A Curious Beekeeper thinks about hive types and bullying

I was making my way through the pile of unread material on my desk and came across what was labeled as a special feature in the American Beekeeping Federation Quarterly by Albert Chubak entitled  “Bullying as Related to Modern Beekeeping.”

Uh Oh.  I know I felt run off of the Warre’ Forum here on Facebook, but bullying, I don’t know if I’d call it that so much as a discussion/argument I didn’t feel there was point in pursuing.  This beekeeping is supposed to be fun after all – at least for those who are engaging in it as a hobby.

We have our own issues and our own failings as communicators – by which I mean – there are some beekeeping issues I have a very short fuse on – Truth in Advertising is one for me.  I also fall into the communication trap all too often in part because I am convinced that all beekeeping is really local, and my conclusion that many – if not most – new beekeepers believe they know everything by the end of their third year and insinuate in their communication that everyone who has ever kept bees must be a stupid idiot not to innately see things the way they do.

I used to be an active poster/reader of the Beesource forum.  The arguments there about treatment free beekeeping versus more conventional beekeeping were the stuff of legends.  Some of the posters there still wonder what they walked into.

Nowadays I try, not as always successfully as I’d like, to see value in many different approaches to beekeeping, and to appropriate what I consider good ideas into my own beekeeping, regardless of where the idea came from.  For example, I think the quilt box on the Warre´  Hive a wonderful idea, and I’m starting to keep some on my Langs year round.  (My own Warre´ experiences are stuck in start up mode, as my efforts with the hive the past two summers were interrupted by Bruins, and I’m not talking about those that play hockey in Boston.)

Looking back at beekeeping history, I don’t conclude that Langstroth’s hive was so wonderful that the whole world adopted it because it was the cat’s meow, but rather Langstroth’s design was something that could be standardized and made easily transportable. The ease of transportation is what led to the birth of beekeeping industries (honey production and crop pollination) in the United States.

I realize that Albert sells a specialized hive type and on-line sales are undoubtedly linked to his perceptions of bullying.  He is a Facebook friend.  I do not own or use any of his hives.

Maine bee laws (and I presume that of most other States & Provinces) mandate that bees be kept on removable frame hives.  So no skeps or gums – no nailing down Warre´ frames.    There is, very little enforcement.  Depending on your vantage point that can be a good or a bad thing.

Focusing on bullying: it can be hard to criticize an idea without making the criticism seem like a personal attack.  It feels to me like it would go without saying that claims need to be backed up, with reliable data.  If scientific data is lacking, the tests done to date need to be reproducible.  “It works for me” and “I saw it on the Internet” aren’t good enough for me.

I’m ok with speculation, as I think most people are, if it is labeled as speculation.

Part of being curious is to look at bee biology and bee teaching methods from around the world.  We’ve got several marvelous books on Bee Biology – there are three I like, one published recently, one published in the UK, and a classic.  I’m limited to the English language so for the most part my research is restricted to North America, the UK and Australia/New Zealand.  There is lots of great stuff coming out of Canada these days (particularly Ontario)   Australia’s Bee Aware has great videos too, particularly those framed in terms of Bio-Security.

Albert’s article talks a bit about the blinders new beekeepers can encounter at clubs.  I imagine if you are expecting to talk about the finer point of successfully over wintering your Kenya Style Top Bar Hive at your typical Bee Club in Maine, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.  There just aren’t that many people who have experience with that hive type.

Keepers of bees in non Langstroth hives may very well find themselves in a situation where they need to do some educating.  People in clubs are generally open to getting education.  Though not when their made to feel stupid as part of the learning process.  This can happen when beliefs (and myths) about bee behavior and management are shared. 

And it is important to remember that keeping bees in a box of any type is not exactly natural.  Bees cope remarkably well in a variety of hive types.

I like to think that beekeepers are open minded.  It may take some time and adjustments to language to find that open mindedness, but it is there.  I applaud the person who objects to doing regular alcohol washes because they have trouble finding the queen.  That’s communication.

Andrew Dewey