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Beekeeping and Perfectionism

Backyard beekeeping is becoming more and more popular amongst retiring baby boomers.  And, the retirees with the financial means to take up this hobby, oftentimes, are people who were successful, perfectionistic professionals during their careers.  Many, in fact, may have had careers where perfectionism was not only an advantage, but a necessity.

So, for all you surgeons, and engineers, and the host of other professionals whose calling required perfectionism, our entire society thanks you!  Thank you for the accurate diagnoses, and the skillful surgeries, and the safe bridges to drive our cars on.

But, if you're a perfectionist, you may be frustrated with beekeeping!

Are honey bees perfectionists?  Absolutely!  They are most definitely perfectionists...

...but at a micro level that we cannot see.

And, frustratingly for human perfectionists, honey bees are definitely not perfectionists at the macro level that we can see.

The bees will often build cross-comb, even when we provide them with such perfectly straight frames to help them get started correctly.  They will often put burr comb in the perfectly measured bee space we have provided for them.  They will put propolis where we wish they wouldn't, and not put propolis where we wish they would.  They will often put the honey anywhere but in the honey supers we provide for them.  And they might swarm three weeks prior to when all the YouTube videos we've been watching said they would.

We so misunderstand honey bees.

And we so anthropomorphise them.

Perfectionists may expect honey bees to keep their hive neat and tidy in the same way they expect their children to keep their rooms neat and tidy.


what if the bees are using the cross-comb, and the burr comb, and the propolis, and all the other things we think they're making a mess of, to actually get all the things that really matter to the them...

perfectly right?

What if they're using all those things to control the factors inside the hive that are really necessary for them to survive and thrive?  Things like:

  • Amount and orientation of the ventilation
  • Relative humidity
  • O2 to CO2 ratio
  • Ambient temperature of the hive
  • Specific temperature of the brood
  • Placement of stores relative to the brood
  • Anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities
  • pH balance
  • Structural integrity of the hive
  • Insulative qualities of the hive
  • Travel routes between combs
  • Communication levels using scent
  • Communication levels using vibration
  • Their symbiotic relationship with the other 8,000+ known organisms in their hive

What if the bees are actually more perfectionistic than we are, just on a micro level, not a macro level; just in the things that we cannot see rather than in the things that we can?

Perhaps we need to redefine what a "perfect" honey bee hive is.

Perhaps a "perfect" honey bee hive is one in which the colony survives and thrives... year after year after year.

Perhaps a "perfect" honey bee hive is one in which the colony is becoming an ecotype; a genetically distinct geographic variety, population, or race within a species, which is adapted to specific environmental conditions.

Perhaps a "perfect" honey bee hive is one from which the colony casts a viable swarm each year that repopulates our region with honey bees that can survive and thrive in the wild.

When we look in "perfect" honey bee hives like this, will they be neat and tidy?  Perhaps not at the macro level; not when measured by things we can see.  But they may be "perfect" in the ways that protect the hardiness and long-term health of the colony.

Truly, the bees know best what's best for the bees.

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