A swarm of bees entering a newly discovered home for the first time.
“I’ve seen the meanness of humans till I don’t know why god ain’t
put out the sun and gone away.” Cormack McCarthy
In this post we would like to address a very frequently asked question: How can I help the bees? And if you are known as a beekeeper, you may often be confronted with this question yourself. As more and more people open their hearts to the honeybee, and indeed other pollinators facing great challenges today, we set out briefly how our thinking about ‘helping the bees’ has evolved in recent times.
The Natural Beekeeping Trust was established to provide education on methods of bee husbandry more gentle, more “bee-centered” than those advocated in conventional beekeeping. This was the focus of our work for many years.
Conventional in this context denotes an approach guided by the belief that bee colonies need help from beekeepers to survive. Conventional beekeeping today thus advocates the management of bee colonies for maximum honey production as well as the use of synthetic substances for the treatment of bee diseases and teaches varying forms of control over wild bee nature. The possibility of acquiring qualifications testifying to different degrees of ‘mastership” in those skills also exists.
Over the years we, as well as those who work with us closely, have made interesting observations on the bee colonies in our care. Simply put: those left undisturbed fared best. Indeed, so well that some of them are extant after ten years of receiving neither treatments against varroa nor any other beekeeper ministrations.
Comparing notes with other beekeepers who had been led to leaving their hives undisturbed, both here in the UK but also our contacts in many other countries, we found that substantial numbers of people find joy and fulfilment in the pleasure of the bees’ unstressed company, observing them closely, learning about them, learning from them. It is this we wish to encourage now.
Starting last year with the publication of “Darwinian Beekeeping” scientific evidence of the honeybees’ capacity to fare better in the wild, free from any beekeeper input, has been accumulating fast, which prompted us to create, with the invaluable help of Dr David Heaf, an educational resource on our website that is beyond compare. Here you will find a lot of scientific validation of what we hope will be your choice to allow the honeybee a lifestyle closely aligned to how it lives in the wild.
Honeybees are not in need of our help to regulate the life within the hive. They do that very well themselves. Beekeepers will sometimes argue that they are needed to protect bees from the parasites and viri that assail them, but in the wild bees simply adapt in any way they can, as they have done for millions of years. If bees really were to become dependent on us finding ever more ways to treat their ailments we should look into a very uncertain future.
So what do bees need from us? Bees need nesting places (1), and they need a wide variety of pollen and nectar sources. Good nutrition is the wellspring of good health. They need to live on they honey they have collected, and not on poor substitutes provided by human beings who have robbed them of their honey. They do not need us to treat them against varroa and other challenges to their health. Any activities we engage in as beekeepers to protect the colonies in our care from parasites, virus attacks and diseases are measures that delay if not prevent the development of a natural gene pool of honeybees in the world. As long as medication dependent bees predominate in any given region, the evolvement of good genetic pools is actively hindered. Wild living honeybees are vital. They deserve our encouragement and protection in favour of managed hives whose ubiquitousness can pose risks to other pollinators.
In brief, you will not necessarily help honeybees by becoming a beekeeper or by inviting beekeepers on your land. If you have little time to tend to honeybees, do please take the time to study their biology, their life and habits and their preferences before you invite them into your life, on your land. Make sure that sufficient forage, organically grown, is available in your immediate environment. Once the place you offer is right for the bees, the bees will find you, and thank you.
Living in peace with the honeybee you will become aware over time how much the bees give and how deep is our indebtedness to them. Attending to honeybees with love and interest helps us appreciate that they are helping us in more ways than we can imagine.
We wish you a good summer. Please be mindful, if you have bees in your care, that prolonged drought conditions place the colonies under severe stress as nectar becomes scarce.
Some information/ ideas of hives/nesting sites you might wish to consider providing for honeybees, and some inspiration:
Learning from Wild bees
Log hive designs and rationale
Bee House http://www.beesfordevelopment.org/our-work/innovation-the-bee-house/
Keeping them Sweet
The True Beekeeper
Beecentered vs. conventional beekeeping
The World’s Mantra