This film opens with a topless woman wearing a blouse of bees. It’s a dramatic statement for a dramatic film, now available on Instant Play for Netflix subscribers. I missed it when it played in Bellingham last year. The Mt. Baker Beekeepers Association often had a volunteer member introduce the film. I detected some dissatisfaction with Queen of the Sun on the part of MBBA. I now understand. Every beekeeper in the piece is a biodynamic beekeeper, a follower of Rudolf Steiner, the German philosopher possibly best known for his educational theories (think Waldorf School). The Mt. Baker Beekeepers are pretty conventional folk treating their bees with various chemicals and antibiotics to fight off mites and other beasties that plague today’s hives. Biodynamic beekeepers don’t use conventional approaches. Actually, the film doesn’t have much information on what the do do, just what they don’t do.
I think I’ve watched all the bee movies now; all the films that explore Colony Collapse Disorder and I’m ready to buy into the thesis of this film which is: Colony Collapse is the end result of monoculture. Let’s face it. Monoculture, or factory farming is the source of a lot of our problems. For bees the vast monoculture of the California almond grove is the culprit. Miles and miles of almonds with no other food for bees. Bees from all over the United State and even imports from other countries trucked or flown in for the pollination of this crop. Millions and millions of bees sharing all their diseases and ailments. It is a recipe for disaster. Bees ought to be able to stay in one spot and feast on a varied diet of plant and fruit blossoms. It’s not natural or healthy for them to be trucked all over the country and have their diets supplemented with corn fructose.
Other bee movies feature large beekeeping businesses who have lost thousands of hives to Colony Collapse. They want to point the finger at systemic pesticides. Understandably, they also want to continue trucking their bees around the nation from crop to crop to keep their businesses going. Recently, there was a study that blamed a certain class of poisons. Using poison is an integral part of factory farming or monoculture. But is poison the proximate cause of Colony Collapse?
This is the reaction of a beekeeper on Whidbey Island as posted to his Facebook page:
“Many of you have been sending me info on a Harvard study of neonicotinoids (neonics) pesticides. I pay very close attention to these studies because many people claim they are the cause of CCD (Colony collapse disorder) There were many flaws with the Harvard study and closer inspections quickly reveals them. As a professional beekeeper I get really frustrated when people vilify a product they do not like and use bees as a reason. There have been many studies done by independent agencies that show the neonics are not the causal factor for CCD. Most beekeepers who keep their bees in proximity to neonic treated plants report no problem. I understand that many people do not like the way these particular pesticides work, I am one of them. But PLEASE do not use the bee die offs to support your claims. We have not had significant genetic diversity in our bees for almost a century. Efforts to rectify this often hit a stone wall because so many resources are being spent on the neonic issue.” Almond growers have funded scientific studies to get at the cause of Colony Collapse. Almonds are a huge business in the USA.
I started trying to keep bees using natural methods including biodynamic ones. Half my bees died last May, a month after I got them, as did half the hives of two friends who bought bee packages at the same time. The rest of my bees made it to the cold weather in January, then succumbed. Watching Queen of the Sun made me feel less guilty about our honeybees. There are just so many strikes against honeybees as a result of how they are raised and handled.
It’s tough to peer into a dead hive and I can ache for beekeepers who have lost hundreds, even thousands of hives. The problem with bees is that it’s easy to fall in love with them. They are endlessly fascinating and entertaining and it’s important that we try to rebuild our bee population. Monoculture and the bee keeping practices that it fosters is the culprit behind lack of genetic diversity.
I deal with a guy who makes biodynamic sprays to help keep hives healthy. He believes he can talk to the bee deva, the nature spirit who manages the bees. Who am I to claim he can’t do this? I called this fellow and reported on what happened. The bee deva had a long list of things for me to do to become more successful with bees. This was the final suggestion: “There is one other consideration. They should get the new cluster inserted early in the spring and make sure it is natural and healthy. Do not use bees raised in a production facility. Only use locally grown bees from swarms collected by a reputable beekeeper who can keep the bees for a week or two, or more, to be sure they are healthy. The earlier the better. And this year, be sure to plant as many herbs and flowers around their property as they can to feed the bees and provide them with plants like flax for self-medication. That is it. They should be fine this year if they follow these instructions.”
Interesting that this tracks with the beekeeper on Whidbey Island who suggests that genetic diversity is the problem.
The problem is there aren’t too many local bees available. Wild swarms are rare on Lummi Island where you can count the beekeepers on one hand. I’d love to capture a swarm rather than pay $90 for a package of bees that are probably weak to start with. So, call me if you hear of one. I will keep a hive empty just in case.
After the bees leave the almonds of the San Juaquin Valley they end of in large bee lots in Northern Califonia. At this point they have mixed it up with every bee in the country and exchanged every nasty virus and bacteria known to bees. Now, hives are split, queens go on mating flights and these bees are funneled into packages that will be sent around the country. I am expecting to pick up two packages sometime this week. In gambling terminology this is called, “Doubling down.” I would prefer wild bees but I can’t count on them. My hope is to nurse a couple of hives of bees through the season trying to avoid many of the mistakes I made last year.
Watching a film like Queen of the Sun inspires one to help increase and nurture the bee population. Likewise inspirational is this film (in 8 parts on Youtube) about how they did it in the olden days in Europe.