Beekeeping has grown in popularity massively over the last 10 years, and so has the conversation around ethical beekeeping – but what is ethical beekeeping and how can you apply it to your routine?
Ethical beekeeping is beekeeping with the bee in mind, maintaining their natural environment and behavior as much as you can. Instead of focusing on the honey harvested, the attention and thought are put on the bee and preserving the colony’s wellbeing first. Ethical beekeeping embraces specific actions that preserve and protect the welfare of the bee, the colony, and the hive.
Do you want to be an ethical beekeeper? Keep reading to learn more!
There’s an ongoing push toward ethical beekeeping practices that put the focus primarily on the bee- rather than on the honey and products that can be harvested from the bee.
The strategies of ethical beekeeping help to preserve the natural experience and environment for the bee- while also reducing the carbon footprint that may be left behind in the apiary.
Some commercial operations overlook ethics to put attention on profits and making money off the bees- at any cost. Honey, honeycomb, and beeswax can be lucrative markets- and some unethical beekeepers may try to optimize revenues at the bees’ expense.
Bees and beekeepers have a give-and-take sort of relationship. That is, in exchange for good care, bees provide their keepers with honey.
Since bees are a crucial part of the food chain- and mankind would starve without pollinators like bees- taking care of bees, and doing it well, plays a big role in sustainability. It is really one of the kindest things that you can do for the planet! The way that you treat your bees is not the only consideration, however, when it comes to ethical practices.
Here are some ways that you can practice ethical beekeeping in your apiary
Leave the Honey Alone
Bees will make more honey than they will actually consume, but that does not mean that you take honey from the hive any time that you want.
Bees require honey to sustain them during cooler weather when they cannot leave their hive, including when temperatures dip below 50-degrees Fahrenheit. It is an unethical practice to remove honey during fall and winter when they need it the most as it puts the whole hive in jeopardy and at risk for starvation.
Skip the Comb
As you know, the bees produce a waxy comb to store their honey in. This comb requires great effort and work to create- many bees give their life to this rigorous task. When you remove the honeycomb each and every time you harvest, it puts a lot of stress on the bees.
Harvest the liquid honey and leave the comb sometimes, to preserve the energy of the bees. Sure, honeycomb sells for a pretty penny– and beeswax does, too- but harvesting comb intermittently or infrequently may be the more ethical thing to do.
Watch the Size of the Hive
Unethical beekeepers make a practice of using hives that are too big for the colony. The life goal of bees is to produce honey and fill the hive- in fact, they will work themselves to death to accomplish this.
Using a larger hive for the sake of more honey and profitability usually results in the death of bees. It would be unethical to use a hive that is too big for bees intentionally, knowing that it will push them to make more honey.
If you are unsure about the size hive for your colony, talk to industry pros online or visit beekeeping forums to learn more.
Say ‘No’ to Migratory Beekeeping
Migratory beekeeping is bad for your bees. Think about the stress and duress involved in transporting bees to pollinate some unfamiliar and strange land- many of your bees will not make it to come back home to their hive.
The trauma almost always ends the lives of some bees- and it is stressful and detrimental to the colony’s wellbeing, in general. Just say ‘no’ to taking your bees somewhere else to forage and pollinate.
Let Nature Run Its Course
Never artificially inseminate bees to breed them. The artificial insemination of bees weakens the bees over time. It disrupts and interferes with the natural breeding process, producing bees with weaker genes with each generation.
Avoid Yard and Garden Poisons
Ethical beekeepers are focused on the health and welfare of the bees. For this reason, never use pesticides or herbicides on your property near where bees may forage or pollinate.
Encourage and inform neighbors that you have an apiary and ask them to please not use toxic chemicals on the plants and flowers that the bees visit. These poisons can wipe out a colony- which affects the food chain and life cycle of bees widely.
Become a Life-Long Learner
Ethical beekeeping practices are not always second nature. Research beekeeping and never stop learning best practices that put the well-being of the bee first.
Educate yourself on ways to reduce the carbon footprint that you are leaving behind and sustainability- ethical practices that everyone should study. Find resources to ask questions and gain insights from.
These connections can help you build a network to support you as you tend your bees and garner more experience.
Many of the ethical issues related to beekeeping are not from the desire to put money over bees- though some are- but moreover from a lack of understanding and awareness of what ethical practices are.
While some unsavory sellers may strip their hives and work bees to death to sell some honey, it is more often a case of simply not understanding the complexities of beekeeping and how to best care for an apiary. There is a lot to learn.