Did you know that technically speaking, honeybees are a non-native species?  Honeybees were brought to the United States by early European settlers where they readily adapted and thrived!  Somehow, with no invasive chemical treatments, wild honeybees continue to thrive. They have become an accepted part of our Tennessee ecosystem along with the 4000 or so other native pollinators.

But there's a darker side to modern honeybees that we need to consider...

  • Did you know that a large percentage of honeybees used for pollination are native to Italy? 
  • Did you know Italian bees are used in commercial beekeeping operations because they never go winter dormant? 
  • Did you know that Italian bees must be moved by truck to warmer parts of the country every fall because they are not adapted to go dormant in our North American winters and will freeze to death and/or starve if extreme measures aren't taken for their survival? 
  • Did you know that if you order a "package of bees" to start your own hive chances are, it will be Italian bees? 
  • Did you know that without heroic measures you'll likely find you have no live bees the next spring? (Ask us how we learned this lesson!)
  • Did you know that the propensity for Italian bees is very likely weakening the genetics of the locally adapted bees? (more on this later)

Admittedly, some Tennessee beekeepers have found that they can winter over Italian bees by insulating the hives each fall and feeding them sugar water all winter.

Is this really the best way to "save the bees"? 

Let's consider some facts...

  • Honeybees have been thriving in North America since the early settlers brought them here. 
  • Wild honeybees have survived in North America for centuries without treatments for (just to name the big players)...
    • Varroa Mites
    • Small Hive Beetle
    • Tracheal Mites
    • Wax Moths

Why haven't our locally adapted bees completely died out?  Modern beekeeping tells us we must treat for these pests or lose our hives, and yet, wild bees without any intervention somehow continue to survive.

Could it be because the bees have adapted to these invaders and know how to deal with them?

Really, it's the only logical explanation.  Wild honeybees, without any help from humans, have adapted to deal with threats that modern beekeeping tells us will kill whole hives without intervention.  Life has indeed found a way!

We believe the answer to saving the bees is obvious:

  • We need to cultivate bees that have spent the last several hundred years adapting to our climate
  • We need to cultivate bees that know how to deal with common pests 
  • We need to take our cues on how to keep bees from the way bees live in the wild

 The last point -- take our cues on how to keep bees from how they live in the wild -- is an important one!

The photograph above is a common scene that can be found in most apiaries across the United States.  It doesn't seem out of the ordinary because stacked, Langstroth hives are the most popular way to keep bees.

Do you know why Langstroth hive boxes are sized as they are?

American beekeeping has standardized itself to Langstroth hives for one simple reason: there was a very popular French wine that was shipped in boxes this size and they were easily recycled into beehives by early beekeepers with little effort.  Additionally, because of the size of the boxes, hives are easier to move.  That's it.  Convenience!  The constant stacking and unstacking of hive boxes common in modern beekeeping disrupts the bees, weakens the hives, and, in our opinion, gives the pests that can kill a foothold. 

With Langstroth hives, there is no consideration whatsoever for how bees actually prefer to live!

Eastern Europeans have taken their cues for beekeeping from the bees themselves.  They've observed wild bees living in bee trees.  They've measured tree cavities and determined that bees actually prefer certain-sized cavities over others.  It is quite common for Eastern European apiaries to feature horizontal Layens hives. 

The more we learn about Layens hives, the more it makes sense and we have eagerly adopted this method of beekeeping!  When we open the lid to a hive, right there, we can see the entire hive structure.  There's no stacking and unstacking.  The bees remain calm because there is very little disruption to them.  In fact, we have experienced multiple hive inspections without protective gear -- something unheard of with Langstroth hives!

Honeybee Genetics

One of the things that concern us most about the pervasive use of Italian bees by both commercial pollination operations and local beekeepers in Tennessee is the potential to weaken the genetics of bees that have adapted to our ecosystem.  When a locally adapted queen takes her mating flight, she is very likely to meet up with an Italian drone.  Italian bees have never adapted to our climate. If an adapted queen mates with an Italian drone, there is a strong possibility that her offspring will be less adapted than previous generations.  Over several generations of queen matings, the dilution of locally adapted bee genetics by Italian drones appears to have the ability to wipe out honeybees that have historically thrived in our area.  

After studying with several experts in the field, we have come to the following conclusions...

Because Layens hives mimic the natural environment of wild bees, any Layens hive that reaches pest levels requiring treatment, or any Layens hive that fails to go winter dormant is an indicator of weak bee genetics. Nature should be allowed to take its course.  In this way, we are helping to build stronger more resilient honeybee genetics rather than perpetuating weak genetics that can only survive with human intervention.  Long term, this means more resilient honeybees that naturally survive in our climate and a better future for all hives whether wild or in an apiary. 

Our hives are and will remain 100% treatment free!  

How does one acquire honeybees that have adapted to our climate?

Sadly, locally adapted bees are not something we've ever found available for purchase. One must catch locally adapted honeybees. 

The number one question we get about catching bees is, "How do you know you're catching locally adapted bees and not a swarm of Italian bees?"

In short... we don't. 

The only way to find out what kind of bees we've caught is to watch and wait.  The late fall hive inspection will tell us pretty quickly what kind of bees we're working with.  If the queen has slowed brood production to near nothing, we know we're working with locally adapted bees. This is a hive with a very high likelihood of survival with no human intervention.  Conversely, if the queen is still in full brood production mode, we know we're dealing with an Italian queen and the hive likely will not survive the winter.  We will not intervene to prevent the demise of an Italian hive since they dilute our locally adapted bee genetics. We will allow nature to take its course.

To find out more about how we catch our locally adapted bees, click the button below...