Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What is going on with the bees?

“What is going on with the bees?”

“How are the honeybees doing?”

These are a couple of the questions that I frequently get asked when I let people know that I am a bee keeper. The answer changes constantly depending on the mood I am in, but as with all answers that come from my lips, the onus comes down to me and it comes down to you.

By now we have all read at least one news report on the bees. Chances are that everyone has a slight understanding of the life of a hive and how the little ladies are mysteriously disappearing. We have been hearing new reports for years about pathogens being spread on the farms. From e.coli in the spinach to avian flu in the chickens. Buffalos butchered for fear of mad cow disease, whole flocks of chickens being murdered for fear of avian flu. Industrialized farming is in a grisly time. When the only answer to a problem is to kill or clone, it seems to me, we have reached the conclusion. The bees are a species that we cannot live without and now we are growing more aware of the intricacies of the web of life. Industrialized farming has no way of humbling itself to its defeat.


When man started creating from a mechanical point of view it was much to the relief of many of our forefathers and mothers. Life was a bit more predictable and they were a bit farther away from the chaos of the natural world. Shearing a sheep, carding the wool, spinning the hairs and knitting your blanket sure takes a lot of effort that can be much more easily dealt with by a machine. So many tasks are happily given over to the predictability and ease of a machine.

But when we started to view life as a machine is when it started to go downhill. How many times have I heard someone refer to my body like a car, or my brain like a computer? Life is dynamic, it flows and has many variations that escape human understanding and logic. Life does not come in 90 degree angles nor should we expect it to. But we have been taught as such and continue down that road to collapse.

Colony collapse disorder

Right, the bees, that is what I was here to write about wasn’t it?

And so what can we, you or I, do?

Recognize that industry is feeding you.

You are relying on a very fragile food system that is quickly collapsing and getting more violent and invasive every day (yes, the cattle men are starting to talk about cloning cows so that they produce less methane in their poo…then they can market their product as having a smaller carbon footprint!).

If you can’t grow your own food, support someone who can.

Local food may be more expensive in the short term, but you are building a food secure tomorrow by investing in the small strong farmers today.

What is killing the bees is industry and the only way to save the bees as well as ourselves is to step away from the hands that are feeding us and take the power into our own hands. The next decisive steps we are to take will not be easy, but they will be satisfying if made with the intricate, mysterious web of life in mind.

Monday, October 6, 2008

It seems to me that all year long every periodical I picked up had a troubling story about the state of affairs in regards to our sacred pollinators, the bees. Being an apiarist and lover of the honeybees, I was struck with who was concerned about the problems facing the bees and the constant question of “what can we do?” It is such a big question and one I have pondered every day of my adult life.

My answers are idealist as well as practical. I believe that we must change the state of bee keeping practices. We have to demand for a better way of life for farmers and the things they farm. The bees are an indicator species and what they are indicating is that we are all connected, that there is no separation in the sacred web of life. The fear I see in peoples eyes is alarming and comforting at the same time. It is denial that has gotten us to this point and if the possible loss of our pollinators is our alarm clock then I say come on out and let’s get moving!

There is a quote from Rudolf Steiner regarding artificially rearing of queen bees (a common practice today) “…we’ll have to wait and see how things will look after fifty to eighty years. Certain forces that have operated organically in the beehive until now will become mechanized; will in themselves be mechanically carried out. It won’t be possible to establish the intimate relationship between a queen bee you have purchased and the worker bees the way it would arise all by itself in nature. But at the beginning, the effects of this are not apparent” In 1923 most of the men hearing this lecture could not fathom what he was speaking of. Hindsight is always the clearest, but in the understanding of treating nature as a machine, we as a society find it very difficult to switch out of the economy of efficiency.

Nature does not work like a machine, and in that truth we are beginning to see that in treating it as such we have minimized the integrity and health of life on the planet. We suppress the growth of the Hive and control their natural inclinations. We feed them corn syrup, white sugar and genetically modified soy and move them around 100’s of miles bi weekly. And then we wonder why their immune systems are weak! They are stressed and malnourished. It is pretty simple. A few years ago it was encouraged practice (it may still be) to let your hive die or to kill it every winter as it was more profitable to take their honey ($300-$400) and buy a new artificially reared hive in the spring ($100-$200). This makes sense in the capitalistic mind. Profit is to be made here. We all got to make a buck don’t we? And it falls in line with so many immoral and unsustainable farming practices. It is the state of industrialized farming. Getting as much out of whatever I am farming for the highest profit. It is wrong and it is sending us all to our demise.

So what can you do? View your money as a tool. So many people I know donate money to charitable environmental organizations and then nickel and dime at the Safeway. So much of our environmental degradation comes from our vast acres of farmland. Use your time as a tool. Take the time to shop at the farmers market and feed your family local, organic food. Try to support small local farmers whenever you can. Learn to read labels. You could also plant flowers that attract bees such as fennel, calendula, daisy, Echinacea, dandelion, sunflower, borage, lavender, bee balm. You can encourage native mason bees to your home to help pollinate that trees in your yard. There are also opportunities to have a local bee keeper come to your home and help you set up a honey bee hive and you can raise your own bees or have the bee keeper come and do it for you. If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me at HYPERLINK "mailto:tammytoad@gmail.com" tammytoad@gmail.com

Tammy Toad Ryan spent the decade of her twenties traveling North America studying an array of farming and healing techniques. She landed in Vancouver via Salt Spring Island over 2 years ago to encourage more agriculture in the city. The honeybees are a fine urban companion for her due to their wild nature and loving spirit.