeper kneeling by a stack of cylindrical clay hives. This possibly marked the start of managed colonies.

FROM THE TREES TO MANAGED COLONIES

When bees are taken from their natural living into domestication, it is common to witness a decrease in health and wellbeing. Taken from Tom Seeley’s research in his book, Following the Wild Bees, below is a comparison of the environments in which honey bee colonies live today: 

UNMANAGED COLONIES

Colonies genetically adapted to location 

Colonies live widely spaced in landscape 

Colonies occupy small cavities (40 litres)

Nest walls have a propolis coating 

Nest cavity walls are thick 

Nest entrance is high and small 

Nest site relocations are rare

Colonies are rarely disturbed 

Colonies deal with familiar diseases

Colonies have diverse pollen sources 

Colonies have natural diets

Colonies are not exposed to novel toxins

Colonies are not treated for disease

Pollen not trapped, honey not taken 

Bees choose larvae for queen rearing 

Beeswax not removed

Drones compete fiercely for mating 

MANAGED COLONIES 

Colonies not genetically adapted to location 

Colonies live crowded in apiaries

Colonies occupy large hives (85 litres)

Hive walls have no propolis coating 

Hive walls are thin 

Nest entrance is low and large 

Nest site relocations can be frequent 

Colonies are frequently disturbed 

Colonies deal with novel diseases 

Colonies have homogeneous pollen sources 

Colonies sometimes have artificial diets

Colonies exposed to insecticides 

Colonies treated for disease 

Pollen sometimes trapped, honey often taken 

Beekeepers choose larvae for queen rearing 

Beeswax removed during honey harvest 

Queen breeder may select drones for mating 

So, the domestication of the bees, taken them from their natural environment to man made homes, combined with the rise of industrial farming practices, use of chemicals and the removal of their natural habitat (the trees), has led to the bees health being in a critical condition.

In response to this situation, a global movement has risen called Natural Beekeeping. These are people focusing on giving the honey bees homes and environments that are bee centred. A home that supports such is behaviour that we are currently focusing on is the log hive.