Once again I’ve been asked why this phrase bothers me so much. So here goes.
From what I’ve heard, the “let the bees be bees” camp are “beekeepers” here and abroad who advocate laissez-faire beekeeping. They capture colonies, hive them, interfere with swarms, but otherwise ignore the bees’ needs. They dismiss pathogens, parasites, and predators by avowing a belief in “survival of the fittest” and “letting nature take its course.”
I have several issues with this philosophy. First off, if you want bees to be bees, then leave them alone. Don’t capture. Don’t hive. Don’t interfere. Most likely the colony will die after a year or two, but in the meantime, the bees can do their own thing and you are off the hook.
But once you capture that colony, everything is different. You have made a conscious decision not to let the bees be bees. So stop pretending.
If you take another being into your care, you are responsible for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a horse, a dog, a kid, or a goldfish. When your family Fido comes down with heartworms do you walk away and say, “Let dogs be dogs?” When your first-born child contracts meningitis do you shrug and say, “Let kids be kids?” No? That’s different, you say? Not on your life.
Here’s the thing. Once you captured that colony and put it in a location of your choosing, you acquired livestock. You are now a caretaker. And, like it or not, you are responsible for those bees. Remember, this arrangement was your choice, not theirs. It doesn’t matter if you are in Brooklyn, New York or Ollie, Iowa—it’s still livestock and it’s still your bailiwick.
Being a caretaker means you tend to your charge, look after it, and keep it as comfortable as possible. If it happens to be a horde of honey bees, you make sure it has fresh air, a water source, and a place to forage. You treat foulbrood and, yes, even mites.
The details of how you proceed are up to you. If you prefer not to use chemicals, fine. Great, in fact. But you will need to use another method, be it mechanical separation, brood cycle interruption, or weekly applications of confectioner’s sugar. The choices are yours alone, but they are choices you must make.
Do I think there are exceptions? Sure. I believe in scientific inquiry and research. I believe in carefully designed experimentation with controls, data collection, statistical analysis, and peer review. But if you are not doing research, if are going around half-cocked pretending you are Darwin and preaching “survival of the fittest,” if you are letting your bees die from Varroa mites, you are just plain lazy. How much easier it is to do absolutely nothing and proclaim you are “letting nature take its course.”
The “nature” we provide our animals is not the nature they evolved with. We have added all the optional extras, including pesticides, pollution, contamination, urban sprawl, climate change, and introduced species that include pathogens, parasites, predators, and billions of humans. Seriously, how can nature take its course when there is no nature left?
“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.” –Saint Francis of Assisi.