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  1. #1
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    Default The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    After reading countless forum posts on a variety of forums, reading many articles and watching many videos, I am struck by two characters that I'll call "The Bee Whisperer" and "The Benevolent Bee". Here are a few of their characteristics:

    The Bee Whisperer is someone who moves with the bees as if in a gentle dance or mutual understanding.
    The Bee Whisperer does not wear any protective gear, as he or she feels that there is no need to fear these gentle creatures, and protective gear only gets in the way of an honest and pure relationship with the bees.
    The Bee Whisperer uses no smoke, as it only upsets them with noxious gas - and who would want to do that to a friend?
    The Bee Whisperer, when stung, welcomes the sting as a reminder to be more gentle in his or her ways with the bees. Plus, it helps with his or her arthritis. It's good to get stung.

    The Benevolent Bee is friendly.
    The Benevolent Bee has human-like emotions.
    The Benevolent Bee "knows" and "likes" The Bee Whisperer that tends to its hive and appreciates his or her efforts.
    The Benevolent Bee will only sting you if you don't know what you're doing as a beekeeper, or if you mean the bee harm.
    The Benevolent Bee's venom is good for you - which is why we have apitherapy. It's good to get stung.


    Now, of course, these characters that I'm describing are somewhat unreal, but I believe that they are very real and present in our collective thinking, discussions and actions.

    For The Bee Whisperer, there are few people who actually fit all of these descriptions together. But oddly, I think that there is a strange pressure - especially among newbees today - to be more like this Bee Whisperer. Many people share at least one or two of the traits, and maybe they're good traits to have... I know I find myself wishing sometimes that I had more of The Bee Whisperer's qualities...

    I also think there is a pressure to see the bee as something "beyond" insect; something "good" and "pure". And to be honest, I share a lot of those feelings which I think are - to a certain extent - constructive and beneficial to have.

    But I have mixed emotions sometimes and wonder about the presence of these characters and the negative effects they have or can have.

    On the one hand, I'm all for "Natural" beekeeping in general, regardless of the misnomer. The idea that we should work as much with the bee as against her is solid by me. I'm happy to avoid chemicals and too much man-made interference if possible. And I also feel that it is important to educate the broader public about the truest nature of the bee - that she in not a Yellowjacket. She is not a bumble bee. She is not generally aggressive, and not to be feared irrationally.

    On the other hand, I worry that The Bee Whisperer and The Benevolent Bee inadvertently encourage a lack of respect for the bee. And I think that can be dangerous.

    I remember a thread here last year where a relatively new urban beekeeper was up in arms because his neighbors complained about his bees, and the community voted to ban them. But he had like, 10 hives in an urban yard. In the end, his over indulgence in his passion and his belief in the Benevolent Bee ended up scaring people to the point of increased restriction. Now no one there can enjoy the bees in their yard there.

    Here in Halifax, a local bee group has gotten in the news promoting urban beekeeping. And the pictures show this young woman handling the bees while wearing a little cotton sun dress -- no veil, bare legs and bare arms; the curious onlookers unprotected as well. The Bee Whisperer showing that there is nothing to fear from these gentle, Benevolent Bees.

    But the fear that people have is rooted in something real. Bees can kill a human being. They can put your kids in the hospital. They can kill a dog tied up too close to them. These are facts.

    Allergies seem to be on the rise, and no one really knows why. People who have never had a reaction can suddenly have one. News stories tell of another beekeeper who is shockingly killed by his own bees. I know that these events are not statistically common, but they do happen.

    So my questions are these:

    Is The Bee Whisperer pressuring us to be less respectful of the bee? Is the effort to portray her as gentle and benevolent at times causing us to become too carefree? Can the effort to make the broader public more accepting, and the movement toward urban beekeeping and more bees in highly populated areas backfire, and cause more harm if someone is hurt and as more swarms come to rest in busy public spaces? And lastly, do The Bee Whisperer and Benevolent Bee characters pressure new, inexperienced beekeepers to act irresponsibly with bees - not taking proper precautions before they are knowledgeable enough to deal when things go wrong?

    What are your thoughts?


    Adam

  2. #2
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    I think the "bee whisperer" includes admirable goals. I am called a "bee whisperer" by some where I teach at USF. Bees and animals do not have true qualities as the "benevolent bee" suggests. I do believe bees react in defense when they are threatened by a beehaver that does not seek to bee a "bee whisperer" I did alter my behaviors a little last year for teaching. My students from the first year do not wear veils because I set the example the first year. I wear a veil for class ever since. If I am just out enjoying or working the bees outside class I am back to shorts and veil-less. I probably need to work on smoking the bees regularly as I do not unless I make a plan to for the class. I did drop a frame earlier this year, but both the bees and I were so surprised we did not react.
    americasbeekeeper.com
    beekeeper@americasbeekeeper.com

  3. #3
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    I tried "bee whispering" and was rewarded not with Zen-like bliss, but with a sting to my lips! (Bees have little tiny ears and you have to get really close for them to hear you).

    No more whispering for me. Bring on the smoke.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Interesting post. Here's a link to an example of how urban beekeeping can go bad. http://www.beesource.com/forums/show...nvade-festival

    I may post more later when I have more time. You raise some interesting points, particularly in your last paragraph.

  5. #5
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    Chapin,South Carolina, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Hmmmmm???? Me thinks this is too "Disney like"... I think when a beekeeper becomes comfortable around his or her bees, the bees become comfortable around the keeper... if you act irresponsible around bees they will gladly set you straight!

  6. #6
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Quote Originally Posted by AstroBee View Post
    Interesting post. Here's a link to an example of how urban beekeeping can go bad. http://www.beesource.com/forums/show...nvade-festival
    Did they ban you from subsequent festivals?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Being spiritual about bees or anything else is a fine thing, but it needs to be leavened with a healthy dose of common sense.

    Some people who have horses invent a similar type of mythos. They want to see the horse as a mystical healer and spiritual guide -- a magical creature who will not step on their toes or buck them off, unless the human somehow has failed the horse.

    I get the feeling the "benevolent bee" mystique largely comes from urbanites who are desperately seeking a connection with nature, a connection they hope the bees will magically provide. They can't have a pony in the back yard, but they can keep bees.

    A veil, smoker, etc. just gets in the way of the magic, so they are also buying into the myth that bare handed, lightly dressed, veil-less beekeepers will be blessed with more bee mojo.

    I hope a more sensible and safer attitude about bees comes about. Until then, yes, Adam, I think the "benevolent bee" movement will harm some of those foolish enough to swallow the hype and also to the unwitting public (for example, see AstroBee's story).

    I grew up in a small town in Iowa, did farm chores for my grandfather, worked in the fields, and have been around critters, large and small, all my life. I think I can have spiritual insights from interacting with my bees, but I'll do it with my smoker lit and veil on.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Personally, I don't see the effect of these stereotypes as being an urban-centered issue, but I do see a higher potential for troubling repercussions in the urban setting, simply because there are more people there who really dislike the idea of insects bothering them.

    To me, these 'characters' play a role in the development of beekeepers all over the place, but particularly with newbees, as they don't have enough experience to really know for themselves. They are doing a lot based on what they guess the 'master' would do, and they are still in the process of deciding which master to emulate. It isn't until they've spent enough time working the bees that they really begin to develop their own 'feel' for the bees, and a way of working that's really their own.

    It comes down to respecting the true nature of the bee -- but the problem is coming to terms with just what that "true nature" is. At what point are you being careless and irresponsible with the bees? At what point are you being too cautious?

    Adam

  9. #9
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    Oak Ridge, NC, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    There is not a dog that won't bite, a horse that won't kick, or a bee that won't sting in any given situation.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Some people will have to learn the hard way. The nicest hive on a bad day will tear you up when you open it.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  11. #11
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bush View Post
    Some people will have to learn the hard way. The nicest hive on a bad day will tear you up when you open it.
    I have to agree. My kids learned when they were little and my grandchildren are learning that just because we were able to work bees one time with no problems doesn't mean those same bees won't run you out of the yard a week later.

    They've gotten quite a kick out of telling their parents how "grandpa got run out of the yard by the bees. Boy, you shoulda seen him running through the brush...." Of course they're much faster than I am so you can guess who caught the most.......

    Next time we go out, same bees, no problems.... As my youngest says "ya never know...."

  12. #12
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Mr. Bush is right i have a feral hive that ia three years old have never used smoker on them and never wear protective clothing only with my other hives and last week i was carefully going through the hive and WHAM right on the nose a bee forager smacked me she had plenty of polen guess she thought i was attacking and then some friends tried to follow. Any misconception that they wont sting for no reason is wrong and could make a possibly turn a future beek into a bee hater.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    I have a ferel hive and they would get after me every time I came out the back door, I turned there entrance to the wall to make there flight path away from the house, problem solved, I can walk up to the hive and check it out without any problems from them at all, I assume they thought I was coming to do them harm, not sure ?

  14. #14
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    Rochester, Minnesota, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    As Winnie the Pooh said "You never can tell with bees."

  15. #15
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    Newman Lake, Wa.
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    I was out doing an inspection on some hives this evening so that the beekeeper could be certified and use a Naturally Grown label. None of us around the hive were wearing any protection, and I had paper and pen in hand. He was showing me the way his frames are marked so that they could be rotated out every 5 years. Bees were calm and all was well, untill A dog came walking up to the hive and snuffed in the entrance. Well, the dog got nailed first, then the owner of the colony, and then the bees got really excited.

    I had started moving away when I saw the dog on a collision course with the entrance and so just got a better view of the action.

    You not only can never tell about the bees, you can't tell what might happen while you are there among them.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Wasson View Post
    ...I had started moving away when I saw the dog on a collision course with the entrance and so just got a better view of the action...
    I think this is the other side of the equation. Experience is protection.

    You started to move away when you saw the dog approaching. Why? I assume that it was because experience gave you the foresight to see that this change in the situation could bring about a change in the bees. And you were right. And you were not stung. That's why I think the Bee Whisperer and Benevolent Bee stereotypes are primarily a problem for newer beekeepers.

    When you're new, gear which physically protects you, makes up for some of what you lack in experience. That experience is what makes you more able to see problem situations before they actually cause harm. It also allows you to react more effectively to surprises. The mental protection of experience protects your physical well-being.

    Adam

  17. #17
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    "...I don't see the effect of these stereotypes as being an urban-centered issue..."

    Well, okay, I concede I did generalize a bit, but I really do think the folks who are more likely to buy into this mystique are the ones who have not grown up with the realities of agriculture reasonably close by. I'd say that covers a lot of folks in cities and larger towns and not so many who live in small towns and rural areas.

    I've had city people (Brooklynites transplanted to Iowa, to be specific) come out to our place, plop their toddler on my gentlest mare's back ... and walk away! These parents had absolutely no idea that the horse could quietly step sideways, and off that toddler would slide, headfirst, four feet to the ground. I guess they figured the mare had an on/off switch or a brake pedal somewhere.

    But then these folks grew up in city apartments without pets, except maybe for a goldfish, so how would they have a clue about the realities of nature? It would be those folks who would decide to keep bees and blindly assume they will never sting.

    "...At what point are you being careless and irresponsible with the bees? At what point are you being too cautious?..."

    Like so many things in life, it really all depends. What is careless for a newbie might be perfectly acceptable practice for an old hand. But I would be concerned if I saw that old hand teaching the shortcuts to folks who don't have the basic skills down. Get the basics down first ... then learn the fancy stuff. The "benevolent bee" myth is appealing and so misleading, IMO, in that it promises enlightenment without effort.
    Last edited by DeeAnna; 07-27-2011 at 10:32 PM. Reason: added second part

  18. #18
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Maybe. But there are a lot of urban centers that aren't that far removed from rural living. Halifax, for instance has only about 400,000 people, and in less than an hour I can be in serious farm land. Quite literally, it's not that far away. I do see your point. It's just hard to generalize about that many people.

    I'm just thinking that if we have a lot of people who are or claim to be experts, setting an example that there is no need for precautions and that the 'bar' to strive for is one where you don't need to be cautious yourself, then can you blame the uninitiated from going that route? If everywhere I look I've got images and videos of people with no gear and no smoke opening up hives and doing their thing, Is it a surprise that I feel like a bit of a wuss with my smoker and overalls and veil? And isn't it natural that I would want to be like those "pros" who don't need these things?

    In my own case, I've grown up around bees. So I'm not completely uninitiated. I know of experienced beekeepers getting laid out by angry bees, and my own mentors have always worn gear.

    But there's an undeniable pressure to "reach" a place where you don't need all of that stuff, isn't there? Don't we just naturally have more respect for people who seem unfazed by bee stings? Don't we admire the videos of the old country boys opening up the bee tree without veils or gloves; sitting in a buzzing cloud of angry bees, seemingly without a care?

    Adam

  19. #19
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    As a 2nd year beekeeper, I have found I am more calm when I suit up, so I do. None of my hives are particularly aggressive, but it's just not worth the risk of getting rattled and rattling the bees by my mistakes. So I have my smoker ( and I try to keep it lit) and I wear a veil, gloves, long pants and a jacket. And maybe it's not another person's idea of "bee-whispering" but the bees living in my hives seem to be ok with it!

  20. #20
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    My dad trained horses for 60 plus years. If there ever was a "horse whisperer" it was him. The trust built between him and a horse over time was unbelievable. Over time is the key phrase. During most of the year you have new bees every day, from a queen that may have mated with many different drones.

    I'm very new to bee keeping. I do not wear any protection to change sugar water out for my bees. I only wear protection when I remove the top cover from the hives, and I don't think I need it then. That all being said, one should evaluate the risks of working without protection. I am stung by wasps and scorpions every year with no lasting effect, but I can't remember the last time I was stung by a bee. I guess I need to let one of my girls sting me to see what kind of reaction will occur.

    In the end I'm a libertarian, and if the risk is acceptable, go for it.

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