“At the moment, our biggest problem is agricultural chemicals, in particular the neo-nicotinoids (like imidacloprid) produced by Bayer and Syngenta. They are systemic insecticides which are deadly to bees down to extraordinarily low concentrations. They are usually coated on the seed of the plant and taken into the plant as it grows, so it’s part of the plant and is toxic and they get into the nectar and pollen and are capable of killing the bees. It seems the effect is to undermine the bees immune system and make them more vulnerable to the virus carried by mites.
“The pesticide companies say it is the virus that is killing the bees not the pesticides and they’ll sell you some pesticide strips to kill off the mites. But what they don’t tell you is that those same chemicals will damage the bees, and not only that but if you keep using them the mites will become immune to them. Which is what we’ve now got – immune mites.”
“Ha! It’s a classic! Sell someone a problem to sell them a solution.” I’m shaking my head at the all too familiar story of chemical companies.
“Exactly! They created the problem, sold us a solution which has made the problem worse, and now they’re soaking up taxpayers money to do research in order to find another chemical solution. So they profit in every direction. And worse still Syngenta, the biggest pesticide company in Europe, also runs an operation breeding bumble bees in Holland, to import into Britain to put in the greenhouses to pollinate the tomatoes. Then the bees have to be killed off at the end of every season to prevent the risk of spreading disease into the local bee population. But of course they do escape so there are clusters of disease. So not only are they making profit from the pesticides, they’re making profit from selling us foreign bees with diseases. At the same time the beekeeper often gets the blame, with the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) saying that they should be more careful with their disease control.”
“The BBKA have consistently defended the interests of the pesticide companies against the benefit of the bees or beekeepers, which seems completely counter to their brief.”
“So I’m knowing that you must have an alternative viewpoint here.”
“What I did when I started beekeeping was to look at the process and the methods and equipment. I thought ‘this is all terribly complicated and terribly reliant on non-renewable resources. My first book The Barefoot Beekeeper was really suggestions of how we might look at things differently.’ Surely it doesn’t have to be like this, bees live in hollow trees. There are things like topbar hives. In natural beekeeping we allow bees to live how they want to live and all we do is provide them with nice warm dry accommodation. We don’t get in their way too much, we can take a bit of honey if there’s plenty but we don’t have to control their lives.
“You could open the hive to check for disease but if you go into the hive and open them up it’s like invasive surgery. Take out the babies, wave them around in the air, it’s exactly what they don’t want you to do because that’s where all the pathogens are, that’s why they’ve lined all the cells with propolis to keep all those things out. Taking the roof off their home allows all the heat and pheremones out and destroys the hive atmosphere. You wouldn’t expect a surgeon to perform surgery in a non-sterile environment.
“So Natural Beekeepers tend to suggest less interference. I’ve started to use the term Balanced Beekeeping. It’s not putting the bees in a hollow tree and ignoring them (though that’s perfectly defensible) but it’s not commercial exploitative honey farming. The ‘How can I get as much out of these bees as possible on minimum wage. How can I get the maximum out of them and put the least in?”
“Mmm, no respect.” I said.