Fixed Comb

There are of course no poor or misguided questions. Though an absurd one is “How to keep bees.” Rather than just “had,” bees started being “kept” when we followed the egotistical urge to “help” them and shortcut their natural inclinations. Bees need but a hollow space and clean forage. We’ve already gummed up the latter with misdirected chemicals and mundanity, and the former is an art form lost in a bizarre world of expensive gear, intricate manipulations, artificial crutches, and supposition of a divine role.

Outlawed in many parts of the world, a relationship with once popular, impenetrable natural comb hives, skeps, gums, and Warre-style hives, is liable of fine, condemnation, and scoff from peers and professionals. We mustn’t have uncontrollable freedom; imagine what all those bison would have done if we hadn’t stopped them... Who knows The History of Abolishment of Wild Beehives in the US and Europe?


These are indeed exciting times to bee. During the Irish potato famine, eating clover saved countless from starvation. The hardy dandelion will certainly blossom into a similar partnership for us in the coming storm. Bees honor strong allies such as dandelions.

Ok, dandelions.

This country is waging war against the weeds. Dandelions are so beneficial to humans and bees. We look ignorantly suicidal in their eradication with the use of toxins - for just the point of doing so!

Dandelions, honey bees, and humans are not considered long term natives to North America. Yet we rage against new invasive species with the same emotional material that builds prejudice, hate, and blindness. We point a finger at a plant for disrupting the ecosystem, while agriculture creates nitrogen imbalances, vulnerable monocultures, overgrazing, disrupted pollination corridors, compromising an ecosystem’s immunity and allowing opportunists to bask in the warming climate. And we go ahead and blame the plant.

The most invasive plants in this country and the world are corn, cotton, and soy. All the US thinks about these days is corn corn corn. In 2008 the USDA released the info that by 2012 the US will be importing 40% of its produce, mostly from China. This is the USDA talking, not some radical environmental group. This is the way it is, not the country’s “plan.” It doesn’t sound like we are building an infrastructure resilient to the energy problems we all foresee.


There are 140 some known honey bee diseases. The first wave of CCD research, mostly sponsored by beekeepers, revealed the bees in this country exhibited all the known diseases and then some new ones. What to do about this? Find a chemical and nuc em all? Hmm. I’m gonna write a tear-stained letter. That’s what I’ll do.

It is possible for hives to thrive without chemicals or special treatments. Just as this starts sounding all hogwashed and harebrained, we will look at how the commercial applications, competitive mentality, and groupmind forged on control and fear affect its place, including its pollinators, as oppose to the collective mind (or shared gene pool) of the diverse symbiosis of an ecosystem. We approach the hive as its own BALANCED ecosystem of over 6000 microbes. We will learn to trust what’s going on with all that.

Hive Stewardship

Screen Bottom Boards

Many friends, etc., claim success using a screen, so that mites drop through and can't reach the cluster again. I don't use em. Why? Because varroa destructor will not be stopped by any active human manipulation. This is a wise arachnid. It inbreeds every generation. A generation is short- each bee brood cycle. Varroa breeds, mutates, and adapts much faster than the bees. High breeding rates give them a genetic answer to any treatment or manipulation (as do the bees themselves). Even formic acid, a very effective "organic" treatment, IS NOT WORKING by itself in many southern apiaires. Not all the mites are killed. The survivors exhibit behaviors they pass to their offspring. So sugar dusting and screen bottom boards promote varroa mites that hang on better. Drone brood removal favors feisty varroa that successfully reproduce on worker brood. However, a parasite that repeatedly kills its host will die with its host. Leaving a group of hives "alone" will allow the development of less aggressive mites and stronger bees. I know that many hives in the world have reached this balance. The argument is, of course, that when varroa hitches a ride to the next hive. The transmission is now horizontal, not vertical and evolutionary. However, the transmision IS vertical if you view the entire bee yard, or region, as the host and see all bees as one mega superorganism.

Ok. You say you have one hive and you really don’t want it to die. Your bees are failing. What do you do?

We are setting up several forums for all these ideas and others. Look for bee clubs in your area, read the magazines, listen to them as well as question their foundational beliefs. Better yet, bee a new way yourself.

If you chill in the Hudson Valley, or are up for respite from the big city, check here to see if the Beekeepers Association of Northern Dutchess (B.A.N.D.) or the Bard Bee Program are having any events. In season, May to September, there are almost weekly bee yard tours covering techniques in rating hive strength, swarming, making splits, finding and raising queens, processing the goods, and a whole bunch of my opinions on the world.

The Bard Bee Program involves rescuing students from academic sweatshop lifestyle and places them directly into the insect world. Every student gets a “B.”

For the best how-to-I-can-do, check out the Anarchy Apiaries Almanac / top bar beekeeping handbook. Scroll down on the homepage and download the 2012 version.. newer editions are out there and pending upload here. We cannot be held accountable for turning people into "wingnuts."