Friday 11 January 2013


I also belong to Jonathan Powell's Frome & Bruton area natural beekeeping forum and saw this excellent post there last night. It was so good I imediately asked Jonathan & Emma's permission to share it here whuch they kindly granted. Emma is also a member of YABeeP. Enjoy

Robin Morris
YABeeP Web Editor:

Bees and Tolstoy

Just reading 'Honey and Dust' by Piers Moore-Ede and was struck by this quote from Tolstoy (an avid beekeeper):

Tolstoy by Repin 1901
(picture Wikipedia)
"A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people. A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower, and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers. A bee-keeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey. Another bee-keeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely, says that the bee gathers pollen-dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race. A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bees existence. Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee. But the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first, the second, or any of the processes the human mind can discern. The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension. All that is accessible to man is the relation of the life of the bee to other manifestations of life."

Tolstoy in War and Peace (First Epilogue ch. 1)

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year.

Jonathan's response:


That is a great quote. While writing the course I have been thinking very hard about what is natural beekeeping? It seems very clear to me that it is when we are supportive of the bee bien#1 (here I use the
German word which covers the undividable bee organism which includes the three castes, comb, shelter, micro bacteria local flower environment etc). So natural beekeeping requires us to understand what that is first before we can be supportive.

Your quote reminds me that humans can see something and have so many different views of the same thing, and true insight on what the bien is probably requires years of not only study (because we are not
bees!) but also reflection on what our motives are and how that might colour our views.

So, if we say that bees are not greedy (they share their food equally and all die together when they run out, they feed the drones and heater bees, they fly to exhaustion in summer) then if we take honey we should remember that the bien is not greedy.

If we say the bien is without delusion (they will eat their own brood when there is no food, they supercede the queen when she starts to fail, they kick out drones when they are of no further use, they dump sick bees away from the hive) then perhaps we should not try reverse situations which are beyond hope and not be afraid of the bold decisions for the good of the bien.

Do we support the bee environment with our shopping choices? Do we use weed killers?

Is what I am doing best done by the bien - after all they have been doing this stuff for 20 million years ?

The bien has no hierarchy - so is bee KEEPER the correct approach?

There are so many aspects we could consider and apply that to what we do.

I think we can slip in and out of being a natural beekeeper depending on our understanding of the bien. When I take a flight, I'm not being a natural beekeeper as I'm not supportive of the environment - it's a
choice I have made. I personally think that following the bee bien is very good for humans - it gives us great insight. For others they may think that its just an insect that gives us honey. Going back to your quote - it depends on your view point.

Editor's comment:
Contact details of the Frome & Bruton natural beekeeping group can be found under "Other local natural beekeeping groups:" in the right hand column.

Dare I suggest that the second beekeeper in Tolstoy's quote describes a natural beekeeper?

#1Bien is a German word (pronounced bean) meaning the whole being of the colony - see this page from Gaia Bees for a fuller explanation.

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