I belong to the Greater Seacoast Permaculture Group (organized through MeetUp.com) based out of Dover, New Hampshire. Although Dover is about a half hour drive from my house its well worth it. In the year that I have belonged to this group I have learned so much invaluable information and skills. From dehydrating, root cellaring, infusing herbs, and making cider to the first steps in bee keeping. Many of the members of the group keep bees so there is plenty of opportunities for mentoring and/or pulling me off the edge.
The Bee Partners were formed with a few goals in mind. To learn more about the honeybee, to study the problems facing all pollinators and to bring information about the plight of the pollinators and what can be done (to the general public).
Our first meeting was attended by four people, not the turnout we were looking for but at least there were some. Here we decided that we wanted to study, Natural Beekeeping, Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, by Ross Conrad. Most of us are Permaculturists so we wanted to partner with the bees in a gentle and non-toxic way. We then set our next meeting with the agreement that we would read the first chapter.
We must be the change we wish to see in the world.
Chapter 1. Why Organic Beekeeping?
- The Hive as Teacher – The honey bee, Apis Mellifera, is an import from Europe. We do have native bees here, but none produce the honey that we harvest. These are the bees that are the focus of the Colony Collapse Disorder. But, we can’t forget that what is affecting these bees is affecting all pollinators.
The relationship between honeybees and the plant kingdom is a powerful and intricate orchestration of interdependence and cooperation. Bees are one of the only creatures in the animal kingdom that does not kill or injure any being as it goes about its regular life cycle. In fact, it improves that which it harvests from.
Daily Honeybee Life Lesson: We should take what we need to live in the world in such a way that we do little or no harm. At the same time give something back and improve upon things, thus making the world a better place.
The Holistic Approach to Beekeeping views the bee and hive environment as a biological model. One that is nature based and includes the concepts of coexistence and tolerance thus precluding the use of toxins.
The Large Agro Approach views the bigger and better model and accepts no disease. This zero tolerance mentality gives birth to the toxic chemical treatments typically used in Big Agro and has been embraced by many in the beekeeping world.
- Toxic Chemicals Infiltrate the Classroom – In 1987 keeping honeybees was the only widespread agricultural endeavor in the US that was not reliant on toxins. Around this time was when the parasitic mite Varroa destructor was first found in hives in the US. What started out as a small infestation quickly spread throughout the US due inpart to the migratory commercial beekeepers. This mite infest bee colonies and sucks the blood of the bees, causing weight loss and deformities, spreading disease, suppressing immunity, and reduces life span. Causing a marked percentage loss of hives.
The response to these losses followed the same path that other agricultural groups that have had a need to control insect pests. Beekeepers turned to toxic chemicals. Now I’m reading this and it makes me wonder why no one at the time said, “Ah, excuse me, but are you really suggesting we use insecticides to treat a insect problem on another insect?” This has not really worked well, as we know, that insects have a great capacity of developing resistances to toxins.
- CheckMite (which is so toxic that the EPA is trying to ban it)
These toxins accumulate and are found in the beeswax and honey. So that means they are found in our bodies. Degenerative metabolic diseases such as; cancer, ADHD, autism, birth defects and mental handicaps are all linked to toxins used in our food supply. Honey is suppose to be a superfood and healer! This sentence alone should make you buy organic local honey from now on! Further studies have shown that the same effects are being realized in the bees as well and perhaps the real culprit of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
- The Meaning of Organic – Despite widespread belief to the contrary, the term organic does not mean that the final crop or product is free from toxic chemical contaminants. Due to manufactures and marketing ploys, it came to be that organic meant pure and chemical-free. Originally the organic approach referred to a management style and philosophy that is biological in nature. Rather than being a statement about product purity, organic was all about the big picture.
- Organic referred to approaches that care for the life in the soil and minimize the use of nonrenewable inputs and energy sources, such as those derived from petroleum. The principles embraced an attitude of fairness and care in regard to our common environment, as well as social concerns such as the welfare of farm workers.
One of the original aims of organic agriculture was to establish a sense of stewardship for the Earth, embracing human-scale operations that fit harmoniously with the landscape and local community.
This does not mean that they are free of toxins as its primary focus, it often results in such. It is a long standing practice of organic farmers to make the use of beneficial insects. Some farmers use traps that mimic the effect of natural predators.
The industrial approach is the desire to maximize production. When applied to agriculture, this typically results in the drive to push biological organisms to the limits of their capacity. Unfortunately, the focus on increasing our harvest seems to distract our attention from the quality of the crop that is being produced and the health of the plants or livestock that are doing the producing. As we see this evident in the production of commercial honey. Activities such as the use of chemical mite controls or the feeding of sugar syrups and pollen substitutes, although beneficial to honey production in the short term, ultimately may weaken the vitality of the hive and increase its vulnerability to diseases and pests.
The industrial model encourages large-scale production under the ‘economy of scale’ argument that has been the drumbeat of US schools of agriculture since the end of WWII. If you want to be profitable, you must grow larger. Post WWII period there was an increase in mechanization with an increase in outsourcing:
- Outsourcing pieces of work that they had done themselves:
- producing fertilizer
- cleaning and packaging their harvest
This was a first a great convenience that through time led to a drop in crop prices as all farmers were doing this practice. Before long the processing and packaging businesses were adding more economical value to the product than the farmer and they soon became the major players. We see this today with Monsanto being a huge force in the food production world. A super power that we may not be able to control.
With the onslaught of Varroa and other diseases, commercial beekeepers were the hardest hit. It is easier to fix and recover when you do not have a large hive collection. The commercial endeavor does not allow for the resting of bees. One of the best ways to combat the mite problem is to treat it before it reaches total infestation.
It is possible that a strain of varroa might evolve that learns to keep its reproductive rates low enough so as not to overwhelm a hive. The mites and bees have not been together long enough for a sustaining relationship to develop yet. Although, we are starting to see signs. Some honey bees have started to adapt their behavior so as to live with the mites. Apis cerana a species of Eastern honey bee has seemed to do just this. Perhaps similar behaviors can be introduced to the Western honey bee (A. mellifera). Hygienic bees have been developed that can detect sick or infested pupae that they then remove from the hive.
In 2002 the National Organic Program (NOP) was passed into law by Congress. Increased media reports of the ineffectiveness of conventional apiculture’s reliance on these chemicals to control predatory insects in the hive. The reports of massive hive collapses and the adverse affects on the pollinators. Have inspired a new wave of people to take up beekeeping, many of them wanting to get involved in an effort to find a way to help the honey bee survive and thrive without relying on chemotherapy treatments.
- Some Social Implications – It is important for beekeepers to share information with the non-beekeeping community to help educate them about the benefits of the honey bee. The importance of positive public relations as a preventive to public ignorance and prohibition of beekeeping activities will continue to expand. The growing demand for, and awareness of, organic foods by the general public may provide organically inclined beekeepers with a public relations edge over their conventional counterparts.
Help Your Local Honeybees
- Buy Local honey. That helps local beekeepers so they’re able to maintain their bee colonies in your community.
- Plant with honeybees in mind. If your family plants a garden or flowerpots, choose plants whose flowers will supply bees with nectar and pollen. Check with your local plant Nursery to find out what’s best to plant in your area. Keep in mind that bees are especially attracted to blue, purple and yellow flowers. Hummingbirds are attracted to red.
- Let weeds grow until their flowers are finished blooming. Bees benefit from having access to dandelions and clover. Even more important is to not use pesticides on grass and weeds.
- Encourage your local community to leave areas for plants around playgrounds, parks and parking lots.
Bee Partners Action Items
- Arbor Day activities – To develop bee related activities to coincide with the holiday:
- Bee Alive, a company that sells royal jelly based health products is planting fruit trees and their goal it one million trees. Have schools in the area plant bee friendly trees.
- Set up an outreach program with a local school to learn more about bees.
- Have the kids learn about bee friendly plants and have them plant them around the town
- Connect with local garden clubs and have them plant the towns’ dead spaces with bee friendly plants
- Vanishing of the Bees (healthhappinessandrunning.wordpress.com)
- Honeybees Take Sick Days Too (conservationbiologynews.wordpress.com)
- Busy with bees (pressrepublican.com)
- Waiting for the last Bee to come home (naturalbeekeepingtrust.wordpress.com)
- Protecting honey bees and humans (mysafetysign.com)
- What about the bees? (globalemma.wordpress.com)
- The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees, A Scientific Mystery Sandra Markle
- Where the Wild Bees Are: Documenting a Loss of Native Bee Species between the 1800s and 2010s (scientificamerican.com)
- Natural Beekeeping, Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture. Ross Conrad