Tom Seeley on Darwinian Beekeeping

Tom Seeley on Darwinian Beekeeping

I used to be very fortunate final week because the Exeter Beekeeping Affiliation had some spare areas for a Zoom speak by Professor Tom Seeley. If you happen to’re a beekeeper your self you have got most likely heard of him – he is well-known for his analysis into honey bee swarming and foraging conduct. He has written 5 books, the newest of which is ‘The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee within the Wild’ (2019).

He comes throughout as a delicate, considerate man. He started his presentation by exhibiting us two photos: certainly one of Lorenzo Langstroth, and certainly one of Charles Darwin. He defined that each had insights that may assist us with our beekeeping – the idea of the moveable body hive, and the idea of evolution by pure choice.

Darwin’s idea tells us that every part that colonies do when they’re dwelling on their very own (accountable for their very own lives) is completed to favor their survival and their copy.

What’s Darwinian beekeeping?

Professor Seeley went on to elucidate his personal rules of Darwinian beekeeping, which revolve round permitting the bees to make use of their very own “beekeeping” abilities totally: the bees are excellent “beekeepers”. He explains extra about this concept in ‘The Lives of Bees’ books. He informed us that this fashion of beekeeping is observe for everybody. It is for these beekeepers with a small variety of hives.

Based mostly on his analysis on wild colonies dwelling in Ithaca, New York, he feels it isn’t at all times the case that bees need assistance coping with varroa. The Arnot Forest there may be an space of ​​primarily deciduous forest a couple of 5 hour drive from New York Metropolis. He has studied colonies within the forest since 1978, and has seen the forest getting wilder and wilder, in order that it now could be dwelling to black bears and ravens. There was once farms within the space however these are primarily now deserted and the hills forested.

The realm is the one place in North America with information on wild colony abundance earlier than the arrival of the varroa mite (ca. 1994). Tom mapped the colonies out earlier than that and located:

Earlier than Varroa (1978): 1.0 colonies per sq. km
After Varroa (2002): 1.0 colonies per sq. km

It might appear that varroa had not impacted the density of those colonies, regardless of the colonies being wild and receiving no remedies. Tom needed to check whether or not the bees did actually have varroa. In 2003 and 2004, he caught 11 swarms within the Arnot Forest, discovering that 100% of those had varroa, 9% chalkbrood and none had any AFB or EFB. So the bees had not prevented varroa.

Varroa mites

Varroa mite infestation – © Crown copyright 2010 “Courtesy The Meals and Atmosphere Analysis Company (Fera), Crown Copyright”

In the suitable location, and the suitable measurement operation, Tom suggests that you could be wish to take into account NOT treating for varroa. However it’s a must to be happy with modest honey crops of round 25 kilos per hive. He additionally suggested that not treating is probably not appropriate for city beekeepers conserving greater than a few hives shut collectively. (Though he talked about a e-book he is a fan of – ‘The Idle Beekeeper’ by Invoice Anderson – a Londoner who Tom mentioned is a ‘Darwinian beekeeper’ in spirit).

He took us via a sequence of comparisons:

Unique setting of honey bees (Wild)
Present circumstances of honey bees (Managed)

Unique Present
Colonies are genetically tailored to their location Colonies are not genetically tailored
Colonies dwell broadly spaced in woods (on common 1,000m aside within the Arnot forest) Colonies dwell crowded in apiaries
Colonies dwell in small nest cavities and swarm freely Colonies dwell in super-sized nest cavities (usually multi-storey) and swarm not often. This huge brood nest makes them a varroa gold mine.
Nest cavity partitions are thick and coated with propolis Hive partitions are skinny and never coated with propolis
Colonies construct drone comb freely – 15-20% drone comb Colonies discouraged from constructing drone comb – produce fewer drones
Nest entrance excessive off floor (avg 8m) Nest entrance is low to floor – extra weak to predators
Colonies have various pollen sources Colonies have non-diverse pollen sources (eg hives taken for pollination contracts)
Colonies are usually not handled – bees evolve resistance Bees are handled

In Tom’s Darwinian ethos of beekeeping, the objective is to permit managed colonies to dwell of their authentic setting. Colonies will make much less honey, however they’ll have higher well being.

Drone comb

Drone comb

A few of Tom’s pointers for Darwinian beekeeping

  1. Preserve bees which might be tailored to your location: Rear queens out of your greatest survivor colonies, OR Seize swarms with bait hives, OR Buy bees from an area queen breeder
  2. Home your colonies in small hives – eg one deep 10-frame hive physique + 1 shallow tremendous over a queen excluder. The considering behind that is that mite ranges get greater in giant colonies.
  3. Area your colonies as broadly as potential – even 30-50m aside nonetheless offers plenty of advantages in avoiding the “mite bomb” phenomenon amongst crowded colonies.
  4. Line your hives with propolis assortment boards, to encourage the bees to gather the identical ranges as they might within the wild.
  5. Present your most resilient colonies with 10-20% drone comb, to advertise the genetic success of your greatest colonies.
  6. Put every body again in its authentic location and orientation. No reversing of brood field frames. The bees work onerous to arrange their brood field how they see match.
  7. Present solely a small entrance on the backside (many US beekeepers present prime entrances too).

In addition to explaining these pointers, he informed us about many mini-experiments he had performed which again a few of these strategies up.

I discovered these concepts attention-grabbing. Some I’m doing already: native bees, small hives, a small entrance on the backside. I might strive going foundationless in not less than some frames, to encourage extra drone rearing. I’ll proceed to deal with for varroa as a result of I do know there are beekeepers in my native space, and I do not need my colonies spreading mites to them. Cornwall just isn’t fairly the Arnot Forest! Spacing colonies broadly could be essentially the most difficult half. I feel 30-50m aside could be unimaginable for a lot of city beekeepers. The median backyard measurement for a home in London is 140 sq. meters, simply over half the dimensions of a tennis court docket, whereas one in eight British households has no entry to a backyard in any respect.

What do you assume, would you strive any of those strategies?

Additional studying

For various viewpoints critiquing Tom’s concepts, see these blogs:

Extra webinars

The Bee Improvers and Bee Breeders Affiliation (BIBBA) are operating a sequence of webinars (some free, some for a small price) which you’ll be able to see at They’ve one thing for all ranges of expertise and canopy all kinds of matters, so effectively price testing.

About Emily Scott

I’m a UK beekeeper who has not too long ago moved from London to windswept, moist Cornwall. I first began conserving bees within the Ealing Beekeepers Affiliation’s native apiary in 2008, once I created this weblog as a document for myself of my varied beekeeping associated disasters and – hopefully! – future successes.