I’ve had very poor luck (but a good experience) trying to be a beekeeper. In three seasons I bought three packages of bees, caught two swarms and once got two hives through the winter. In the end, I lost them all for various reasons (weak hive, inadequate population, yellow jacket attack, robbing, poor management).
After year three I made a decision to not buy any more bees but to catch a swarm if one were within my grasp. It’s nice to have bees around the place. Even my deeply insensitive nature can feel the uplift when honeybees are present and working diligently to support their hive.
Like most activities in life there exists the conventional wisdom and the alternative. For reasons I’ve tried to explain before on this blog I gravitate toward the alternative particularly in areas like politics, economics, medicine and, in this case, beekeeping.
The conventional beekeeper keeps bees in a box with preformed frames, doses them with meds and attempt to interfere with natural processes like swarming. The aim of the conventional beekeeper to maximize honey output. The typical beekeeper manages the bees for the beekeeper’s benefit. The alternative approach is to use a top bar or Warre hive and try to create a natural environment, leaving the bees alone as much as possible, letting them build their own comb as they see fit, feeding them (when necessary) honey instead of corn fructose syrup and eschewing pharmaceuticals. Like any subject, it’s very complicated with arguments at every level.
Jacqueline Freeman is a leader of the natural beekeeping movement and lives in SW Washington. She just published an interesting and readable book called The Song of Increase about her conversation with the bees. I know that Jacqueline is the real deal and one can verify this for themselves by watching her part in the famous bee movie Queen of the Sun or in various Youtubes like this one:
And, full disclosure, though I’ve not met her personally, Jacqueline has been kind enough to respond to emails questions I have sent her. The Song of Increase may not be for everyone. When a person claims to be in communication with the bees, that they, if fact talk to her in enough detail that their communication can be transcribed in voluminous enough quantity to make up supplementary chapters of a book, most will roll their eyes. I personally have no problem with channelled information, or the suggestion that nature spirits and fairies, if you will, play a role in nature. Though I’d like to and I have tried, I don’t see them or sense them and am unable to talk to them.
Clearly there are undefinable energies at work in the fields and gardens. The success of biodynamics is evidence and it’s not surprising to learn that Jacqueline also practices biodynamic principles as laid out by Rudolf Steiner whose philosophies are responsible for practices such as Waldorf education.
I enjoyed and will benefit from Jacqueline’s insights and experiences with her bees. The book is chock full of extremely interesting and helpful information. And, if these insights came directly from the bee’s mouths so to speak, so much the better. Her writing style is lively and engaging. This brings me to the only quarrel I have with The Song of Increase. And that is the writing style of the bees. I found it to be a bit pedantic. Boring even. Who knew?
As a writer, trying to communicate bee thoughts finding a “voice” is a challenge. As I read the book I kept wishing the bees would just shut up and let Jacqueline tell the story in her own voice.