Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bees In An Iron Cage? Part-V- Movements Against Rationalization

Weber suggested that the rationalization of Western society would not necessarily go unanswered nor without criticism:

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. (Weber 1930:182)

In the present day beekeeping world, there are also voices who have questioned the trends of rationalized apiculture and have either resusitated old ideas and ideals, or attempted to re-rationalize beekeeping with honey bee health (over economic profit) as the bottom line.

Barefoot Beekeeping

British beekeeper, Phil Chandler, has become a leading activist questioning the ongoing rationalization of apicultural. Through his Sustainable Beekeeping website, his own top bar hive beekeeping manual, and protest activities against agricultural pesticide use, Chandler has developed a holistic approach in honey bee management. As far as rationalized beekeeping, Chandler has suggested:

  1. ...that honey bee survival depends on apicultural becoming a cottage industry again where each individual beekeeper maintains a few hives that simply provide for his/her own needs and those of the local community. Large factory beekeeping, and migratory outfits are unsustainable.
  2. ... that beekeeping techniques become less invasive and disruptive to the honey bees. Chandler is a big supporter of top bar hives which allow honey bees to build comb according to their own needs, as well as providing less disruptive inspections and honey harvesting by the beekeeper.
  3. ... that beekeepers put the survival of bees ahead of their own economic interests. For example, Chandler suggests that beekeepers make their primary honey harvest in the spring from the honey that is left over in the hive after winter. Honey is produced by bees as a winter food, and to harvest it in the fall may leave the bees without enough to survive. Chandler sees feeding bees sugar syrup, fondant or high fructose corn syrup in the fall, to make up for the beekeeper's harvest, as exploitative and not sustainable.
Warre Hives

Other beekeepers, like those who keep Warre hives, take an even less interventionist approach. To the non-beekeeping eye, Warre hives look just like the typical Langstroth hive popular in the U.S. However, they are constructed and managed very differently:

  1. The boxes do not contain movable frames, just bars across the top. The bees are allowed to build comb as straight or as wobbly as they so choose. Comb construction is left to the bees. (Note: the lack of movable frames makes this hive technically illegal everywhere in the United States.)
  2. The beekeeper never inspects inside the Warre hive. The only manipulation done is to add boxes to the bottom of the hive when necessary. The beekeeper monitors the health of the hive by watching bee behavior at the entrance. Warre advocates argue that in-hive inspections stress bees by disrupting their ability to maintain proper hive temperature.


Chandler, Phil. 2007. The Barefoot Beekeeper, 1st Edition.

Weber, Max (1930) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. London: Unwin.


BestBeekeeping said...

Snmall scale beekeeping is definitely the way forward. By keeping just one or two hives in your backyard, or garden, or even on your balcony, you really can make a difference.

Top bar hives are a great way to keep bees, but I would question the totally non interventionist appraoch with the Warre hives. There is a reason why such hives are illegal in the US. Without regular inspection, serious diseases such as American Foulbrood can go unnoticed. The spread of these diseases can be catastrophic for the bee popuulation.

Despite being from the best of intentions, non intervention could threaten all bees in the area, and surely no bee lover wants that.

Abelisto said...

I agree with your view on non-intervention which is why I do not call myself a "natural" beekeeper but a sustainable one. As long as the world around me is not "natural" I need to intervene occasionally. My aim, done with humility, would be the health of my honey bees first, and not my own economic profit.