"Tough Love" Beekeeping Lets Weak Bees Die


Image credit: Jeremy Marr

Bees may not be headline news anymore, but from disease to mites to pesticides to the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, the challenges they face are as serious as ever. As Discovery launches a network-wide push on the fight to save the honeybees, it makes sense to listen to all voices in the beekeeping community—including those who are stepping outside the realm of conventional wisdom. I wrote before about the Bee Whisperer Jeremy Marr and his efforts to build an experimental apiary. Convinced that many of the issues faced by honeybees relate back to overly-domesticated breeds, as well as too heavy a reliance on chemicals, Marr was instead interested in exploring less interventionist methods that allow bee strains to sink or swim of their own accord. "Pure" Genetics & Evolution Don't Mix
As I noted in my post on how some beekeepers are reviving the native black honeybee, it's always seemed dangerous to me that beekeeping books focus so much on maintaining "pure" genetic strains in the interests of increased honey production and a gentle demeanor.

A Community-Supported Alternative Apiary
Jeremy Marr would seem to agree with me, and as documented in an article about Marr's "Tough Love" beekeeping methods in the South Bend Tribune, he's discovered a whole community of people who believe in what he is doing, raising funds to support an expansion of his apiary.

Marr's initial online appeal via KickStarter was successful, raising over $3,500 for his experimental apiary. And he plans to document his "tough love" methods in a column for Mother Earth News (Marr is contributing to Mother Earth News' excellent group blog on honeybees and beekeeping):

Marr said he found support for his approach online -- a beekeeper in Nebraska who recommends building a strong and diverse gene pool with wild bees instead of commercially bred mail-order shipments; minimizing pesticide exposure by locating the hives far away from cultivated farm fields; avoiding antibiotic and other chemical treatments to fight bee parasites and diseases, instead relying on beneficial fungi, bacteria and other components of a healthy hive system; and then raising queens and new bees from those bees that survive the first year.

"I never feed my bees, I never treat them -- it's tough love," Marr said.

As with everything in beekeeping, there will be those who find Marr's example inspiring, and those who consider such non-interventionist approaches irresponsible. But given the fact that business-as-usual doesn't seem to be working out too well for the bees, I for one am encouraged to see folks trying something different. (See my round up of top-bar hives and Warré hives for more on beekeeping alternatives.)

Check out the Bees on the Brink webpage for more network-wide coverage of honeybees, Colony Collapse Disorder and the fight to save our pollinators.

More on Bees, Pollinators and Colony Collapse Disorder
Some Bumblebee Populations See 96% Decline
Colony Collapse Disorder and the Epic Fight to Save the Bees
Ellen Page Speaks Out About the Vanishing of the Bees
The Vanishing of the Bees Documents the Ongoing Decline of the Honeybee

Tags: Bees | Colony Collapse Disorder | United States