Current beekeeping practices vs. historical beekeeping, I am speaking more about experience, not generational. Let me try to explain this little better so as to mitigate any future negative comments or misunderstandings. In order to focus in on an item/idea you place it under a microscope and zoom in and out until you have clear focus. In this case, I am doing the exact opposite. I am gaining altitude/years 48 to be exact, and trying to gain a perspective from distance that few in beekeeping can appreciate today.
I am really going out on a limb here and I know it. I may make a few individuals unhappy or angry but that is not the intent and that is also the reason for the extra efforts to explain my thought process. Back in the day a beekeeper learned from experience – the “what” and the “why” became the motivation for “how,” and “why” discovered “how”. Today beekeepers have access to vast sums of information and knowledge and that knowledge is light years ahead of their skills and abilities – application. Today, as a new prospective beekeeper in the act of taking a class, they go home, log onto the internet, read a few articles, and immediately give comment from their vast experience to the rest of the world.
I read a question answer section from Jerry Hayes, in “The Classroom,” March 2018, ABJ several months ago that fits right into the theme of this article, too large in its entirety to reprint here, but here is a brief summary. A beekeeper expressed concern about the process of shaking a package of bees and its possible negative effect on the brood that was on the frame in question. Answer: “Varroa virus legacy has gotten a firm hold in the U.S. there has been so much incredible interest in honey bees and honey bee health. This vast interest has encouraged the growth of ignorant, lightly managed beekeeping resulting in lots of bees/colonies dying.”
What I understand from this is that a new beekeeping ideology is running amuck and potentially influencing the keeping of bees in a detrimental way, a negative fashion, and I actually see this daily in my line of work. I am going to try to put my finger on it in a caring, nice way and hopefully no one will be too offended. But let me try to be a little more specific. First, let me try to put words to what I see. Here are some new concepts that have come out of this whole new thought process in beekeeping:
- I do not want to treat my bees with harsh chemicals it may hurt them.
- I want to keep bees, the all-natural way.
- I don’t want to look at my colonies too much because it may be harmful to them.
- I don’t want to use a smoker because it may upset the bees.
- I don’t want to feed syrup because it is not natural.
- I don’t want to take the honey because they work so hard for it.
- I want to plant a garden for my bees.
- I want to keep bees because they are all dying, just to help them out.\
- If I move my bees it may hurt them.
I could write a whole article, and I may, on how the beekeeping community has accused all of agriculture on the losses of honey bees (CCD) due to Insecticide/fungicide/herbicide use, instead of their own beekeeping failures.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, squashing workers between boxes, packaging bees is cruel, naming queens; I could really go on here for some time, but I think you get the picture and if not, you may be the reason for this article. If what we are doing ends up destroying the object of our concern, maybe we are not as informed as we should be, maybe this is just a knee jerk reaction to beekeeping, superfluous, anthropomorphize, also come to mind.
The reason for the writing this article is this, is this in anyway detrimental to their beekeeping or beekeeping in general? Many of these concepts are, or run the risk of becoming part of a curriculum for the following beekeeping generations to digest. Is this a legitimate concern, I think it is? Even on the surface it would appear this concern has merit. The urban beekeeper of today appears more governed about how they (feel) about certain issues in beekeeping as opposed to the (facts) of that same issue. These feel good practices translate into beekeeping methodology for those who fall under their sphere of influence.
What is the impetus that brought about some of the above and following philosophies in beekeeping: the high flow hive, the term (girls), top bar hives, ornate hives, costing hundreds of dollars; the point must be made that not all the ideas are bad, change can be good, but change for change sake is not good reasoning. I want to question the thought process, is it for the betterment of beekeeping? The difference is as simple as mite detection methods, the ether roll verses the sugar roll. If you understand the difference between these two practices, do you find one of them more less (offensive) than the other; then again you may be the object of this article. There was a saying when I was growing up “masses to classes produce flashes and ashes.” There are so many individuals that attend classes today and in a year’s time, crash and burn. Varroa ushered in a whole new type of beekeeper – the save the bee generation – but is that working, data would suggest not so. Jerry Hayes suggests that this is all the result of the importation of Varroa, is this yet another Varroa ascribed virus?
Let me briefly discuss possible consequences of some of the above views, but before I go there let me give a brief summary of my beekeeping history to insure the reader of my qualifications to analyze this, because not everyone who reads this may be familiar with Denzil and/or QRC.
I have been a beekeeper for 48 years. We have been involved with commercial pollination, queen rearing, nucs, and the inspection program. Annually, we sell approximately 30 thousand pounds of honey, a world Guinness record attempt at a bee cloak, and we annually sell 7,000 queens. I was present and accounted for when Varroa was nonexistent in the U.S. and much, much, more, and none of this makes me an expert in anything, but just to let you – the reader – know, I’ve been there, done that.
Back in the day beekeeping organizations consisted of five old geezers setting around a table discussing the honey crop, swarms, and what is currently in bloom and such boring and mundane things. I really miss those conversations now as opposed to the current nonstop, vast subject of Varroa, and the many dead colonies associated with it.
Now, let us analyze this a bit. Who are we talking about? This is a gray area, but generally (which is always very dangerous) speaking, our people of concern have been keeping bees for 10 years – more or less, and have a keen interest in keeping bees. Seem to be well educated, maybe professionals in some field, have a lot of zeal; however, zeal without wisdom is folly.
- What are the consequences of some of the policies they seem to advocate?
- What happens as a result of a poor Varroa control program?
- What happens when we do not remove excess honey?
- What happens when we do not inspect, manage colonies?
- What are the results of not accepting responsibility?
We have 20 to 25 thousand colonies of bees in Ohio, depending on the time of year and on the average we lose 30 to 50 percent at a cost of 1 million to 1.7 million in dollars to Ohio beekeepers every year. This is the cost in real money and there is no way to determine the losses in disillusioned beekeepers that every year give up and toss in the towel. We have sustained these losses for years, will this continue, who knows?
Given my previous statement, I think I am qualified to address this issue on several levels. I have taught thousands of new beekeepers, and I deal with them on a daily basis, so this makes me accountable on some level as well and many of you reading this article are also accountable. Organizations must also bear a greater responsibility for anything that is out of sorts in beekeeping. I think to some degree parents bear the responsibility of the behavior of their (own) children and in the same vein, like it or not, children emulate their parents. If you follow me in much of what I have said and written over the years, this is an argument I always come back to when it comes to education. You cannot separate a beekeeper’s ability to keep bees from the source of their education and this can be very damming to individuals like me and possibly you. Those in the know MUST bear responsibility and DARE to correct any misdirection/misconceptions a beekeeper or organization heads in, and this is not a comfortable place to be in at times, but it is a responsibility many carelessly undertake. Listen carefully to this next statement, DO YOU FEEL RESPONSIBLE when things go awry for those who fail under your tutelage? If not this says volumes about you,
Across the state of Ohio every year several thousand new beekeepers take the plunge, but the following year these figures are not reflected by organizational numbers, inspection figures, or in any other data. If you follow this to its natural conclusion, Ohio beekeepers should number in the millions and the same across the entire country, but not so, why? Many of these are the disillusioned I referred to above. After the first year, we never see most of them again, is it a fad, why? I think we, all of us, need to reevaluate our educational system, starting with who is doing the teaching and what is being taught.
None of this is a criticism but rather a unique observation from 30,000 feet.