Why We Need Bees and More People Becoming Organic Beekeepers
Bees teach us how to live our life in a way that by taking what we need from the world around us, we leave the world better than we found it.
Beekeeping is rising in popularity — from urban rooftops to backyard hives, the world is abuzz with interest in homemade honey. And who better to comment on the nature of bees than the former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association, Ross Conrad.
MG: Describe briefly beekeeping as a business. How much energy do you focus on honey production?
RC: Honey production is not the focus of my beekeeping business at all. The focus is on caring for the honey bees and keeping the colonies as healthy and vibrant as possible. This means primarily reducing stress on the bees. In fact the only consistent observation that has been made of hives suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is that the bees in infected colonies are always suffering from stress that has caused the bee’s immune systems to collapse. While there are numerous stresses that the bees must deal with that we cannot directly control (see below), there are numerous other stresses on the hive that we do have control over. Such stressors include reducing chemical contaminants in the hive, eliminating the presence of antibiotics in the hive, making sure that the bees are fed a healthy diet of honey and pollen from a wide variety of plants and that the hives have access to clean uncontaminated water. When the bees health needs are taken care of, a honey harvest tends to be the natural result.
MG: Let’s say I’m an aspiring small-scale farmer, or beginning life on a homestead, or merely thinking of expanding my urban garden. Why should I keep bees, in terms of honey production, and their pollination benefits, etc?
RC: The biggest benefit honey bees provide is pollination. Pollination fees are what is keeping the beekeeping industry alive today. Honey is really a byproduct of pollination. Why should anybody keep bees? As suggested above, the life support systems of our planet are collapsing. The forests are disappearing, desert regions are growing, the climate is shifting so that some areas are getting dryer, other areas are getting wetter, some areas are getting colder, other areas are getting warmer, and our oceans are collapsing with large dead zones, acidification, giant “islands” of floating plastic debris, collapsing fisheries, and ocean animals that are dying in greater numbers every day from cancer. My observation is that it is our industrial civilization that is, if not the actual cause of all this destruction, it is certainly contributing to the devastation. As a member of this society then, I am partly responsible and part of the problem. This is a wonderful thing, for if I am part of the problem, then I have the responsibility and am empowered to be part of the solution.
One of the greatest lessons we learn from the honey bee is in observing how they go about making their “living” here on earth. As they go about their business collecting pollen, nectar, propolis and water (everything they need to survive) they do not harm or kill anything in the process. Unless they feel threatened and are forced to defend themselves, not so much as a leaf on a plant is harmed. In the process of taking what they need to survive they in turn give back more than they take and make the world a better place through the pollination the plants. This gift of pollination ensures that the plants can thrive and reproduce in vast numbers which produces a large variety of seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and vegetable in all shapes and sizes, which in turn ensures an abundance of food for all the rest of the insects, animals and people on the planet. This is the ultimate lesson that the bees teach us and challenge us to accomplish: How to live our life in a way that by taking what we need from the world around us we leave the world better than we found it.
Each one of us who takes care of the honey bees and makes sure that there is adequate habitat and flowering plants for the native pollinators in our regions, is indirectly through the good work of these pollinators, making the world a better place for all of creation. This is the kind of healing our beautiful blue-green planet needs desperately at this time in history.