The Well Beeing Honey Bee Sanctuary at Well Being Foundation
Honey bees are struggling these days. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) causes bees to suddenly and permanently absent themselves from their hives for no known reason. This is not a small problem. It has caused the disappearance of up to 40% of hives nationally in the last 10 years. As we all learned in school, honeybees are a primary means of pollination, including the pollination of our food crops. No pollination, no food. Of course, we could hire people to pollinate flowers and vegetables when the bees are gone, which would probably improve employment statistics. But I’d bet bees would be seen in retrospect better at it than us – more thorough, more gentle, more reliable, cheaper.
The Nature of Bees
The nature of the bees is part of the problem. They have been willing (maybe not happy but at least willing) to get boxed indoors for a few days while they get trucked to an entirely different part of the country (and suddenly different climate) to pollinate some cherries or apples or genetically modified (GM) corn, or whatever mono-crop is next in need of cheap imported pollination labor. For example, each year 60% of the commercial hives in the U.S. are trucked to the almond groves of California. Of course, the crop may have been recently sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides… wait, aren’t bees insects too?
Impacts to Bees
There are a lot of theories about the case of Colony Collapse Disorder. An excellent film on this subject is “Vanishing of the Bees”. It is a world-wide problem. There are theories about viruses and mites, about pesticides and insecticides, about herbicides, about taking all of the honey and feeding the bees High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in exchange during the winter, about electromagnetic frequency (EMF) disturbances, mono-crop farming (how would you feel if all you ever ate was soybeans?), and genetically modified crops. We don’t know the answer and maybe it’s not just one answer. Maybe it is just the last straw. The bees’ nature is to willingly give their entire life’s energy for the endurance of the hive. No days off, no retirement plan, no vacations. Even in the face of all of the above abuses. Until finally it is just one straw too much.
One example of how bees are pressured by “modern” beekeeping methods is by preventing swarming, which is a natural tendency of bees. Swarming is when the queen (there is only one in a hive at any one time) together with 70 or 80% of the rest of the bees in the hive permanently leave the hive en masse in search of a new home. However, when the swarm leaves it is usually in the Summer months when the hive is well stocked with honey and when female larvae for a replacement queen are maturing in capped cells in the hive. In other words, the older generation is bequeathing their (mortgage free) home and a year’s worth of food to their young. One could say that this is a bit more generous act than the U.S. Baby Boomers bequeathing their children a national debt of tens of trillions of dollars. Further, the swarming bees are leaving a well stocked known entity for the unknown prospects of finding another suitable home and then having to adequately stock it before the scarcity of winter arrives. This is no small sacrifice, but it is in the Nature of the bee colony. However, one commercial method to maximize honey production is to prevent the swarm and the old queen from leaving. One way of doing this is to trim her wings. If the queen can’t leave, the swarm doesn’t materialize and the large mass of bees goes on filling the hive with honey. The natural succession is thwarted.
Well Beeing Honey Bee Sanctuary
In January of 2012, Well Being Foundation began the installation of an 8,000 square foot Bee Garden to be planted with bee friendly perennial flowering plants and trees. Two hives are currently flourishing. Another 4 hives are being added in the Spring of 2014. No pesticides or insecticides are used in the Bee Garden. A non-electric fence surrounds the Bee Garden that has (so far) discouraged deer, rabbits and groundhogs. New plants are being kept watered during the several years by an underground irrigation system. Dr. Judith Hammond of East Tennessee State University inspired us to create the Honey Bee Sanctuary and provide us with initial design elements of the bee garden and a list of bee friendly plants. We’ll keep updating the pictures as the garden progresses.
Honeybee Workshop March 16, 2013
Bee Friends Beekeeping Club of Claiborne County in association with Well Being Conference Center hold their annual Beekeeping Workshop and field day here every Spring in April or May. About 25 people attended — of all ages. Some were experienced beekeepers and some were first-timers, but everyone learns something new from the expert presenters and from the chance to talk with other beekeepers.
The Purpose of the Well Being Bee Sanctuary
Since bees are ever more dependent on human care today, our purpose at the Well Beeing Bee Sanctuary is to support honey bees (and other species of bees and pollinating insects) for their own intrinsic value rather than trying to maximize honey yield. Since bees can naturally produce more honey than they need to make it through an average winter, some honey can be removed at no detriment to the bees. However, we intend to allow the bees to consume their own stored honey to get through the winter months rather than be stripped of their stores and fed sugar water all winter.
Learning from Bees
Bees have developed as a community. A queen on her own can not survive, nor can the female worker bees, nor can the male drones. Only as a community can they survive and thrive. Each has a role to play. They don’t appear to complain about their given roles relative to the whole. They will give their lives to defend their community. They will willingly leave a fully stocked home for their benefit of their children. They are able to live without negatively impacting their environment. In fact, it is ever more clear to us that they have a net positive impact. Bees pollinate the fruits, grains and vegetables that we eat. If you think food prices are high now, imagine if there were no bees and we had to pay farm workers to pollinate their crops by hand! The closer we look into the bee community the more there seems to see and to learn.