I’ve written previously about the sayings my grandfather used to repeat. Some recent interactions with people on Facebook have me thinking of yet another one. He would say, “if you accept mediocrity, sooner or later mediocrity is all you will get”. With all of the media attention that honeybees have been getting in recent years there’s been a lot of interest in beekeeping. That’s great! It’s why I got into beekeeping too!
Here’s the thing though. Not everyone understands animal husbandry. Animal husbandry is the Science of breeding and caring for animals. The responsibility of animal husbandry is bigger than anticipated when one gets started with beekeeping. When selections are made there are consequences. I touched on this when I wrote about the Russian Fox experiment. Making selections based on the bite response alone resulted in totally unexpected changes in those foxes. Therefore we need to be careful EVERY TIME we do something that could alter selection. Any time we perpetuate traits we are committing to future actions.
I keep meeting people on Facebook that think we need to SAVE bees. First off think about how narcissistic that sounds! Let’s think about this logically. Where I live the single biggest factor affecting bees appears to be habitat loss. This is done by 2 methods (here): 1) the cutting down of trees that would make suitable cavities and 2) any plant life besides corn and soybeans are mowed or sprayed with herbicide. Even with these conditions there are feral bees to be found ANYWHERE pockets of SUITABLE HABITAT exists. Amazingly this is despite neonicotinoids seed coatings being used on the majority of planted acres.
So if feral bees are living in this “harsh” environment unaided by humans why are kept bees so hard to keep?
I’d like to propose a hypothesis…. “Beekeepers are allowing for mediocrity to persist in their genetic lines that feral populations do not tolerate.” In the feral population any bees that are not outstanding enough to overcome competition and overwinter are immediately removed from the breeding population. This does not occur in managed hives when mediocre lines are perpetuated by feeding, treating, and intense management. I hear so many reasons for all of these activities, from “I paid $150 for my bees”, to “because I split I needed to feed”.
Feeding sugar to bees “because the beekeeper did something”, reminds me a lot of my day-job. Why do we give potassium pills to so many humans? because we gave them a diuretic for their blood pressure or fluid retention that wasted their potassium. Note how giving the 2 medications DID NOTHING to address the cause of high blood pressure or fluid retention. The only thing that changed was a paying customer taking 2 medications, and a future reliance on both of them.
People are called “bee-havers” if they allow their bees to do as nature intended. After people like that stop slapping their knees and get over them-selves, explain to them THAT’S THE POINT! It’s really not that witty, so ENOUGH! Beekeeping is a relatively simple thing. Many of the old beekeeping books I read state that in the 1800’s a lot of people got started by capturing swarms as a children. Children were keeping bees back then. NOW educated adults, on-line, are telling me that not treating bee maladies is the same as not treating MY children for a disease. Come one people!
I am asked all the time if I would treat my child if they became ill. To them I say.. It depends. If they have a cold, I will let them get over it. If they have pneumonia, I’m gonna get them on some antibiotics. It would be an emotional decision, because it was my child. Deciding whether to keep a colony of bees alive is a business and animal husbandry decision. Mixing emotional decisions into your business plan can be bad for business. To those who claim they care for bees like their children…. I have one question for you. This is going to sound ridiculous, but I feel I will put this in terms to show how crazy it really is.
Would you OPEN your child up on a weekly basis to INSPECT them to assess their health? If you would, I suggest you stop reading this blog forever. Now that they’re gone let talk management.
Management decisions translate to selections and have repercussions that you will be faced with in the future. Think of it in pure time management. Anything you devote inordinate amounts of time to NOW keeping 2 hives will be perpetuated in genetic lines that will require MORE WORK when you have 10 hives. By making excuses for laggards NOW you will have more laggards in the future. Accepting mediocrity leads to people quitting beekeeping.
In plant husbandry no one is bothered by making proper selections. If you have a tomato start that doesn’t look right it is ruthlessly selected against. Plants that do not meet the standard of what the breeder desires will be culled. I’m not suggesting that we cull ANY bee hives. However we should allow nature to handle that selection, and most importantly NOT prevent it. Virtually every type of lettuce we eat today initially came from something similar to a thistle plant. Most thistles have sharp spikey leaves that would be uncomfortable to eat. The reason that lettuce DOESN’T, is because spikey leaves were selected against by our ancestors. The desire for more of something is integral to your selection criteria. Do you want more hives that you need to take care of? Or would you like more hives that take care of themselves? Depending on what YOU WANT make your selection.
Speaking of Facebook there’s a lot of discussion about how many people get into beekeeping and then quit after 2 years. Beekeeping is a lot of work no matter what you do. Your management decisions should be made to make your beekeeping future easier, allowing you to spend time on important things instead of busy work. Perpetuating lines of bees that require treatment regimen schedules, sugar syrup mixing, and weekly visits sounds like busy-work to me. If you are going to do all that work do it on the front end by building some swarm traps that can be used for years into the future. Some of the bees you catch and hive will die, sometimes many of them, but the ones that remain are hardy and productive. Having some of your bees die every year provides you with things needed in your beekeeping operation so don’t view it as a failure.
Think about it before you accept mediocrity. Doing so leads to unintended selections. The way to save Bees, is to let them do their thing! As they have done since becoming a highly adaptable successful species. LET THEM BE BEES!
So what do we do?
Saving bees….. but what do you think?
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