Part One – Honey Bee Species: Mellifera, Cerana, Dorsata, and Florea


Introduction

I am halfway through a traditional beekeeping course as part of my deep dive into beekeeping over the last year. It is a standardised beekeeping course, that you find in most towns across the UK. They teach participants how to use a National Hive, inhibit swarming impulses, and manipulate colonies.

From the course, I learned how to inspect a bee hive, use tools, and began to learn the basic principles of beekeeping, aiding me with the skills I needed. However, from a biodynamic and holistic perspective of agriculture, I found myself questioning many of the methods and approaches being taught.

Through the course, there have been open discussions about different ways of beekeeping. The experienced beekeepers have adopted approaches that they have refined over years of beekeeping. For many, beekeeping is a livelihood, so intervention and manipulation come as a necessity.

Beekeeping seems to be gaining in popularity each year. I worry that each year, beekeepers are graduating in towns across the country, following conventional beekeeping methods that may harm and exploit the honey bee.

My friend Christian is an experienced beekeeper, teacher, and biodynamic practitioner, who keeps honey bees at the Bee Observatory at Oakbrook Community Farm in Stroud. He decided to host beekeeping workshops on the farm for the public, called Bee Observatory Workshops. The first workshop was at the beginning of February. This is an interesting time to begin a beekeeping workshop, as the honey bees are at their most dormant.

However, this timing reflects the consciousness and care that is needed when beekeeping. We have to observe and understand the nature of the honey bee before we consider getting our own bees or interfering with their environment. It is easy to make decisions that impact honey bees adversely, both at a colony and even a species level, when considering the implications of preventing swarming (how they naturally spread their genetics.)

I started beekeeping in Spring last year and caught 4 swarms through the season, this was exhilarating, but once the bees were all housed, I didn’t know what the next steps were. I think February would have been an ideal time for me to start my beekeeping journey.

I advertised the Bee Observatory Workshops around the place, including to my beekeeping group, and many turned up excited on finding on realigning with a holistic perspective on beekeeping, guided through Christians’s deep beekeeping knowledge and passion.

There are 6 planned bee observatory workshops, one each month. If you are interested in attending the workshops, please contact me.

On my blog, I want to share what I have learned from each workshop. I didn’t plan on writing a post for these workshops, but some of the ideas have been buzzing around my head since the first one, and I need to write something on it. Ill start taking notes during the next one, as there are many insights that I haven’t been able to capture this time. During the first workshop, Christian introduced us to the four main honey bee species across the globe.

The First Workshop – The Four Honey Bee Species

There are 8 species of honey bee and 43 subspecies of honey bee. During the workshop, Christian taught us about 4 species that cover most of the globe. Looking at diverse species of honey bees from across the globe, helps us to come to a better understanding of Apis Mellifera, the European Honey Bee.

SpeciesCommon NameOriginSize (mm)Number of Bees in a Single ColonyHive Type
Apis melliferaWestern Honey BeeEurope, Africa, Middle East12-1520,000 to 80,000Domesticated in hives, can sometimes be wild
Apis ceranaEastern Honey BeeSoutheast Asia8-1010,000 to 60,000Tree cavity or rock crevice
Apis dorsataGiant Honey BeeSouth, and Southeast Asia17-2010,000 to 80,000Typically build single-comb nests on exposed locations like branches or cliffs
Apis floreaDwarf Honey BeeSouth, Southeast Asia7-93,000 to 10,000Small exposed nests are typically built on branches of trees or shrubs

Giant Honey Bee apis dorsata

Dwarf Honey Bee apis florea

Eastern Honey Bee apis cerana

Western / European Honey Bee apis mellifera

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