Jack Bresette-Mills “Sensitive Beekeeping. Practicing Vulnerability and Nonviolence with your Backyard Beehive”

Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne 2016

Sensitive Beekeeping

The author is a teacher and one of his major aims concerning apiculture is to educate people – in a quite charming and humorous way – about the differences in quality and approach. As long as honey is so cheap that most beekeepers can only make a living by abusing the bees and the environment, less will change. But the more people know about the often cruel methods of conventional beekeeping the more are willing to pay a higher price for bee-friendly earned treatment-free honey. As soon as someone earns money with animals, two essential questions arise: “Am I sensitive enough to know what is best for another being; and am I free enough in my personal life to forgo earning money for the sake of an animal? (…) (W)ithout both, earning money off the life of animals inevitably results in suffering, as far as I can see.” (p. 78)

Considering all the harm that has been done to the bees, it’s surprising that they are still alive. “Though it is now certainly likely that neonicotinoids are causing the worst of colony collapse disorder, I find it amazing we haven’t questioned the general abuse we give bees for our commercial honey and pollination needs. Plastic comb, taking away their honey and giving them some cheaper food, forcing them to accept manufactured queens every season, stacking hives on pallets and moving thousands of colonies thousands of miles wrapped in cellophane on trucks to pollinate otherwise sterile monocultures (almonds, for example) thereby mixing races of bees and spreading local diseases nationally; using queen excluders, pollen traps (…); as well as general overuse of pesticides … How have the bees managed to survive these gross insults this long?” (p. 83f.)

In his book Bresette-Mills shows us a different way to care for bees by having a relationship with them that allows us to improve ourselves. Without veil and gloves we are more respectful, aware, and delicate and the bees will appreciate this. You will become able to know what they need, but since you are not there yet, you will find some instructions in this book: about the basics, the equipment, the hives; what to do in case of adversaries and for general maintenance. He also wants us to get to know the bees – not only from the restricted scientific point of view but from observation and truly realization with the heart. “Scientists do not like to admit intelligence in species other than their own, and much prefer to call all amazing behavior ‘instinct’, as though the word really answers the question.” (p. 64) When you just want to start with bees, it’s not easy to find good advice. There is for example not a single book in German about bee-centric, relational, treatment-free beekeeping! The bad advice is widespread and behind it there is big money. As it is in human medicine “health does not make as much money as does illness. If you can sell a product that makes someone need another product you sell, you are rich. The bad advice given about beekeeping doesn’t kill the bees directly, but it weakens them enough for you to need to buy strengthening products (antibiotics, mite treatments, nosema remedies, etc.), which from a certain point of view, is good for the economy, but not so good for your bees.” (A Note to the Reader) If you want strong bees who are able to defend themselves from any attack, you must avoid anything that harms them, that means “practicing beekeeping methods that support the bees’ own ability to fight off illness and pests” (p. 89). What methods these are, what you have to do or better let be, all that is explained in this book. Here’s a short summary: “If we feed the bees their own honey; let them make their own honeycomb with any size cells they want; let them figure out how to deal with their own pests and germs instead of giving them medicines and antibiotics; allow each colony to develop a familial bond by not mechanically dumping bees from one hive into another and not hauling them across the country in trucks; let them re-learn how to raise new queens when they have need, instead of routinely killing queens and replacing with factory models; and do not force them to squeeze through queen excluders and pollen traps every day of their lives, then our bees might be all right.” (p. 130)

Beekeeping in a sensitive way is good for the bees and it can lead you to a path of knowledge, a road to initiation. This spiritual quest does not have to be the reason for having bees but may miraculously result from it.