What is the Difference between "Organic" Beekeeping and Beekeeping considering the Character of Bees? (2001)
Michael Thiele

Not only health stores, natural food stores, independent grocers, multiple retailers, pharmacies, restaurants, food processors, distributers, Importers, exporters, growers and farmers, industry consutltants and healthcare professionals are talking very enthusiastically about an "organic world", about "manufacturing the winning product" or "enjoying success - the story of enjoy!", also beekeepers and companies related to are joining the debate on "organic" beekeeping. Organisations, associations, certifiers and governments issue standards and rules - even on "organic beekeeping" - that look pedantic enough to be thoroughly. It is no wonder that one main question arises, especially if standards for "organic" beekeeping are being considered: How to maintain the phenomenal growth of the organic market and build consumer loyalty?

Me too I called my method "organic" beekeeping in order to use a well known lable (1/2). However an "organic" lable as it is very common now also regarding honey does at first glance seem to be something very special. What does it really mean? It just says that honey and beeproduce have been produced according the Europien (3) or USDA (4) "organic" rule. How these rules look like is being widely discussed at other places (5). Here I can only give a short hint regarding these rules. You almost may be tempted to follow those beekeepers who are saying that they'd rather prefer eating their own honey than eating some of that certified according these rules. However, I don't want to enter this debate here. Only briefly: In these rules you won't find so much about beekeeping methods, breeding methods or valuable compounds of honey (no specific analyses of honey is required). But what can be found then in these rules? This is a good question! If we concentrate on the Europien rule, again, at first glance you'll hardly find anything useful; only after studying the rule long and thoroughly, the essence of what is being said in the rule dawns to you. So what is the essence? What do I get to know? More and more I'll become familiar with the requirements of these rules: For instance how many miles my apiary needs to be away from any "conventional" field, how I need to keep my records in an auditable format, how many times I need to ask my certifier before I can move a hive, how I can use antibiotics or other allopathic compounds for disease control - although they normally are not allowed, how I can use methods like artificial insemination or queen rearing by grafting.

Thus we became aquainted a little bit with "organic" beekeeping; it is - as it is defined in the rules - just a kind of "business as usual" and completely different from beekeeping considering the character of bees. I guess, it is not so difficult now to see the difference between certified "organic" beekeepers and beekeepers considering the character of bees. As it is described at other places (6/7) the latter takes care of the character of bees. What does it actually mean? Is it an old method? Do I need to be well trained in practical thinking? Do I need to be aquainted with the wider implications of health and illness?

What about those people who call themselves practical and imagine that their actions are guided by the most practical principles? If you inquire more closely, it is found that their so-called "practical thought" is often not thought at all but only the continuing pursuit of traditional opinions and habits. Try to make an entirely objective observation of the "practical" man's thought and an examination of what is usually termed "practical thinking". You'll reveal the fact that it generally contains little that can be called practical. What to them is known as practical thought or thinking consists in following the example of some authority whose ideas are accepted as a standard in the construction of some object. Anyone who thinks differently is considered impractical because this thought does not coincide with traditional ideas (8/9). 

As we need to become aquainted with practical thinking in beekeeping, we also need to find out the wider implications of health and illness reagrding the bees as well as Man (10), so as to understand what makes the bees nowadays weaker and weaker. In the following I'll raise some questions (11):

  • What about location of bee colonies (intensive agriculture, industrial, traffic areas)?
  • What about modern breeding methods (including grafting, artificial insemination and wing clipping)? Does the queen, created artificially by grafting, receive the full cosmic forces? The first days the egg that becomes an artificial queen, lays in a normal worker cell, not in a round cell as the natural queen does.
  • Giving foreign, already mated queens to the colony, prevent the bees from creating their own queen. Who knows that the bees don't need this experience?
  • What about the use of hives made of plastic or wood with glue inside (plywood and other), materials used for painting hives? Does it causes an unnatural screening from the effects of the surroundings, cosmic influence included?
  • What about sugar feeding, (not to mention pollen substitutes which contain antibiotics), the lack of "blossom forces" which is essential for bees?
  • What about giving plastic foundations, plastic combs or even foundations, made of heated beewax, to bees? The bees have to get along with these substances they never would have chosen themselves.
  • What about excessive manipulations like changing broodcombs or moving the entrance to another part of the hive? Does it disturb the "holding together", the unity of the colony?
  • By breeding and keeping beeraces from other areas, do we prevent these bees from obtaining the kind of pollen and nectar they are used to?
  • By migrating in other landscapes, does the colony needs to become familiar with it everytime again?
  • What about Insecticides ("Gaucho"), air and water pollution (heavy metals, radioactivity) ? (12)
  • What about the constantly dwindling variety and quantity of wild flowers?
  • What about the effect of genetically engineered pollen (rape, maize, soy and others) ? (13)

How can I get well trained to consider all this? Is it enough to learn from history? How much we can learn from that point of view can be found at other places (14). But how can I get a propper training in beekeeping considering the character of bees? By getting certified according the rules? That's hardly likely to happen. So how can I get trained propperly? This is mainly possible by a well founded training programme (15).

Notes and further Reading

  1. Thiele,M., 1999: The Need for Organic Beekeeping. Beekeeping & Developement 50 (1):8-9, Troy, Monmouth/UK.
  2. Thiele, M., 1999: The decline of honeybees and other pollinators. Beginning of the end, or new opportunity with organic beekeeping? Apiacta XXXIV, 65 - 68. Edited by the International Federation of Beekeepers' Associations "APIMONDIA".
  3. Council Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 of 24 June 1991 on organic production of agricultural products and indications referring thereto on agricultural products and foodstuffs Official Journal L 198 , 22/07/1991 p. 0001 - 0015. Amended by 1804 (OJ L 222 24.08.1999 p. 1).
  4. USDA Organic Rule. Washington DC.
  5. Thiele, M., 1999-2001: course # 03 - Comparison of standards for organic beekeeping; Quality; Genetic engineered crops and influences on bees. Bad Sooden/Germany.
  6. Thiele, M., 1999-2001: course # 01 - Introduction in organic beekeeping (beekeeping considering the character of bees). Historical aspects of natural beekeeping; Criticizm regarding modern ways of beekeeping. Bad Sooden/Germany.
  7. Thiele, M., 1999-2001: course # 02 - The "how-to-do-it" course; Beekeeping considering the character of bees; new ways of disease control - especially varroa; Apitherapy, medicine according Paracelsus and Rudolf Steiner. Bad Sooden/Germany.
  8. Thiele, M., 1999-2001: course # 04 - Bee-Philosophy I; searching for a suitable way of thinking so that they can benefit both: man (beekeepers, scientists) and bees; from Greec Myth onward up to modern point of views. Bad Sooden/Germany.
  9. Thiele, M., 2001: course # 07 - Bee-Philosophy II; how to become a more practical beekeeper and scientist. Bad Sooden/Germany.
  10. Thiele, M., 2001: course # 06 - More on medicine according Paracelsus and Rudolf Steiner; background; how can our organisations be trained and strengthened in order to avoid/overcome illness? Bad Sooden/Germany. See also: Thiele, M., 2001: course # 09 - More on medicine according Paracelsus and Rudolf Steiner II. Bad Sooden/Germany.
  11. See note 6.
  12. Thiele, M., 2001: course # 05 - Hazards to bees (Pesticides and GE-crops); GE-crops in the world; recommendations for beekeepers. Bad Sooden/Germany.
  13. Ibid.
  14. See note 8.
  15. Thiele und Thiele Consult - Training, 2001: Information and Subscription form. Courses on beekeeping considering the character of bees and wider implications. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; write to: Thiele und Thiele Consult - Training, Franzrasen 2, D-37242 Bad Sooden/Germany.