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Hobby Beekeepers destroying the honey industry in the U.S.?
July 8, 2013 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Your farmers market honey, you have no idea. '“Those universes are so separate,” Barry continued, “that you could go to a hobby bee-​keeping meeting and mention commercial bee-​keeping, and they’ll say, well, we just don’t have any commercial bee-​keeping in North Carolina. They don’t even know those guys exist. They’re completely different worlds.” He paused. Then he added, “And they hate each other.”'

'“I have increasingly mixed emotions about selling bees to hobby beekeepers,” he announced wistfully. “I feel like I’m tossing an eight-​year-​old kid in Thailand when I watch the bees leave down the driveway, ’cause I know what’s gonna happen. I am increasingly of the opinion that if bees had hooves and fur, hobby beekeepers would be in prison. I mean, it’s just atrocious how bad their bees fare. And of course they blame it on Colony Collapse Disorder and this and that and the other, but mainly it’s just they don’t know what in the world they’re doing.”'
posted by VikingSword (131 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's not Colony Collapse Disorder, they have simply returned home.
posted by mediocre at 10:53 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's quite a bit to unpack here. I don't have time at the moment, so I'll just say that keeper's are gonna keep. Tell me what your goal is in keeping bees, and I can tell you what approaches are likely to work best. What works best for a guy with a half-dozen hives will probably not work best for someone keeping 500-600 colonies. The bees know what to do if we can stay the hell out of their way.

I will point out, though, that there's a joke that says the average age of a beekeeper is dead. If the publicity around CCD has done anything positive, it's bring attention to the issue (or set of issues) and, as a result, brought a whole lot of new folks into the field. That's not a bad thing.
posted by jquinby at 10:56 AM on July 8, 2013


This was interesting. I don't at all doubt that with the rise in yuppie-permaculture, there are lots of folks out there "getting into" bee keeping that have no idea what they're doing.

That said, I also don't really think it's great to lump all hobby beekeepers together as awful amateurs who are killing bees simply because they aren't "commercial." I know a lot of folks who keep bees and who have educated themselves extensively, are very responsible about it, and very successful at it, with just a colony or two in the backyard.

In general, I think the more people we have recognizing the importance of bees and the less of a stigma there is to keeping them, the better. We need those little guys. Desperately.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


I am increasingly of the opinion that if bees had hooves and fur, hobby beekeepers would be in prison.

The trouble with bees must be with the people who want to love them, not those who want to extract money out of them.
posted by DU at 11:00 AM on July 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Also, if you haven't seen it, I really recommend Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us. It's a great documentary, streaming on Netflix.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:00 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a friend who works for a very large scale commercial beekeeping operation in California, and when I asked her about Colony Collapse she said they didn't have a problem, and if others did it probably had more to do with bad beekeeping.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:03 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I blame Oprah.
posted by cell divide at 11:11 AM on July 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


There is a very similar mutual hatred between the industrial farming community and the small/organic/local/by hand (perhaps "lifestyle?") farming wave that some of my friends are participating in. The two groups are learning essentially nothing from one another. There are lots of online resources that you can use to start your own small farm, but it's all knowledge from other small farmers, there isn't much cross pollination with the big agro companies.

My friend who started a small farm described it as roughly: the small guys think the big guys are the devil who care little for the land and all for the profit while the big agro people think these little guys are jokers who if they got their way would starve the country.
posted by macrael at 11:12 AM on July 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


“And they hate each other.” doesn't actually square up with "They don’t even know those guys exist", so it seems the hate is probably one way at this point, at least in local terms.
posted by cell divide at 11:12 AM on July 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man I fantasize about keeping bees, not even for honey or wax really, just be nice to look after something that is a total net positive in the world, tho I doubt my building will let me set up a hive on the roof for funsies.

( " and what do you do?" "I watch the bees")
posted by The Whelk at 11:13 AM on July 8, 2013 [20 favorites]


It's weird. Over the past few years I've had an increasingly strong urge to keep bees, but as it happens, I have virtually no use for honey. I don't really eat it, and I have no want to sell it.

I just want to keep bees because: Bees!
posted by quin at 11:14 AM on July 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Or, kinda what The Whelk said.
posted by quin at 11:14 AM on July 8, 2013


Hobbyists think of commercial beekeepers as “corporate farmers and bee slavers,” he claims. But commercial beekeepers are the ones taking much better care of their bees. [...] You can’t make any money with dead bees, and you can’t make any money with an empty box.”

This seems to me no different than someone asserting that commercial egg producers or dairies take better care of their chickens and cows than an amateur would. I will readily acknowledge that there's been a ton of research on how to maximize yields of honey, eggs, and milk, but those things will not necessarily equate to 'taking better care' of the animals that produce them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:15 AM on July 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


I thought the topic was fascinating but the article was kind of a mess. There was a lot in there about how grumpy and cranky the pro beekeeper was. And not much at all about the hobbyists, particularly ones who have lost bees. I guess it was maybe half of the article I wanted to read.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:15 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


quin: "I just want to keep bees because: Bees!"

Some folks keep smallish hives around to pollinate their garden. Others keep them because raising and selling bees to other keepers can be more lucrative than honey, and certainly a lot less labor-intensive. Still others do it because bees are fascinating creatures and the chance to watch the closely over the course of the seasons is just too irresistible. The honey is a nice bit of lagniappe, but it need not be the only reason to get into it.

There are crotchety types in every hobby.
posted by jquinby at 11:19 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I love bees. Haven't interacted with them in a large-scale way yet (no keeping, just being friendly with them every day working in a greenhouse.) But I have a sneaking suspicion about bees in the same way I had a sneaking suspicion about goats before I went to work on a goat farm and went head over heels for them.

I wonder how goats and bees get along.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:20 AM on July 8, 2013


Here is a link to the very same VQR article, and a short discussion about it between keepers, on a beekeeping forum I visit.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder how goats and bees get along.

Of COURSE the internet has already dealt with this question
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder how goats and bees get along.

They get along famously.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 11:22 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how goats and bees get along.

Painfully, I'd imagine.
posted by Kitteh at 11:22 AM on July 8, 2013


Sounds like goats and bees on the same farm is entirely feasible, and now I have my retirement all planned out. Thanks, Metafilter!
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:25 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've almost got my fiance sold on the idea of Chickens and Bees are next on the list of "please can I have it please please please"
posted by Twain Device at 11:25 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would love a beehive; I would love my own honey. I would share with my neighbors and let my crafty friends have beeswax for stuff. The honey I get from the local small apiary beekeepers is amazing. But I am terrified of bees. I would be a bad beekeeper. It's best I cannot keep bees. But it is a small happy thought I have sometimes.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:27 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the benefits of being in a relatively young town that still feels like a frontier town in a lot of ways is that the bylaws are not very comprehensive. I have been day dreaming of beekeeping lately. A family almost right downtown has a couple goats.
posted by ODiV at 11:28 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This seems to me no different than someone asserting that commercial egg producers or dairies take better care of their chickens and cows than an amateur would.

Or that "regular" businesses would take care of their employees or put money into basic research or make quality products. I don't know why this "if they are making money from it, they must be Doing It Right" myth doesn't die already.
posted by DU at 11:29 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the benefits of being in a relatively young town that still feels like a frontier town in a lot of ways is that the bylaws are not very comprehensive.

My town recently celebrated 200 years (or was it 250?) and I can almost see bee hives from my yard and I know for a fact there are people keeping chickens in town, although I've never seen them.
posted by DU at 11:31 AM on July 8, 2013


I don't know why this "if they are making money from it, they must be Doing It Right" myth doesn't die already.

Because a lot of the time, it's true. If you're making money you have motivation to use your resources as efficiently as possible. In this case it means keeping your bees alive as long as possible.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:34 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know why this "if they are making money from it, they must be Doing It Right" myth doesn't die already.

While I completely agree with this, I think the idea that hobbyists are, as a matter of course, doing things better and smarter needs to die, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:35 AM on July 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


The caption In order to get to the honey, they use smoke to drive the bees away under one of the pictures does not square with my (admittedly limited; i have a friend who is an urban beekeeper) understanding of the smoke. It calms them rather than drives them away.
posted by misskaz at 11:35 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


We're moving out to the country (ie, twenty minutes outside of Boston) next year-ish, and I am incredibly excited about keeping bees and chickens.

Chickens I know, I grew up with them, but bees? Bees are uncharted territory! So I've already taken a bee keeping class, made contacts with the beekeeping community up here, and located sources for materials, bees, and advice.

Strangely enough, the opinion of the commercial beekeepers does not seem to match the reality of the hobbyists, who seem to be doing pretty damn well for themselves and their bees. Strangely enough.
posted by lydhre at 11:35 AM on July 8, 2013


He seems really grumpy; not sure why he'd agreed to be profiled as part of this story other than to further his way of doing things.

Not in a place to keep bees anymore, though I've outgrown trying to carry them about in my pockets, (and The Whelk - the roof is too hot!) but they aren't the only pollinators out here. Even if you can't keep a hive, you can set up a friendly place for bees to, well, bee. ;)

Plant a variety of foliage to encourage these other pollinators. If we're losing a lot of bees, it's because we're maintain a lot of bees and noticing that more. Similar to that yes, the plane crashes over the weekend were spectacularly frightening, but deaths via plane are still less significant that for transportation overall.


The main beekeeper of the article could be talking about me and my earthworms, though ... hobbyists in any kind of hobby can be smart, middling, or stupid; the area makes no difference in the range of competencies.
posted by tilde at 11:37 AM on July 8, 2013


They get along famously.

The problem is, when they get along too well, and then you get beegoats terrorizing the neighborhood, and you need to get beedogs to deal with the beegoats, and, once you have beedogs there is nothing else, really.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:37 AM on July 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


The Whelk: "Man I fantasize about keeping bees, not even for honey or wax really, just be nice to look after something that is a total net positive in the world, tho I doubt my building will let me set up a hive on the roof for funsies.
"

I knew a guy who kept bee's for the sake of keeping bee's. As far as he was concerned honey was simply a byproduct of keeping bees. Since I make mead this was a fantastic relationship 'cause he would sell me a bucket of honey anytime I wanted for the cost of the bucket.
posted by Runes at 11:39 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


misskaz: The caption In order to get to the honey, they use smoke to drive the bees away under one of the pictures does not square with my (admittedly limited; i have a friend who is an urban beekeeper) understanding of the smoke. It calms them rather than drives them away.
That's actually only true right after the drones & Queen have sex.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


The caption In order to get to the honey, they use smoke to drive the bees away under one of the pictures does not square with my (admittedly limited; i have a friend who is an urban beekeeper) understanding of the smoke. It calms them rather than drives them away.

As a former beekeeper, I can tell you that smoke absolutely does not calm them. It makes them think the hive is on fire, which is why they start beating their wings faster (to drive out the smoke) and eventually fly away.

Cracking open a hive for the first time goes something like this:

13 year old me: (cracks hive)

Bees: hmmmmmmmmmmm

13 year old me: That's cool. We can hear them humming. But how are we going to get them out of there.

My father: Oh, I'll just puff a little smoke in there and--

Bees: hmmmm--HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!! (bees come boiling out of the hive)

13 year-old me: SWEET MOTHER OF GOD! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!
posted by slkinsey at 11:45 AM on July 8, 2013 [18 favorites]


Interesting article, but after reading it I have to agree with the first sentence of the last paragraph,

I don’t feel any closer to the truth behind the honey I purchased at the farmers’ market weeks ago.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:47 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is serendipitous as I was just remarking to Mrs Creature yesterday that we needed to look into getting some milking goats and some bees.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:47 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting, my friend said smoke makes them think a wildfire is approaching, so they start eating their honey stores in anticipation of having to get the fuck out of there. And full of honey they get a bit more sedate and their stomachs are too distended to really be able to sting.

She doesn't wear much in the way of protective gear and seems to rarely get stung.

But I know nothing (Jon Snow).
posted by misskaz at 11:47 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


We're moving out to the country (ie, twenty minutes outside of Boston) next year-ish, and I am incredibly excited about keeping bees and chickens.

I grew up in Newton Corner, and we had both bees and chickens.
posted by slkinsey at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2013


I think the idea that hobbyists are, as a matter of course, doing things better and smarter needs to die, too.

Hobbyists are generally on the right path, but not very far along it. Commercial entities are usually pointed in the wrong direction and very far along. I'll let you decide which of those is "better and smarter".
posted by DU at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mr brother has bees. He doesn't like honey, doesn't get crafty with wax, and mails jars of honey to me because he has too much of it around the house. he just...likes keeping bees, I guess.

He took me into the dog kennel in the woods where his hives are once (you know, to keep out the bears?), and since I don't like bees, I was petrified...but fascinated.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2013


Oh, I live in Somerville right now, with a yard, and I could theoretically have both. I'd just rather do it when I move and settle into a new house permanently. :)

And yes, the smoke definitely does not calm the bees, it makes them panic and start focusing on saving the honey rather than destroying the giant in the netting suit that's skulking around their hive.

Oh, and I hate honey and have little use for wax. I just want them to pollinate my vegetables and because they are super neat.
posted by lydhre at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2013


One of the benefits of being in a relatively young town that still feels like a frontier town in a lot of ways is that the bylaws are not very comprehensive. I have been day dreaming of beekeeping lately. A family almost right downtown has a couple goats.

Somehow, I knew you were in the North. Although, I guessed Whitehorse rather than Yellowknife.
posted by asnider at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2013


The problems with CCD science are manifold:
* It's very political (Monsanto, the Evil Empire of the 2010's, is implicated)
* It probably has multiple causes (but people don't like complex relationships in their soundbites)
* It may be perfectly normal expressions of the natural cycle
* It may be due to mite infestations, which aren't as easy to pin on someone for blame
* It's effects may in fact not be as big as claimed, since the dieoffs are sometimes very regional.

I can't find the excellent metastudy I read on this a few days ago, pointing out how various studies can be cherrypicked to promote agendas, but overall are rather ambiguous, so instead I'll cite some loose aggregrate discussions that don't seem too biased:

Cite 1
Cite 2
Cite 3
posted by IAmBroom at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


and, once you have beedogs there is nothing else, really.

Spidergoats will take care of your beedogs like that !
posted by ian1977 at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


If you're making money you have motivation to use your resources as efficiently as possible. In this case it means keeping your bees alive as long as possible.

I wonder how often "keeping [something] alive as long as possible" correlates with "tak[ing] better care of their [something]". Consider factory farms, you're seeing cows kept alive, but are you seeing cows having better care taken of them?
posted by davejay at 11:53 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


roof is too hot

I shall build shade! With cooling flowering vines and -hey wait whatya mean the roof is co-op property? get your hands off me I have to install the vegetable garden and chicken coop ouch ouch ouch
posted by The Whelk at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Obligatory?
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2013




From what I understand, the smoke makes the bees think there is a forest fire so they all get busy gorging on honey in case they need to move the hive.

And the bees fall for it. Every. Stinking. Time.
posted by ian1977 at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought neonicotinoids had already been confirmed as the source of CCD.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


DU: I think the idea that hobbyists are, as a matter of course, doing things better and smarter needs to die, too.

Hobbyists are generally on the right path, but not very far along it. Commercial entities are usually pointed in the wrong direction and very far along. I'll let you decide which of those is "better and smarter".
The answer depends entirely on your personal definition of "better". More bees? Seems to me that Big-Ag is pretty good at increasing husbandry yields, in general. More robust/genetically diverse wild bee population? Diverse, small-farm support seems better suited.

"Smarter" definitely goes to the people who can afford to hire PhD's and experienced beekeepers to plan their systems.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man I fantasize about keeping bees, not even for honey or wax really, just be nice to look after something that is a total net positive in the world,

For those of us with the luxury of a garden, but perhaps neither the space, patience or understanding neighbours to keep a bee hive, there are other ways of getting bees in your garden. Planting the proper plants is one of course, but there are also other things you can do to make your garden attractive to solitary bee species and provide them with much needed habitats. Talk to your local botanist.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:57 AM on July 8, 2013


Anecdote: Friend of a family member, good friend, nice guy, retired or nearly so, I think. Takes up bee-keeping a few years ago. Bright, successful at all his other pursuits.

Has yet to have a hive actually survive the winter.

And yeah, they're just insects, but--if I knew someone who routinely managed to kill all the fish in their tank, I'd say it was maybe a good idea for them to not keep fish in the future. That doesn't mean that someone breeding tropical fish on a large scale is doing a great job, but they're probably doing better than the person who is actively killing them off.
posted by Sequence at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thorzdad: "I think the idea that hobbyists are, as a matter of course, doing things better and smarter needs to die, too."

I'll go along with that as long as the idea that professionals are, as a matter of course, doing things better and smarter is put to death along with it.

I've certainly seen more supposed professionals across many trades and crafts that are doing shitty jobs that I could have done way better myself or any self-respecting hobbyists.
This is not to say that hobbyists could beat experienced and well trained professionals who have mastered their trade or craft. Of course they couldn't. The problem is that those types of people only make up a very small percentage of all professionals out there.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mr dbmcd has kept bees on a 'hobby' level for about 7 years. I've got a lot to say about this, but briefly:
- misskaz is right about smoke and bees; we use a spray of sugar water. The bees are all "wow! food from the sky, right on me! Gotta clean up and store this stuff" We think they are less 'panicked' (but that's probably anthropomorphizing)
- we mostly keep bees because: bees! and pollination. Any honey we get is kept until we're sure they don't need it during the winter/early sprint (before nectar flow really starts, but after it's warmed up)
- don't get me started on what commercial bee-keepers do *to* their bees! Steal honey, and feed HFCS syrup instead? check Steal pollen to sell as bogus anti-allergan? check Crowd bees into orchards in abnormally large numbers (stressor for bees)? check
I could go on, but you get the picture...
posted by dbmcd at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


And what kind of life is it anyway? Slavery supported monarchies are not something I can agree with. I have heard about some exciting developments in democratic apiaries being made by hobbyists. You probably haven't heard of it because of Big Honey.
posted by ODiV at 12:00 PM on July 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


Spidergoats...

DO NOT WANT!
posted by calamari kid at 12:00 PM on July 8, 2013


IAmABroom: "Smarter" definitely goes to the people who can afford to hire PhD's and experienced beekeepers to plan their systems.

If they were so smart, they would hire PhBEES.
posted by dr_dank at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


“One of the chief researchers at the USDA made a comment to me that eventually hobby beekeepers will destroy bee-​keeping and commercial bee-​keeping and the bees.”

How?

The article never even attempts to address this concern.
posted by General Tonic at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know why this "if they are making money from it, they must be Doing It Right" myth doesn't die already.

You say this as if you didn't know that money is the measure of everything in America.

Hobbyists are generally on the right path, but not very far along it.

I wish. Every relative (n=4 if I remember correctly) who has gotten hives as a hobby has let them die out in the end due to boredom or distraction or the diminished facilities of old age. I remember coming across some decrepit stacks of frames on a hike in the woods one summer when I was home from college (long time ago now) realizing some bees kept by a relative had been abandoned. It was like coming across a ghost town.

It was very sad, and I could only hope (I don't know a lot about bees) that perhaps the colony had moved or split or something and at least part of it had survived in the wild despite the neglect. (I half expect someone who knows about beekeeping will tell me can't happen with domesticated honeybees.)

I can also hope (even if it might be depressing) that my relatives who messed around with beekeeping were unusually irresponsible, but I suspect that isn't really the case.
posted by aught at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


DO NOT WANT!

Too late!
posted by ian1977 at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


That comparison to child prostituion is beyond-the-pale.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Pope Guilty: "I thought neonicotinoids had already been confirmed as the source of CCD."

The jury is still out, though the EU has taken some steps to ban them. Barrels of ink are spilt in every issue of American Bee Journal by this guy on the topic.

ian1977: "From what I understand, the smoke makes the bees think there is a forest fire so they all get busy gorging on honey in case they need to move the hive. "

Another thought is that the smoke disrupts the pheremone communications of the colony, so the alarm can't spread well (or at all) while you're in there dorking around. Some keepers will mist the frames with sugar water. They get all angry as you're opening thing up, and all of a sudden get to work cleaning themselves off and eating the syrup. Calms them right down, though it doesn't move them around very much - the smoke is better for that.
posted by jquinby at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: Regarding neonics, not really. There are parts of the world that use neonics extensively, but don't have CCD. There are parts of the US that don't have much CCD (see the part about outbreaks being very regional) but still use neonics. There are parts of the world that don't use neonics much (or at all) but do have CCD. Many papers have been done on neonics and their effects on honeybees and while they are clearly harmful to bees, it's still not clear at what use rates it matters or if use is causing CCD specifically (or just general bee death). CCD isn't even very well-defined: many people will attribute a bee hive dying to CCD even if it doesn't actually have all the defined symptoms (you see this even in academic papers on the subject). There is even reason to think that it's been around a long time, but not well characterized, and it's only the last decade it's gotten much attention. IAmBroom's links are pretty good overviews. A recent overview of CCD at Biofortified is probably my favorite single post on it as it links to a lot of papers and history about the subject.
posted by R343L at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Spidergoats...

calamari kid : DO NOT WANT!

But just think of how much space you could save! You could have goats on the ground, goats in trees, and goats hanging from the ceiling, just waiting to pounce on you with their sweet goatliness.
posted by quin at 12:09 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


You can read some stuff about CCD on the USDA's research site here... oh wait, that link was 404'ed sometime recently. Maybe this one from May 6th is more current.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:10 PM on July 8, 2013


It was very sad, and I could only hope (I don't know a lot about bees) that perhaps the colony had moved or split or something and at least part of it had survived in the wild despite the neglect. (I half expect someone who knows about beekeeping will tell me can't happen with domesticated honeybees.)

The thing about bees is that they aren't really domesticated in the same sense as, like, a cat or something. Bees in the wild and bees in a box in your garden are basically the same, and they can care for themselves as well as any wild animal- which is to say, humans can help out if they feed them in lean times and give them medicine, but they evolved without us and survived just fine for many million years, and we haven't changed them much since we began keeping them.

I used to volunteer on a farm that purchased about 20 hives from a farm, and the bees had been basically abandoned for maybe 15 years. Not opened, not harvested, not treated, not fed. And they were doing GREAT. They had a much higher natural disease resistance than bees from big breeding operations, because the weaker colonies had died and their hives taken over by swarms from more productive hives.

Yes, hobbyists can kill hives- usually by taking too much honey which makes the bees unable to survive the winter, or killing queens through carelessness, or installing a new package and not feeding them enough to get established- but neglecting a beehive is not the same as neglecting your hamster. Neglect can actually be great for bees.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:12 PM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


You could have goats on the ground, goats in trees, and goats hanging from the ceiling, just waiting to pounce on you with their sweet goatliness.

So the secret to being a goat hoarder is spidergoats. Now I just need to write this down somewhere I'll see it when I reach retirement age.

("Cutest infestation ever!")
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2013


Look at y'all acting like spidergoats are imaginary

You will be unprepared for the inevitable uprising
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:21 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have heard about some exciting developments in democratic apiaries being made by hobbyists.

You may enjoy this short story: The Cartographer Wasps & The Anarchist Bees.
posted by epersonae at 12:22 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Hobbyists are generally on the right path, but not very far along it. Commercial entities are usually pointed in the wrong direction and very far along. I'll let you decide which of those is "better and smarter"."

Any real evidence of this in beekeeping, or is this just general anti-capitalist superstition?
posted by klangklangston at 12:30 PM on July 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Any real evidence of this in beekeeping, or is this just general anti-capitalist superstition?

Well, many of the proposed contributors to CCD are either exclusive to, or more common in, commercial beekeeping. Antibiotic overuse, malnutrition from taking too much honey and feeding back corn syrup, exposure to high levels of pesticides on the agricultural areas where they're kept, and cross-country transportation of bees which exposes them to many more parasites and diseases and also seriously stresses them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another culprit that some folks point to is the accumulation of miticides and other toxins in the wax that's used in foundation. The wax is recycled from other hives, flattened into sheets and embossed with a honeycomb pattern. The bees draw their cells up from the pattern and thus expend less energy on building comb (so that they can spend their time foraging instead). In addition to the toxin bit - neonics and other pesticides hanging around in the wax is an obvious problem - the embossed patterns present a cell size larger than bees generally create on their own in the wild.

Why is this a problem? A larger cell means that the egg-larva-pupa timeline is extended, since the pupa has more time to grow before emerging. More time in the cell means more time exposed to the Varroa mites.

Frames and foundation are the basis for modern beekeeping in large part because the end was originally honey production, and they withstand the mechanical extraction process.

An alternative is to use foundationless frames. The bees create their own comb within the wooden frame as they see fit. If you harvest honey, you cut out the comb and then crush-and-strain it. This works well but probably doesn't scale very well in terms of labor. Also, as the bees need to re-create the comb, your productivity may take a hit, and this isn't in keeping with the Yankee-thrift that drove the innovations (and modern techniques) in the first place.

The ends drive the methods, as I mentioned earlier. I have 3 colonies in standard-issue Langstroth hives, and another that's died out in a Kenyan Top Bar Hive. The one that died was a package of bees I bought (from out of state); the other 3 are descended from my original hive (the nucleus of whic was bought locally) and they're still going strong.
posted by jquinby at 12:47 PM on July 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


I am increasingly of the opinion that if bees had hooves and fur hobby beekeepers would be in prison that would be fucking awesome, like something out of the original AD&D Monster Manual.
posted by The Bellman at 12:49 PM on July 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


showbiz_liz: Any real evidence of this in beekeeping, or is this just general anti-capitalist superstition?

Well, many of the proposed contributors to CCD are either exclusive to, or more common in, commercial beekeeping. Antibiotic overuse, malnutrition from taking too much honey and feeding back corn syrup, exposure to high levels of pesticides on the agricultural areas where they're kept, and cross-country transportation of bees which exposes them to many more parasites and diseases and also seriously stresses them.
"Proposed contributors" != evidence. In fact, it's the opposite of evidence: it's a collection of possibilities that lack sufficient evidence; i.e.: guesses.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:59 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Proposed contributors" != evidence. In fact, it's the opposite of evidence: it's a collection of possibilities that lack sufficient evidence; i.e.: guesses.

What's your definition of 'sufficient evidence,' though? It's not as if these possibilities haven't been studied, and all of them do have at least some evidence to suggest that they aren't good for bees. People didn't just make this stuff out out of nowhere and then completely fail to examine any evidence.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:03 PM on July 8, 2013


“One of the chief researchers at the USDA made a comment to me that eventually hobby beekeepers will destroy bee-​keeping and commercial bee-​keeping and the bees.”
How?

The article never even attempts to address this concern.


I can't speak to this article and its failure to explain, but every hobbyist beehive I've known about has been a vector for mites that the beekeeper could never really get under control. So there's that. Varroa mites, man. There's a reason their Latin name is Varroa destructor.
posted by purpleclover at 1:08 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


(I have known a lot of shitty beekeepers; I am sure there are great ones out there.)
posted by purpleclover at 1:09 PM on July 8, 2013


My great-uncle had hives in the middle of Bergen County, New Jersey (Ridgewood, to be exact). He kept them because he had them in his boyhood in Austria, and he found taking care of them to be relaxing and soothing. He didn't extract much honey - enough for him and his wife to have some in their tea every few days, he said - and they had planted gardens and trees in the area specifically for the bees to work with and to make a honey they preferred.

I remember him talking about the 'honey farms' disparagingly (but he was a perfectionist in many ways, and a professional musician and teacher who did very well at it, to the point he was a lecturer at Julliard every few years and spent a year first chair in the New York Symphony Orchestra, just to give insight into the sort of perfectionism he had), and about how they didn't understand how to treat the bees. I can almost hear Uncle Josef saying it now:

"They do not try to understand the bees. The dance. The work. The order. How do I go out there without the hat and gloves and not be stung? I understand their rhythm and their song, and I do not interrupt it. I work with it. I do not change their nature, I listen to it and play along. The farms, they are deaf to the songs. And they do not care."

I remember that, sitting in his kitchen and having cookies after a particularly fruitless piano lesson, but when he was looking into the back yard where the garden and the three hives were, and the soft, gentle joy in his face as he pondered the bees.
posted by mephron at 1:10 PM on July 8, 2013 [25 favorites]


Varroa mites, man

Yeah, a big part of that documentary I linked was about the Varroa mites. I don't know claim to know much about it, but because it seems there's no way to get ride of them without Teh Chemicals, one scientist was trying to get his bees to like evolve in tandem with the mites so that they were just like live peacefully together. Not sure how that'll work out though.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:19 PM on July 8, 2013


Sonascope's posts on bees are some of the best things I've ever read on Metafilter, so I just have to take this excuse to link to them:

car full of bees
and
bees and flow
posted by kristi at 1:19 PM on July 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


My dad, an engineer by profession, kept bees when I was growing up. Being an engineer, he built his own honey extractor. It was made from an old-school (this was back when old-school was modern, by the way) 20-gallon garbage can. He built a cross-shaped holder for four frames inside it, all mounted to a long metal shaft. The lid went on top, over the shaft, and he then fitted the shaft into his drill chuck and spuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnn the whole thing until honey started coming out. At the bottom of the trash can, there was a PVC elbow through which the honey flowed. It was filtered through a pair of mom's old panty hose and into a five-gallon bucket.

This all took place in the middle of the kitchen (the extractor sat perched on one of the kitchen chairs) with newspaper on the floor to protect against wayward honey. But HAHAHA!! Newspaper cannot do anything about wayward honey, because during a honey extraction honey goes EVERYWHERE. By the end of the day, every flat surface in the kitchen was sticky, and so was every doorknob in the house. Bees can apparently track the scent of their honey, so the bees would bombard all of the doors and windows, trying to get inside. Also, this being Texas, it was usually a really hot day.

The two days of the year when my dad robbed his hive were also the worst days of the year.

He got rid of his bees in the 80s when the Africanized "killer" bees moved into the county.

Despite it all -- despite how much I hated those honey days, and despite the fact that I was stung as a kid more times than I can count -- I really want a beehive so that I can care for and nurture a colony and make sure they're healthy and happy.

The only thing that keeps me from doing it is that I live adjacent to a schoolyard, and people are stupidly litigious about things like that.

Yay bees.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:23 PM on July 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I thought neonicotinoids had already been confirmed as the source of CCD.

Not so fast, Pope Guilty. Nothing is confirmed that large corporations and their tamed scientists would prefer not to be confirmed-- at least not without a decades-long struggle (e. g. global warming, the tobacco/cancer connection, the dangers of lead in paint and gas, and the toxicity of asbestos, for a tiny fraction of possible examples).

That Monsanto is the manufacturer is particularly suspicious because reducing pollination by bees is very much in their interests, since the escape of their patented genes into non-modified varieties via pollination is one of their major headaches along several axes, and fewer pollinators reduces the viability of the traditional varieties which are their major competition.
posted by jamjam at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2013


Amateur vs. professional, huh? I know that, elsewhere, industrial agribusiness has given us some atrocious practices, especially where farm animals are concerned, which has mechanized suffering on a vast scale. Seriously, if measured in sheer number and intensity of animals suffering, it is a tremendous stain on the moral tally of the human race.

Whatever amateurs beekeepers are doing to bees, I doubt they're purposely hobbling them, or making them spend their entire lives in tiny cages, or injecting them with hormone to develop their muscles enough to make them unable to stand.

Of course, I doubt professional beekeepers do this either. At lest they seem to take the well-being of their animals to heart. It helps that the end process of keeping bees doesn't directly profit from the deaths of the animals, I suppose.

Also: all this way and no Nicolas Cage joke yet? I'm proud of you Metafilter.
posted by JHarris at 1:26 PM on July 8, 2013


jamjam: I hope you're joking. Monsanto doesn't even make neonics (the only pesticide of note that they still make is glyphosate but it's off patent anyway).
posted by R343L at 1:46 PM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lots of top bar hives now have glass panels so hobby beekeepers can peek in and see how things are going, leading to the term "beepeekers."
posted by letitrain at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2013


re: Varroa mites, there are some miticides that are less 'destructive' to the bees - Formic Acid (what ants produce when they sting) on a pad, put in the hive before winter and again in spring; and Thymol (thyme oil concentrate), applied in the same way.
The other thing that is being bred for in some apiaries in 'hygiene' - that is, bees that are better at cleaning themselves/one another.
I heard at one time that another contributor to CCD is that there is very little bio-diversity in commercial bees - fewer bloodlines that we have in the Stem Cell program, was how I heard it put. One apiary in the PNW, Olympic Wilderness Apiary, is breeding from a feral colony found in the Olympics, but there isn't much in the way of diverse bloodlines.
posted by dbmcd at 2:01 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spidergoats...

DO NOT WANT!
posted by calamari kid at 2:00 PM on July 8 [+] [!]


Calamari kid. Spidergoats.
posted by goethean at 2:02 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like I’m tossing an eight-​year-​old kid in Thailand when I watch the bees leave

Well that's kind of an... unfortunate bit of usage, isn't it?
posted by Naberius at 2:21 PM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's weird. Over the past few years I've had an increasingly strong urge to keep bees, but as it happens, I have virtually no use for honey. I don't really eat it, and I have no want to sell it.

My mother has two hives just because she loves bees. Seriously loves bees. She took a frame of honey from one hive once, but that's it. They're just really pets like the two cats in the house.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:56 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like all the various old timey beekeeping tradition, like informing the hive when a keeper as died and leaving out sugar water, or moving the hive a foot to the right after a keeper's death so they're aware that something has changed and the church built with empty areas in the roof to provide warmth for bees in winter. Bees are neat. The little eusocial insects that could.
posted by The Whelk at 3:18 PM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


DU: "Or that "regular" businesses would take care of their employees or put money into basic research or make quality products. I don't know why this "if they are making money from it, they must be Doing It Right" myth doesn't die already."

Conversely, I don't know why this "if they are making money from it, they must be Doing it Wrong" myth doesn't die already. I think we can all agree that by and large the largest corporations are completely out of control, but painting all people with a profit motive with the same brush is just as silly as painting all hobbyists with the same brush.

Some of the causes for disdain among commercial keepers are talked about but not really explained in the article. The funding structure for the regulation of beekeeping in North Carolina apparently relies almost entirely on the commercial keepers, thus keeping the number of commercial keepers low. This causes more bees to be imported for pollination, thus increasing the risk of disease in the state. I can see how that would be frustrating, because it is a very real risk to everyone's colonies.
posted by wierdo at 3:47 PM on July 8, 2013


Why is this a problem? A larger cell means that the egg-larva-pupa timeline is extended, since the pupa has more time to grow before emerging. More time in the cell means more time exposed to the Varroa mites.

I suspect you are mixing up either the fact that varroa prefers drone cells and drones have a longer development time than workers, or that Africanized bees have a shorter developmental time and raise brood in smaller cells than European bees. Aside from anecdotes from Micheal Bush (whom I do really really trust) I have never heard of small cells changing development times. If it did, I suspect pretty much everyone would adopt it.

People like Dee Lusby, who have had success using small cell as a cultural control of varroa have speculated that the varroa simply have less room to move around, and may starve. others say it has no effect whatsoever.

Personally I use foundationless because I want the bees to maintain a healthy drone comb/worker comb ratio, I believe this contributes to hive health. I have also been breeding bees these last couple of years that survive without miticides and other medications, and want my drones to go out there and spread my genes around, as it were.

I think Barry Harris' assertion that hobbyists are destroying the craft is dead wrong: we will save the craft because it is us who can afford to loose genetically weak hives that need a never ending treadmill of medicines and treatments to survive. What we are left with, after the winter, is survivor stock. Most of my hives have come from swarms and cutouts, already very strong bees. I have to this date not lost a single hive to CCD or anything else (knock on wood.) My bees are very well suited to my area and would probably do even better if I actually neglected them (about the only thing I do is practice swarm prevention).
posted by TheTingTangTong at 3:54 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


... can we get pictures of MeFite bees, pleez?
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:16 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Twain Device: "I've almost got my fiance sold on the idea of Chickens and Bees are next on the list of "please can I have it please please please""

And then you open your all organic cruelty free Honey Battered chicken stand, and I make you regret your all you can eat buffet.
posted by Samizdata at 4:24 PM on July 8, 2013


Varroa mites. I don't know claim to know much about it, but because it seems there's no way to get ride of them without Teh Chemicals,

When the commercia bee keepers took the natural cell size of 4.9 mm and expanded it to 5.1 mm that lengthens the time it take for a bee to bee from 21 to 24 days. The few extra days are bee-leaved to allow the mites to get a foothold.

The other way they get a foothold is via the natural wax so one can now buy 4.9 mm all plastic comb for the main body of the hive.

talking about me and my earthworms, though ... hobbyists in any kind of hobby

Not quite the same however. Bee stuff can bee deducted as a business expense. Worms have a no deduction rule in the tax law due to the 1970's worm scams and the blowing up of B&B Worms Farms 10 years ago.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:49 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I take it the beedogs are just dogs that shoot bees out of their mouths?
posted by Anne Neville at 4:52 PM on July 8, 2013


Just? Man, tough crowd.
posted by ODiV at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2013


No, it takes 24 days for a DRONE to emerge from its cell, and 21 days for a worker. Heat may change this by a day or two. I do not currently believe that cell size affects worker development time, although I may be wrong. However, it FOR SURE does not take a worker bee, raised in a 5.1 mm cell, 24 days to emerge.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 4:57 PM on July 8, 2013


Why would I want natural sized cells?

Less Varroa Because:

Capping times shorter by 24 hours
Resulting in less Varroa in the cell when it's capped
Postcapping times shorter by 24 hours
Resulting in less varroa reaching maturity and mating by emergence
More chewing out of Varroa


From the same page:

Accepted days for capping and Post Capping.(based on observing bees on 5.4 mm comb)
Capped 9 days after egg layed
Emerges 21 days after egg layed

_________________________________________

Huber's Observations on Capping and Emergence on Natural Comb.

Keep in mind that on the 1st day no time has elapsed and on the 20th 19 days have elapsed. If you have doubts about this add up the elapsed time he refers to. It adds up to 18 ½ days.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:09 PM on July 8, 2013


seanmpuckett: "... can we get pictures of MeFite bees, pleez?"

Here ya go. Other bee stuff (now with chicken updates!) can be found in my blog, which is in my profile.
posted by jquinby at 5:09 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mr. Bush (a person I hold in very high regard but who is not a scientist) and I disagree on this point. He has his own ideas about a lot of things; he for example does not believe that smoke panics bees or causes them to gorge themselves. However, we both agree drones take 24 days and workers 21 plus or minus one depending on the temperature.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 5:17 PM on July 8, 2013


TheTingTangTong and rough ashlar, this is the part of the MeFi Beekeeping Association Meeting where we all head to the coffee urn and start bitching about the weather.
posted by jquinby at 5:20 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ask ten beekeepers get 11 answers alright. Nice looking beeyard jquinby.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 5:21 PM on July 8, 2013


jquinby, what is that right-most rig?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:22 PM on July 8, 2013


That is a topbar hive, a hive that uses horizontal space instead of vertical. I guess we know what Barry Harris would say about you jquinby. Here is a foundationless frame covered in bees from one of my back porch hives. And this is one of my favorite pictures of all time, a frame full of different colored pollens.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 5:31 PM on July 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


TTTT - beautiful comb. That pollen shot is fantastic.

The Kenyan sadly didn't too well this year. I'll save it for a swarm, though. Like a dolt, I didn't use a bar length that would match the Lang bodies, so it's sort of a solo thing for now.
posted by jquinby at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bee talk always makes me interested in the details of managing such a complex operation, with so many questions.

Do beekeepers worry about planting enough clover or something nearby to support their hives, or do they typically just let them wander the countryside and provide for themselves? How does the business of pollination services work -- is there a way to collect the bees afterwards and move them to the next job? (Is it as simple as just relocating the hive near the field for a few days?). If the demand for pollination services is an order of magnitude greater than the local supply, why don't beekeepers focus on raising more queens and growing a larger...hive? nest? swarm? cluster? charm? [So many collective nouns to choose from!] Are larger numbers not sustainable, or cost more to feed or something?

No interest in keeping bees myself, though. I grew up in wasp country and am quite content never to deal with flying stinging things in person ever again.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:39 PM on July 8, 2013


I'm one of those hobbyist beekeepers of which the industrialists speaks, and I do not ship diseased hives from one end of the country to another to make sure that every bee disease appears simultaneously across the whole country. I do not try to trick my bees with plastic foundation to force them to produce more honey than is natural, then dose them up with chemicals to deal with the mite problems that they would otherwise mitigate themselves. I don't feed them nonstop or smoke them senseless. I am, at best, a mediocre beekeeper, and have lost a pair of hives to a weird January heatwave that brought them out of winter cluster way early, another to a branch that came down on the hive during the derecho storm, and one to a weak queen and laying workers when I was just restarting beekeeping.

The commercial keepers regard people like me as dilettantes, and there's some validity to that, though I did study modern Langstroth plastic fantastic methods in college a generation ago, but didn't take up keeping again until 2008, after learning about top bar and Warre methods, which I find altogether more appealing than the sort of assembly line industrial methods used in commercial keeping. I don't get the enormous honey yields, but I'm one guy and a little honey goes a long way. I also don't have to maintain mountains of equipment, either. I started out with Kenya top bar hives, which are not bad as a start, and switched to Warres, which have the advantages of top bar hives with some of the advantages of Langs. Unfortunately, in the last few years, my beekeeping hobby was underwritten by my employer, and I was laid off two weeks ago, so I've had to surrender my apiary to a new keeper at the facility.

It's okay, I'll restart when I can get traction in a new career.

What I have found very interesting about keeping bees, beyond the absolute joyous poetry of bees and hives and the way things work, is that it's made me feel a little weird about the panic brigade. Every day, someone new on my Facebook friends list posts some histrionic screed about how bees are going extinct and we're all going to starve and the environment is ruined and Monsanto is evil and aaaaaauuugh!

I'm in the strange place of having to say that I love bees, and I do, I love my bees and watching bees and thinking about bees and so on, but bees are not a native species in North America (well, or South America, either). They're not a native part of our ecosystem, they're not essential to pollinating our staple crops (unless you consider other non-native, chemical-dependent, and monocultured species in the U.S. to be staples), and they are about as natural in our environment as a cool, sparkling glass of DDT. It's odd—I knew these things from my apiary classes back in the early nineties, but when you see the repetition of outrage memes, it sort of gives you a different perspective on how we manage outrage and panic in ecological matters.

Mind you, I love dogs, too, and they're also non-native, but when the conversation is about how we're destroying the environment and bees are the canaries in the coal mine, it really makes you want to ask why all those canaries are in a coal mine in the first place. If you're going to keep bees, it's a good thing to know the whole story, and to be comfortable with being a part of industrial agriculture, even if it's just on a very minor scale, and even as you work to do so in as natural a manner as you can.

The large scale guys will never respect the little guys and there's no reason for them to do so—they're in it as a business and an industry, and if we on the short end think we have something to offer, we need to demonstrate that through our own successes. There's no reason why we need to cross over at all, except when we're looking for scholarship and package bees, and it's only a bit bothersome to me that I'm seen as flaky by the big boys, because there's a real solid base of that sort of cranky Ross Perot know-it-allness in established apiarists, so it's hardly worth wasting one's insecurity. The meltdown of CCD is an industrial accident largely created by the industry itself, so I'm happy to be distinct.

For now, though, I'm going to content myself with my mason bee houses, and fortunately, there's no industry in mason bees.
posted by sonascope at 5:59 PM on July 8, 2013 [22 favorites]


ceribus peribus: "Do beekeepers worry about planting enough clover or something nearby to support their hives, or do they typically just let them wander the countryside and provide for themselves?"

This was actually the topic of a recent meeting. If you have acreage to spare, there are some cover crops that work well for bee forage - various clovers and alfalfa, for example. You'd need a fair amount to really get their attention, though.

But bees will range over a few miles radius from their home to forage, so while they'll work your local stuff, they're likely to bring in other stuff as well. At least around here. The varietal honeys (sourwood, for example) perhaps bloom at different times, and if nothing else is producing nectar, you can be pretty sure that's the main component. Around here, about the best I could do is label mine (were I to sell it) as "wildflower honey," though I'm pretty sure it's mostly henbit, dead nettle and privet that were the main sources. Clover comes after that, and then sumac. In the fall, goldenrod is a major nectar source for this area.

As for the pollination services, I'm assuming they move the hives at night. After dark, the foragers have all returned to hive and everyone's inside. You close up the openings, ratchet-strap the whole thing together and put it on a truck.
posted by jquinby at 6:27 PM on July 8, 2013


Sorry to hear you were laid off, sonascope. Don't those people know you need to eat to tell stories?
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:44 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Doleful Creature: "This is serendipitous as I was just remarking to Mrs Creature yesterday that we needed to look into getting some milking goats and some bees."

That's funny. We have goats and bees already, and Mrs. Fig and I were just talking about getting some creatures, the more doleful the better.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
posted by krinklyfig at 9:02 PM on July 8, 2013


Do beekeepers worry about planting enough clover or something nearby to support their hives, or do they typically just let them wander the countryside and provide for themselves?

Short answer, no. You would have to plant huge swathes of whatever you want (lavender, thyme, black locust), or quickly and precisely time moving hives to areas where plants giving off whatever you want live (in my area, this would be sourwood). Most 'hobbyists' just let their bees go nuts and collect whatever they bring back once or twice a year and call it 'wildflower' honey, (fr. millefleur, it. milleflori, etc).

How does the business of pollination services work -- is there a way to collect the bees afterwards and move them to the next job? (Is it as simple as just relocating the hive near the field for a few days?).

It depends on the crops. Lets discuss almonds, one of the hugest mono cultures dependent on bees grown in the US today. Commercial beekeepers move in hundreds to thousand of hives with one viable queen each, and >40,000 worker bees each, for two or three weeks. Bees fly out every morning, work all day, and return in the evening. When the beekeepers work is done (the bees' work is never done) he or she comes back at night when everyone is tucked up safe and sound and packs them onto a tractor-trailor and it's on to blueberries in Oregon or whatever. It's simple, but it's malnutritious and stressful.

If the demand for pollination services is an order of magnitude greater than the local supply, why don't beekeepers focus on raising more queens and growing a larger...hive? nest? swarm? cluster? charm? [So many collective nouns to choose from!] Are larger numbers not sustainable, or cost more to feed or something?

First, forget the words nest and charm when you're talking about honey bees. The rest have specific definitions: a hive is a group of bees with a queen, honeycomb, honey, and brood. A cluster is a group of bees within a hive, especially during the winter, that are collectively manipulating the temperature of the hive. A swarm is a group of bees looking for a new location to start a hive, which has no comb, honey stores, or brood.

Larger numbers are better honey collectors, but more resource intensive. One of the 'arts' of beekeeping growing large number of bees to collect honey (which is actually only produced in surplus during specific periods of the year; in my area it's mostly Spring and a little in the Fall.), without over taxing their resource managing capabilities. So it's a balance each beekeeper has to figure out for him/herself depending on where he/she lives and what he/she wants the bees to do.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 10:25 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the demand for pollination services is an order of magnitude greater than the local supply, why don't beekeepers focus on raising more queens and growing a larger...hive? nest? swarm? cluster? charm? [So many collective nouns to choose from!] Are larger numbers not sustainable, or cost more to feed or something?

If you're asking why it's necessary to move bees around the country rather than just breeding more bees wherever crops need pollinating- it's due to the nature of monoculture farming. If you have a bunch of smallish farms growing all kinds of crops, they'll produce flowers at different times of year and provide a flow of nectar that lasts on and off for most of the spring and fall. But now you have, like, a thousand acres of almonds here, a thousand acres of apples there, and if you permanently stuck a bunch of hives in the middle of a place like that, they'd have nectar and pollen to collect for two or three weeks, and then that's it. They'd store the excess but it just wouldn't be enough. So you move them around, and you get your specific varietal honeys and the almond orchard guy doesn't have to pay to maintain hives year-round, hives which he'd need to feed because they'd never survive in the middle of an almond grove.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:54 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone for answering my novice bee questions.

And yes, showbiz_liz, that's what I was wondering about: what was holding back the local beekeepers from expanding until they had enough hives to service all of the local megafarms themselves without trucking in outside help. I guess the main point was not understanding the ratios of how long a single crop could support a hive; I thought maybe it was the equivalent of an annual harvest for them, or that the beekeepers fed them the rest of the year with some kind of bee-xeriscaping next to the hives.

And now I think I have a much better picture of the logistics, so thanks again!
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:06 AM on July 9, 2013


I came across this urban beehive a while back. Looks very cool, but not sure that it's taken off or even whether it would be a practical addition to any home. Seems like you could have honey on tap, in your home, while having a great window into the bees' world.

Thumbs up or a big NoNo?
posted by guy72277 at 2:51 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's somewhat short on details, but to my eye, that Philips design looks way too fiddly for me. It's not that clear to me how you'd open it up, and some states (TN among them) require hives to have some sort of removable frame for the purposes of inspection. Top-bar hives sort of squeak by because I can pull a bar and let an inspector examine both sides of the comb. If you have the footprint for it (and it's not much at all), you might consider one of the Warre hives mentioned by sonascope above.
posted by jquinby at 6:04 AM on July 9, 2013


Grist just did a story about backyard chickens being dumped at animal shelters which I think might be a related phenomenon to the one the main bee keeper in this piece is (likely unfairly) lamenting for all hobbyist bees. That is, there are probably a lot of hobbyists who try keeping chickens or bees but aren't very good at it or don't realize what they are getting into. But, unlike chickens, the costs to restart hives when mismanaged are much lower (and probably less emotionally difficult) so we probably know less about it. If you let your abandoned chickens run free or drop them at a shelter, people notice; if you just buy new queens, who notices? That said, the bee keeper does seem to be a bit polarized on the subject and probably unfairly maligning a lot of hobbyists.

As an aside, I've no real interest in keeping bees -- I don't use honey or other bee products often enough -- but it's cool to see such a spirited group of mefites discusisng why they use the hive systems they do. :)
posted by R343L at 6:47 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


White House Bees!
posted by crush-onastick at 7:11 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Beedogs are already amongst us.
posted by mippy at 9:19 AM on July 9, 2013


So bees aren't native at all to the US? Does this mean you have no wild bees at all there, only those kept in hives? I can't get my head around that. I always thought you have as many bees as we do.
posted by mippy at 9:24 AM on July 9, 2013


To be specific - honeybees are not native (came here with the Jamestown settlers).
There are loads of native pollinators - bumble bees, mason bees, and a host of small flies and wasps.
posted by dbmcd at 9:52 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


European honey bees are not native to the US. There are those who say the Spanish brought them before the Jamestown settles. There are between 3-4,000 species of native semi-social or solitary bees that do, generally speaking, a better job pollinating native plants than the honey bee.

However, honey bees have been leaving their hives and setting up shop in trees, logs, stone gaps, and derelict buildings from the very beginning. These are known as feral bees. Part of the havoc varroa has wrecked here in the US is that it has pretty much destroyed the feral population. But not entirely.

There are anecdotal reports of more and more feral hives. These bees are incredibly valuable from a genetic point of view; if they have managed to not only survive, but to thrive, despite the threat of varroa, it means that they and varroa are starting to enter into a sustainable host/parasite relationship. Very good news for those of us who see medicating the problem as ultimately destructive.

I myself have two or so hives from a strain of very dark bee which I believe to be from these feral survivors. There isn't anyway of knowing without genetic testing, but they seem to do very well on their own controlling varroa populations (via behaviors such as biting, uncapping infested brood, and grooming). I love those dark bees.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 10:37 AM on July 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


123 comments, and nobody has linked Eddie Izzard's beekeper speech.
"Beekeepers, yes … they've gotta want to be – "I want to be a beekeeper! I wanna keep bees! Don't wanna let them get away; I wanna keep them! They have too much freedom … I want bees on elastic, so when they get pollen, they come back here! My father was a beekeeper before me, his father was a beekeeper before him; I wanna walk in their footsteps." And their footsteps were like this: [running wildly from imaginary bees] "I'm covered in bees!"
MeFi, you're slipping.
posted by Len at 2:06 PM on July 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh trust me: if you're a beekeeper, and you have access to the internet, people have shown you that clip more times than you care to count. Along with that one Oprah gif. Y'all know the one I mean.

Other fun features of beekeeping include being asked all the time if Bee Movie was scientifically accurate.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:15 PM on July 9, 2013


showbiz_liz: Oh trust me: if you're a beekeeper, and you have access to the internet, people have shown you that clip more times than you care to count.

Oh, I'm sure that's true. I just wanted an excuse to link to that bit to let non-beekeepers know about it.
posted by Len at 2:25 PM on July 9, 2013


showbiz_liz: " people have shown you that clip more times than you care to count. "

There's a guy who lives somewhere along my road who owns a couple of exotic cars. At least once I said oh look a Ferrari in the direction of the hives when he rolled by.
posted by jquinby at 2:27 PM on July 9, 2013


So bees aren't native at all to the US? Does this mean you have no wild bees at all there, only those kept in hives?

We have bees, but bees like bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees and such. They're all non-eusocial bees, and ones that are pollinators for native crops.

What's interesting, and almost unknown outside of bee circles, is that there were no honeybees west of the Rockies before the 1850s. Even in the rest of the country, they've only been here since the 1620s, so they're not a part of any of our natural ecosystems in North America. Just makes for a sort of ponderable thinkin' point.
posted by sonascope at 7:12 PM on July 9, 2013


Wait, so you are telling me that left leaning amateur agriculturalists have strong feelings about their more entrenched industrial counterparts?

Sorry, smug is a strong repellent for me.. and while the industrialists seem to have an attitude of "We are not certain you are fully aware of how amateur mistakes can have massive effects especially when they occur as part of a trend wave." the hobbyest seems to have an attitude of "I am going to mass all the crimes of agribusiness into a single hate beam directly at you."
posted by mediocre at 7:19 PM on July 9, 2013


Everyone calm down, there is no “bee-pocalypse”.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:55 AM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Len -- I posted the entire eddie izzard clip here
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:28 PM on July 10, 2013


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