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  1. #1
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    Biodynamic Beekeeping: a weekend with Michael Weiler
    A review of 'The Nature of Bees and Biodynamic Beekeeping',
    at The Hatch, Thornbury, 26th-28th August 2005

    It took me a while to find The Hatch community in Thornbury, just north of Bristol, and even as I arrived I wondered if I really had the right place. Most of the people gathered on the grass in front of the entrance appeared to be in their twenties – surely this was not a beekeeping event?

    But it was. I am past my half century, yet I am usually one of the younger members at meetings of beekeepers, so it was greatly encouraging to find that more than half the forty-odd people here – apparently willing to sit through a whole weekend of bee-talk – were under thirty. Better yet, a much higher proportion than is usual were women. Even Michael Weiler, our speaker for the weekend, is younger than me – albeit only by a couple of years. Michael runs a health food shop within a special needs community, similar to our Camphill communities, on a 100 hectare farm near Stuttgart in Germany and is an experienced beekeeper who looks after fifty colonies.

    During the past five years I have become something of a bee nerd. I have kept my own bees in standard hives, hives of my own design and the traditional skep. I have read just about all the major books on the subject and many of the minor ones. I have watched and assisted other beekeepers and for a year worked at Buckfast Abbey, probably the best-known commercial beekeeping enterprise in Britain and even the world, thanks to the work of Brother Adam, who lived and worked there for most of his 98 year life. None of this, of course, makes me any sort of expert. Most of the beekeepers I know have many more years of experience and I would not presume to elevate myself to their rank, but I can say that I have studied the subject in some depth and gained quite a bit of practical and theoretical knowledge in that time. Only a few weeks previously I attended a week-long intensive course at the Central Science Laboratory near York, so this weekend was an opportunity to extend my learning and I was looking forward to discovering how biodynamic beekeeping differs from what we have come to accept as 'normal' beekeeping, which, from my perspective, is in urgent need of some radical re-thinking.

    Michael was introduced by Bernard Jarman, executive director of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association (BDAA) for ten years.

    Had Michael been a native English speaker, he may have been tempted to deliver the information content at a faster pace, which may have overwhelmed those in the group with little background knowledge. As it was, his thoughful and gently-paced delivery enabled even complete beginners to follow his talks, while giving the more experienced listeners time to consider the implications of this or that procedure and to ask questions, which Michael was always willing to answer. When he occasionally ran out of English vocabulary, several German-speaking members of the audience were able to provide helpful suggestions.

    In contrast to the more general approach to teaching beekeeping, Michael stressed the importance of learning about the nature of bees before learning how to handle and cultivate them. He reminded us that Rudolf Steiner had given eight lectures about bees, which he considered to be more important to agriculture than any of the domesticated species because of their vital work in pollinating crops. Albert Einstein considered them so vital that he predicted an early end to human life on earth should the honeybee become extinct.

    Although Michael and his fellow biodynamic beekeepers use 'modern' rectangular wooden hives with moveable frames, they do not fit the frames with wax foundation, according to general practice. He considers that building wax comb is an important, natural function of the honeybee and that suppressing this function, by providing ready-made foundation sheets embossed with the honeycomb pattern, causes the bees unecessary stress. There is also the danger inherent in the common practice of recycling wax into new foundation whereby lipophilic substances from anti-parasite treatments will tend to concentrate in the wax, leading to a build-up of toxins that could damage bees, as well as encourage the development of mites resistant to such treatments. In the biodynamic system, bees are allowed to build their own comb according to their needs, thus acknowledging that the bees know better than we do what is best for them.

    Michael noted the common objection from beekeepers that, left to their own devices, bees will build comb containing many more large drone-sized cells that they would if provided with smaller-cell worker-sized foundation, thus potentially reducing the space for raising worker brood. On the face of it, a reduction in the working population ought to result in lower honey yields, but in practice this appears not to be the case. One of Michael's friends is a commercial beekeeper with 500 hives, who makes a good living using the biodynamic system and has excellent honey crops.

    Michael considers that allowing the bees to decide on the male/female balance in the hive gives them more control and thus results in a less stressed colony. Although it is generally considered that the drone bee's only function is to mate with a queen – something that only a tiny proportion of drones actually achieve in practice – there may be other secondary functions of which we are unaware, possibly including helping to keep the brood warm. Another advantage of having large numbers of drones around an apiary is that our queens are more likely to mate with our own drones, thus helping to maintain our blood lines.

    Another unusual feature of this system is the non-use of the queen excluder – a wire screen that allows the passage of worker bees into the honey storage boxes placed on top of the hive, but prevents the passage of the queen, thus keeping her below in the brood chamber. Michael says that only rarely does the queen actually lay in the honey boxes and when she does it is a simple matter to separate out the few affected frames.

    Debates about the necessity or otherwise of queen excluders have been endemic since the advent of the modern hive and Michael's argument against them is that by denying the queen access to the honey its 'energetic' qualities are changed. As an example, he said that honey from oilsed rape, which commonly crystallizes in the comb very quickly (making it difficult to extract) does not do so as readily when the queen has access to it. Few conventional beekeepers are likely to understand or even believe this, but given the evidence of a successful commercial operation, they may be persuaded to try it for themselves.

    Against the general trend, biodynamic beekeepers raise queens exclusively from those generated by the swarming impulse, when queen cells are made – sometimes in quantity – by the bees in preparation for sending out a swarm, as their primary mechanism for reproducing the collective organism of the bee colony. This behaviour is unique to the honeybee and provides us with the means for increasing our stock. Michael does not consider that this practice encourages swarming, despite the attempts of some bee breeders to select for a low tendency to swarm. He and his colleagues do practice a form of artificial swarming in order to prevent the loss of prime swarms, which would otherwise result in a greatly reduced worker population and subsequent lower honey yields.

    Most commercial beekeepers either raise their own queens using a process known as 'grafting' - which entails the transfer of young larvae from worker cells into artificial queen cups - or they buy in queens from breeders who use either the same system or artificial insemination. Both are anathema to the biodynamic beekeeper, who considers queens raised by artificial means as inevitably inferior to those raised within the colony by natural means. Michael acknowledged that queens raised under the supercedure impulse – arising when a colony considers that its queen needs to be replaced – are probably the best queens of all, but pointed out that supercedure is hard to predict compared with swarming and that queens heading prime swarms are often superceded anyway soon after the swarm establishes itself.

    The other outstanding difference between this system and the modern norm is the approach to winter feeding. Most commercial beekeepers – with an eye on profits - take as much honey as possible and feed back sugar syrup to the bees to make up any shortfall below the amount they need to sustain them through the winter. This practice is avoided as far as possible by biodynamic beekeepers, who do their best to leave ample supplies of honey for the bees' winter stores and only feed sugar syrup – with a little chamomile tea added - when absolutely necessary, as when, for example, a period of bad weather in the spring causes a shortage of nectar and the bees are in danger of starvation. Refined sugar is certainly more difficult for the bees to deal with than their natural food and some believe that it causes dysentery and other disorders. In any case, no-one can dispute that bees prefer honey and that they know better than we do what is good for them.

    We had an opportunity to examine and open one of the three colonies kept at The Hatch, which, for some of the group, was their first opportunity to see the inside of a hive. There was some added interest as the drones were at that moment being evicted by the workers in preparation for the winter, a normal occurrence but not well known other than to beekeepers.

    This weekend reinforced my view that a mutually successful and sustainable relationship with our bees must be based on a truly holistic approach: we need to learn more about how the colony works as a complete, living entity and the manifold ways in which it interacts with its environment and with other living things. For too long we have been locked in an old-fashioned, reductionist approach , dealing with bees as if they were mere machines created solely for our benefit, instead of highly-evolved, wild creatures, with which we are privileged to work.

    For me and many others this was an inspirational weekend, conducted by a teacher with a great passion for bees and deep understanding of their nature. I had already begun to apply organic principles within my own beekeeping and I am now convinced that the biodynammic route is the one I shall take, mainly because it facilitates the bees in their natural processes and causes them the minimum amount of stress - surely the root cause of the manifold problems they face in the modern world.

    I hope that other beekeepers, both new and experienced, will take the time to learn about this system and discover its advantages both for themselves and for the bees. I also hope that the BDAA will arrange more events like this one.

    Philip Chandler
    propolis@onetel.com
    www.biobees.com
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  2. #2
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    Philip,

    I visited your biobess.com site. It looks like you are just getting it started, but I look forward to some good content.

    I think the idea of doing things naturally, appeals to most beekeepers. There is always the fear of losses any time we make changes in our operation, but a little experimentation is always a good idea.

    I'm going to bookmark your site and keep an eye on it.
    Linux - World domination through world cooperation

  3. #3
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    I see biodynamic beekeeping or holistic bee management as a great challenge, as well as a fascinating new approach to modern apiculture.
    A great many folks may indeed become interested and captivated by this trend, if I may already call it that, since it simply MAKES TRUE SENSE.
    And I beleive humans are in a stonger search for sense nowadays. Those who have the privilege of working outdoors, may start enjoying it more and becoming more aware that it is a privilege in fact.

    Hollistic beekeeping does even apply to large commercial operations of thousands of colonies. It is actually more an attitude, a purpose, rather than a method.

    Thanks for posting your experience. I sure hope to read and learn more on the trend.

  4. #4
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    I was particularly impressed to hear about the guy who runs 500 colonies, without queen excluders, foundation or routine sugar feeding. That should make a few people think!
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  5. #5
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    >I was particularly impressed to hear about the guy who runs 500 colonies, without queen excluders, foundation or routine sugar feeding. That should make a few people think!

    I only run about 50 but that sounds like a good description of what I'm doing. [img]smile.gif[/img] And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

    http://www.beesource.com/pov/simon/10principles.htm
    http://www.beesource.com/pov/simon/beebackwards.htm

    And then there are all the top bar hive people...
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  6. #6
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    Excuse me for being a hard-nose, but some of
    the items that were presented as "fact" are
    clearly and compellingly known to be not only
    wrong, but willfully ignorant expressions of
    some sort of anthropomorphization of bees into
    "people", rather than the insects that they are.

    Michael's argument against them [queen
    excluders] is that by denying the queen access to
    the honey its 'energetic' qualities are changed.
    As an example, he said that honey from oilseed rape,
    which commonly crystallizes in the comb very quickly
    (making it difficult to extract) does not do so as
    readily when the queen has access to it. Few
    conventional beekeepers are likely to understand
    or even believe this...
    Did he explain how giving the queen "access"
    somehow changes the basic properties of the honey
    so that it will not crystallize?

    As the queen does not even touch honey in the
    cell, but is instead fed by workers, I have a
    hard time imagining a mechanism by which the
    queen could have this effect, moreso given the
    distance between where the queen might wander
    and where the bulk of the honey would be in
    the supers. If this phenomena actually existed,
    then the lowermost super in any hive would
    tend to produce canola/rape honey that crystallized
    less (or more slowly), as the queen would be
    mere inches away from that super on a regular
    basis, closer than the queen would be to the
    bulk of the honey if she were allowed to
    "wander the supers at whim".

    Rudolf Steiner had given eight lectures about bees...
    I've read Steiner's lectures, and his book "Bees".
    I'm not sure I understand much of it, but I am
    fairly certain that it has little or nothing to do
    with beekeeping. Read up on "Waldorf Education"
    and "Anthroposophy" if you want to try to
    understand Steiner and the cult that follows his
    "teachings". Here's a decent overview presented in
    a non-challenging and positive tone:
    http://www.waldorfanswers.com/RudolfSteiner.htm

    On the face of it, a reduction in the
    working population [by allowing drone comb]
    ought to result in lower honey yields...
    Huh? Everyone knows that colonies deprived of
    drones produce less. The bees are quite willing
    to make sufficient drone cells even when given
    foundation. As so many have found when trying
    to "regress" their bees, foundation is a mere
    suggestion to the bees, and does not stop
    them from doing exactly what they please.

    In the biodynamic system...
    Beware of any practice that relies upon newly-minted
    terms, moreso when it is claimed that "a system"
    exists.

    Against the general trend, biodynamic
    beekeepers raise queens exclusively from those
    generated by the swarming impulse
    ...which leads to breed stock that becomes
    more and more likely to swarm at the drop of
    a hat rather than stay home and make a crop!

    Refined sugar is certainly more difficult
    for the bees to deal with than their natural food
    Complete ignorant blather. "Refined sugar" is
    either sucrose or fructose, depending upon which
    sort you use, and to a bee, all sugars are
    created equal, as long as they are free from
    contamination with indigestible non-sugar components.
    (See http://bee-quick.com/reprints/sugar.pdf for
    a rundown of every type of sugar and sweetener
    known to man as of 2003.)

    and some believe that it causes dysentery and other disorders.
    Completely false. What causes dysentery is
    indigestible junk in HONEY, stuff that would
    never be found in properly handled feed like
    sugar and HFCS.

    In any case, no-one can dispute that bees
    prefer honey and that they know better than we do what is good for them.
    No, bees prefer NECTAR. Honey is a bee's "beef
    jerky" or "hardtack", something that they can
    survive on, but not what they prefer. One can
    test this with ease by observing how much of
    the honey left over from winter is consumed by
    a hive after a feeder of thin syrup is placed
    upon the hive. Take some photos, and track
    number of cells of honey opened and emptied
    versus amount of syrup consumed.

    ...successful and sustainable relationship
    with our bees must be based on a truly holistic
    approach: we need to learn more about how the
    colony works as a complete, living entity and
    the manifold ways in which it interacts with its
    environment and with other living things.
    I'd suggest reading "The Secrets Of The Hive" by
    Tom Seeley for a more accurate (and thereby useful)
    set of holistic information about how a hive
    "works as a complete, living entity" and "the
    manifold ways in which it interacts with its
    environment and with other living things".

    Tom gives actual citations to real hard-nosed
    science to back up his statements about bees.

    For me and many others this was an inspirational weekend
    I am sure it was enjoyable, but the amount of
    disinformation handed out seems to have been
    excessive.

  7. #7
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    Awe come on Jim. You gotta love the name. I'm waiting to see the show on late night paid TV.

    On the other hand, I believe that even the radical fringe may have something to teach us if we can first sort through all the smoke.
    Linux - World domination through world cooperation

  8. #8
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    A couple of points I'll add to Jims.

    I ran without excluders for 10 years. In virtually every hive I had brood in the center frames well into the 3rd and sometimes fourth honey super. To suggest the queen will not move up and lay and move out horizontally instead goes against the principles of how bees build thier hives in the wild. I have seen no difference in honey production despite all the claims I would by using "Honey Excluders".

    Although I firmly believe nectar is better for bees it is a fact that nectars are either sucrose based, fructose based, or sucrose/fructose base. The breakdown to the 7 simple sugars found in honey is done by the bees and quite successfully with sucrose based nectars.

    The concept of a wholistic approach sounds nice but is idealistic. We are working against the laws of nature by crowding a large population of individuals into an area they would not naturally populate in such numbers. Nature's answer to this is disease and pest.

    Although supersedure does take place when a queen is old, by the time this comes about you've already missed at least 1 peak season by not replacing the queen sooner. Much supercedure takes place because a queen is genetically inferior resulting in depopulation of a hive through chalk brood, other disease, or mite damage (prevelant in hives headed by non-hygenic behavior queens). During these times the workers perceive the depopulation as a failing queen, although other factors apply. Since she is genetically inferior so will be her offspring. So this supercedure logic doesn't make sense to me.

    I can't extract 40 frames of honey in a centifuge extractor or truck bees 1500 miles a year without foundation. The result would be many blown out frames and damaged combs from bouncing hives.

    In closing though, let me say thanks for posting this information. I hear the science behind much of what we do but I also hear the voices in the wilderness like MB who are having success on a higher scale. I question though can someone like me, dependant on my bees for the food on the table, risk the experiment in light of what is the norm, especially in light of what sounds like a system based on anecdotal information? I'm still listening though! Keep posting, I'd really like to see some results that this type of approach is viable on a larger basis.

  9. #9
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    Philip,

    while Jim raises some intersting points which certainly merit some thought and discussion, I must apoligise for my countryman [edit by moderator] in his reply.
    I suspect his grade school permanent record must have a comment to the effect of
    "does not play well with others"

    Jim,
    take a chill pill dude
    we all have problems (with bee's, you may have others)
    how do you deal with them?
    all you do is shoot down peoples ideas
    this isn't 1985 and we ain't building the internet at ATT
    This isn't some academic discussion of technical issues, it's a converstaions about managing a biological system, which we do not and probably can not know everything about.
    we're a bunch of (mostly) hobbiest trying to figure out how to deal with the problems of beekeeping.
    We're blessed with some knowledgeable folks (a few are commercial bk's) who come here on there own time and try to help some rookies out
    You add little to the conversation other than what's wrong with other peoples thoughts
    how do you deal with the mites??
    Do you pump em full of Apistan??
    There may be scientific evidence that that kills mites and causes the bee's to survive (for a while)
    if that's what you want to do, blow your socks off dude, you might want to try dosing em with DDT, there was a lot of scientific evidence this was a good idea a while back (doh, they changed their mind on that one, sorry)
    some folks, on this forum particularly, think maybe getting off the chemical bandwagon is a good idea.
    It may not be the best or most "efficient" approach
    our bee's may not make as much honey as somebodies who's are gassed up with the chem de'jouir
    but perhaps some folks feel like there's a "better" way

    I gotta quit this
    I'm gonna sit on the porch and relax
    I hope you have good luck with your bee's
    I hope you add a little consrtuctive comment on this site
    I hope your honey is a clean as I hope mine is

    Dave

    [size="1"][ September 29, 2005, 01:05 PM: Message edited by: Barry ][/size]

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    Joel,

    what a novel approach
    a thoughtfull intelligent discussion of the issues at hand
    I must say, I appreciate very much the time and effort folks with knowledge and experience spend coming here and sharing their know/how with the many rookies who read this forum
    while I read many of your posts and some of your comment don't jibe with some of the things I'm trying to do, I very much appeciate the knowledge you add to the discussion.
    As a small time rookie it's very possible that the same principals that apply to your larger operation may not nessecarily be the best for my little backyard setup, (most of them are) I'm very appreciative of your efforts to help to us rookies

    Dave

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    > I must apoligise for my countryman being a total
    > ******* in his reply.

    Hmmm... 7 letters, clearly an adjective, something
    censored in ostensibly "polite" conversation...

    > take a chill pill dude

    I'm so cool, you could keep meat in me for a month. [img]smile.gif[/img]
    I just dislike seeing myths repeated as "insight",
    moreso when facts are easy to find and easy
    to understand, and the some of the myths can
    mislead the novice into a path that leads to
    no crop, a dead hive, and giving up the craft.

    > converstaions about managing a biological
    > system, which we do not and probably can not
    > know everything about.

    "We" know quite a bit, so let's leverage what
    we DO know to make our bees as productive as
    possible (and if you want to think of them as
    "happy bees", that's fine too).

    > We're blessed with some knowledgeable folks
    > (a few are commercial bk's) who come here on
    > there own time and try to help some rookies out

    I'm trying to help too. Sorry you don't like
    an unemotional presentation of "myth versus
    study data", but no harm was meant.

    > You add little to the conversation other than
    > what's wrong with other peoples thoughts

    Well, you only registered in June, so it seems
    that you haven't read very many postings.

    > how do you deal with the mites??
    > Do you pump em full of Apistan??

    While Apistan still works around here (knock on
    wood!) I was one of the very early adopters of
    powdered sugar as a way to knock back mite
    populations during summer. I also promoted it.
    It works. I am happy to support what works.
    It also scales well up to several hundred hives,
    something that not many "alternative treatments"
    can claim.

    > I gotta quit this

    A good idea. Your personal attack addresses
    no issues of interest, and as such, adds
    nothing at all to the group memory.

  12. #12
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    Good luck Jim

    I hope the Apistan continues to work for you
    I believe I'll try a different path

    Dave

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    Dave, Thanks for the comments. I too learn a great deal here. Many times operators like you and Phillip take the time to attend lectures, learn new techniques and are kind enough to share them here. I really appreciate the fact Phillip Posted so much information because I have so little time to do those types of learning experiances it seems. I believe the future lies elsewhere than mass bred bees, drugs and the quick easy temporary answers we depend on now. I've spent a great deal of time learning and implementing techniques for control and elimination of Foulbrood without drugs. I've done similar work with mites. By sharing we all gain a little better perspective on this craft we so enjoy!

  14. #14
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    Great points Jim and Joel.

    Too often one can fall into "New Age" concepts simply because they sound wonderful. Pyramids under the bed anyone?????

    I am all for minimalistic treatments and practice small cell brood boxes in addition to thymol and FGMO.

    I am ordering Oxalic Acid and vaporizors to have on hand should treatment be required. So far none has been needed.

    A final note.... I detected no condisention in Jims reply at all. Just good points backed by reference.

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    It sure is a cool name though!!!!!! =))

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    Jim,
    Thanks for your comments.

    My purpose in posting that review was to describe another way of thinking about bees - as being primarily a part of nature, rather than creatures to enslve and bend to our will. It is not just a matter of not using chemicals, and it is certainly not about casting magic spells or any other hocus pocus, but taking a look at what we do in the wider context of the natural world and sustainable agriculture.

    The argument about queen excluders has raged back and forth since they were invented and some swear by them while others swear at them. If they work for you, that's fine. I use top bars and so have no need for them, nor supers, foundation, smokers, extractors, decapping machines, tanks of sugar syrup, etc. But I am not aiming to keep 2000 colonies spread over a couple of counties. My interest is in small-to-medium scale beekeeping and getting more people interested in just having a couple of hives in their garden.

    Michael and his colleague Gunter prove that it is possible to run 500 colonies using the Demeter standards and produce enough honey to earn a living in Germany without using synthetic chemicals and without excluders or foundation. Now whatever 'scientific' evidence you dig out to prove that it is not possible, that remains a fact and convinces me.

    I do not claim to be a Steiner devotee and I don't pretend to fully understand his bee lectures either, but I am willing to concede that the biodynamic approach to agriculture does result in some very fine farms and smallholdings, perhaps as a result of the close attention to detail that its advocates practice, or perhaps it has to do with the biodynamic 'preparations' - who knows. But I do know that if I had to choose between leaving the care of the planet in their hands or those of the corporate agrichemical people, I would not hesitate to choose the biodynamic crew, for all their 'oddities'.

    There is room in this world for many opinions and points of view and it is always folly to think that one's own approach to bees - or anything else - is the only one possible.
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

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    > another way of thinking about bees - as being
    > primarily a part of nature, rather than creatures
    > to enslave and bend to our will.

    And it is an interesting point of view.
    I agree that many beekeepers often "fight with"
    their bees' hard-wired natural behavior on many
    issues, a fight that the beekeeper is doomed to lose.

    But once we take the bees OUT of nature, and put
    them in a box, we might as well understand and
    exploit their natural behavior to our own ends
    rather than let them run their "natural yearly
    cycle as they see fit".

    The cold hard fact is that a colony of bees has
    no intention of providing YOU with any honey.
    If left unmanaged, hives will produce much, much
    less, and swarm often. THIS is the true agenda
    of the bees, to merely survive and "reproduce"
    via swarming. If you do not wish to "bend them
    to your will", then you might as well go back to
    the "honey hunter" approach, where feral hives in
    trees are located and robbed of their honey.

    > Michael and his colleague Gunter prove that
    > it is possible to run 500 colonies using the
    > Demeter standards and produce enough honey to
    > earn a living in Germany without using synthetic
    > chemicals and without excluders or foundation.

    And there are others who do the same thing in
    using different approaches, without invoking
    myth or antropromorphisim in the process, and
    without claiming that other approaches are
    somehow more "unnatural" than theirs. [img]smile.gif[/img]

    > Now whatever 'scientific' evidence you dig out
    > to prove that it is not possible, that remains
    > a fact and convinces me.

    My point was that specific MISinformation and
    DISinformtation was being bandied about, myths
    that do nothing to enhance one's knowledge of
    bee behavior, myths that mislead beekeepers.

    If they are going to claim that their approach
    is somehow more natural, this implies that they
    have a working knowledge of bee behavior, and
    perhaps a BETTER understanding of how bees react
    to one set of conditions versus another. What I
    saw was a shocking lack of understanding of
    well-known aspects of natural bee behavior.

    Excluders (or the lack thereof) and one's choice
    of foundation (or lack thereof) have no particular
    impact on a well-managed colony.
    It is Management practices (the contribution of the
    beekeeper) are what make the difference.

    And sorry, management practices of ANY sort
    are "bending the bees to our will", so we might
    as well admit what we are doing, and do a good
    job of it, making each season as easy as possible
    for the bees. I have to laugh about the
    accusation that anyone is "enslaving" bees, as
    it should be obvious to even the casual observer
    that the bees are free to leave their boxes
    whenever they please by absconding, and free to
    "return to nature", where they will live without
    the claimed "enslavement" imposed by the
    beekeeper.

    Funny how bees don't tend to do that, isn't it?
    The value added by the beekeeper results in
    a stronger colony, one that votes with its
    wings every day that they WANT to stay.

    > But I do know that if I had to choose between
    > leaving the care of the planet in their hands
    > or those of the corporate agrichemical people

    It is not an "either/or" choice. There are lots
    of alternative approaches, most not wrapped up
    in the least little bit of fuzzy thinking or
    mystical claims about bee behavior (that if
    researched at even a cursory level, are revealed
    as untrue).

    > it is always folly to think that one's own
    > approach to bees - or anything else - is the
    > only one possible.

    I'm glad we agree on that. My problem is when
    someone wants to take a "holier than thou"
    posture in regard to their practices, claiming
    that their approach is somehow "better", or
    "more natural", or "more responsible", and then
    stands there and either prove that they are
    blissfully ignorant of large swaths of hard fact,
    or prove that they are lying to support an
    approach that (apparently) cannot be supported
    without such lies, and without appeals to vague
    concepts like one's "social agenda".

    Fuzzy thinking never helped anyone be a better
    beekeeper. Fuzzy thinking kills colonies.
    It is the fuzzy thinking that I did not like,
    and I made no objection to anything else.

    If someone is going to presume to "instruct"
    others, they should at least do their homework,
    and be able to answer simple rational questions
    rather than wrap things up in a set of "beliefs"
    that are not to be questioned. Here in the USA,
    we call such appeals to the 1960s flower child
    in all of us "Drinking The Kool-Aid" (a reference
    to the Jim Jones cult), as one MUST drink the
    Kool-Aid of belief in some sort of mystical
    premise before one can adopt the "management
    practices".

    Me, I want management practices that I can
    apply to 100 hives as a test, and see if I
    get better results than with the 100 hives
    I manage "as usual". Nothing else can ever
    convince a rational person.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Totnes, Devon, England
    Posts
    1,019

    Post

    Jim,
    I'm glad we can discuss this rationally - and thank you for taking the time to comment further.

    I agree that woolly notions and off-the-wall beliefs can get in the way of good beekeeping - and many other things, too. However, I really don't think that anything I heard the German beekeeper say came straight out of Steiner's lectures without being filtered through genuine observation and practical know-how. While for certification purposes, Demeter expects the land around 'biodynamic' hives to be treated according to Steiner's suggestions, nothing is done to the bees that you or I would not do - assuming you have no objections to organic acids.

    What impressed me about MIchael - and continues to impress me about other people in the BD movement - is their genuine concern for and involvement with the whole process of interacting with nature in a sustainable and non-destructive manner. Having worked for a commercial beekeeping operation and observed others, my observation is that this level of awareness is far from universal.

    >>>But once we take the bees OUT of nature, and put them in a box, we might as well understand and
    exploit their natural behavior to our own ends
    rather than let them run their "natural yearly
    cycle as they see fit".

    But we cannot and do not 'take the bees out of nature'. They are forever intimately a part of nature - and a vital part at that. Hence my wider concern that GM crops could pose problems for them and for us.

    >>THIS is the true agenda
    of the bees, to merely survive and "reproduce"
    via swarming.

    Yes, that is absolutely true. And by artificially housing 20-30 colonies in a territory that would in nature be occupied by only one or two, we are of course 'interfering' and thus have to 'manage' them according to our plan rather than theirs. To that extent, we are exerting our will, I agree.

    >>And there are others who do the same thing in
    using different approaches, without invoking
    myth or antropromorphisim in the process, and
    without claiming that other approaches are
    somehow more "unnatural" than theirs.

    I don't remember any athropomorphism creeping in - did you have something specific in mind? And to which myths are you referring?

    >>What I
    saw was a shocking lack of understanding of
    well-known aspects of natural bee behavior.

    Were you referring specifically to Steiner's lectures here?

    >>...it should be obvious to even the casual observer
    that the bees are free to leave their boxes
    whenever they please by absconding, and free to
    "return to nature", where they will live without
    the claimed "enslavement" imposed by the
    beekeeper.

    I wasn't being that literal about 'enslavement' - and the bees don't leave unless there is gross interference, Largely, I suspect, through lack of alternative housing.

    >>Me, I want management practices that I can
    apply to 100 hives as a test, and see if I
    get better results than with the 100 hives
    I manage "as usual".

    Hey, there's nothing to stop you trying the BD approach! No incantations required...

    Best wishes,
    Phil
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    Location
    DuPage County, Illinois USA
    Posts
    9,196

    Post

    drobbins,

    The use of profanity is prohibited on this board!

    - Barry
    Regards, Barry

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jan 2001
    Location
    New York City
    Posts
    3,401

    Post

    > I'm glad we can discuss this rationally

    Any discussion other than a rational one would
    not be "a discussion", would it? [img]smile.gif[/img]

    > their genuine concern for and involvement with the whole process of
    > interacting with nature in a sustainable and non-destructive manner.
    > Having worked for a commercial beekeeping operation and observed others,
    > my observation is that this level of awareness is far from universal.

    It is true that "agriculture" has become very much an "industry".
    On the other hand, agriculture's fondness for monocultures tends
    to assure that beekeepers will be needed for pollination, as there
    is no chance for "native pollinators" to survive in extensive
    monocultures.

    > But we cannot and do not 'take the bees out of nature'.

    Well, we have as far are letting them live as they would "in nature",
    building up, swarming, limited by the volume of holes in rotted out
    trees, etc.

    > They are forever intimately a part of nature

    No disagreement there. The only problem is that even "nature" is
    not very "natural" any more. There are very few areas that have
    not been massively modified by man, and even what may look like
    an "untouched forest" has very few of the attributes of the
    original natural ecosystem prior to "the hand of man". So I
    think that those who search for "natural" anywhere except on
    coral reefs are either going to be disappointed, or lack the
    training/education to see the unnatural aspects of "nature"
    as it now stands.

    > Hence my wider concern that GM crops could pose problems for them and for us.

    I'm not getting pulled into a discussion of GM crops.
    That's a very complex issue, one with many pros and cons.
    So far, I'm still undecided.

    > And by artificially housing 20-30 colonies in a territory that would in nature
    > be occupied by only one or two, we are of course 'interfering' and thus have
    > to 'manage' them according to our plan rather than theirs. To that extent, we
    > are exerting our will, I agree.

    If it is agreed that we have to manage, my point is that there are
    things that we can agree are "best practices". Anything less, would
    be, uh, "less than best".

    > I don't remember any athropomorphism creeping in

    1) The whole subject of bees somehow being "more comfortable"
    without foundation, and the use of foundation "caus[ing] the bees
    unnecessary stress".

    2) "queens raised by artificial means as inevitably inferior to those
    raised within the colony by natural means" (Funny how artificially
    inseminated queens sell for hundreds of dollars each, while swarm
    and supercedure cells have almost no market value.)

    3) Michael acknowledged that queens raised under the supercedure
    impulse – arising when a colony considers that its queen needs
    to be replaced – are probably the best queens of all. (Funny how
    this is the opposite of the consensus among science and beekeepers
    whose sole source of income is beekeeping.)

    4) "with a little chamomile tea added..." Oh come ON! What sort of
    new-age, burnt-out ex-hippie, granola-head concept is THIS?
    It may be native to Western Europe, but where did it actually
    grow before man cultivated it, and what could it possibly do for
    bees when added to their feed?


    > And to which myths are you referring?

    Myths about queen excluders, myths about honey being somehow "better"
    than sugar syrup or HFCS, myths about requeening from swarm cells,
    myths about foundation being somehow "bad", myths about "enslavement"
    myths about feed (other than honey) causing dysentery, and so on.

    >> What I saw was a shocking lack of understanding of
    >> well-known aspects of natural bee behavior.

    > Were you referring specifically to Steiner's lectures here?

    No, I was talking about the points made in the lecture you
    attended. They evinced near complete ignorance in several
    areas of the well-trodden path of science.

    > I wasn't being that literal about 'enslavement' - and the bees
    > don't leave unless there is gross interference, Largely, I
    > suspect, through lack of alternative housing.

    Oh wow, there's LOTS of alternative housing - swarms seem to always
    find a well-defended home that takes forever to disassemble to
    remove the swarm, at least around these parts. [img]smile.gif[/img]

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