Home Chester County Honey Natural Beekeeping Practices Explained Contact Us

The simplest way to explain our beekeeping operation compared to others is we treat our bees better. Natural beekeeping results in healthier bees, colonies and honey. We see the benefits of natural beekeeping emerge in 3 key ways: the structure of our hives, our development of sustainable apiaries and how we conduct our beekeeping activities.

Structure of our Langstroth Hives

What is a Langstroth hive?

We added or changed the equipment commonly used in the Langstroth hive. Each of these changes increases the cost of our hives. We believe it is worth the additional cost as the bees can better defend their hive, have much improved ventilation, less of an urge to swarm and survive the Winter better. All of these benefits come about organically, solely by just using better equipment. Some of our changes are:

Western red cedar for most hive components
We use western red cedar for most of our wooden hive components because of its insect and rot resistance, light weight and it does not need painting. Avoiding paint means fewer paint flakes in the soil and a cleaner environment. It is also a little less work. Cedar weathers very well and looks great! Beekeepers often use pine for all wooden components. Pine requires painting, is heavier and lacks rot resistance.
 
Screened bottom board
Many beekeepers use solid bottom boards that become the floor of the hive. We use screened bottom boards that increase ventilation and allow mites the bees knock off one another to fall completely out of the hive. Mites on solid bottom boards can just climb onto the next passing bee. This helps us reduce the threat of mites to our hives and easily assess how many mites are in a hive by seeing how many fall through.
 
Entrance reducer
A typical 10-frame Langstroth hive has an entrance 14 3/4" wide and 3/4" high. That makes for about 11 square inches of opening the colony must defend from pests and other bees. Strong bee colonies will attempt to rob honey from weaker colonies if they sense a hive cannot defend itself well. In natural hives, entrances are only 1 to 2 square inches. These large entrances make it much harder for bees to defend their homes. We reduce them down to only 3 inches wide and 3/8" high with a cedar insert until the colony is a large honey production hive in which a small entrance is a bottleneck.
 
Slatted rack
A Slatted rack is just above the screened bottom board. It provides Summer and Winter benefits. In Summer, the hive is cooler and less congested because the bees use this space to increase how much fresh air they can fan into the hive. The queen will also lay eggs all the way to the bottom of the brood frames due to the additional shelter the slatted rack provides. In Winter, cold winds are dampened from blowing into the bee cluster inside making it easier for them to survive.
 
Vivaldi box a.k.a. Quilt box
A Vivaldi box is like a loft for a bee hive. It provides the bees with more living space inside the hive than an "inner cover" which is often used. A Vivaldi box contains screened vents that keep out pests and the weather while providing superior ventilation. The additional living space and ventilation reduces swarming pressure.

Ventilation is very important to a hive. In Summer, cooler air is drawn up through the screened bottom board as hot humid air exits the hive through the Vivaldi board vents. The bees help this process by fanning their wings to blow the hot air out of the vents. In Winter, organic burlap "blankets" are added to the Vivaldi box as insulation. The blankets keep cold air from sinking onto the bees inside the hive and absorb excess moisture. Moisture is one of the greatest threats to bee survival in the Winter.


Sustainable Apiaries

A sustainable apiary is one with the capacity to endure and continue indefinitely. Those don't happen by chance. They are the result of beekeeping practices that encourage development and ongoing reproduction of locally raised, mite resistant bees. Our combination of treatment free, northern survivors and hygienic genes gives our bees tremendous advantages other pesticide dependent beekeepers do not enjoy. Of course they cost more and we believe they are very much worth it.

This fantastic video from Michael Palmer describes much of what we do. Michael Palmer is one of our inspirations.

Some of the features of our sustainable apiaries are:

Avoid bees with southern genetics in northern climates
Genetics in beekeeping determines which bees are more likely to survive a cold, long Winter. Many bee breeders are in the deep South and provide bees with southern (i.e. warm weather) genetics. Those bees have a tough time surviving in the cold weather of the North. Our bees are local survivors and originally sourced from Tennessee. They are a breed that does well in cold weather.

Keep bees that are naturally resistant to mites
Favorable genetics causes bees to be more "hygienic". That gives bees a natural inclination to remove parasitic mites from one another and the hive's brood (the baby bees). Mites are the primary threat to bees today. Our bees contain "VSH" genetics that provide this advantage naturally.

Allow bees to develop naturally
Bees raised with chemical pesticide treatments become dependent upon them to survive. They literally become genetically weak. Such colonies have difficulty surviving multiple years. Our bees were originally sourced from a beekeeper who uses no chemical treatments. We don't either. That allows our bees to develop one generation after the next and naturally evolve their genes to be even stronger in our environment.

Create nucleus hives to replace hive losses
Many beekeepers buy packages of bees from the South to replace their Winter losses. A package of bees is about 2 or 3 pounds of loose bees shaken into a box from multiple hives with a foreign queen added. It is chaos for the bees as they've lost their home and are in a box with a bunch of other bees they don't know and a queen they don't know. Their southern genetics puts them at risk as mentioned above. They are often treated with pesticides and not at all naturally resistant to mites. In short, they represent exactly what we don't want! Many die in the coming Winter. They are a cheap solution though for beekeepers who want an easy way to start a new hive.

We develop our own local survivor bees right here in Chester County. We create nucleus hives, "nucs" for short, made up of our own bees who raise their own queen and grow into new colonies completely naturally. They have all of the same genetics as their parental lineage and are not at all mistreated as their unfortunate package bees are. Our nuc hives have a high Winter survival rate and are the foundation of our Winter loss replacement strategy.

Creating and caring for nucs is much more work than just buying a package of bees to replace losses and a much more reliable solution to replacing Winter hive losses.