The Honeybee Crisis: A Curse or a Blessing?
Photo by Spikenard Farm
Why is it that bees, and foremost, the honeybees, touch our heart so deeply? It can’t only be because we love honey, or because the pollinator crisis is threatening our very food supply. Even before the present crisis, more books were written about the honeybee than any other animal, and we still keep discovering amazing new aspects and abilities of this highly social “super-organism”.
How can they perform feats such as coming to a democratically achieved consensus or understanding highly complicated dances to guide them to nectar and pollen supply? The more we learn, the more mysteries and riddles show up, pointing us toward what the German poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “Nature is an open mystery.” Yes, we see a tree or an animal, we name them and know some of their properties, but little do we know about their spiritual archetype, their relationship to the cosmic influences beyond the sun and the moon.
Having delved deeply into the more hidden aspects of nature for several decades, and having found out what the honeybees need in order to be healthy and vibrant, I wrote the book Toward Saving the Honeybee in 2002. I found that beekeeping methods developed over the last one-and-a-half centuries have fallen under the same spell as conventional agriculture: rationalization and mechanization had supplanted more natural, kinder, gentler ways of working with nature. Respect for the wisdom inherent in instinct and adherence to the laws of life, such as diversity and limits of growth, gave way to the laws of industry: specialization and super-sizing. Millions of acres of monocultures in the U.S. and the power of large companies like Walmart are just two examples of this trend.
Beekeeping traveled the same road. Just a few years ago, the largest beekeeper in the U.S. had 70,000 colonies, which were driven up to 100,000 miles each year from one monoculture to the next. The honeybees’ natural instincts, however, are for swarming, for raising their brood in honeycomb devoid of wires, recycled wax and plastic, for feeding and staying healthy on a great variety of flowers; for keeping their honey for winter stores, rather than having most of it taken and substituted by sugar or corn syrup.
Unfortunately, most of these professional practices have filtered down and captured the hobby beekeepers, too, perhaps even more than is the case with other domesticated animals. Someone keeping a few cows, goats, pigs or chickens will definitely not go the route of factory farming. Chickens can still scratch in the soil, pigs still get to feel the earth beneath their hooves instead of iron bars and cows can still graze on pasture. But small-scale or hobby beekeepers seem to have copied all the detrimental practices freely handed down and promulgated by the official beekeeping magazines.
Whether we straighten a river, plant monocultures with the help of loads of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides (-cide = death), or keep bees according to bottom-line driven principles; these all work for a while with seemingly wonderful results. Nature is patient with our mistakes. So, what helps us realize that the road we are travelling on is the road to destruction? It’s a crisis. This great gift from above lets us reevaluate our doings, lets us change our course, lets us find the path that is not only sustainable, but moreover, can lead to health and vitality, to true wealth and thriving.
Presently, we are in a bundle of crises: in an extensive environmental crisis, in an economic crisis, and a social crisis. Millions of Americans go hungry every day. What underlies all these is a spiritual crisis. Who are we truly and what is our purpose on Earth? These questions need a deep answer.
Perhaps it is the bees that lead the way toward our waking up to what we are really doing to nature: poisoning Mother Earth, including all the beings she carries and nurtures, polluting the oceans to the point of having dead zones larger than our largest states and committing sins of incredible cruelty to animals on a large scale.
Having realized that the knowledge about sustainable/biodynamic beekeeping needs to be spread far and wide, my wife Vivian and I started the nonprofit Spikenard Farm, Inc., in 2006. We have a wonderful honeybee sanctuary with about 30 bee colonies on 25 beautiful acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Floyd, Virginia.
It’s a work in progress, planting annual and perennial forage for the bees, landscaping with the bees in mind. We offer workshops in sustainable beekeeping and biodynamic agriculture. Class participants for our two-year, part-time training come from as far away as the West Coast and Canada.
So, as odd as this may sound, I believe that we are actually blessed by the honeybee crisis. It is opening minds and hearts in ever more people. We are also blessed with a growing number of people who are supporting our work for the bees and the other pollinators. They all are endangered. These insects are the supporters and nurturers of life on this planet. By taking care of them, we are not only taking care of ourselves and our common future for generations to come, but also life on this planet as we know it.
For more information, visit SpikenardFarm.org.