Borago officinalis - Borage with honey bee

Treatment-free Beekeeping

In this article I describe how we work with the bees. We use a treatment-free beekeeping approach by letting the bees build their own wax and in the winter we want to let them survive on their own honey.

Our bee hives are standing in a shed specially designed for the hives. The shed was already existing on the land, so I just had to clean it up & repair a few holes. Since the house wasn’t used for many years there was a huge amount of humus build up behind the shed. This I used to build a terrace behind the shed. This prevents that the humus build up behind the house, since this was in the first place creating rotten wood. Hence I needed to repair a few holes. Of course such a shed is not necessary to have bee hives.

When I work with the bees I light a smoker and let the smoke cool down. So when I hold my hand in front of the smoker and give it a puff the smoke will be Bees at the hive entranceactually cool.

Before I open a hive, I make sure the smoker works good. To calm them down I give the bees a bit of smoke in the hive. A puff or 2 in the front entrance and under the upper lid should be enough. They will start filling themselves with honey, so if there would be a fire they could escape with a part of the honey to build up somewhere else. Since they will have a full stomach it will calm them down.
I know that some beekeepers do not smoke at all to prevent this, they report that the bees do sting sooner. By just giving a few puffs I reduce the ‘damage’ being done.

Hand gloves I wear, because I’m a beginner and it makes me feel more comfortable. It’s even possible to wear face protection. Since these bees are bred on their ‘friendliness’ I’m not to worried.

To open the beehive I use my hive tool. The frames are ‘glued’ together with propolis, so I use the hive tool as well to make the frames a bit loose and to take the frames out.
When it’s open I check if the bees started building their wax foundation, if there is brood, how the honey looks like and If I’m lucky I spot the queen.
There is no need to actually find the queen as this can be quite time consuming. So to know if she is there I search for 1 to 3 days old eggs. If there are no eggs it might be that she is gone. There could be different causes, one of them is that she is to old and stopped laying eggs. Normally the bees would raise a new queen from the eggs that she just laid before she went.

To make sure the bees start building their wax foundation nicely into the frames I glued a small wooden bar in the upper side of the frames as can be seen in the video. Nowadays the wax foundation can be bought ready which has to be ‘molten’ into the frames. The problem with this is that the cell sizes are bigger than they would be if they are naturally formed.
In a natural sized foundation the worker bees have a smaller size cells than the drones.

Bees on waxIn bought foundation all cells have the same size. To be precise 5.4mm. The idea behind is that bigger bees produce more honey and bigger cells can store more honey. The negative about this concept is that pests and problems like Varroa mites have, because of the bigger cell size, more chance to develop. Which results in the use of chemicals. Depending on the beekeeper they can be biological or not, but it will always disturb the micro cosmos of beneficial bacteria, fungus and insects within the hive.

Natural sized wax will result that the mites prefer to go into the drone cells. In the worker bee cells they have less chance to develop. This already results into less Varroa in a hive. Drones, as most beekeepers now, can be expelled by the worker bees. The bees groom (clean) themselves to get rid of the Varroa.

When I started with the bees, I bought 2 colonies from a biological beekeeper. To get the colony we swapped frames from his boxes into my empty boxes with a queen, worker bees, drones, wax, honey and pollen. This I brought to my bee shed.

To make sure they start building straight comb I interspace my empty frames with the already formed frames I bought. If I can add another box, which depends on the current state of the hive, I just replace the old frames into a new box. These I interspace again with empty frames. The one below that now has also ready-made wax, I interspace with empty frames. When the empty frames are complete I can repeat the process until the bought frames are in the upper box. In the end of the year I just harvest them out. With this I remove the old wax out of the hive and with that also the bigger sized cell from the bought wax.

At the moment I have 2 different size boxes. Deep frames and shallow frames. In the future I want to have only shallow frames. Since these boxes, if full of honey, can weight 45 kilo. The deep frames can weight 60 kilo. The deep frame boxes we got with the land we bought, so I use them to start-up a colony and next year I can make nucs and sell them. With the money I will by shallows as it is an advantage to work with the same size frames.

Borago officinalis - Borage with honey bee


We want to let them survive on their own honey, simply because it’s the natural way. The acidity- and nutritional levels of sugar-water are not what the bees need to be healthy.

We hope this inspires you to start treatment-free beekeeping. It is amazing to work with the bees and very interesting. The bees do not have it easy with all the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. In this way we can help the bees and ourselves. They not only help pollinating our garden, we can also enjoy some of the finest honey, wax and propolis.

There is no better honey than your own.

An interesting book I read on treatment-free beekeeping is:

The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush


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