Randy Oliver has a great website. It’s called “Scientific Beekeeping”. How do you not love a web site with a name like that?
I am a firm believer in scientific beekeeping. However, like many things science, some people take it too far.
Science, the scientific method, is a tool that helps answer many of life’s questions. However, it cannot and will not answer all of life’s questions. It’s simply, logically, not possible. Yet there are people, far too many really, who insist on trying to push science as the end all, be all to information about the world we live in. That’s sad really, I think.
There are few “universal” truths in beekeeping. Those few that exist are almost all scientific in nature. Bring it to it’s simplest expression, scientific beekeeping is beekeeping based on facts. So what then are “facts”?
Facts are things that happened. Things that can be observed. It’s very hard to deny a fact. A fact is looking at the thermometer outside your house and seeing it read 95 degrees F. You can then cite as a fact that in the front of your house today, it was 95 Degrees F. That is a fact. Pretty much indisputable. Well, you can dispute the accuracy of the thermometer. Was it functioning correctly? Simple tests can settle that.
With beekeeping, there are certain facts that pertain to observed bee biology and behavior that have been documented for literally hundreds of years. Some even thousands of years.
- Bees create wax from glands below their abdomens. That is a fact.
- Bees collect pollen sometimes on their hind legs and take it to the nest. That is a fact.
- A queen bee can lay up to between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs in a single day. That is a fact.
I could go on like this for pages but by now, even a beginning beekeeper has read enough to have gotten the idea of the facts that exist in regards to beekeeping.
Now, what do we do with those facts. How do we handle them. That is where things unravel. “Truth” is more than facts. Sadly, we want “truth” to be a universally accepted idea based on facts. Instead, “truth” can have a variety of outcomes all based on the same set of facts.
The things that happen when a honeybee colony swarms are facts. What a beekeeper should do about the swarming, that is another thing entirely. What people accept as and think of as “truth” very often falls back to what does the majority of people they know think on the subject. The more people that buy into, promote, parrot and repeat to each other is often accepted by those in that group as “truth”. Hey, a billion beekeepers in China can’t be wrong, right?
Popularity is often a big part of what people think of as “truth”. That there are facts involved also far too often doesn’t necessarily sway people from a certain “truth” no matter how much that “truth” deviates from the facts.
Hypotheses, theories, opinion and conjecture can overtake the facts. The introduction of rhetoric can skew “truth” like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Here is a universal truth about scientific beekeeping. There can be more than one correct solution to a problem.
Think of all the things that go into any one beekeeper’s experience. Geography, ecology, environment, financial resources, personal philosophy, religion, political views. All these things and more influence what happens not only in a bee nest/hive but also how a beekeeper approaches, finds solutions to what is going on in those hives.
Personally, here is “my” beekeeping truth. Always start with the “facts”. Based on those facts, find solutions that take into consideration what is going on in the bees environment, the geography, the flora, the fauna, the weather. Those should be the primary factors for determining what is going on and what solutions can be found.
For example, the facts are that honeybees will build a nests in a feral/natural setting in either a vertical or horizontal direction. It has been observed and documented over hundreds of years to be successful for bees either way.
Problem, the beekeeper in question has a bad back and can not pick up heavy loads. What type of hive should he/she use?
First of all, it doesn’t matter if it’s vertical or horizontal. We have already established factually that bees don’t care, they will nest in either situation. So, in terms of what is best for the bees, it doesn’t matter.
Next, what then, is best for the beekeeper? Most likely to use a hive that uses smaller and lighter boxes or no boxes at all. Possibilities are:
- See if 8 frame hive boxes are too heavy. if not, that may be a solution.
- Try using 5 frame hive boxes. Again, smaller and lighter. Those might be a solution.
- Try using a horizontal top bar hive. No boxes to lift at all, only much smaller and lighter top bar combs. May require learning a new hive management system, but certainly possible.
- Try using a Warre style vertical top bar hive. smaller lighter boxes than conventional hives but still possibly too heavy depending on the severity of the back pain/strain. Also may require learning a new hive management system, but certainly possible.
See there, one problem with at least four possible fact based scientific solutions.
The more scientific information we have about bees, the better decisions we can make for both the bees and the beekeepers. Beekeeping is not a one sided situation. This may come as a surprise to many a beekeeper. Beekeeping is as much art as it is science. There are creative solutions and ways of going about beekeeping that seem to defy scientific explanations but work out anyway.
Don’t let the fact that just because there are no current facts to back up your ideas, that doesn’t mean there never will be. You may be one of the pioneers to push scientific frontiers. It always starts with a question like; “What if…?” ” or “Why did that happen?”
One of the most important things about science is to stay objective and to keep an open mind. Yet after awhile, far too many “scientists” have closed their minds to only those facts and theories that exist. They lose sight of the things that have yet to be observed and tested, theorized and disproven (or not).
Remember, science does not “prove” anything. it can only disprove. Meaning, anything that has not yet been disproven does not necessarily mean it is absolute. Only that nothing has occurred to disprove it, yet. For a lot of scientists, “truth” means something that has not been disproven. I always, always add “yet” to that statement though. Nothing has been disprove, yet. Because no one knows when that might come up. it might not seem very probable, but it is almost always possible.