Learn more about Spikenard Farm, detailed info about our beekeeping practices, and other helpful resources
About The Sanctuary
A honeybee sanctuary is an apiary where the needs and well-being of the honeybees are number one on the priority list. This includes both beekeeping practices AND land care practices that serve the health and vitality of the bees. We keep bees and our land by biodynamic methods and principles, which promote health, biodiversity, and balance. This in turn serves the wider insect community, the soil, the birds–all of the beings in the sanctuary community, including human beings!
The Spikenard plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) originates in the Himalayan Mountains and belongs to the Valerian family. Also known as ‘nard’, it is a source of rich essential oils with an equally rich history. Horace once promised Virgil a whole barrel of his best wine in exchange for a tiny phial of nard, which was a common ingredient in ancient Japanese incense recipes. It stood for centuries as an evocation of the perfume of the lost Garden of Eden, and was the costly ointment with which Jesus was anointed before his death. Nard oil has strong, warm, musky notes, similar to the aroma of healthy humus. For us, this oil inspires deeds that harmonize the relationship of heaven and earth. A blessing, if this can be achieved for the honeybees!
Standard beekeeping accepts the “progressive”, modern inventions for beekeeping practices and aims at maximizing ease of handling and financial revenues. Mechanization of many of the bees’ life processes (foundations, queen breeding, swarm prevention, sugar/corn syrup feeding, etc.) are employed without taking the natural instinct into consideration.
Natural beekeeping attempts to stay close to the natural instincts and inherent wisdom of the colony.
Sanctuary beekeeping, in addition to natural beekeeping practices, includes the essential element of supportive land care practices, including the planting of bee forage with medicinal qualities.
We sell a limited amount of honey locally. We sell some of our beeswax for medicinal purposes, and use most of it for our wax cloths, salves, lotion bars, bees wrap food wraps, soaps, and other healing products. We harvest and use some propolis for our salves and tinctures. The pollen we leave for the bees because it is used primarily to feed the larvae and is rarely created in surplus. We never harvest royal jelly, because this is never created in surplus, and cannot be harvested without killing countless developing queens and larvae.
The Spikenard Biodynamic Beekeeper Training (SBBT) is the most comprehensive and in-depth workshop that we offer. Many people in the past have taken our webinars and other basic beekeeping courses before joining the SBBT for a few reasons. First is that SBBT participants are required to have bees (with some exceptions). Second is that we have a unique approach that exercises broad thinking and is underlaid by a recognition of the spiritual aspects in addition to the physical aspects of nature and the human being. Taking the introductory courses as a first step will naturally lead those who feel called to go deeper towards our in-depth programs like the SBBT, where the greater picture can unfold and be enriched at the Honeybee Sanctuary in the company of peers. We’ve had seven cohorts graduate the two-year program so far.
What About Bee Hives?
All different types of beehives! Our methods of care can be applied to any type of hive, and so we keep bees in a variety of different hive styles in order to better serve our community of beekeepers, including Langstroth, Top Bar, Warre, Sun Hive, round hives, tree-trunk hives, horizontal hexagonal, and vertical hexagonal hives.
We don’t! We practice and teach foundationless beekeeping, and have done so successfully for over 40 years. We see the hive as a single living organism, and the wax is one of its organs. Neither beeswax foundation nor plastic foundation benefits the honeybee. Plastic is a dead material. It has no place in a hive, and even the beeswax foundations have been treated to eliminate foulbrood spores and those toxins remain in the wax. Bees draw their strength from the comb as we draw strength from our bones. You don’t want toxins in the comb.
The pre-stamped hexagonal shapes in foundations work against the bee’s natural instincts for comb building. It does not allow for differentiation in cell size. The solid sheets of foundation also preclude the ability of the bee to leave natural spaces for moving between the combs and for aiding air circulation.
Just provide a frame with just a small 1’’ strip of wax at the top to help the bees get oriented. That’s all you need. And after the first year, any frames you clean up from very dark comb, cut out the comb in such a way as to leave 1″ of comb at the top to help guide the next comb building.
No. The only ventilation in our hives is the hive entrance. Honeybees are perfectly capable of maintaining the appropriate heat and humidity in a hive without the need for additional ventilation. With open bottom boards and other ventilation equipment, the bees cannot really regulate the temperature of the brood combs as well as needed. On extremely hot days, we may shade the hive with a sheet plywood. Another problem with overly ventilated hives is the loss of hive scent. The scent of the hive is important to the bees; it does not only have medicinal qualities, but also helps unify and hold the hive together.
Different colors: AFM Safecoat/Durostain: afmsafecoat.com, greenbuildingsupply.com
Hempshield (clear): hempshield.net
Raw Organic Linseed Oil: ALLBÄCK (Canada), solventfreepaint.com
Tung Oil: 100% pure Tung oil: realmilkpaint.com
Life time wood treatment: valhalco.com
There really is no best hive. However, we usually suggest you start with a Langstroth hive. Why? Because these hives are very standardized and it’s easy to maintain more than one hive and swap frames between them if needed. That being said, we use Langstroths in a manner that is somewhat different from conventional beekeeping. We never use foundation in our hives and we don’t use queen excluders. We let the bees be bees.
If you have problems lifting 40-50 pound Langstroth boxes, then a Top-Bar hive is our next best recommendation for beginners.
Queen excluders are unhelpful to the honeybees and their nest structure. We do not use queen excluders, but instead we allow the queen to work freely and organize the nest around her egg laying in the way the colony sees fit. We never take honey near the brood nest anyways, only the true surplus of honey that is stored further away from the queen’s activity.
Either should be fine. Softwood is generally recommended over hardwood as it is more porous than hardwood. The resins and insulation quality suit the bees well.
Dovetail is more common, but either would work. The most important thing is that there is no draft, they need to fit very tightly.
You don’t need to treat the inside of the hive at all. If the wood is freshly milled, we recommend rubbing the inside of the box with lavender, sage, mint, or some other lovely aromatic herbs. Propolis tincture works really well on the inside of fresh wooden boxes.
We do not. The bees usually propolize them in well.
It depends on the size of the swarm. The norm is 2 boxes, but with a small swarm you may start with one.
Both have their advantages! Because we give our Warres so much freedom, they often will curve their combs so that they actually end up taking the middle road – they build diagonally across the boxes. We only have bars in the top box. We do not add new bars with each box. This isn’t the only way, or even the correct way to do it. But we like the idea of an uninterrupted brood chamber, and therefore we don’t add new bars with each box.
We do not ventilate at the top. We keep the quilt box on year-round, so it actually helps insulate from the heat and keeps the temperature more stable. They will ventilate from the front entrance.
a) Varroa mites: Against varroa mites we have good results using a screen board (over the bottom board to monitor the mite drop), medicinal teas and aiming toward strong, vibrant colonies. We have several colonies that get no treatment at all. When a colony has high numbers of mites (usually this does not happen in the first year, but in subsequent years of life), we use formic acid (MiteAway II is the commercially used brand) and oxalic acid treatments sparingly. These acids are normally present in the colony, but not in a high concentration, and are part of the bees’ life. Both treatments are based on a rigorous, 10-year study in Germany which showed that there is absolutely no accumulation in wax or wood. All other chemicals, including essential oils, accumulate in the wax and let the mites become resistant to the treatment. The use of Thymol, although very effective, for treatment does not have enough research for us to recommend. Our ultimate goal is to strengthen the bees to the extent that they can take care of the mites themselves.
b) Nosema: Against nosema we work with the teas and biodynamic silica spray. The main cause of nosema is sugar feeding, which we avoid. We have not seen nosema for many years.
c) Small hive beetles: We see a few hive beetles in most hives, but have not experienced any significant damage. Strong colonies will take care of them.
d) Wax moths: Wax moths are not a problem in healthy hives. Their job is to clean up what is not occupied. A colony is never killed by the wax moths, but they take over in very weak hives with too much empty space. Tighten up the space so that your bees are able to take care of their whole inner cavity and you will see a sharp decline in wax moths.
No need to remove your supers in order to treat your hive for varroa mites as long as you aren’t using harsh chemicals. Most commercial miticides accumulate in the wood, wax, and honey. We don’t use any of them, and would not recommend it for you or your bees. What we use is formic acid, which does not accumulate in the hive, and therefore the mites can’t develop resistance to it. Formic acid is a chemical that the bees know well (a constituent of bee venom), but it is still very effective against varroa and tracheal mites.
Our approach to these diseases is to allow for natural queen raising (creating stronger queens and hives), allowing the bees to build comb naturally (healthier for the bees), and to not feed them sugar or corn syrup. We only feed our hives honey mixed with bee tea, and only when necessary. Sugar and corn syrup alter the pH of the bees’ gut, which makes them more susceptible to disease. We also plant high quality forage for the bees so they have an excellent source of natural food. We have not had a case of foulbrood in over 45 years (including Gunther’s time before Spikenard Farm).
This is often confused with absconding because the symptoms are similar. CCD can be diagnosed by the peculiar situation where the worker bees abscond or die out in the landscape all of a sudden, leaving the queen and maybe a few workers behind in the hive. We have never experienced CCD at the Honeybee Sanctuary, nor have any of our students or community experienced CCD once they began working with natural queens, swarms, and the rest of the Sanctuary Beekeeping methods.
Best thing is to be preemptive (a mode of action not to be recommended in other fields of endeavor!). A few years back we threatened the health department with a lawsuit if they sprayed our garden against West-Nile Virus. They stayed 1 mile away from our location. But if you know that there will be spraying and can’t avoid it, close your hive tightly and give shade. The bees will suffer, but at least not die.
The first thing you should do is put an entrance reducer on your hive and reduce the space to the size of one or two bees. That’s definitely the best first line of defense. If your bees are bearding a lot out front that’s a great sign that your hive is healthy and not being over-burdened by the yellow jackets. Another possibility is to relocate the honeybee hive a mile or so away for the next month or two until the situation cools down. You might not be able to do that…but again, if it gets really bad, it might be the only way to save your hive.
Our approach to EMF’s is nuanced, but we aren’t taking any chances and are working to minimize exposure. We have a no cellphone policy for visitors at the Honeybee Sanctuary, do not have WiFi on the property, and are moving towards well-insulated hives. Quilt boxes with peat moss is recommended for those of you who keep bees in cities and other areas with high exposure to EMF’s.
In reality, the honeybee crisis started long before 5G and the other EMF related issues. When we are looking at the causes of this crisis, we have to look deeper than all the problems that are coming to the bees from the outside. Our conviction is that if we do not change our beekeeping practices, there is no way for the bees to develop the capacity to evolve and be resilient through the challenges of climate change, EMF’s, etc.
In the swarm hive, you should see larva as soon as they have built some honeycomb, whereas it may take up to three weeks to see larva in the hive left behind, as the young queen needs to go on a mating flight and then it may take another 3-4 days before she lays eggs, and then add another 4-5 days before you can see larva.
If the swarm does not have larvae or eggs in the next days, you can put a comb with eggs and young larvae (from the other hive) into the hive (it’s safe to shake the bees off, so you don’t transfer the queen) and then look into that frame in a week to see if they are raising emergency queens. Your other option is to buy a queen, even if it’s a commercial one, but don’t wait too long to avoid laying workers to start laying.
That is a difficult situation. Getting the neighbors to spray late in the day is good if possible. Then closing up the entrances in the early morning and covering them with cool wet white blankets is great.
We would recommend internally feeding them Bee Tea with a few Tbsp of good honey. This is the best probiotic and will help their metabolism. The high water solution will also help them stay cool when they are closed up.
Make sure you talk to the bees and let them know what is happening, what you are planning to do to help, and what you would invite them to do (steer clear of these fields, and flying in this direction, for this period of time, etc.)
Love them. Listen deeply. Take care to visit them often and develop a hands-off relationship. This will help to have a positive hands-on relationship when the time is right. And when you do go into the hive, try to work under the most ideal conditions that the season offers — for example, at 11:00 a.m. on a warm sunny day when plenty of flowers are in bloom, when you yourself are inwardly calm and outwardly prepared, when the neighbor isn’t running a loud machine, etc. And remember to focus on having positive interactions as the priority rather than pushing your beekeeping agenda as the priority. This can foster great healing and help develop a deep bond between the bees and the beekeeper.
You have a couple of options. Putting on one or two ratchet straps will make it so that if a bear does come after your hive, it will take a long time for the bear to get into the brood. In this way, the bees inside can mobilize, and hopefully, will be able to drive the bear away. We have experienced this a few times.
You could also build a bear platform. It needs to be at least 7 feet high, and the platform needs to extend 2-3 feet beyond the support posts. This way the bears can’t pull themselves up and get to the hives.
One more option is to put your hives inside of bee house/shed that you can close up to exclude the bears.