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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Practical beekeeping

People first benefited from bees through honey hunting. Gradually, to reduce the hardship and unpredictability of hunting wild colonies, people found ways to increase their control over bees through ownership and management.  The use of bee hives was an early step in the transition from honey hunting to beekeeping, and this allowed beekeepers to own colonies and choose their location.  Only the two cavity nesting species of honey bee, Apis cerana and Apis mellifera are capable of being contained in bee hives, and of these Apis mellifera is the most widespread and most intensively managed honey bee.  Many of the techniques described in this section have been developed for Apis mellifera. Rafter management of Apis dorsata is an intermediate form of bee ownership and management. In some countries stingless bees are utilised.

Having a good understanding of appropriate methods is important if beekeepers are to keep bees successfully and benefit from them in a sustainable way. Different approaches are suitable in different circumstances. Some beekeepers rarely inspect or visit their hives - they adopt extensive, near-wild systems. Other beekeepers employ more intensive, closely managed systems with high levels of colony manipulation. A range of different factors determined which practical beekeeping methods are appropriate for any given situation.

The factors include:

  • species of bee e.g cavity nesting or not
  • prevailing environmental conditions e.g. tropical or temperate
  • access to external inputs e.g. wax foundation
  • financial resources of the beekeeper e.g. can the beekeeper afford high cost equipment
  • the optimum balance of risk minimisation versus profit maximisation e.g. extensive versus intensive system
  • the optimum balance of yield versus welfare of the colony e.g. feeding regime
  • the knowledge and skills of the beekeeper e.g. a beekeeper skilled in the use of local methods may have no need to adopt imported methods
  • the risk of disease e.g. where diseases are prevalent certain techniques are essential

These are just some of the many factors to consider. Broadly speaking, Bees for  Development advocates the use of indigenous species wherever possible and we recognise the important role of traditional techniques. When considering introducing new ideas or techniques it is essential to have a clear understanding of the intended outcome.  This analysis requires an understanding of the options available and their relative merits.

These technical beekeeping pages offer some explanation of the principles underlying beekeeping management and their practical application under different circumstances. Weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of different techniques can help avoid costly mistakes or unintended social or environmental consequences.

In addition to these information pages it is always valuable to gain information by talking to beekeepers or honey hunters already practising in the locality, especially where they are long established. People who have been exploiting bees productively for long periods in a given area will have many skills and a depth of indigenous knowledge of great value.


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Bees for Development Trust is the working title of The Troy Trust, Registered Charity 1078803
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