Beekeeping for about 8 years in Canada.
I was very enthusiastic when I started beekeeping. My father was very proud that I decided to continue our family legacy. We talked online almost every day and he helped me remember all that he taught me years ago when I was younger.
My first kick off failed after two seasons, although it seemed promising. From 10 nucs me and my partner at the time got to 20 hives in the second season. Then we lost almost all of them over the winter, by going treatment free.
Don't get me wrong, treatment free works, but only if it is done properly. Michael Bush already demonstrated this in his book The Practical Beekeeper. Unfortunately, at that time I thought that I could make it work even if I did not do it exactly like he did. I missed some points that were crucial.
I restarted differently, began treating, and I got almost where I wanted. This time, after 4 seasons, at 65 hives, the failure came from my health state. I could not keep up with the amount of work I put myself into. After too much strain in the construction work I was doing before beekeeping, plus working the hives on a daily basis, my body warned me that enough is enough. A chronic lower back pain forced me to lay down for longer periods and after that, I could not lift the boxes anymore. I could not prepare the hives for the Winter and I ended up with half of them dead in the Spring.
After another hard season, I decided to take a break from beekeeping. It was not working for me anymore. I sold everything, because I could not bare to see any more dead hives on account of my health status and other problems.
When I started to have back problems, I thought about the worst case scenario, that I could end up in a wheelchair. That idea made me search for a way to do beekeeping in such an extreme case. After reading Janko Bozic's book A-Z Beekeeping in the Slovenian Hive I found that people in Slovenia already have a program for people with disabilities to do beekeeping. I really like their AZ Slovenian hive, but it is not compatible with Langstroth equipment that most people use. Still, it is the most promising hive type I have seen so far, both easy on the bees and on the beekeeper.
I have bees again now, but not because I bought more. A couple of swarms took residence in my very old boxes that I had stacked behind my shed. I was so touched about this that it made me realize that I missed the connection with them, I missed the peace and tranquility I had in the bee yard, the taste of the fresh honey comb, the joy I was bringing to others when I was offering them a jar of honey. This started a change in the way I looked at beekeeping.
Inner work and new discoveries.
While learning about myself, the connection with nature, that we are all ONE, I realized that I was doing it all wrong. I also realized that I always had a connection with the bees, but I did not use it, although I was trying to listen to the bees. I was too focused on what I wanted to do with them. The bees were always telling me what they wanted, I just took no time to listen to them.
When I was doing my inner work, I realized that when we transform beekeeping, or any other animal husbandry, into an industry, or a daily work to feed our family, we start to treat the bees less and less as a family member and more like a slave. We still care for them, but we put them into a lot more stress than we should, just to be able to get what we want from them.
The honeybees are holy beings. Not only do they provide an important role in nature’s ecosystem, but all the products that come from the honeybee colony are extremely helpful for the human health. The bees deserve to be treated with respect and although we are using their work to get their healthy products, that should be done with more care and without adding stress.
So, this is my newly adopted beekeeping philosophy. Work with care and respect for the bees and allow them to take care of, and respect you. A holistic way to do beekeeping, so that both the bees and the humans can be in harmony with each other.
The holistic beekeeping is not something new that I invented. It has been here for ages. Somehow, focused on increasing production, we forgot about it. For example, Abbe Emile Warre clearly explained in his book Beekeeping For All about (his) People's Hive that the bees that are less stressed by hive manipulations are more healthy. It makes sense, just think about us, humans. It happens the same with us. He proposed his hive model as a way to let the bees live more naturally, while still allowing us humans to benefit from their abundance.
When I think about how we harvest the products from the hive, I realize that we always put the bees through a lot of stress. We stress them when we harvest honey, when we collect pollen, when we scrape propolis from the frames, when we remove the burr comb for wax, when we harvest royal jelly. We stress them every single time when we go through the hive frame by frame. They have to do extra work to reasses the situation and to heat back the hive after every intervention. Plus, we shake, brush, smoke, and many times crush some of them. We can't skip inspecting the hives, because we have to make sure they are healthy, but we can do it less often and with more care, not in a hurry.
Another stress factor is the use of pesticides all around us. And the reduced surface of natural food variety (weeds) that is getting smaller, season after season, for our need to expand. Trees are cut, meadows are cleared, to make room for new houses or crop fields. And the honeybees are not the only ones affected. All native pollinators and other insects, birds and animals that make the ecosystem are affected.
A better solution, to live in harmony.
Let’s find ways to minimize that stress. We can stop cutting down the trees, stop mowing huge lawns around the property, on the side of the roads, etc. We can plant pollinator friendly flowers that are good and healthy for the bees. Change the hives to let the bees build their own comb, or use the AZ Slovenian hive, use the Flow Frames, use a different active board for the pollen traps, and so on. Even the use of electronic hive surveillance technology will help, so we don’t have to open the hives so often. It will be easier on them, and on us too. Beekeeping will be more expensive, of course, but we all will be happier and healthier.
And the bees will thrive.