Keeping Bees with a Smile – A vision and practice of natural apiculture

by Fedor Lazutin

Translated from the original Russian by Mark Pettus.
Deep Snow Press, Ithaca, NY, 2013.
ISBN 978-0-9842873-5-2. $34.95.
402 pp. B&W, with line drawings, plus 32 colour images bound altogether.

Aside from the ambiguous title, this is a welcome addition to the natural beekeeping literature. It increases the impression that, independently on different continents, beekeepers are starting to think of the long-term implications of the way they keep bees. This book originates from Russia where there is a long unbroken tradition of natural apiculture, albeit in logs and living tree hives, unfortunately regarded by some as primitive. But Lazutin breaks with that tradition by presenting a method of keeping bees in a deep-framed trough hive that is expanded horizontally rather than vertically by supering. His hive is derived from that of Georges de Layens, but is also reminiscent of the Einraumbeute (one-box-hive, golden hive) used to a limited extent in Europe and the USA. The book briefly sketches some of the developments in beekeeping in Russia, and the author tells how he arrived at his choice of hive among the horizontal deep-frame types. He is careful to point out that it and its management work well for the ecologically relatively unspoilt deciduous forests of the Kaluga region of western Russia, but may not be transferable elsewhere without modifications. To cope with the severe cold of his winters, the trough is double-walled interleaved with insulation (sadly, expanded polystyrene!), but if used in milder climates it could conceivably be single-walled.

Lazutin advocates several key features of natural beekeeping: for example, minimal intervention, no chemical treatments, no sugar feeding and propagation only by natural swarming. Unfortunately, a very important feature of natural beekeeping is omitted, namely the use of only natural comb. Skeps give full freedom to the bees to build comb naturally. Top-bar hives allow near-natural comb, because the beekeeper determines only the comb spacing. But frames fitted with foundation, as Lazutin advocates, result in almost the least natural kind of comb. The twenty-five deep combs (415 mm wide x 430 mm high, p. 370), allowing an uninterrupted brood nest, are made from a Dadant brood frame and a Dadant super frame placed one above the other, usually brood on top. As Dadant frames are easily available commercially, it should be a relatively simple matter for anyone to set up such a hive, especially as the book has full plans and instructions. The frames are installed with a wide top-bar affixed that both acts as a spacer and forms the roof of the nest cavity.

The books rear cover lists eight ‘selling points’ for the hive and method. All seem to be actually delivered in the text except ‘keep bees naturally without interfering in their lives’. Any trough hive, whether top-bar or frame, needs some form of manipulation in the transition from the snug winter condition to the spring build-up, and thence to the main nectar flows. Otherwise the colony could become seriously cramped for space. Lazutin’s is no different. On pages 138-139 we see diagrams of the necessary multiple manipulations, for a period requiring inspections as often as every 7-10 days and at one point the insertion of half a dozen frames of dry comb. However, brood nest integrity is respected, and, in version 2 at least (p. 237), the manipulations are aimed at eliciting a spontaneous move of the brood nest onto new comb.

Written in a charming, ‘chatty’ style, the text is very readable and certainly far from seeming like a translation. For beekeepers considering trying more natural ways and looking for winter reading, there is a lot in Lazutin’s four hundred pages to think about. Hopefully some readers will appreciate the cartoons scattered throughout the book. We look forward to seeing if this ’smiley hive’ will have its proponents outside Russia.

David Heaf,