I’ve been fortunate enough to do a number of speaking presentations for groups of beekeepers and potential beekeepers lately. During each of those discussions, the topic of organic or natural beekeeping comes up pretty frequently. I love to see that people are thinking about being an organic beekeeper myself.
Having said that, it seems that many people do not fully understand the biological definition of “Organic” (which really must be the definition we beekeepers should be adhering to). Even more, of the people who do express an interest in Organic beekeeping, there seems to be a rather large misunderstanding of what that really is in terms of application.
The notion that organic or natural beekeeping is functionally “easier” than conventional beekeeping is a myth that I find myself having to educate on more often than not. It seems there are a number of people who think that by keeping bees Organically or Naturally that they don’t have to engage in the number and type of hive manipulations and treatment activities that the “conventional beekeeper would typically seem to do.
Oh no my friends, this is as far from the truth as we can get. Organic or Natural beekeeping DEMANDS that said practitioner be very well educated in the natural biology and behaviors of the colony as a Super-Organism and individually as well. As much if not moreso than the unfairly maligned conventional beekeepers.
Not only must Organic beekeepers be as well or better versed in biology and behavior but they must pay much closer attention to their hives, ready to take necessary actions in the hive (hive manipulations) to prevent or minimize activities or issues that conventional beekeepers might otherwise reduce or account for as part of said conventional beekeeping practices.
Organic beekeepers face higher rates of swarming, absconding, pathogenic and environmental stresses and even other issues because of the different options they choose to use to address these issues as compared to conventional beekeeping. Organic beekeepers must learn how to use IPM, especially prevention and early intervention processes to it’s greatest potential.
Organic beekeepers face colony die-outs and other issues as a part of their choice to use an approach that by definition, “…attempts to mimic or emulate the successful, natural behaviors, traits, etc… of other, like creatures” as opposed to using synthetic chemicals or avoidable toxins of any kind to treat as a prophylactic, preventative or as an intervention. In this case, the “like creatures” we are basing on are successful wild or feral honey bee colonies.
Because Organic beekeepers have thus elected to restrain ourselves thusly in our beekeeping endeavors, there can often be a very high level of stress and feelings of being unsuccessful as a result. There is a saying that nearly 50% of all new beekeepers quit beekeeping within the first two years, mostly due to feeling unsuccessful. I would venture to say that there is likely a 75% or higher “drop-out” rate of Organic beekeepers in comparison.
No beekeeping happens by “Magic”. Somehow, there are people who have gotten the impression that Organic or natural beekeeping somehow “magically” is not subject to the same biological laws that all bees must adhere to. Organic beekeeping is different beekeeping. It requires an extraordinary amount of preparation, effort and resilience to be successful doing it.
Organic beekeeping is not “automatically” easier or “nicer” to bees than conventional beekeeping. Anyone who says so is only lying to themselves. Someone thinking that Organic beekeeping means not having to manipulate hives, pull honey, or that bees will just “magically” do everything just fine all on their own if we just leave them alone is delusional. Beekeeping is a combination of craftsmanship “art” and science. Organic or natural beekeeping even more so.
Organic beekeeping is not for the lazy or ignorant. I say that not to insult anyone but to put it out there for anyone wanting to be successful as an Organic beekeeper. You will lose bees often as an Organic beekeeper. That is a given. Organic beekeepers often experience a higher hive loss rate than conventional beekeepers. Partly due to Organic beekeepers intentionally including “Selection” (natural or Beekeeper motivated) instead of toxic treatments.The intended trade off is to let weak genetics be removed from the gene pool leaving the strong to survive and thereby creating more successful bee colonies in the region to be locally adapted and bringing out successful survival traits as opposed to weak or dependent ones.
Organic beekeepers forsake short term success for long terms gains. It requires an outlook of investment of time, effort, energy, and more instead of perhaps one of financial investment. Certainly not a venture to undertake lightly or without full appreciation of the “Big Picture”.
Do you want to be an Organic beekeeper? Terrific! I would love to help you be successful doing that if you would like professional support to do so. If you are in my service area (the greater Omaha/Metro area in Nebraska) please know that you can count on me to do everything I can and use my collected experience and knowledge to your greatest advantage.
Tony “Big Bear” Sandoval