Report on the “Bee Conference on Treatment-Free Beekeeping”
Neusiedl am See 7th – 8th April 2018
From the outset this conference had two encouraging features:
It came about on the basis of an initiative by beekeepers who finally wanted to take a step forward. Gabi and Norbert Dorn deserve the credit for having organised and implemented the first conference of its kind in the German-speaking world.
Never before has there been a conference with such a broad field of participants. It ranged from world-renowned resistance breeders focusing on the possibilities of treatment-free beekeeping for large and very large-scale beekeepers, to scientists searching beyond active and targeted breeding and selection efforts and rather exploring the hive and different methods of beekeeping. Additional topics included a return to the concept of the “Bien” (Honeybee Super-organism) in the tradition of our ancestral “bee fathers”, as well as concrete recommendations for treatment-free beekeeping.
The speakers came from all over Europe, including Germany, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Poland, Finland and Switzerland.
If you view the troubling circumstances facing bees and beekeeping today as a big picture, a tableau, a puzzle with many missing pieces, it was very important and meaningful to bring together people who spread out so widely that they normally do not meet. Here they sat, listened to each other and brought their individual pieces to the puzzle, making the picture more complete.
Mrs. Heidi Herrmann from the United Kingdom introduced the above-mentioned specifics of the conference, including the broad view of opinions, from large-scale beekeepers to those who see themselves as species-appropriate, natural or organic beekeepers, and who can draw their respective benefit from the special topics of the lectures in the course of the conference. She also denounced the hypocrisy of politics, which for decades destroyed the bees’ habitat by massive concreting and is now boasting the creation of individual “grass strips”.
Next Jürgen Küppers gave an overview of the development of beekeeping and its future prospects. Based on his latest book, he spoke about the fundamental changes in beekeeping since Langstroth and the development of resistance breeding and other alternative activities in response to the crisis in beekeeping.
The majority of the first day was reserved for the lectures of three resistance breeders well known in the beekeeping world.
Dr. John Kefuss deserves the credit for having been the “ice-breaker” of treatment-free beekeeping. He proved that our bees can survive without treatment and was thus responsible for the release from the state of shock in which many beekeepers found themselves. Now they could dare to think about treatment-free beekeeping again without having to feel like dreamers, romantics, fools or even weirdos. According to Dr. Kefuss, no serious scientist can claim that bees cannot survive without long-term medication. Only pharmaceutical representatives might, out of personal financial gain, attempt to spread something like this. Dr. Kefuss began by mentioning safety issues of beekeepers, as nowadays some of them even wear a gas mask when treating their hives, but are careful not to be seen because of their “image”. He mainly reported on the execution of his “Bond Test”, now refined to a “Soft Bond Test”. Bee colonies are pre-selected by means of a hygiene test. Those who do well will be turned into untreated colonies. With these untreated colonies, queens are bred and the non-resistant colonies are requeened. He thus achieved (by modifying natural selection, in which all unsuitable colonies are exterminated) the survival of many more colonies, since the losses only affect the preselected colonies. This was an attractive opportunity for professional beekeepers with large populations to limit their risk. John Kefuss did this at a time when all the other scientists were preaching that treatment-free beekeeping was impossible. As a scientist, he documented his experiments extensively and gave the audience an insight into his work.
The next resistance breeder was Juhani Lunden from Finland. Unlike Dr. Kefuss, he did not make a preselection, but like in nature, left his entire bee population (150 colonies) untreated. Unlike in the Gotland test, he intervened by making splits to compensate for the losses and to also take into account other beekeeping interests, such as honey yield, etc.
Erik Österlund from Sweden, in turn, took another path in resistance breeding. He used smaller cells and thereby reproduced a bee that sealed faster (the Elgon bee). In order to meet the beekeeper’s needs, he developed a system in which he closely observed the varroa infestation and again treated those colonies with thymol that could not withstand the selection pressure. However, he removed them from his central apiary where breeding took place. Thus he kept all his bees, but at the same time was able to maintain a certain selection pressure.
The second day of the conference was dedicated to the question of whether, besides active breeding work and selection, there are also other ways out of the impasse of today’s beekeeping struggles.
Torben Schiffer is working on a project of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Tautz in Würzburg. His main interest lies in the symbiosis between bees and pseudo scorpions (Chelifer cancroides), which has probably existed for millions of years and kept the colonies in balance with mites and pests. Nowadays, however, hardly any pseudo scorpions are found naturally in the hive.When asked why, he began by describing the original beehives: hollow trees, log hives, and straw skeps. He studied and recorded their humidity and heat regulation functions and searched for possibilities for their optimization. In so doing, the necessity and high value of propolis within these functions of the beehive were discovered. In comparison, today’s hives are too moist and the heat fluctuations too great. According to Schiffer, styrofoam hives, bee boxes and the Top Bar Hives (Kenia Hives), in particular, turn out to be extremely bad – an interesting observation for many beekeepers who work close to nature. Suggested modifications to the conventional hive were closing the bottom, putting them on a higher level away from soil moisture, reducing the size of the entrance, and using a lid that allows for moisture diffusion.
André Wermelinger from Switzerland asked what role the density of colonies in an area plays in the health of bees: Increasing the number of bees in a more and more cleared landscape can only lead to malnutrition and disease, and the intensification of honey production creates similar results. So even without Varroa, the situation is already bad enough for the bees. He clearly structured various approaches to beekeeping by outlining different objectives, such as honey yield, pollination, etc., and methods, starting from log hives to straw skeps to “normal” beekeeping. This structure also promotes a better understanding of different goals and priorities and thereby helps eliminate misunderstandings among beekeepers.
Mrs. Heidi Herrmann described in a deeply moving lecture how, for the first time in her beekeeping career, she had treated her bees with formic acid. The moment she heard the howling of the acid-burned colony of bees, she knew she never wanted to hear that sound again in her life. If a similar concentration reached our mucous membranes, they would be destroyed! From this experience, she drew the strength and the will to work for a treatment-free beekeeping and to make every effort to spread this idea. Further in her presentation, she informed beekeepers about our traditions. She referred to our “bee fathers”, who described the “Bien”; to Gerstung, who emphasized the “sanctuary of the broad nest”; to Heinrich Storch, who in his book “At the Hive Entrance” claimed observation to be the most important, often sufficient instrument of responsible beekeeping. Only 40 years ago there were beekeepers, such as the “bee father“ mentioned by Jürgen Küppers, who adhered closely and uncompromisingly to this “recipe”.
The next speaker was Ralf Rössner, who emphasized the view of the bee colony as “Bien”, as our ancestors saw it. The bee colony is no longer seen as a chemically controlled “reflex bundle”, but as a separate entity. Just as man consists not only of his organs, bees as a whole are more than the sum of their individual parts, namely “The Bien”. To recognize its (divine) expressions of life is not possible with human constructed (and therefore inadequate) measuring instruments, but only through experience and observation. Rössner developed a “soil skep” made of thick clay, whey and straw, which possesses all the physical building properties of clay and thus enables massive support for the bee in its fight against Varroa. For many young participants, the idea of experiencing the bee colony as a “Bien”, as an independently acting entity, like many of our “bee fathers” did, was a new and fascinating idea.
Benjamin Rutschmann briefly presented his work within the Hobos project of Prof. Tautz, where wild bee colonies were sought and found in two German nature reservations. At a time when the environmentally conscious public applauds when wolves, lynxes and bears are being renaturalised in our living environments, one wonders why bees should not be allowed to live as wild animals, which they can do here and worldwide. In the Czech Republic it has already come to the point that beekeepers who have their apiaries near swarms that have been caught must pay a severe fine because they are considered to be the owners of these swarms! The question of whether the bee is only a farm animal or also a wild animal must be answered, with the corresponding effects on disease legislation.
Piotr Pilasiewicz from northeastern Poland told us about measures to protect local bees. As part of the “Nature, Tradition and History” initiative, log hives are hung in the trees as nesting aids. After the swarming of bees had been criminalised in the Czech Republic, 1000 hives were set up on the Polish-Czech border. This earned him spontaneous applause!
Bartek Maleta from southwest Poland found his concerns important enough to travel over 400 km by bicycle to attend the conference. With such motivation and enthusiasm, it is not surprising that he also had a valuable contribution for the audience: the “Fort Knox” project. As difficult as it is to penetrate Fort Knox and get hold of the gold of the United States, it is difficult to establish a treatment-free method of beekeeping and to have healthy bees. How does the “Brotherhood for treatment-free beekeeping” intend to conquer this fort? Small hobby beekeepers have joined their forces and thought about how to deal with the expected losses. The idea of opening a common treasury and thus buying new colonies was abandoned, since one would have to start from scratch again and again during the selection process and buy new colonies from outside. So they organized themselves in a way that each beekeeper, in addition to his own 5-10 colonies, builds up some extra splits which belong to the brotherhood, but remain at the apiary and are cared for. Once a beekeeper has lost his colonies, the other beekeepers replace these losses free of charge, each of them only a few colonies, so that genetic diversity increases at each level. This concept is spreading because the fear of the individual of losing everything is absorbed by the group and also because genetically different, treatment-free populations can settle more quickly.
In summary, we see that the various speakers contributed a multitude of new ideas and concepts. These were so diverse that everyone was able to find a starting point for his own further considerations and activities. In addition, everyone had the opportunity to hear and ask about the ideas and concepts from the primary source, so that any alleged “knowledge” from hearsay disappeared and mutual respect and the awareness of working towards a common goal grew. Just as diversity is necessary in genetics, the diversity of beekeepers’ opinions from the field of treatment-free beekeeping is very important and was well–represented at this conference!
© Jürgen Küppers
And here you can find videos of the Bee Conference