The EU Strikes Again: Bees

Sam sent a link to this article and video about Romanian nomadic-bee-keepers. The short articles describes how UK bee-keepers have experienced a difficult year (meaning drastically reduced yields) and they are angry that the EU is supporting bee-keepers in Romania and Hungary instead of coming to their rescue. It also includes a nicely shot video of the Romanian bee-keepers:

I didn’t enjoy watching the video. I saw in it another aggressive move by the EU to inject western industrialization into the Romanian ecosystem. I’ll try to outline what I believe is really happening.

Bee Abuse

Bees are not nomadic creatures – they settle in one place, build a hive and occupy it for a long time. In late spring or early summer some the bees may swarm – which is a survival instinct in which a large part of the family leaves the hive to establish a new family. They will naturally prefer to settle in fertile areas (plenty of flowers) and may leave if a location ceases to support them. But other then that they are not nomadic.

The opposite is true. They are very sensitive to location – they have GPS-like capabilities that enable them to fly back and find the hive entry to within inches. If you move the hive just a little bit they will get confused and will have to reorient themselves to find it. That is why “Romanian nomadic bee keepers” travel only at night and have to travel large enough distances (at least a few km) so that the bees are “confused enough” so as not to try to fly back to where they remember their hives were.

Moving the bees around is an abusive behavior that goes against their nature. This of-course complements the widely used and commonly known box hives which are designed to make it easy for humans to penetrate into the hive and disturb the bees to make sure they are “working properly” and to get at their honey stores. Those smoke makers you commonly see bee-keepers use are meant to discourage the bees from attacking, which they tend to do when their homes are brutally disturbed (wouldn’t you?).

Another frequently abusive practice in standard bee-keeping is that the hive food-stores are almost completely depleted by their operators. This includes winter honey stores which the bees need to get through winter – especially the cold Romanian winters. Instead the bees are fed sugar-based syrups which are much cheaper then the actual honey. This artificial food is a poor replacement for honey and is often supplemented with medications.

The entire commercial bee-keeping paradigm is about industrialization of the natural behaviors of the bees. Moving them around is merely another abusive step towards increased efficiency at the expense of the well-being of the bees. Bee population around the world is in dire straits because of standard commercialized bee-keeping. If Romania continues its excessive bee-keeping habits it is just a matter of time until the Romanian natural bee population will be badly disrupted.

Nature Abuse

When natural systems are left alone they gravitate around a natural balance. It is true that bees play a critical role by pollinating flowers – simply put we would not have food without bees. But there can be too much of a good thing. Bee populations partake in a dynamic and natural balance in the environment – they need plenty of food and very little competition. When too many bee hives are placed in a limited area there can be too many bees resulting in hive-robbing and violence.

The increase in honey-bee population is not being met with increased natural reserves. Pastures are widely over-grazed and abused. Industrial agriculture takes over huge fields with poisoned mono-cultures. Deforestation is a huge problem in Romania. It is any wonder that industrial bee-keepers have to move around to find remote untouched still flowering locations?

Sidenote: honey-bees are not the only kind of bee and not the only pollinator. Mason bees are much better pollinators – some say 100 times better than honey-bees. So the whole “we need honey bees to pollinate our fields” pitch by the HONEY-bee industry is inaccurate, incomplete and misleading.

More worrying is that bees transport not only pollen but other chemicals. If bees have access to a field that uses pesticides and to a natural forest they will be transferring those pesticides into the otherwise untouched eco-system. When bees are moved around between locations then they carry things (natural and chemical) over from one eco-system to another. Doing so disturbs the natural order of things.

Sidenote: just in case you missed it – the pesticide issue means that there is practically no such thing as organic honey. The only way to produce truly chemical free honey is to have the bees in a location in which in a 3-5km radius (typical honey-bee range) there is absolutely no use of pesticides or insecticides. Good luck with that … anywhere in the world.

All this is being done not for the bees and not for nature, it is being done to increase productivity. A much healthier bee-keeping paradigm is smaller local apiaries – it has been present and working in Romania (and probably many other countries) for a long time without any EU support.

People Abuse

I don’t have enough direct knowledge about the financial workings of the honey-economy in Romania (like I do about the abusive milk-economy). What I do know is that most honey-producers sell their massive honey yields to large-scale marketers. If that honey reaches Romanian consumers it does so at a much higher (at least double) price. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find that much of that honey is exported while other honey is imported into Romania (the “efficiencies” of free-market merchants can be mind-boggling).

Honey producers (I don’t believe they deserve to be called bee-keepers) enjoy a steady income since all of their yields are purchased by the aggregate marketers. This is supplemented by EU subsidies (according to the one of the interviewees in the video above a sum of 4500 euros once every three years). The producers get used to and become dependent on this system yet they have no say in it. Market prices are set (non-negotiable) by the larger marketers as are the EU subsidies.

The producers are enslaved not only by the economic realities of this system but also by its mentality. Namely abuse bees, nature and yourselves to maximize yield.

… and don’t forget these fortunate honey producers get to live in a truck filled with bee-hives … the perks just keep piling up don’t they?

Natural Bee Keeping

top-bar hive - natural bee keeping
This year we started natural bee-keeping with two horizontal top-bar hives. A hive in which: :

  1. We leave the bees an ample (most of the) honey supply to use as winter feed. We harvest whatever is left in spring. We may harvest some honey in summer to prevent the hive from exploding with honey.
  2. We rarely open the hives so as not to disturb the bees. We do not use a smoker. Instead we have a water sprayer at hand to simulate rain … though we rarely need to use it.
  3. We place the hives in partial shade – the bees are very productive without us needing to “encourage” them by placing the hives in full sun.
  4. The bees build their own combs out of natural wax in whatever sizes they need (instead if using pre-fabricated wax foundations).
  5. The hives are simple to build and home-made. They are built with thick wood walls to offer much better winter insulation … and the hive designs allows us to add more insulation for winter.

There is no such thing as “Nomadic bee keepers” … sheesh!

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