By: Ed Colby
A Tale From The Dark Side
Waiting for the gal Marilyn while she got a massage, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman waiting his turn. He said he ran a ranch dedicated to “biodynamic” principles. Biodynamic – think organic, with a pinch of mysticism. When he mentioned honey bees, the conversation took a turn.
“What do you do for mite control?” I queried.
“Nothing,” he said. He said he sees mites in his hives, “but they’re not a problem.”
“What are your Winter losses?” I asked.
“Thirty percent,” he said.
I suppose that’s possible. “But why don’t you have a mite problem, when everybody else does?” I ventured.
He attributed his bees’ vigor to his holistic earth-friendly biodynamic farming practices. At that point my BS antenna popped up.
I told him his bees don’t respect his private property rights. They undoubtedly fly to non-biodynamic neighboring properties.
He also said his bees were special in that they came from swarms, as opposed to nucs or packages. I don’t know if he called them “survivor bees,” but that’s what he implied. He described them as “very dark” and said they were so gentle he never wore a veil or used smoke.
We began to argue. Finally I said, “This is the wackiest conversation about bees I’ve ever had,” and walked off. I could have and should have used a little tact, but my famous temper got the best of me.
On the way home, Marilyn explained that she knew my new acquaintance. “Bob” is well known in his very hip community. His place is one of those idyllic farms where school kids come for field trips and where you can buy raw milk, grass-fed organic beef or a dozen eggs, if you just robbed a bank.
“Maybe Bob’s onto something,” Marilyn counseled. “Give him the benefit of the doubt. You should tell him you want to do mite tests on his bees and then see how they do. What do you have to lose? You could learn from each other. You want to educate beekeepers about mites, and he has a lot of pull in the community.”
I confessed that this was a brilliant idea.
When I wrote to Bob, first off I apologized for having gotten testy, noting that “I can be better than that.” I explained that I wanted to mite-monitor his bees with sugar-shake tests and then see how they fared over Winter. I told him that if his claims were borne out, “I’d jump for joy.” I meant it.
His reply came swiftly. It opened, “Your response to the possibility that we do not have a Varroa mite problem in our eight to 10 hives here (meaning that if a drone or forager does bring in a mite our bees clean/kill any intruders) was enough evidence for me that you are well entrenched in your linear industrial mindset which allows you to not only embrace but also promote chemically-laden methodology. Therefore, you are more likely than not utilizing reductionist techniques that are causing the systemic problem in the first place, hence the bloom of the Varroa.”
He continues: “First of all there is no way I would ever allow you to ‘monitor’ our bees – the consciousness you are suggesting to bring into our ranch, let alone deep into the organism of the beehives we host is and or would be detrimental.
”If you would like to meet and talk – in town – I would be glad to review the whole systems, ethics and principles that guide our stewardship methods and the Biodynamic approaches we implement honoring Nature’s rhythms/cosmic rhythms that guide us as to when to open a hive AND when NOT to. And share with you the abundant health we are witnessing across the ranch in all systems.
“If you are interested in such a meeting I’d suggest you come with a far more open mind than I was witness to during our brief encounter. I sense, however, that you are quite convinced and sure of what you think you know. So such a meeting would likely fall on deaf ears.”
A little later: “I understand that I must also educate…so for the bees’ sake and the possibility of turning someone from the dark side, I will consider burning a few of the precious hours I have left on this plane to meet with you in some neutral place. If so what we will review will be an entirely different paradigm, one you cannot so easily take apart …
In closing, we cannot eradicate Nature. There always have been Varroa mites and there always will be AND they are not the enemy. They are the messengers. When you kill them you encourage them to come back a hundredfold because they then need to make their message to you even stronger/louder. They are not the problem…The problem is how people are working the bees, that and the pervasive use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides across the land.”
His remarkable finale: “Ed, people are the problem. Maybe what we need then is a “humacide.”
Look, I just wanted to do a little test, thinking that Bob might have some bees that either did not tolerate mites or maybe somehow learned to live with them. Or maybe just call his bluff. I wasn’t prepared to receive a lecture from someone who apparently didn’t even understand that Varroa are a recent phenomenon in honey bees. The “humacide” remark struck me as bizarre, too. Didn’t Hitler and Stalin try this? He had to be kidding.
Maybe Bob made a point or two worth considering, but I respectfully declined his invitation to meet. I was very polite. See, I can do better.
Ed Colby practices beekeeping in Aspen Mountain, Colorado, where he lives with his partner, Marilyn.