Throughout the long shared history, and co-evolution of Apis Mellifera and humans, honey bees have adapted to almost all of the different climates and landscapes this Good Earth has to offer. From the dry heat of Yemen, to the cold mountainous valleys of Russia, the damp grey heath lands of the British Isles, all the way to the sunny plains of the American Midwest, honey bees have proven to be true survivors. With the ability to make a home out of a hollow cavity in a “bee” tree, the over hang of craggy rocks, or boxes nailed together by human hands, bees’ adaptability has proven time and again to be their evolutionary ace-in-the-hole. As long as there is adequate forage of wild flowers, weeds, and other flowering plants for them to collect pollen and nectar from, and a source of water, bees will make a home.
While it is true that the co-evolution of bees and humans has played out over millennia, it is only in the last few hundred years with the rise of industrial agriculture and modern civilization that the honey bee has been truly domesticated. And with this domestication comes all the problems, afflictions, disease, and trappings that co-exist and thrive when animals (or in this case insects) are forced to live in ways counter to their evolutionary upbringing. Despite the problems that modern day bees and their human keepers face, whether it is the varroa mite, disease, or loss of habitat; resilience and adaptability remain our strongest allies in this fight for survival – not just for the bees, but for Humankind as well.
Even though it appears that the cards are stacked against the bees right now, I do believe that it is not too late to change the direction of current events. In the same way modern day homesteaders (both urban & rural) are taking back control of where their food comes from, divorcing themselves from consumer culture, and ultimately creating the world they want to live in; we can help create, facilitate and support a symbiotic relationship between us and honey bees. While the easy answer to the continued existence of honey bees would be to shut the doors on Monsanto and Bayer Corp, outlaw all pesticides, herbicides, and GMO crops, and no longer rely on industrial agriculture to feed us – the reality is much different. In a world of 7 billion people who all want to eat, the current paradigm of food production will not voluntarily change to accommodate the survival of the honey bee. That is up to us – the bee keepers, backyard gardeners, urban homesteaders, and organic farmers.
What follows are a few thoughts and ideas on what we can do to help aid the honey bee, and ultimately humans, in the fight against industrial agriculture and the Destroyer Mentality ….
More Bee Keepers – I don’t know who said this, but I heard a quote that went something like this – “ We don’t need one beekeeper with 10,000 hives, we need 10,000 beekeepers with a few hives.” I think this is incredibly important. We need more people involved with the bees, and we need greater number of bees, but in less density. When beekeepers follow the pollination routes from California to Florida, with hives congregated in the tens of thousands for a few weeks at a time, with the bees relying on high fructose corn syrup for nutrition, of course the bees are going to get sick and spread disease. By keeping our operations smaller, and more diverse, we can monitor more closely for disease and varroa, and ultimately figure out more holistic ways for remedying these problems.
Let Bees be Bees – So much of beekeeping in the last 200 years has been figuring out ways to make the bees produce more honey so we can sell it for money. Plastic foundation with a larger cell size, stealing too much of their honey, and feeding processed shit back to them all weaken the bees‘ ability to survive on their own. While I do not have an issue with people incorporating bees into their home businesses, it is the scale at which it is done that is the problem. When we turn the bees into machines, and repeatedly strip them of their food, we weaken their genetic base, and in the end breed a weaker, less resilient bee.
Habitat – At the same time that the bee was being domesticated, we were also in the process of converting our original wild prairie grasslands and forests into agricultural behemoths. This has continued through the present, and now we are plowing under that farm land to build suburbia. Because of this habitat loss, the feral population of bees in the United States has been decimated. Without the wild nooks and crannies available, it has gotten much harder for the honey bee to survive on its’ own. The more we can do to start replanting forests, reclaiming prairies, and greening our urban landscapes, the better the bees will do. It is a daunting task, and currently maybe impossible to achieve, but we have to try! Create bee gardens on boulevards and front yards, plant fruit trees and other bee friendly plants, and let those dandelions grow!
Education – Most gardeners, homesteaders and holistic, organic farmers already know the benefit of honey bees. It is our duty then to help educate the general populace about the beautiful, little creature that Apis Melliferra is. Yes, bees can sting you, but it is a misconception that they are out to get us. They tend to be gentle, and only get aggressive when truly stressed or threatened. That said, if the general perception of the honey bee can be changed from pest to beneficial insect we will all be in a better place. That education starts with our kids. If we can raise a generation of people to not be scared of bugs, and bees in particular, then we will have made some big progress. When kids learn from an early age about the beneficial aspects of insects, the less likely they are to support a life filled with poisons created by Monsanto and Bayer Corp.
These four points of interest and action are only a beginning. The world of bee keeping is continually evolving and innovating. There are many hive designs that are well worth experimenting with – Warre and Top Bar hives to name just two. Brood cycle interruptions and different non-poison based treatments to combat varrao, and a spirit of cooperation with the bees, other bee keepers, and the general public will see us through the crisis of modern day bee keeping. I am not an expert about bees, or the husbandry that goes into keeping them, but I am passionate and can be humble about this past time that is close to my heart. While I have done the best to present accurate information – do research, get stung a few times, get your fingers sticky with propolis and come to your own conclusions. But most of all, create safe and verdant places for honey bees in your homestead, neighborhood, city, state, and Planet …. Peace & Cheers
Here are a few links that I have found lately that have been helpful, educating, and inspiring ….
This is a presentation Sam Comfort gave about top bar hives, DIY queen breeding and his story of keeping bees. Anarchy Apiaries is his company, and he has a lot of great stuff on his blog! Here is part 2, part 3, part 4 …
The Strathcona Bee Keepers of BC, Vancouver, Canada, have put together a wonderful web library of how-to’s, resources, and a ton of videos. This website will keep you busy all winter!
BeeSource is the latest forum I have found and it is all about bees. If you have a question, it has most likely already been asked and you can find the answer here, sign up today!