Beekeeping is Local
Maybe I am naive or just positive and optimistic, but I’m sure that to many people I have some dangerously liberal ideas. For a start, I deliberately travelled all over the place to meet experienced bee farmers to see what I could learn. Then I wrote a book about the inspirational people I met, and I believe that lots of people will buy it and read it. How silly is that?! It should be in print before the end of this year…hopefully.
I often hear the mantra, “beekeeping is local,” and I completely agree. The combination of climate, micro-climates and available forage by month are all variables which change from area to area. There can be enormous differences in how honey bee colonies are doing, even if they are only a few miles apart. One crucial lesson that we learn on our beekeeping journey is to respond to what is happening in our hives. Even bees in the same apiary can need different treatment depending on what they are up to.
Nevertheless, I hear from beekeepers who have decided that any information or point of view from outside their area is more likely to be harmful than of use. Bah humbug! I understand that the timings of beekeeping activities will vary considerably, but surely I can learn something from somebody who has kept bees for a living for fifty years? Isn’t the knowledge and experience of a successful bee farmer in the USA or Australasia or Central Europe of value to all beekeepers everywhere?
Many beekeepers are middle-aged or older, so perhaps one might expect them to be set in their ways. (This EU report contains the data).
That would be wrong; I’m in my mid-fifties and try to stay open-minded. Very experienced beekeepers that I interviewed for my book remain willing to learn, to adapt, to do whatever it takes to improve.
Do we ignore Tom Seeley because he didn’t study bees in the UK? What about Sue Coby on instrumental insemination? Randy Oliver has spent much of his life studying bee diseases and varroa mites; is it all irrelevant to me? After all, he’s in Grass Valley, CA and I’m in Cheshire, UK.
Many successful beekeepers raise queens because it gives them more control over their bees. When you see the difference between the temperament, honey production and disease resistance of different colonies it seems evident that we should want good queens in our hives. Is queen rearing that different between the USA and the UK?! I think not.
Having spoken to David Kemp about the queen breeding that went on at Buckfast Abbey in the 1960s, I’m sure that we can learn lessons from the past as well as from abroad. Mike Palmer talks about how he turbocharged his beekeeping operation by making two changes; raising queens and over-wintering nucleus colonies. The lessons were there in the past for those prepared to look. I challenge anyone to learn nothing from the likes of Mike Palmer, Randy Oliver and Ray Olivarez from the USA. I learned plenty and look forward to sharing their stories.
Richard Noel in Brittany, France is an up and coming commercial bee farmer with a popular youtube channel. He says that it was a visit to Mike Palmer in Vermont that convinced him to “go for it” with his bees. I visited him to learn about somebody in the rapid growth phase of his business, and also to find out about Asian hornets. It was worth it.
Lessons from Life Stories
Regarding stories, they are the most treasured things in my book. Beekeeping is not all about techniques and tips and tricks. I loved hearing about how people got started, about the triumphs and disasters along the way. I appeal to all beekeepers everywhere to open their hearts and their minds to the ideas and experiences of good beekeepers wherever they may be. We need to keep bees based on what we see in our hives and our local conditions, but we should not ignore the wisdom of the past nor the wisdom from over the pond or down under.