Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The beginnings of beekeeping

A picture of last year's course
At least for me.
Now bear with me... I am no expert. Not even near. I am an absolut beginner. Just had my introduction to beekeeping last year through a course in ecological beekeeping. Plus a lot of reading...
Ever since the course I got the buzz. Standing next to an active hive is thrilling, exciting. Especially if you forget to close the front zipper of your beesuit.... Working with the bees had a strange yet powerful and positive effect on me. It literally made my day! Plus I want to do whatever I can to keep the bees from further decline... Since we need them. Need them desperately! We need them as pollinators and the honey and possibly some wax are very beneficial byproducts... to me.

Of course I did start out talking to a former and a present beekeeper and did a course. I used my library card well and I did read a handful of books on conventional beekeeping like the very elaborate book by Åke Hansson; Bin och biodling. I loved that large bee-overlay, where you can see the inside of a bee, layer by layer. Excellent book! And I will still get one if and when I can afford it.
But still there was this nagging sense of something being wrong..... Forcing the bee in every way to adapt to the beekeeper.

the original image is found here
Quite appropriate I think...
Now the caretaking-part;
One thing that struck me as strange, later turning into wrong, was the "harvest" of the hives. Taking the excess as a reward to the keeper, fine. Taking it all.... not. I feel that that is pretty much the basis for the trouble in the beekeepingworld.
Taking away their food and substituting it for sugar water to me is the same as what the foodindustry is doing to us these days. They have taken away our real, healthy food and given us back tons of junk and crap. Result; we get sick. Following this line of thinking leads me to the conclusion that bees get sick too and are therefore less capable of fighting back infestations and disease.
Why many modern and traditional beekeepers keep yelling that their way is the only way? Well, why do myriads of people still go to Mc Death? Why do hordes of people still stuff themselves with all that killing crap? Because they can not or will not look beyond. Because they can not or will not make a change. Because that requires rethinking, leaving trodden paths, leaving the old, known and familiar, even if it is wrong, behind.
Plus for beekeepers today there is another, probably major,  keyfactor; profit!! One kilogram of honey is much more worth than 1 kilogram of sugar. So they take the bees natural, healthy food and substitute it for cheap junkfood, claiming that that has worked for many years or even decades. Sure, the bees survived.... sort of. But why is it then that we are seeing so much beekeepers and bee societies in trouble? Why so much dying bees? It's like a mass extinction! I do not believe that it merely is the use of pesticides, although that is a major contributing factor, Nor is it the mass infestation with varroa. I do believe that the latter and other diseases can get a foothold and create havoc, because the bees themselves are seriously weakened, just like the human species is weakened by bad food over the years. And, just as with humans, pumping the bees and their hives full of antibiotics and chemicals only make a bad situation even worse. Keeping otherwise doomed populations by feeding them even further decreases a populations strength by eliminating natural selection.
Speaking of natural selection; tempering with a bee's genes is not a viable option either. Destroying the genepool by creating bees that do not swarm, that do not mate freely, that yield a for humans productive species, while at the same time eradicating characteristics that make bees hardy and able to survive.... No more natural selection of the strongest... And if that's not enough alien species are being introduced or even lab created!
And still scientists the world over have no idea what causes that massive demise in bee populations...

So I believe we should go back. Treat the bees right and giving them the right conditions to breed, work and thrive. That means no longer plundering their food supplies. That means taking away the factor of financial profit!!Take a little, but ensure the bees can survive on their natural food during winter. If that should mean you worked a summer for next to nothing; tough luck!
Stop using "medicine" to cure them. If you have to pull every trick from the hat just to keep the colony, it probably isn't very strong and pretty much doomed anyway. Back to step one; create healthy, strong bees. Stop supporting weak ones.
Another factor is the choice of hive. I choose to use a hive that mimics natural conditions as much as possible. Not a hive that is easy to work with and pillage. Besides, those latter hives use sheets of wax to steer the buildinginstinct of the bees, even further suppressing their natural instincts.... and contaminated wax seems to be yet another issue in the vast array of traditional beekeeping methods.
So hives without prefabricated waxsheets or frames.
A third factor is one that already made me butt heads with my course teaching beekeeper; the choice of species. I want a species that is native, that is adapted to local climate and that is on the verge of disappearing altogether; Apis mellifera mellifera. I don't care if other bee species are more productive and I certainly don't care that crossbreeding with other species might give aggressive bees! Because that is the argument I was presented with. Crossbreeding of the native species with non-native or even artificially created breeds would do just that, much to the discomfort of other beekeepers. Well, maybe other beekeepers should ask themselves whether their species is the right one..... Besides I am far enough away from any know bee colony to prevent cross breeding. And after all there still are wild swarms around here, so they might create the same problem. If that even is the real concern....
This whole philosophy is a perfect example of every aspect of current society; "progress" for the sake of progress. Profit is everything. Maximising profit by any and all means. Man controls it all and nature has to submit. Millions of years of evolution are swept aside with one move in favor of man's arrogance or should I say God complex?
And I already know that I will be at a ramming course with others over this..... *sigh*

All this I found in a beekeeping method as advocated by abbott Warré.
Here are some links which might help me make my decision, based on, to me, sound and logical grounds;
Nordbi - They work hard to maintain and even expand the presence of the indigenous species in Sweden.
the practical beekeeper -  who makes a pretty strong case for the arguments I just stated
the barefoot beekeeper -  same as above
warré beekeeping - this site provides all the information in downloadable bookform for FREE. including building plans both in metric and imperial measures. Anyone willingly sharing information or books without financial benefit automatically steps up the ladder of trust, because there is no financial gain for them involved. They do not need to sell their idea for profit. They share their ideas because of passion or belief. Cross referencing of such sources is still advisable though as it is with any.

As I was pondering over the ideas, plans and uses I came across a thought that might spoil the whole thing. I do have this annoying physical issue that messes with me everytime certain moves are made, causing strain in certain areas. Lifting is one of those moves, especially if it is a bit on the heavy side with repetitive movements over prolonged periods of time. And the Warré hive, despite its very appealing nature to me, still has multiple, heavy, honey filled boxes that need lifting....
The barefoot beekeeper seemed to have an answer; the top bar hive. It's like a warré hive, but on its side... sort of.
The barefoot beekeeper's site also offers free information and building plans and specifically stated that no heavy lifting was required, whilst providing all the key specifications I want. No lifting of boxes, only combs. The plans and ideas he provides are adapted for northern climates, since it is of African origin. Problem is that I can not find any references that might indicate that this sort of hive would be suitable for our climate. I do have my doubts...
I guess I still have quite some reading and studying to do.... The beekeepers I talked to said beekeeping was a science on its own, but having read I can not help but feel that they missed a point. A vital point! See what the bees do themselves naturally!!

So I chose to be a bee caretaker, not a honeyproducer....

Well, time to start to put all that wonderful theory into practice! Let's see if all this "know-it-all"-ness will make me land flat on my face... Or not.
The materials are largely in place, the plans are ready and the tools are being prepared!


  1. Heel veel succes
    Het gaat je lukken .:-)

  2. You are so onto something! I know very little about bees but they have a lot of beekeeping around here. We have bee keepers that lease part of our land because we have a lot of invasive non-native star thistle. Can you see where I'm going here? I'm following close at your heels because I bet, I just bet, if I talked to these beekeepers they would be the honey producing kind that feed sugar water and antibiotics and the whole awful nine yards! We had a gigantic swarm in our bunk house a couple years ago and we asked one of the girls over to help us remove it because it was in an area where a lot of guests come and go and we didn't want any of them stung in case they were allergic. The girl claimed she was real knowledgeable. Well, I was horrified to see her and her boyfriend just tear that huge hive apart, all that honey, all those smothered bees in the comb and honey. It was like a holocaust. She kept saying how she was going to start a hive herself but I couldn't see how. Most of the bees were smothered. Well, later on she was convicted of felony animal abuse on one of her many dogs so you see what kind of person she is.

    Anyway, your human/bee analogy seems so right! Yes! No wonder bees get sick if they're eating sugar water. Let's see, sugar is sucrose. What is honey? Glucose and fructose + nutrients. Completely different. You're right. They're only thinking of profits and convenience. We should start the Bee Liberation Front!

    Maybe mechanical help to lift the bee houses?