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Friday, October 5, 2012

Bees and Beekeeping

by James Consellor

The survival of honeybees are at risk. Honeybees, on whom we rely to pollinate our food crops, have been dying in large numbers due to a phenomenon called "colony collapse disorder" or CCD. Rather than a disorder, CCD may be easier to understand as a syndrome. It represents a largely unexplained phenomenon occurring worldwide for which there is no identifiable single cause. CCD has been characterized as a "perfect storm" of factors including the emergence of hive weakening and chemical resistant supermites, the systemic consequences of large scale industrial monocropping, and the use of multiple pesticides that have infiltrated our ecosystems. In the midst of complex and unprecedented ecosystem disruption, honeybees are suffering.

Honeybees are not wild, nor are they native to North America. While there are an estimated 20,000 species of bees worldwide, seven species of honeybee are recognized. Honeybees were introduced to the continent by European settlers and have long been domesticated for the production of honey and other products made from beeswax. Although many people are afraid of bee stings, honeybees are surprisingly gentle and only become aggressive in defense of their hive. If you ever spot a swarm of honeybees, be assured you are in no danger. Although a mass of bees may look and sound intimidating, when searching for a home the honeybee is extremely docile. One unique aspect of honeybee behavior is their ability to communicate through movement and a characteristic "waggling" dance. They are perhaps the only insect and one of the very few non- human animals able to communicate distance and terrain using symbolic gesture.

James and his father
In the spring of 2012, we began an experiment in natural beekeeping in Northern Michigan. Beginning with introductory workshops on basic beekeeping and hive building, we constructed two "top-bar" hives that were placed on our rural woodland property. Top-bar hives are based on a simple design originating in Africa in which the honeybees construct heart-shaped honeycombs that hang down from specially designed bars. This mimics the natural behavior of bees and is thought to develop hives that are healthier and more resistant to mites and disease. It's currently mid-summer and they are doing well! Although there will be no honey collection this year in order to allow the hives to build up their winter food stores, we look forward to plenty of honey in the coming years.

James Counsellor
Hubbard Lake, Michigan


Gail Fendley said...

Great beekeeping article! Thanks - Gail

Gail Fendley said...