Dear Phillip and HB,
I read your words of frustration with sadness. You have both been told how beekeeping “should” be done and then felt discouraged and annoyed when it didn’t come together. And when you try to think outside the proverbial box, you get criticized by the self-proclaimed beekeeping elite.
In my very first beekeeping post I wrote,
“The answer to most beekeeping questions should start with the words, “It depends.” The one-size-fits-all answer simply doesn’t work very often or very well.”
In that post I was specifically thinking about the rift that exists between the hobby and commercial beekeepers, and I explained it this way:
The management options for these groups are different. They have to be. We can learn the most about bees–and beekeeping–by keeping an open mind to the goals and problems of each group. Yes, there are those of us who go to great effort to spare every bee when we enter a hive. We brush them aside, shoo them away, talk to them in reassuring tones. We are, in fact, nuts. But a commercial beekeeper with 1500 hives simply doesn’t have time for the same light touch. He or she is a businessperson with deadlines, contracts, and responsibilities. The commercial beekeeper keeps food on all our tables, but does he care any less about his bees? Absolutely not.
But as time has passed, I feel even bigger rifts exist between the so-called all-natural camp and those who employ various other methods, and between Langstroth keepers and keepers who use other equipment. Each group tries to impose its techniques and values on everyone else and it just doesn’t work.
In my third post I wrote about how “all the challenges are local”—meaning that what works in one climatic region doesn’t work well in another, or what is good in the country may not be good in the city. In fact, these extreme differences are exactly the reason I started writing. I simply do not believe there is any one “right” or “wrong” way to keep bees . . . there are just “different” ways, and beekeeping is one long game of “try-it.” Why is this so hard for people to accept?
HB, if you want to super your top-bar hives, go for it. You don’t need permission from the know-it-all top-bar keepers who try to discourage creativity. Remember that Mr. Langstroth and Mr. Warre and Mr. Top-Bar were all experimenters. That is exactly how they happened onto something new. But I have no doubt they–like many great thinkers–were derided by their contemporaries. And if the so-called natural beekeepers think it is unnatural to super a top-bar, I’d like them to explain why they don’t just release their bees into the wild. Now that would be natural.
Phillip, you are not a bad beekeeper if you want to use foundation. The people who are telling you otherwise are living in the balmy California sunshine. You have an extremely short season and you don’t have time for the bees to draw out all that comb and raise half a billion drones and put-up honey for themselves and put up more for you. Something has to give. To be a good beekeeper, you need a working knowledge of bee biology and bee behavior . . . not a set of rules decreed by a cult.
Although I’ve had the typical ups and downs, overall I’ve been very successful with my bees. But I don’t belong to any one camp. I’ve stolen ideas from the natural guys and the commercial guys, from Warre keepers, top-bar keepers, National keepers, and Langstroth keepers. I’ve taken advice from those with 50 years of experience and those with 50 days, and from beekeepers I’ve liked and ones I haven’t. I’ve used plenty of ideas from non-beekeepers as well. There are so many points of view, so much clever thinking out there, that I always have a backlog of things I want to try.
If we keep an open mind, the possibilities are endless. Once we shut down, we are the ones living in a box . . . and the bees are having a belly laugh.
So, you two, be sure to let me know how your ideas work out. I’m eager to learn more from you both.