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Beekeeping: Permaculture Approach

Bees are the embodiment of the permaculture principle of concentrating limited resources – foraging large territories, and extracting sweet essence from impoverished ecosystems that surround most of us, regardless of climate or location. Bees essentially feed themselves and – through pollination – feed us, other creatures and the soil. Their honey is delicious, anti-bacterial, full of enzymes, minerals and complex sugars, and is the best burn ointment yet discovered. Propolis can be used for infections, sore throats, care of gums and teeth and the treatment of ulcers. Beeswax is ideal for candles, salve, and lip balm. Bee venom can stimulate the auto-immune system, and ease arthritis.

To be a beekeeper, it takes a certain personality: quiet calm, grounded presence, awareness of the sun and wind, day lengths and blooming times. It is all about attention to detail, understanding of local economy and industrial agriculture, heightened focus and sensitivity. It is akin to working with all animals and plants, live things. As you see a good beekeeper speaking softly to each bee, coaxing them aside, waiting until every worker has safely moved out of harm’s way before replacing a comb and moving on to a new one, you will notice how he moves so slowly, minding every finger placement, even where he is stepping. And the bees seem not only tolerant of his presence, but soothed by it.

By honoring the bees and their natural processes, we gain the most from them. By disrupting those processes, as modern agriculture does in order to increase profit and yield, we invite disease and risk the eradication of bee populations. This is an essential ingredient in permaculture: designing systems and ways of interaction that support the natural rhythms and patterns of the elements of those systems, and also positively inform our ways of thinking and acting as individuals and in community.

The design of the hive has a direct impact on the amount of resources, such as time, materials and money that must be spent to establish and maintain it. The hive design also impacts the incidence of disease and mites, and therefore the need for chemicals and antibiotics. Work creates work, and the best designs are often the most simple and elegant ones, the ones that allow the rhythms and patterns of natural systems to do the work for us. Hive design is one of the most essential ways in which we can honor the natural processes of the bees and work in partnership with them. For these reasons, we recommend topbar hive design (here is the link to hive making plan, courtesy of Les Crowder, author of Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health)