As someone who is just now stumbling into the practice of biodynamic gardening, having no experience with bees whatsoever--not even a sting--I went into the sustainable beekeeping workshop expecting a simple how-to demonstration by master beekeeper Gunther Hauk, author of "Toward Saving the Honeybee". The event turned out to be an enlightening talk on the subject of which Hauk has passionately shared in 26 states: the importance of bees, the global crisis they are in, and how we can change to save them and ultimately ourselves. "[The] honeybees crisis is the crisis," said Hauk.
The turn-out at The Foxhollow Farm Center Saturday was decent and varied. The group of attendees was composed of a few experienced beekeepers, primarily beginners and those throwing the thought of beekeeping around. A few children played quietly while their parents drank tea or coffee and listened, and Hauk displayed patience with both children and adults. A few of those who attended the talk Saturday also viewed the previous night a special screening of the award-winning documentary "The Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?" in which expert Hauk is featured.
The Foxhollow Farm Center made for an intimate venue in which to hear the master beekeeper anad biodynamic gardener speak, allowing for plenty of interaction between the attendees and Hauk.
The purpose of Hauk's workshops--and the non-profit he founded, Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary (always accepting donations) in Floyd, VA--is to raise awareness about sustainable beekeeping practices, the severe and current decline of the honeybee, and why people should be up in arms about the bee crisis.
Some upsetting beekeeping practices that contribute to this crisis include: fighting disease with heavy does of pesticides, which creates unwanted side effects on hive health; feeding the bees truckloads of high fructose corn syrup solely to harvest more honey; overbreeding of artificial queens in order to obtain royal jelly for beauty products and then killing the queens off on their eighth day of embryonic development.
And then there is the horrifying phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD) which is where bees abandon their hives, never to return. Hauk expressed that he was sure the culprit of Colony Collapse Disorder is commercial exploitation. "Big business is the most detrimental thing we've done to the bees," said Hauk.
Besides possibly contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder, the effects of these commmercial exploits are various. Hauk said that feeding the bees high fructose corn syrup changes the alchemy of their blood and the acidity of their stomach--destroying the fine balance of honeybees. He described how in the 20th century technology was discovered that enabled the creation of artificial queens by grafting worker bees into queen cells. "That was so exciting and now that's how we have made too many queens...We have bred the royalty out of the queen over a hundred years," said Hauk. "Don't buy anything with royal jelly in it. Boycott it. We use it and for what reason?--a wrinkle or two less."
The question "How do we reverse the damage done by queen farming?" was posed by one attendee. Hauk's answer was swarming--the natural act of honeybee reproducing an additional colony. "As much as possible let your bees swarm," Hauk said. "It is the most rejuvenating experience to catch a swarm." He expressed that this was the most opportunistic time to split a hive, once or several times, in order to increase bee colony counts. To aid in remembering the months during which bees tend to swarm he recited, "A swarm in May is worth some hay; a swarm in June is a worth a spoon; a swarm in July is not worth a fly; a swarm in August I haven't the foggiest."
Hauk relayed that the reaction he recieves at most beekeeping clubs when he protests artificial creation of queen bees has been abrasive. "It takes great courage to raise them a different way," Hauk said about his holistic take on beekeeping. "We must do everything to turn the crisis into opportunity for change."
To counter the type of beekeeping practices that are found harmful to bees and ultimately people, Hauk encouraged a formation of a sustainable beekeeping club here in Louisville similar to the ones popping up in places like Portland, OR and Austin, TX. Part of the mission of Spikenard Bee Sanctuary is to become a voice for these grass roots movements. "Everyone should keep bees," said Hauk, insisting on the responsibility humans have to be sensitive toward the honeybee's plight. The Foxhollow Farm Center can be contacted for additional local resources for the developing sustainable beekeeping community.
Photo courtesy Zack Conkle