How is bee conservation different from beekeeping?

This is something I have spent quite some time talking about when I am in front of groups of beekeepers, garden clubs and anyone else who asks what is different about what I mean by bee conservation.

There’s no simple way I can think of to boil it down to one simple point.  It’s kind of like Integrated Pest Management in that it encompasses many different things.

I work according to a notion I refer to as when “the last beekeeper falls”.  The idea is that when the last human who is managing bees in hives is no longer around and all honey bees are essentially feral bees after that, the bees who have adapted and developed adequate survivor skills will be the ones left.  The bees that have been “carried” by having things done for them, thus not necessitating genetic adaptation will soon succumb to the pressures they have been insulated against.

I intend to have honey bees in my beeyard who can survive after “the last beekeeper falls”.

1) I guess to start with, bee conservation starts with keeping alive bees that are alive.  Instead of seeing bees killed or “exterminated” as a pest, I, in my role as a pest management professional, get a call from someone who wants a colony of bees removed from the wall of a house or a tree or a swarm has landed in their yard.  Some service providers first resort is to exterminate the bees.  Some home owners or residents first reaction is to spray the bees.

I don’t do that.   I perform a live removal or capture then relocate the colony to a special beeyard I maintain in a nearby conservation forest.  everyone wins, the resident, the bees and the forest.  Often I will sell the bees after they have had a chance to stabilize and establish themselves in a nuc to a local beekeeper for a very low price.

2) Another important factor of bee conservation is genetic adaptation.  It is my primary rule to allow natural selection to determine which bees survive or do not survive.  I have gone to the extent of taking bees from a potentially life threatening situation to a far more sustentative one.  In the new location they have access to over 1500 acres of natural/organic grown trees and “wildflower prairies” that are not treated with toxic pesticides.  Forage is plentiful and there are fewer threats, at least in terms of human threat. This is a location that they, if they have the necessary survival traits, should thrive on their own.

We allow weak colonies to die, un-treated to eliminate those weak genetic traits from being spread to other colonies through the DCA’s. (Drone Congregation Areas).  Strong colonies will dominate the Drone populations and spread those survivor traits to all the colonies, managed and feral, in the area.

3) That isn’t to say we ignore the hives.  No, actually, we inspect them regularly, looking for evidence that they are not becoming overwhelmed by the four P’s.  Parasites, Pathogens, Predators and Poison.  We use what we consider “least intrusive” methods to help colonies if we think they are good survivor candidates, but environmental and/or outside pressures grow beyond the bees ability to accommodate for them.

We use hives we believe support the nest heat and scent retention needs.  We provide forage (sugar syrup, water, pollen, etc…) when the weather creates a need for what we call the “good neighbor” policy.  (if it’s too hot for flowers to produce nectar, water sources dry up, etc…).

We will use methods like removing drone comb and use screen bottom boards if things are really getting out of hand.  We perform Spring splits to prevent swarming to neighbors properties.

4) I believe we work on a different time frame than conventional beekeepers do.  Where conventional beekeeping focuses on the immediate 12 months for most, we start at 12 months and look ahead up to 4 years from now with each colony.  Honey production, pollen collection, even “fun” or relaxation are secondary to our goals.  We are looking ahead to each colony that is retained in our conservation bee yard to see what they and their “daughter” colonies” accomplish.

5) We work with other bee conservationists who follow the same practices to increase genetic diversity among colonies by allowing the strong, survivor colonies to produce queens then occasionally swap queens with each other to keep “new blood” in our own areas.

Because of these things, many conventional beekeepers will consider me as odd or any number of fun things they can think of.  That’s ok.  I will die happy thinking of all the bees I helped to survive after the last beekeeper falls.

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