Friday, July 1, 2011

Best Hive?

In my last post, I offered some of my reflections on Oliver's excellent article in the July 2011 issue of American Bee Journal. In this post I would like to comment on a small side issue (p. 656-7) written in his "Best Hive" section of the article.

Let me quote Oliver:

My point - standard Langstroth hives are "standard" since they have proven the test of time for over 150 years. Believe me, if anything better had been invented, commercial beekeepers would have adopted it in a heart beat! (p. 657)
 Before I discuss this quote, let me make this perfectly clear: I am not wedded to any particular hive. I have no axe to grind here.  (I  have both top bar and langstroth. I might try a Warre sometime as well.) This statement is probably true in many respects as well. My problem is that it doesn't really settle the issue of  what is the "best hive" for me.

First, the fact that the langstroth hive has been used a long time does not mean anything in itself. The "test of time" is only one test and it is often used to retrospectively justify the continuing use of a technology or an institution. Banjos have had bodies shaped like drums for longer than langstroths have existed. Is this because that shape is or was important/functional to the particular use and sound of the banjo? Maybe, though some historians disagree. The first non-gourd banjos were made from old circular wooden cheese crates simply because they were conveniently available. Most banjos continue to follow that same shape because of tradition (that's what a banjo looks like after all!) not function. We should remember that  Egyptian beekeepers still use clay pots like their ancestors 1000 years ago.

Secondly, before we can judge whether something works or is successful we have to ask, what is it meant to do exactly? To judge whether or not a langstroth is the best hive, we must first ask: what exact purpose is it meant to serve? Is it   being used for migratory pollination services? To supplement an older retired couples income? As a source of amusement? As a cottage industry that provides a person with some honey for their toast? Bee hives do not serve the same function for all beekeepers.

Oliver is partially right.  The langstroth hive serves the needs of commercial beekeepers very well, but are the needs of a commercial beekeeper  exactly the same as the needs of other types of  beekeepers? Granted, a top bar hive is not very convenient for a migratory beekeeping outfit, but it will allow a disabled individual in a wheel chair access to the field of beekeeping.

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