The opposite of benign beekeeping could be benign neglect.
Now maybe if you really want to practice benign beekeeping you will simply give me all of your bees. From where I sit, the only way to be a benign beekeeper is to not tend to any bees, don't move them, don't have anymore than one per every ten acres, and keep them up in a tree 10 to 15 feet off of the ground, facing S or SSE, and don't ever work them.
About 5 years ago I responded to a craigslist post wherein a man was giving away all his boxes and frames. I brought them home with the intention of one day taking the equipment to the county (I'm in the big city). I stacked the equipment in 4 stacks in my backyard and forgot about them. Several years later I took a look and found that I had bees in all 4 stacks.
At this point I was still not ready to move the equipment to the country and the city did not allow beekeeping, so I just let them 'do their thing'.
Jan 2011 the city passed an ordinance allowing 2 hives. In late spring the city code enforcement guy came around and told me to get those bees registered and legal. So I became a beekeeper. Being required to reduce the number of hives to 2 I gave 2 to my neighbor. We moved 2 of the stacks to his house and I began actually taking care of my 2.
When I opened the hives for the first time, I found some comb that was messed up the the majority was built onto the frames that were in the boxes.
These bees were doing just fine without any help. They have been through some trauma since I intervened, but have bounced back and are again doing fine.
Were they better off before me? I can't say, but do know that before I took a hand in their lives, they had more honey they could keep.
Thus far I have not done anything to or for them other than try to give them the space I think they need. When I did the last mite drop I counted 3.
I begin with the basic premise that comparing bees from an apiary with feral bees is like comparing a dog with a wolf. This difference if it exists would be solely the result of man keeping bees.
The above point does bring into the frame the issue of "Are bees domesticated"? In past conversations that I have seen on this subject directly. It is fairly well argued that they are not. Yet very few beekeepers would hesitate to admit bees do not stand much of a chance of survival if you don't care for them. If domestication is defined as an animals dependance on mans care. then it is hard to argue that bees have not become domesticated. Not all bees any more than all Canine have become domesticated.
In addition I believe that mans intervention has drastically altered the life of the honey bee. and in doing so has impacted the well being of the honey be. IT is very unlikely that man with his intentions has impacted the be in a positive way. We consider excess honey production a good thing. since we think it is good. we also tend to think it is good for the bees. it is not. it is a complete removal and unintentional behavior from what a honey bee should be. It is inefficient which that alone is a radical departure from any other behavior associated with bees.
This and many other differences keeping bees makes are not only significant. they are most likely harmful to the bees. I cannot even begin to make a complete list of impacts. but here are a few. many of which have already been mentioned.
Interruption of the hive. not only frequently or not frequently. but at all ever. This introduces conditions and stresses that the bees are in no way naturally equipped for. In nature colonies that get invaded are killed. It is the result of poor colony location skills and is eliminated by natures selection process.
Limited genetic pool. This one is probably fr more devastating than it is given credit for.
Frequent replacement of queens. Tampering with an already poor genetic pool.
Selection of traits that we consider beneficial, and even worse making the mistake of thinking what we consider beneficial is good for the bees. This then lends to the likelihood that beekeepers will breed their bees straight into the jaws of disaster, eyes wide open, thinking all is well.
I have seen it mentioned in several places that bees will naturally select a cavity roughly the size of a 10 frame deep. In reality bees seldom get to choose optimum anything. In fact always having the optimum woudl be a negative. a huge negative. natural selection thrives on diversity. Colonies that range anywhere from baseball size cavities to small sheds is what makes mother natures way work out. that man is locked into the best way to do anything, always, is one of the primary reasons he impacts everything around him negatively. Nature does not have maximization as a goal. never has. Survival in as many various conditions as possible. and it will try them all. Most will fail.
Nature created the AHB. And we think she got it wrong. nearly completely and utterly wrong.
We on the other hand strive to make puppy dogs of the honey bee. Necessary. yes for our purposes. but int eh process we have caused a lot of damage. we have caused a highly dependent bee. and we cannot like our dogs. pen them in and protect them from an environment they are no longer suitable to survive in. It would be comparable turning your dog loose to run with wolves. But to some degree I think that is exactly what we have done. We breed dogs that must run with wolves. We are seeing the results.
Bees that cannot resist parasites that infest them.
bees that cannot survive diseases that they are subjected to.
Bees that cannot survive winter.
Bees that do not take optimal advantage of their environment.
On the issue of an apiary and colonies that are located to close together. I tend to look at them as a single mega colony with multiple queens. What sort of impact is that having. Sort of like subjecting bees to living in projects. A getto evolves. Still necessary.
I don't think beekeepers should stop keeping bees any more than I think people should stop keeping dogs as pets. But I do think that beekeepers need to be far more clear in just what they are keeping, and what is necessary for it's care. If feeding and treatment are necessary. then that is the result of making dogs out of wolves.
That was a case of moving a hive permanently, whereas most commercial beekeepers to my knowledge stay in the same places at the same times of the year.
>>Cold starvation. The cluster gets too cold to move and starves on the comb. Plenty of honey, no sign of disease or mites.
As long as the hive is in good shape, I have never had a hive die of starvation with honey in the hive. I have had lots of hive die of starvation within inches of honey but they were destined for death anyway. A good hive doesnt starve with honey in the hive.
Sol: You do understand that "cold starvation" is a result and not an actual malady dont you? Its pretty hard to say four years removed from the fact what actually caused the death of your hives. Wait a minute.....something is coming into view in my crystal ball........yes, yes! I see small clusters..... I think their are five of them. They appear to be very small, yes very small clusters, looking closer..... trying to figure out what the problem might have been.......poof! Darn it!!!! It just went black on me. Ah well! Probably varroa. :D
I have had hives starve on hard honey also, yet the hive right besides were fine. The difference was the hive that starved on the hard honey had issues, the hive that lived beside them went in looking good
Ian, I would put it this way: Good hives don't die. That's perhaps the cornerstone of my philosophy.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter why they die, unless I caused it, therefore I don't waste time on mite counts and such. It's their responsibility to stay alive, mine is to keep from killing them.
I always get a kick out of beekeepers claiming hive death to "they starved inches away from the honey!" Unless those hives have been exposed to the depths of winter for weeks on end, they did not starve because they couldnt reach the honey, they were not in shape to winter at all!
I've always ran 9 frames in my brood chamber, gives me more space to work and I feel like it's less likely I'll squish her majesty.
In this case I'm increasing the bee space from how the hive originally built the comb which I'm sure changes how the brood is heated and cooled.
I would love to hear an alternate explanation rather than just chuckling.