Nobody really knows for sure what causes Colony Collapse Disorder—”a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear”. It could be mites. It could be pesticides. It could be a number of things, or more likely a combination of factors. How do you fight an affliction when you don’t know what’s causing it?
One approach that seems to be working, perhaps unsurprisingly, is organic beekeeping: working in concert with nature, recreating natural conditions to keep bees healthy and happy—and, like the Slow Food and Slow Money movements, keeping things at a manageable size. The quest for more and bigger and faster and now is, mercifully, going out of fashion. Call it “Slow Apiculture.” Or, as Ross Conrad puts it, natural beekeeping.
From the Philadelphia City Paper:
The real joy of beekeeping comes when you crack open a hive. You pull out a frame that’s alive with bees, hold it to your nose and the smell of its honey is like a sunny field of fresh flowers.
Comfort a bee with a little smoke (like some of us, they enjoy smoke from burning hemp), cup her in your palm and she’ll let you feel the beating of her tiny wings.
It’s a good relationship. We care for bees and they make us honey. Along the way, bees pollinate the flowers that give us fruit and vegetables. Beekeeping’s virtuous cycle has thrived for several millennia. Which is why colony collapse disorder has been so disheartening. One day a hive is thriving; a few weeks later, all the bees are gone, their unborn young abandoned.
No one knows why bees leave, never to return. Mites, microbes and viruses have all been investigated. But after years of study, we’ve isolated no single culprit. Unless you consider humans.
Beekeepers are now starting to see how modern apiculture has turned hives into virtual chemical factories — whose workers, stressed and overwrought, give up and leave.
The good news, however, says master beekeeper Ross Conrad, is that when humans start treating bees sweetly, they’ll once again return the favor and stay. Conrad is something of a legend among beekeepers. In 2007, he published Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture (Chelsea Green Publishing), which explains how he cut his losses to less than 10 percent. The book has sold some 12,000 copies — huge in the little world of bees.
Success, says Conrad, comes from treating bees organically, by emulating nature. Now, such a declaration might not create much of buzz, unless you happen to know how badly bees have been treated.
I know about bee abuse. As a beekeeper, I’m as guilty as thousands of others who followed standard, official advice.
When I started beekeeping some 15 years ago, state inspectors wanted to see chemical pest strips hanging inside hives to ward off mites. It was, even then, a desperate measure — since their initial strategy of breeding domestic bees with hardier Africanized ones hadn’t worked out so well.
To pump up our now pesticide-drenched insects, we showered them with antibiotics. As a beekeeper, I bought whole baggies of tetracycline, the same stuff that human beings use.
It gets worse. Now that beneficial insects that once pollinated our crops have been wiped out by pesticides, bees are now routinely trucked hundreds of miles to do the job. And just as globalization spread disease among humans, our bees have been similarly infected.
But the real problem with bees, concludes Conrad, is connected to a greater human disease — a moral one. It’s what happens when the abundance of factory agriculture takes precedence over the destruction it wreaks — on bees, crops and people.
Read the whole article here.