Friday 11 June 2010

I've a problem what should I do?

As the so say 'leader' of our group I often get asked about issues and problems someone has with their bees despite the fact that I always start our meetings by explaining that I'm a relatively new beekeeper and am certainly no bee expert.

Happy bees
Luckily we now have a few far more experienced bee people in our group and are well connected to 'experts' to call on. We can also use the internet forums like Biobees (my personal favourite for sustainable beekeeping) to seek views and advice.

Using our group's resources will often give us a clear answer and strategy of what to do. However, sometime it's not so clear or we find that there is a wide range of, often differing, views and opinions. This is especially true when seeking views on internet forums where respondents can come from a wide range of different climate and cultural backgrounds or are at a different stage along their path to sustainable beekeeping - always bear this in mind when seeking forum opinions.

So many opinions, what do I do? 
When I'm in doubt about what to do with bees because of a wide range of conflicting opinions my own philosophy as a sustainable beekeeper is to first ask myself what would the bees do in the wild?  If I can answer this then I facilitate them to do just that.

If you can't answer that question then I would suggest that you leave them alone or at least choose the least interference option, they know far more about bees than we humans ever will so they are far better equipped to sort any situations out. I really believe that, athough our intentions may well be good, the more we interfere the worse we make it for them. This 'leave alone' principle can be very hard for us to do for, as humans, we cannot help but think we must help, we have answers - human nature makes it difficult to trust others, especially when the others are only insects, despite the fact that they have had 40 million years of evolution to learn the ropes! 
Exposed colony in Bristol center

Ask yourself what's the worst that can happen? 
It probably won't happen, but they could die off - but should we see this as a failure? I think not. We have to accept that in the wild, as in captivity, colonies do sometimes die out quite naturally; maybe this is nature saying that their genetics or some other aspect was not good enough - the survival of the fittest at work. I believe that the best lesson we can then learn is to accept this as nature being nature and doing what she knows best.

The alternative is to interfere ourselves and do what we think is right. They can still die off because what we did was either not correct or it added further stress to already stressed bees. If they die following our interference then their death certainly is our fault for interfering.

The Advantages of Sustainable Beekeeping
To me one of the advantages of sustainable beekeeping is that we don't have to heavily invest, both in time and money, in our craft with expensive hives, weekly inspections and all the beekeeping paraphernalia that goes with more conventional methods. After all, if you've invested heavily then you're under huge pressure to interfere to try and guarantee your 'crop' and recover some of your investment. It's far easier for us to sit back and see nature take control.

I hope this helps, please forgive the ramblings of an old man!

Robin - June 2010