The Beekeeper

The Idea

Ah, the natural life.

There’s not a single environment left untouched by humans. So, there’s not much left that’s natural, including beekeeping. But a natural beekeeper can cooperate with the natural processes bees prosper in. And can make up for environmental deficiencies without doing harm.

The results? Both the bees, the beekeeper and the environment will be better off.

The Details

Beekeeping – Natural?

So, along comes the beekeeper. Takes a bee colony from it’s tree based home. And puts them in a box on the ground. That box can be easily opened. With the use of smoke, frequently inspected. And the honey harvested without physical destruction of the bees or their comb. How convenient, for the beekeeper. But that’s just not natural! The bees don’t need or want human husbandry.

But the beekeeper needs to pollinate crops. He eats honey. And the bee is a source of inspiration. So, once the deed is done, just like other husbandry, the beekeeper becomes responsible for everything external. He must:

  • cooperate with colony habits and needs
  • provide suitable habitat
  • ensure sufficient nourishment
  • aid in the colony’s defense
  • negate any other unnatural impacts
  • to be sustainable, do no harm

There it is in a nutshell. A beekeeper is just like a herdsman.

Modern Beekeeping

But there’s one significant difference between modern beekeeping and other animal husbandry. It’s easy to see an animal as an entity. How the animal, by it’s nature, manages all things internal. And the herdsman all things external.

But it’s harder to see a colony as a superorganism, an entity, just like the animal. And it’s almost impossible to see the beekeeper as a manager of all things external.

The movable frame hive has permitted free and easy access to a colony’s internals. Much insight has been gained into a colonies behavior and biology. But it has also permitted the most intrusive practices possible. In fact, modern beekeeping encourages it.  And that intrusion is so ingrained into modern beekeeping’s focus, that most beekeepers see their own wisdom and intrusion as necessary for a colony’s survival.

Yet, it easy to see if the same actions were applied to an animal. Image it. Lets take a cow and cut open the hide. Cleave the sternum and put some snaps on it. Install a zipper and zip it up. We’re good to go.

Now, lets give the cow some smoke…er anesthesia gas. No need to get stung up err… get kicked. They don’t like being opened up and become defensive. Then we will unzip her. Open the snaps and rummage around in there. Maybe re-arrange a few things. Maybe add a few things. And we’ll mix up some chemicals and pesticide, in a pail behind the barn when no one is looking, and pour them in there for good measure. Then we’ll zip her up. And she’s good to go until next time when we’ll do it again.

Ridiculous right? The cow would sicken and die. What about the superorganism, the colony? Does man have enough wisdom to be as invasive? The facts speak for themselves.  Just read the popular press as they quote beekeeping’s brightest and best. Our bees are sick and modern beekeeping is in trouble.

Natural Beekeeping

So, if beekeeping isn’t natural, how can bees be kept naturally?

Simple. It’s not where you’re at, but where you’re headed to. It’s all about focus and relationships. Because there’s no place, left on the earth, free of human impact. As a result, even a wild hive will inevitably experience environmental degradation and habitat loss. If those impacts are gradual and limited, the bees will adapt. But if they’re quick and extensive, the bees might not survive long enough to adapt

If a beekeeper wants to keep bees in those areas,  he will have to make up for any inadequacies. And let’s face it, most of us are now living in those kinds of areas.

Priorities

So, a natural beekeeper’s first priority is to take care of the colony’s physical needs. Does the environment meet the bee’s needs? Does it provide enough food, water, and protection from climatic extremes? Is it as free from environmental pollution/contaminates as possible?

If not, then it’s the beekeeper’s responsibility to makeup for any environmental lack. He can:

  • move the hives to better pasture
  • provide water or supplemental feed
  • shelter from the wind
  • shade from the heat
  • protection from pests
  • avoid pesticides and pollution

Then a beekeeper does what he does best. What the bees can’t do for themselves. That is, handle the externals. And he lets the bees do what they do best. Handle almost everything inside the box with minimal interference.

Along the way, a beekeeper will learn how his colonies function as a superorganism and how they interact with their environment.

Inside the Box – A Compromise

A wild colony doesn’t live forever. It has a life cycle like all other animals. It eventually dies. The cavity it occupies is scavenged and cleansed. And it’s re-occupied if suitable. Most beekeepers prefer to keep their equipment full of bees and not wait for nature’s course. So, some work inside the box is necessary:

  • provide supplemental emergency feed or water
  • maintain uncontaminated comb
  • keep as natural a broodnest structure as possible
  • replace failing queens
  • harvest honey

So, what shouldn’t a beekeeper do inside the box?

  • think he can manage a bee activity better than the bees can
  • believe science can offer a better diet than nature
  • stimulate colony activity beyond seasonal limits
  • practice feed lot beekeeping
  • treasure that old dark comb that’s tougher than shoe leather
  • routinely put stuff inside that’s not naturally found there

-dM