I still think my philosophy is best for the bees, that is, leave them alone as much as possible. On the other hand, I think Karen’s philosophy is best for urban beekeepers and their neighbors. But this begs a question. Should we be keeping bees in urban environments at all? We know it can be done, but should it be?
If we have to manipulate colonies half to death in order to conform to what we see as “neighborly behavior” maybe it’s not the right thing to do. A lot of lip service is paid to the idea that we should “let the bees be bees” and much of this talk originates from urban beekeepers—the very ones who are doing all the manipulating. It appears that urban beekeeping and “letting bees be bees” are antithetical concepts.
I’ve never been against urban beekeeping; in fact, I think it has encouraged people to learn more about their environments, their food sources, and living things in general. It has stimulated a renewed interest in beekeeping and honey, and it has generate a flood of publicity about things like bee diseases, colony collapse, pesticide use, and even the existence of other pollinators. All of these are good things.
On the other hand, many people are afraid of bees, so to bring them into densely populated areas might not be the best thing for either the humans or the bees. Some people must live in the city even if they’d rather not, but many people live in the city because they don’t want to near stinging insects, wild animals, or “earthy” people. These folks have rights, too.
As I see it, the bees are caught in the middle. Urban dwellers should not be hassled by bees, and bees should not be hassled by beekeepers. But beekeepers are constantly hassled by the urban dwellers who don’t want to be hassled by the bees that don’t want to be hassled by the beekeepers. Got that?
I haven’t come to any conclusions about this, I’m just thinking on paper . . . er, keyboard. But I see several contradictions between what we are saying and what we are doing. I find it amusing that, in general, hobby beekeepers are very critical of commercial beekeepers. Although commercial beekeepers use some practices I don’t like, in many ways they “let the bees be bees” more than your typical hands-on (many hands, many ons) urban beekeepers who are caught in a choke-hold between the nature of bees and the nature of urban society.
Of course there are different levels of urban-ness. Some urban areas are concrete and asphalt; others are sprinkled with parks, tree-lined streets, and gardens. Suburbs can be compact or sprawling, uptight or easygoing. Every place is different. But once a jurisdiction allows beekeeping within its borders, it must then accept the things that go along with beekeeping, and one of those things is swarms.