Confessions of an Impractical Beekeeper
I believe that ďCrush and StrainĒ is a method of harvesting honey, not a model for a relationship with your bees. I believe that thereís more to harvest from a hive than honey. I value pleasure over profit. Iím an impractical beekeeper, and proud of it. Iíve always been attached to my bees in a personal way. Iíve helped my daughters carry back worn out foragers, smiled with pride at a wave of soon to hatch brood, and waged a private war with the wasps. My investment has always been more than the dollar value of the wood and the wax. My hives are bound together with emotion as much as propolis. I donít bother with standard equipment or keep standard bees. They might be Italians or maybe Ethiopians. I treat them with the same care.
I know professional beekeepers, good folks. They work hard at the business and work their bees hard too. They combine hives without mercy while I feed and plea. While I plot vengeance against each mite in the hive the big guys note their levels and plan to replace the colony when it dies. I asked a pro once how the queen in a particular hive was doing. He smiled at me and said ďWell, the bees arenít dead yet so sheís probably fine.Ē I know my queens well enough to recognize when theyíve been superseded. Pros split their hives like cutting a deck of cards and I count out brood cells, they screen the bees in and leave, I usher in the stragglers and drive in the dark. I asked the pro if he missed the chance to watch his bees, to know what was going on in each hive. He shook his head. Itís not practical to worry about a single hive when youíve got a thousand, he said. So I donít want to be practical. I wonít be practical.
Iím a hobbyist beekeeper and that is ok. I donít want to grow to the point where I canít stop to ponder. Iíll never harvest a thousand pounds of honey but Iíll bottle a hundred with pleasure. You wonít find me in the almonds but my apples and cherries will flourish. Did you say there is foulbrood in one of my hives? I think you meant ďmildly offensive brood,Ē and theyíre just brood, I can still train them. Ok, so foulbrood has to be dealt with. Iíll do it but Iíll do it with sadness and regret the loss of a colony thatís somewhere between a possession and a pet. Every once in a while the voice in my head says theyíre just insects. Then I beat it into submission and go back to watching the bees. Iíll invest my time and energy, materials and emotion as I see fit, without worrying about dollars and sense. Let others collect the problems and prizes of going big. Iím harvesting wonder, and it looks like this year will be a bumper crop.