My personal beekeeping philosophy is, “It’s all about the bees”. I have kept bees in Warres, Top Bars, Langstroths, and various other hive styles over the years. I love keeping bees in any manner of hive. I have never felt one particular style of hive was right or wrong, better or worse then any other. Bees can and do adapt to nearly any form of cavity that provides the basic needs for them to form a healthy colony. What makes a hive style or management method right or wrong is- what is right or wrong for the keeper. The right or best style of hive depends on the beekeeping style of the beekeeper. Let me make this particular subject a bit more confusing in an attempt to make it clearer. It is possible to blend, mix and cross different hive styles and management methods from one hive style to another. Also in the art of beekeeping there are exceptions to every rule. It is really hard to say, “Bees never do this or bees always do that.” As I write about the different hive styles and management methods I will speak in terms of the normally, usually, generally accepted methods of management. Along with the “most of the time behavior” of a healthy colony of bees.
The best way to describe the pure definition of “alternative beekeeping” is to explain what it isn’t. It isn’t conventional mainstream beekeeping management methods using commercial style framed hives such as the Langstroth. It is important to know that I have no bias toward conventional beekeeping. I keep Langstroth hives along with my alternative hives. Many times keepers explaining how to use specific hives have biases toward styles they don’t use. There are arguments in the beekeeping world for or against hive styles using a comparison of the hives themselves. That is really more of a comparison of management methods preferred by the beekeepers. When compared side by side each style has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Trust me, there is no such thing as the perfect hive. It boils down to what kind of hive has more advantages then disadvantages for your personal style as the keeper of the bees in the hive.
The absolute best advice, I can give to the first time alternative keeper is to start with your choice of alternative hive and a Langstroth hive at the same time. Understand that your first year of beekeeping is the steepest part of the learning curve. Much of what you learn about bees from your Langstroth is applicable to your alternative hive. The best way to get through that first year successfully is to surround yourself with experienced keepers. Being a member of the local bee club is an important way to find those mentors. Since the majority of the members will have Langstroths it is much easier to ask questions about your Langstroth and apply much of that knowledge to your alternative hive. Things you should be looking for and understanding will be the same in both hives. The bees aren’t different in the two hives only the keepers management of them in either hive. You will be a better alternative hive keeper knowing how to manage a mainstream hive. Do not be fooled into thinking that beekeeping is as easy as putting bugs in a box and waiting for honey. It is like every other form of animal husbandry; it requires specific knowledge of the bees and a level of managerial skill to be successful.
Together we are about to start down the path of Alternative Beekeeping. Each month I will discuss and share the joys, methods, philosophies, and realities of keeping bees in Top Bars and Warres, along with other different and unique hive styles and methods. There will be times I get straight to the point and other times I will meander about, but always remember –