December 03, 2014

Sustainable Beekeeping

Towards Sustainable Beekeeping, by David Heaf highlights current unsustainable practices in beekeeping. One of the issues stressed is the practice of feeding the bees.

The reasons behind this are obvious: a beekeeper wants to produce as much honey as possible in an area preferable to him or her, and if the quantity (and quality) of pollen is inadequate to support the desired number of colonies, the beekeeper will feed them with sugar or corn syrup. Heaf emphasises that in the natural order of things, bees should be feeding us not the other way round. Without the keeper, the bees would not survive, therefore the practice is unsustainable.

A beekeeper may well be feeding his bees to harvest the honey. Though harvesting itself is not an issue, often honey is taken too freely or too frequently. Removing the lid of the hive releases heat which must be maintained for the swarm to survive. If this is done too often, a constant temperature cannot be kept.

51% Studios’ design for the InMidtown beehive aims to assist sustainable beekeeping by creating a well insulated beehive. The material it is made from has a greater thermal performance than timber so bees have to work less hard to maintain the temperature of the hive in both summer and winter.

However, design is only one part of the sustainability equation. When considering installing a hive, question whether you have the right environment to accommodate a colony. A maximum of between 7 & 12 colonies can thrive in an area of 1 square kilometre, but this is dependant on the pollen and nectar available. Each colony needs 120kg of nectar each year to survive. Quantity is important but so is quality: a bee also needs diversity of pollen to maintain a balanced diet, much like us.

Catherine du Toit
Catherine du Toit