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Talking Natural Beekeeping with Dr. Sharashkin


In a few weeks, the 2022 Homestead Expo will be in Marshfield. The event will have lots of speakers covering a wide variety of topics. One of the topics will be over natural beekeeping with Dr. Leo Sharashkin. Living about 90 miles east of Springfield, Dr. Sharashkin has given talks both nationally and internationally, is the editor of uniquely valuable books such as "Keeping Bees With a Smile: A Vision And Practice of Natural Apiculture," and is a contributor to many journal articles which include American Bee Journal, Mother Earth News, Heirloom Gardener, and Acres USA.  

"I grew up in Russia, and my uncle had been keeping bees before I was born. I remember spending summers in his village with bees buzzing around and all the fresh honey from the hive. It was just part of my upbringing," Dr. Sharashkin recalls. Later, he would graduate from one of Russia's best business schools with a degree in international economics. However, at the time, Dr. Sharashkin did not think beekeeping would be his lifelong career.  

"I did not think I would be doing beekeeping professionally because when you are just about to embark on a career into the corporate world, beekeeping is the farthest thing from your mind." However, that thought changed soon after he and his wife moved to the US, where they bought their 80-acre farm in the Ozarks. From there, he would get a Ph.D. in forestry from the University of Missouri, and a master's in natural resources from Indiana University; he just loved to tell others about natural beekeeping. Dr. Sharashkin reflected, "As I started beekeeping, there was interest in how I did things… So I started giving talks, teaching courses, and making equipment for others. Gradually it took more and more of my time, and eventually, I concentrated on beekeeping and providing for my family".  

When most think of beekeeping, they think of oversized white suites and large boxes filled with bees. That's not the case for natural beekeeping. "Natural beekeeping has been around for 1000s of years," Dr. Sharashkin says. He then broke down some significant differences between the two. 

First is getting bees from nature, not from the mail. Dr. Sharashkin explains, "You can set out a small box in a tree, and just as birds move around houses, so do bees in the spring. Not only do you get bees for free, but they are adapted to the local conditions instead of ordering an array from Florida, Georgia, or California, which are not acclimated." 

The second is no harsh chemicals or sugar water. Dr. Sharashkin continues, "I do not give my bees any chemicals or feed them sugar water. I discovered how people keep bees in the United States was very unusual. Most people medicate their bees because they were told if they do not give them such and such chemicals, the bees will die from diseases. Most beekeepers also give their bees large quantities of sugar water to boost honey production". 

Third and perhaps most unique is horizontal hives. Dr. Sharashkin elaborates on this "In addition to catching wild swarms; I'm putting them inside one long box instead of the stack of boxes most are familiar with. Vertical hives are most common in America, but throughout the world, most cultures prefer horizontal hives because all the honeycombs are on the same level. Hence, there are no additional boxes to lift. It means it's easier on your back and the bees because there is not as much shuffling." Due to this method, Dr. Sharashkin has noticed bees are not as mean or aggressive. Natural beekeeping seems ideal for people who do not have much land but are still interested in beekeeping. 

On the topic of people who might not have much land say within city limits. Marshfield Alderman has been discussing beekeeping with some worried about the severe consequences. Dr. Sharashkin has a few thoughts on the matter "We need to realize there are different styles of beekeeping. Some of those styles are so disruptive that the bees will get agitated or angry and start stinging the keeper and anything within a few hundred yards." He continues, "But beekeeping doesn't have to be that way because bees are not aggressive. Even the 'Killer Bees,' as they are called in the media, are not aggressive. If they sting, they will die from the rupture. So for a honeybee to sting you is undoubtedly suicide. The bees do not take it lightly and can not afford to sting you because that is a big expenditure on all the bees and their colony. We call them aggressive or mean bees, but that is incorrect. We should call them defensive bees because if you do not provoke them, then they have no reason to sting you." 

He understands that people may have negative experiences with bees or other insects that use stingers. However, Dr. Sharashkin encourages that decisions be made using facts instead of emotional memories that some people had growing up. Natural beekeeping is beneficial not only to the keeper but to everyone around them. Something to consider next time you go to a store and buy a bottle of honey. If natural beekeeping has created a buzz in you, consider checking out Dr. Sharashkin's talk at the 2022 Ozarks Homesteading Expo on Aug 26 and 27. Details can be found on the Ozarks Homesteading Facebook page or visit Dr. Sharashkin's website www.horizontalhive.com. 


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