As a species, we are not doing right by bees. They work so, so hard to pollinate the plants that form the basis for human existence, and, at every junction, we try to thwart them. A new study, for instance, has found that diesel fumes from cars essentially eliminate bees’ ability to smell flowers. If bees can’t smell the flowers, they can’t find them, which means they can’t feed off them or pollinate them, either.
June 25 MCC held a workshop on beekeeping in the Guarani village Caipepe near Charagua Estación. The main focus was preparing the community to care for their bees through the winter. I knew very little about beekeeping before this having helped harvest honey at WHRI as an intern. The workshop was led by Patrocinio G. who has had a lot of experience working with beekeeping near Vallegrande and Moro Moro with an MCC project that helped organize an association of apiarists that is now self-sufficient and thriving. The workshop was entirely in Spanish and we drank a lot of maté to keep warm because it was outside, cold and windy. We will follow up this workshop with another one it warms up at the end of August about how to grow the hives during the warm season and another in January about harvesting the honey.
I couldn’t possibly sum up everything I learned in 4-6 hours, but I am definitely interested in learning more and maybe having a hive or two when we get back to Texas. The main thing I learned is that beekeeping is more work than people think. I assumed it was a great way for people to grow food and earn money, because it required very little labor. I was wrong. In order to maintain your hives and have a good harvest of honey you have to be much more hands-on. It may be less work than some other agricultural enterprises, but it still requires attention and maintenance to be successful.
The other thing I’m learning is the roles of different organisms in the ecosystem that can help us plant better gardens and farm better. Pollinators are crucial for producing food and we have to cultivate them and think about what plants most benefit and help them thrive. Other organisms like fungi are not so obvious but play an extremely important role in the ecosystem that sustains us.
Here are some pictures from the workshop.
Patro listens to one of the participants asking questions about beekeeping.
Our host Doña Yema cooking lunch over the fire in her kitchen.
Patro explaining how to use the smoker properly, what kind of wood to use and how to know if the smoke is the right temperature.
The smoker in action.
We went to do some hands-on work with Don Rafael’s hives at his house.
A group picture of all the participants. The village has four groups and these people will go back to their groups and help them with all the knowledge and skills they gained.
Enough said really. We should end up with 20+ gallons of delicious local nectar of the gods. It was really cool and the flying insects didn’t bother me as much as I thought they would.
Remember the post a while back on The Buzz About Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder? Yeah, that one. Well there’s a new short film out about the threat that this problem with bees poses to our food system, Every Third Bite. Eating Liberally says it is an “uplifting short about a downbeat subject” and sums it up like this…
Every Third Bite delivers a stinging truth: at the end of the day, our hyper-industrialized system of agriculture can’t wing it without these fuzzy little farm workers, who get schlepped from state to state like mini migrants to pollinate about $15 billion dollars worth of fruit, nut and vegetable crops each season.
Some other interesting tidbits from the post…
commercial beekeepers, in order to survive, have to harvest all the honey from their hives, leaving none for the bees, who are fed high fructose corn syrup instead.
industrial beekeeping not only deprives bees of their natural diet, it puts them on a grueling work schedule, shuttling them from one farm to the next all season long… As David Graves, a New Yorker who tends a dozen hives on the rooftops of New York City, tells the filmmakers: “People say, well, you keep your hives in New York City, poor bees! But they don’t realize that there’s such a variety of plants down here, and I don’t move the hives, so there is a period of time during the summer and in the fall when they rest. Bees need to rest just as us humans do.”
You can watch the entire 9-minute movie on the Media That Matters website. What does this add to our previous conversation about the way bees are used contrasted with the way the ecosystem naturally functions? Is it man manipulating nature or am I melodramatic?