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Queen of the sun – what are the bees telling us?
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The Bee-Friendly Beekeeper
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2010 160 pages (H805) The book begins with the story of two swarms, one natural and one artificial. This comparison between what the bees do when left to themselves, and what ‘is done to them’ by the beekeeper, runs through the whole book. Later sections expand on the differences, pointing out the impact or sustainability of the two different approaches. Heaf makes use of an academic matrix to introduce agricultural and environmental ethics into his argument, fitting the fundamental attitudes of beekeepers into four types of relationship between beekeeper and nature – that of dominator, steward, partner or participant. Readers of
The Beekeeper’s Quarterly
will be familiar with this matrix, which first appeared in a series of articles by Heaf in 2008. Sustainability is environmental, economic, social and – vitally – bee-friendly. He then goes on to discuss the three primary needs of a bee colony: shelter, seclusion and sustenance. Two chapters on disease and making increase answer to modern concerns. Finally, two chapters on the People’s Hive of Abbe Warré describe in detail Heaf’s own use of the hive, and tips on management. This is very much a beekeeper’s guide: it assumes a good working knowledge of conventional frame hive management processes. Heaf’s own choice is for the People’s Hive – a vertical top-bar hive – being simpler to build and manage than conventional frame hives. Simplicity is often an indicator of sustainability, at least for the beekeeper, and a distinct advantage for the bee in that it reduces opportunities for interference with the natural workings of the colony. Heaf backs up his call for more ‘natural’ conditions in the brood nest with extensive research into the literature of beekeeping, acknowledging the bee colony as a superorganism, and principally as a warmth organism.The works of Jürgen Tautz, Ingemar Fries, and Tom Seeley are frequently quoted, as are Steiner’s theories and the practices of biodynamic beekeepers. We are asked to work with the bees’ intentions, and with practices which accord with the nature of the bee. Intensification, regular opening of the hive, stress from lack of forage diversity or poor management, and pesticides are all practices which create conditions for disease. The book’s underlying theme is that problems with colony losses are nature’s response to inappropriate beekeeping. The bibliography is extensive, and Heaf is a knowledgeable and thoughtful beekeeper who has adapted his practices in light of his own reading. His comments on minimising disturbance to retain thermal structure may come as no surprise, but his assertion that most colonies cope with American foulbrood, and all colonies need exposure to disease in order to co-adapt successfully, will be much more contentious. Similarly his call for locally adapted bees is heard frequently these days, but his suggestion that queen rearing short circuits natural selection will dismay many. Local bees, adapted to local climate and forage, must also have queens raised and chosen by the bees and not the beekeeper: even a dark bee ‘assembled’ from different strains in a different habitat could be as bad as importing other races. At times the discussion comes to the heart of current debate: the need to establish drone populations that can maintain desired characteristics, Varroa control through swarming, beneficial micro-organisms, and colony density in a landscape are all subjects of endless fascination to today’s sustainable beekeepers. The book will be most useful to existing beekeepers wanting to adapt their frame hive practices, and principally for those changing from frame hives to Warré hives.Frame hive beekeeping techniques never did translate well onto the page, as every beginner has found to their dismay, and some descriptions will be confusing for the non-beekeeper. However, the chapters on Heaf’s own use of a People’s Hive will probably become essential reading for those (like myself) venturing intoWarré beekeeping. He does not repeat Warré’s own book, but expands on it and gives good practical advice on management tools and techniques. There are full designs for hives and Heaf’s own hive lift, which rapidly becomes essential kit. The principles of sustainability can be applied to frame hives as to any other hive: these principles are not clearly focused rules, but are discussed with reference to particular management issues such as comb building and inspections. Whilst this accords well with Heaf’s assertion that sustainability is locally determined, and beekeepers must make up their own minds what to do, it can be confusing that his instructions and caveats appear fairly randomly through the book. An aspiring sustainable beekeeper will not find an easy list of do’s and don’ts here. Heaf tells us about practices which he has devised and which he advocates, but he does not offer a manual for sustainable beekeeping. He himself does not treat for Varroa mites, so the aspirant Warré beekeeper will have to look elsewhere for help on how to treat in a Warré hive. Modern beekeeping instruction concentrates on the hive rather than the colony, and on the management techniques required by the beekeeper and the box rather than the bees inside it. Heaf’s call is for a different type of box, and arguments supporting the ultimate sustainability of his approach are well researched and evidenced by his own practice. This book takes us a huge step forward towards a focus on the bee colony itself, inside the box: bee health and perhaps ultimately our own sustainability will depend on beekeepers’ better understanding of what it means to be bee-friendly.
Dr Monica Barlow
Este producto esta en nuestro catálogo desde Friday 07 January, 2011.
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