A Skeptical Look at Natural Beekeeping

As I've previously stated, I've based what I'm doing on the “Natural Beekeeping” movement. This is, of course, an oxymoron, since keeping bees is not natural. The spirit of the movement however, is the same spirit as a lot of natural and organic activities, namely working as much as possible in harmony with nature and looking for ecologically friendly and sustainable methods. That sounds just wonderful in a Disneyesque kind of way, and I'm fine with that.

 

As someone that also calls himself a skeptic I feel that I should acknowledge the fact that much of the Natural Beekeeping Doctrine is based on conjecture and speculation, not hard science. Beliefs about chemical resistant parasites and viruses, the negative effects of pesticides, the dangers of monoculture, transporting hives, and hive design and management are all hotly debated topics that do not have clear, definitive scientific answers.

 

I tend to believe most of what is being said; That over treating of hives with drugs and chemicals ends up creating tougher threats and weaker bees, That the over use of pesticides on our crops and plants poses a danger to the ecosystem, and bees in particular, and that commercial beekeeping practices that seek to maximize honey production by forcing bees to behave in certain ways is bad for the health of the hives. But these are just beliefs based on others' opinions and anecdotes.

 

Overall, the veracity of the claims are of secondary importance to me. I am a beekeeper because I enjoy it, and I will practice beekeeping in a way that brings me the most satisfaction. Much the same reason as I support organic farming and gardening, even though objectively I understand that it isn't always a clear cut fact that it is “better” than large scale commercial farming. It is about community and lifestyle and feeling a connection with something bigger than myself (go ahead with your jokes on that last bit).

 

From things I have read on various forums and websites it seems that there is quite a bit of bad blood between many of the more contemporary beekeepers and the new crop of natural beekeepers. I've not experienced much of this directly, though I have had a couple of people tell me that I'm doing it wrong.

 

Natural beekeepers seem to feel that the traditional beekeepers are greedy villains, interested in exploiting bees to turn a profit, and the environment be damned. Traditional beeks look at the natural beeks as a bunch of hippie dreamers that allow hives to go wild and spread diseases and parasites.

 

It is a shame that more people aren't willing to listen to one another and find some common ground. Colony Collapse Disorder and the plagues of pests that threaten bees should be a clear signal that something is wrong. Whether it is the result of decades of unsustainable practices, or an inevitable change in the environment, bee colonies are in trouble and something needs to be done. The solutions may well be found in natural beekeeping movement, and the old school should really be willing to take a look and see if any of the new (or at least newly popular) methods might have some merit. On the other hand, Those old school beekeepers have a lot of knowledge and experience that only working hives for a long time can bring. We shouldn't immediate dismiss their practices and opinions as wrong. It is relatively easy for me as a hobbyist to say that I'm not going to treat my bees for some disease in the hopes that more disease-resistant bees will evolve from this decision. That isn't such an easy decision for someone whose whole livelihood and ability to support their family depends on the bees continued survival.

 

Sorry for the long rambling post. I've felt that my adherence to the idea of “Natural Beekeeping” was somewhat at odds with the skeptical lens I tend to apply to many other areas of my life. I've always been a bit of a closet tree-hugger, and don't apologize for that fact, but I thought I would at least explain it. I also hate to see such polarization in a community that should be working together towards a common goal. Ultimately it serves no purpose and will only slow down progress towards practical solutions. When you open a conversation with someone by telling them everything they are doing is wrong and insulting them, they aren't going to be terribly receptive to anything else you have to say. A bit of tact and respect can go a long way.