A taste of the amazing world of honey bees

The “Man (or Woman??) of Bicorp” holding onto lianas to gather honey from a beehive as depicted on an 8000-year-old cave painting near Valencia, Spain

Last weekend I took an intensive 2 day course on honey bees and organic beekeeping. It covered many topics including bee biology and ethology, beekeeping practices, bee pathologies, product development and regulations. Bee biology and ethology is absolutely fascinating and I recommend any of you readers, to learn a bit about it. The course was very useful as it provided a broad picture of many of the issues related to the world of honey bees within the broader context of the Anthropocene.

Perhaps one of the most striking issues I learned about was about how European honey bees (Apis mellifera), through movement of the western honey bee, colonies into and out of Asia, become vulnerable to Varroa mite, an external parasitic mite that attacks Apis cerana and Apis mellifera honeybees, first in Africa and then in Europe.  Quickly, the parasite spread around the world. Populations of wild honeybees in Europe dropped dramatically almost to the point of extinction during the 1980s. Currently, Varroa has become persistent in many parts of the world, such as Spain, and the existence of these bees in these areas depends on human activities. These beekeeping activities mostly consist in conventional ‘bee farming’  which involve practices such as controlling the queens, inhibiting bees swarming, the application of toxic chemicals to control the varroa and stealing the honey (product of the bee-labour).

During the course I was introduced to different models of beekeeping. In the same way that there are  different cultures of agri/culture, there are different cultures of api/culture. These different cultures are linked to different practices, worldviews and a different relationships with bees themselves.

In Spain, organic beekeeping is extremely marginal. There are only 50 professional organic beekeepers in Spain despite it being one of the countries in Europe with the highest number of  professional beekeepers. Perhaps one of the main challenges faced is the poor understanding of what it means to be organic beekeeper in contrast to conventional beekeeping.

Over the next few months we will be exploring Beekeeping and pollination and we will keep you updated about our progress!

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