If you have visited several of my beekeeping pages, you may have come across these videos, most of them featuring Phil Chandler, author of The Barefoot Beekeeper.
Phil is well-known in beekeeping, as an advocate of bee-friendly (or api-centric) beekeeping practice and natural beekeeping.
Phil has written a new book – Learning from Bees. I caught up with Phil to ask him a few questions…..
Phil Chandler: I wrote The Barefoot Beekeeper to challenge the status quo and propose a method of beekeeping that is both bee- and beekeeper-friendly: it is much less invasive for bees and doesn't require the beekeeper to be a weightlifter. My recent book, Learning From Bees, is more reflective - a collection of some of my thoughts about bees and beekeeping.
Phil Chandler: I started in 2000 with a couple of WBC hives - the type you see a lot in children's books, with stacked, sloped-sided sections - and couldn't understand why it was necessary to use such complicated equipment and invasive methods to keep bees. I began to investigate other hives and experimented with my own designs, eventually settling on a modified Kenyan-style top bar hive, which is still my favourite.
About five years later, I worked for a year at Buckfast Abbey to gain some practical experience of commercial beekeeping, which is not something I would want to do again.
Phil Chandler: I have been invited to teach at Highgrove, home of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, which is quite an honour. We are offering a four-day course, spread over the beekeeping season, it started March 15th.
Phil Chandler: Not much has changed - only refinements here and there - but I have virtually stopped using any treatments for Varroa. We need to allow bees to learn to deal with pests and not rely on medications - mostly this is about creating an environment inside the hive that they can control.
Phil Chandler: All bees in my area are mongrels and because I rely on swarms to replace losses I just work with what turns up. Some are well adapted to local conditions and survive, while some do less well. When I was at the Abbey, there were still some true Buckfast colonies left, which were a pleasure to work with, but they don't breed true in the wild and out-crosses are often vicious, so there is always an element of unpredictability in our bees' temperament.
I would love to see the old British black bee make a comeback, but that would require the co-operation of a large number of beekeepers - which would be rather like herding cats.
Phil Chandler: Do some reading and decide why and how you want to keep bees before buying anything.
Get some hands-on experience to make sure you are temperamentally suited to keeping bees.
If your main motivation is providing a home for bees with some honey for family and friends, then a top bar hive will do the job and save you a good deal of money - especially if you can build your own.
Read about Natural Beekeeping.
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