Friday, February 18, 2011

How Beekeeping Has Changed

My brain is so full of great information that I've gleaned from reading Fruitless Fall that I hope I can articulate some thoughts in a meaningful manner here on the blog. I don't want to spoil it for those reading the book, but I am a bit impatient to talk about what is going on in my mind. 

I really hadn't thought of some of these issues in depth, but when I read them, knowing what I know about agriculture and how we do things today, it rang very true and made sense. 

Beekeeping has changed.

Photo Credit: rogercarr

In the wild, a bee forages on whatever is blooming at the time within about a 2 mile radius of the hive. They can travel further, but 2 miles is the norm. And because different flowers and plants are blooming at different times during the year, bees have a varied diet over the course of a season. 

Having this varied diet is good for bees just like it's good for you. Different plants produce different nutrients. And bees need more than one or two nutrients. You wouldn't eat donuts 365 days a year, would you? (Please tell me no!). 

In the past, farmers grew a variety of crops and sold them locally. Farms adjacent to each other, might grow totally different crops. My husband's grandparents mainly grew potatoes and tomatoes, but other farmers near by grew carrots and other crops. So within a couple of miles, there was variety. And the bees had their nutritional needs met whether they were wild or kept in a hive box.

Photo Credit: Richard Johnstone

Today, farming is much different. Monocrops cover the countryside with very little to break up the landscape. Acres upon acres of single plant crops and orchards cover miles of territory so that bees see only one cultivated crop at a time. And with the widespread use of pesticides, native plants (and weeds) are almost non-existent in these same areas. 

It's true that beekeepers truck their bees to different areas of the country depending on what needs pollinating at that time (it seems to have worked well for both beekeeper and farmer - in the short run), but keep in mind that a worker bee who forages for the colony only lives 4 - 6 weeks. So during a particular bee's lifespan, it will only forage on one or two crops if it's working for a beekeeper who services the agriculture industry. 

Are you starting to form this picture in your mind? Do you see any problems with this?

Since the worker bee feeds the bee "babies", they ( the worker bees) are passing on the nutrients brought back into the hive to the babies. If there is only one crop for a diet, that is all the babies get. And if that crop is high in one nutrient, but low in another, that new baby bee will be deficient in whatever that crop is lacking. 

A lack of nutrients means weak bees with suppressed immune systems. A weak immune system means a bee susceptible to things like Varroa mites, nosema, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and the list goes on and on. It can also mean bees with deformities. And if the cycle continues through several generations (which is one season), imagine the stress on a hive during that time. 

Any wild thoughts running through your mind yet? Things like Colony Collapse Disorder?

Now I want to say a word here about monocrops. I've not studied the history of the emergence of monocrops, but one can probably assume that it came about as a result of simple economics - supply and demand. Or would that be demand and supply in this case? Oh, that it would have been out of the noble desire to feed the world, but I seriously doubt it. It's more likely that the world wanted cheap food to feed themselves. And Americans have been happy to accomodate.

Farmers who have succumbed to the monocrop practice are not evil and not greedy. They're just trying to make a living. But sometimes we need to look at the way we are doing things and assess whether or not it's working well for us. And if we look at what's happening to our bees (and our chickens, and our cows, and so on and so on...), it's not good. It's really amazing how dependent we are on God's created order, all the way down to the humble, little bee. But that discussion is for another post. 

Photo Credit: flickriver.com via Pinterest

If you have any inclination what-so-ever to keep bees, consider that you can give them a varied diet from your garden, around your property, and in a neighborhood. You probably have more to offer than you realize, and certainly more nutrients than a monocrop! 

Tell me your thoughts on this topic! I'm anxious to hear!


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