The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush

“There are a few rules of thumb that are useful guides. One is that when you are confronted with some problem in the apiary and you do not know what to do, then do nothing. Matters are seldom made worse by doing nothing and are often made much worse by inept intervention.”-Richard Taylor

Michael Bush, in his new book on natural beekeeping, The Practical Beekeeper Beekeeping Naturally, begins with Taylor’s quote, which could just as easily apply to gardening or many other areas of our lives. Yet doing nothing is one of the hardest things for us Homo sapiens to wrap our busy heads around. Nassim Taleb is fond of pointing out the huge number of medical mistakes that could easily have been avoided by the doctor having the courage to not intervene with some needless procedure or pharmaceutical. Up until some time in the 20th century, in fact, you were actually better off not going to see a doctor.

Michael Bush’s The Practical Beekeeper is the new bible of natural no-treatment beekeeping. Bush’s non-interventionist approach is based on the work of Dee and Ed Lusby and is at odds with conventional (beekeeping associations and academics) reliance on chemical treatments, re-queening, artificial insemination etc. Beekeeping, in my and Michael Bush’s opinion, is one of those fields, like economics, where the experts have been thoroughly discredited by recent events–our current econopocolypse and, in beekeeping, colony collapse disorder. Of CCD, Michael Bush blames chemical treatments, directed at controlling mites and other issues, which throw off the microbial balance of the beehive. Bush’s emphasis in symbiotic microbial relationships puts his work in line with soil scientist Elaine Ingham and the pro-biotic movement in human health.

The Practical Beekeeper would benefit from an index (something said of our first book) and some editing for repetition, but those minor points aside, this is a must-have book for beginning and advanced beekeepers. There’s much good, practical information and I learned a lot reading this book on a long train trip. Bush has many interesting tips and tools that you can build yourself. And it’s the few books I’ve seen that tells you how to do swarm captures and cut-outs.

Bush’s website, The Practical Beekeeper also has an encyclopedia’s worth of handy info.

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  1. Just what I’ve been looking for. Thanks! Even though I’m not looking to get bees anytime soon, I’ve been reading up on it. I’m intrigued with this “hands-off” method of beekeeping. I’ve read the other books, and it just seems so complicated to mess around with the bees when they seem to know what is best for them.

  2. Really? You can artificially inseminate bees? I have been rereading that and picturing the process in my head. When I can get bees, that is a job I don’t want.

    I tried to “help” my cat have her kittens. The vet told me to LEAVE the cat alone. Hmmm….novel approach!

  3. Will check this out, but as much as I’d like bees, have some concerns regarding africanized bees. Its a continuing and spreading problem here in AZ. A neighbor gave up his hives because of their increasing aggression.

  4. morgaineotm,

    It’s my belief that “killer” Africanized bees (AFB) are a myth invented by government agencies to justify their jobs. In LA they’ve these agencies have given up on the AFB “problem” and have moved on to other bugs. Michael Bush talks about the fact that the USDA brought in African bees back in the 1930s–so they’ve been around for a long time. Their aggressiveness, in my opinion, has largely disappeard with interbreeding. They are, in fact, probably healthier than purchased bees. It’s not a problem I’d worry about. If you get an aggressive hive you can always kill the queen.

  5. If you kill the queen the hive will create a new one–a queen that is hopefully less aggressive. By the way, conventional beekeepers kill and replace the queen every year with a purchased queen–Michael Bush does not recommend this and I agree.

  6. This summer, for the first time I encountered aggressive bees.
    Walking a regular route with our dogs, a bee stung my husband after literally making a bee-line for him (pardon the pun). He couldn’t get it to leave him alone.
    We heard of other people who had a similar experience and then DD2 and I went to pick some cow parsley flowers and a bee repeatedly tried to get inside our clothing and in our hair. It’s quite hard to stay calm and reassuring for your 7 year old when there’s a bee in your cardigan…
    I got stung but she escaped on her scooter(!)I have never seen bees behave in that manner; single-mindedly intent on stinging.
    It was nothing to do with Africanisation (for a start, they attacked independently, and my understanding is that part of the problem with AFB’s is their communication resulting in mass attacks)
    I did a bit of reading though, and believe it was defensive behaviour caused by the field of oil seed rape (?canola). Apparently some strains (I’m in the UK, so not GM) can cause this extreme protective behaviour, sometimes over the honey they make from it too.
    My friend has his hives very close by, but his bees were behaving normally. I think it was a wild swarm in the hedge that was the issue, though of course he got the blame from many people…

  7. So, the queen determines how aggressive the hive will be? Interesting. Maybe by the time I can have bees, I might know a thing or two. Considering how allergic I am to bee stings, I may never have the nerve to get a hive. Thanks for the information.

  8. thanks. more to think about. Did you all hear about the “killer bee” attack in southern arizona that killed one hog and badly injured a pregnant sow? It was an oversized colony in the rafters of a building. Supposedly, fall brings out aggression in these bees . . .maybe just too crowded in the hive as winter approaches.

  9. I’ll be looking to get this book as Michael is a frequent contributor to the Beesource Beekeeping Forum and i always liked his level-headed approach.

  10. Awesome I’m glad to see he has written a book, I have been following his website for years, I have several warre hives managed naturally eg. foundation-less treatment free ect.

  11. I’m interested in the non-treatment of bees. I feel that in an effort to kill anything we feel is a pest, we have built stronger pests and weaker bees. The bees have to ADAPT to survive. I remembered a podcast with someone, maybe “The SOMD beekeeper” Craig Yerdon, when Michael talked about the ecosystem in the hive, and how when you try to kill mites, you are killing more than just the mites, you are upsetting the ecosystem necessary for the bees’ survival. I want to read up on that from a person who has the experience. I’m ordering the book.

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