Image credit: Backwards Beekeepers
Whether it's a "tough love" beekeepers' focus on survivor genes, or a renewed interest in top-bar hives, Warré hives and other beekeeping alternatives, there are plenty of folks out there who believe that the industrialized, chemical-dependent model of large-scale beekeeping is part of the problem when it comes to Colony Collapse Disorder, pests, and all the other challenges facing beekeepers these days. But then there are also plenty of conventional beekeepers who argue that the advocates of natural, treatment-free beekeeping are irresponsible and risk spreading disease to other hives. They're following a backwards approach, say many.
One group of treatment-free California beekeepers seems to agree but, they say, backwards is the new forwards. According to their school of thought, it's just time to let bees be bees. Backwards Beekeepers describes itself as a group of beekeepers committed to organic, chemical-free beekeeping. Starting out as a partnership between two would-be beekeepers Russell Bates and Amy Seidenwurm, and long-time beekeeping veteran Kirk Anderson (aka Kirkobeeo), the group has expanded to thousands of like-minded souls, both in the LA area and beyond.
Besides organizing regular meetings and workshops, and running a "bee rescue" hotline that collects swarms and delivers them to beekeepers interested in chemical-free methods, the group also runs a video series called Backwards Beekeepers TV.
Here are a few choice episodes on backwards beekeeping:
Capturing a Swarm
Many conventional beekeepers warn that capturing a swarm should be left to the experts, because you can't be sure of the provenance, genetic make-up or temperament of your bees. Backwards beekeepers argue precisely the opposite—swarming is nature's way of creating new bee colonies, so swarming bees are by their very nature "survivors" who are adapted to their local environment, and better able to withstand pests and diseases. Here Kirkobeeo walks us through capturing a swarm from a pomegranate tree.
When Two Hives Go to War
Bees are often unfairly maligned as overly aggressive creatures. The fact is that they are rarely a danger to humans, and in fact play a crucial role in keeping us alive. But that doesn't mean it's all peace and love either. Here's some incredible footage (and a badass Black Sabbath sountrack), about what happens when a hive gets "raided" by another group of bees. "The only guarantee of survival is abuncance:, says Kirkobeeo.
Harvesting Comb Honey with Crush-and-Strain Method
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when most folks think about beekeeping, they think about honey. Here we learn how alternative beekeepers who don't use pre-drawn frames harvest their honey using a simple method called "crush and strain".
Check out more videos on natural beekeeping, using "starter strips" instead of pre-drawn frames (it results in smaller, stronger bees says Kirkobeeo), and how to safely open up a hive over at Backwards Beekeepers TV.
As a failed beekeeper myself who more-or-less followed conventional methods, I am probably not qualified to take a stance on the minimal-intervention versus conventional beekeeping approach, except to say that breeding stronger, more resilient and diverse strains of bees seems like a common sense approach to ensuring survival.
I'd love to hear your thoughts below.
More on Organic and Chemical-Free Beekeeping
"Tough Love" Beekeepers Let Weak Bees Die
Top-Bar Hives, Warré Hives and Other Beekeeping Alternatives
Natural, Sustainable Beekeeping: Alternatives to Medication and Swarm Control