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The 4 Confluent Paths of a Bee-Centric Beekeeper - Part 3 - Practices

"Most beekeeping problems are caused by solutions."  Michael Bush

"I was a beekeeper once, but the bees have forgiven it."  Heidi Herrmann

“I long ago gave up a number of beekeeping practices conceived with the notion of making bees do certain things that seemed good from a human standpoint but which usually involved radically disrupting the hive.  Instead, I watch the bees more, try to understand what they are doing, and then see if I can work in a way that will be in keeping with their biology and behavior.  I try to create conditions that will make them happy, and then leave them alone as much as possible.”  Sue Hubbell, A Book of Bees

"The bees know best what's best for the bees."  Me

Let me start by saying that I'm simply telling my own story, here, on the off-chance that someone else might resonate with it and be encouraged by it.

My goal with this post is not to create a list of comparisons between conventional/commercial beekeeping practices and bee-centered beekeeping practices.  My hope, rather, is to encourage you, when confronted with typical con/com beekeeping advice, to, before acting, ask the question, "Why?"

I began asking that question a number of years ago, and it shocked me to discover that the answer to why con/com beekeepers do what they do, and advise what they advise, was almost always rooted in two goals:

1) The maximization of the profits of the beekeeper through the maximization of honey production.

2) The maximization of the profits of the beekeeper through the maximization of the beekeeper's convenience.

Let me be very quick to point out here that I am not saying that those are the goals of each and every beekeeper who employs conventional/commercial beekeeping practices!  What I am saying is that, for myself, it seems apparent that most of those kinds of beekeeping practices are rooted in those goals.  At least, that has been my experience here in the United States.

Here is just one example - an imaginary conversation between a con/com beekeeper (BK) and myself as we examine some frames in one of my hives that don't seem to have a very tight brood pattern.

BK: "Hmmm.  That brood pattern seems a little 'hit-and-miss,'  Kind of a 'shot-gun' pattern.  I think that if this was my colony I'd consider re-queening."

Me: "Hmmm.  Why would I want to re-queen?"

BK: "Well, it's better to have a really tight brood pattern."

Me: "Why?"

BK: "Well, because it's the sign of a good queen."

Me: "Why is that the sign of a good queen?"

BK: "Well, it's generally thought that a good laying queen will lay in a nice, tight pattern.  That's what you want."

Me: "Why do I want that?"

BK: "Because it's the sign of a prolific queen.  That's what you want, a prolific queen.  A good layer."

Me: "Why do I want that?"

BK: "Because you want her to be laying as many eggs as possible."

Me: "Why?"

BK: "Because you want to maximize the number of bees in this colony.  You want it to be busting with bees."

Me: "Why?"

BK: "So they'll bring back the maximum amount of nectar and produce the maximum amount of honey."

Me: "Why do I want that?"

BK: "To maximize your honey harvest."

Me: "Why do I want that?"

BK: "To maximize your profits from honey sales."

Again, let me be quick to say that I am not degrading beekeepers who want to harvest honey.  I offer this example simply to show how so many of the conventional/commercial practices that we are taught here in the U.S. are rooted in historic beekeeping practices aimed at maximizing profits.

An example of an imaginary conversation about preventing swarming would, in my opinion, end with the same final comment by the BK. 

I know a beekeeper in Vermont who practices what he calls "natural beekeeping."  He even wrote a book by that title.  I was able to spend a few days with him this past March.  During that time, he made the comment that he never re-queens a colony.  Why?  Because he believes that, as a super-organism, each colony has a right to live out it's natural life.  What if the "poorly-laying" queen happens to actually have the genetics to handle the next stress that honey bees will have to contend with?  If she is killed, those genetics are lost.

I would add, what if the "poorly-laying" queen happens to be developing the characteristics of an ecotype?  What if, in the collective intelligence of the colony, they know that they need to reduce the number of bees because they are entering the typical, annual nectar dearth in that region?  What if, in the collective intelligence of the colony, they know exactly the right number of bees to carry into winter based on the amount of honey they have, the amount of interior space in the hive they will have to heat, how soon forage will become available next spring, and on, and on, and on? 

As a bee-centered beekeeper, my two goals are these:

1) Hosting and stewarding honey bees in ways that puts their long-term health, welfare, and vitality foremost.

2) Developing an ecotype; a genetically distinct geographic variety, population or race within a species, which is adapted to specific environmental conditions.  In other words, I want the bees I host to be able to survive and thrive in both hosted hives and in the wild.

I guess, for me, I really do have to decide whether or not I believe that the bees know best what's best for the bees... over the long-run... in the context of the survival of their species.  Or, do I think I know best?

Once again:

"Instead, I watch the bees more, try to understand what they are doing, and then see if I can work in a way that will be in keeping with their biology and behavior.  I try to create conditions that will make them happy, and then leave them alone as much as possible.”  Sue Hubbell

Further reading:

Additional Reading:

Darwinian Beekeeping, Dr. Thomas Seeley, March 2017 issue of American Bee Journal

HONEY-MAKER - How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does, Rosanna L. Mattingly

http://www.naturalbeekeepingtrust.org/bee-centred-vs-conventional

https://beetreehives.com/blogs/news/the-4-pronged-quest-of-a-bee-centered-beekeeper-part-1-habitat

https://beetreehives.com/blogs/news/the-4-pronged-quest-of-a-bee-centered-beekeeper-part-2-genetics

https://beetreehives.com/blogs/news/the-4-pronged-quest-of-a-bee-centered-beekeeper-part-4-hive-cavity

 


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