Since the first edition of my book Backyard Beekeeper was published more than fifteen years ago, a tsunami of change has crashed over the beekeeping world. We must look anew at what it is to be a beekeeper. But even though so much has changed, much of the fundamental information remains.
Of course, much of the attention bees, beekeepers, and beekeeping have received in the past several years can be attributed to, as the scientists will tell you, the multifactorial causes that result in an unhealthy, or worse, dead colony of bees. One USDA researcher summed it as the Problems of the four Ps: Parasites, Predators, Pesticides, and Pasture.
None of these factors, on their own, is the killing blow. Rather, it is the many complex combinations of factors that put constant, perpetual stress on honey bees, leaving them with challenged immune systems, inadequate diets, and damaged bodies.
Big agriculture has negative effects. Ever-increasing acres of crops require honey bee pollination to produce our food. Commercial beekeepers must choose management techniques that favor healthy bees in time for seasonal crops. This removes many of the colonies formerly used to produce honey. This has reduced domestic honey production; we are now importing nearly 80 percent of the honey consumed in the Unites States each year.
This is so easy to avoid. Unlike commercial, large-scale beekeepers, the backyard beekeeper has control over the integrated pest-management schemes that deal with these problems. They have some access to bees adapted to their specific locations and continuous selection of those lines of bees that thrive where they live. This is a small, steady step in the right direction.
Enough good food, all the time is also being addressed. Acres of unused and marginal land are being converted by corporations and highway, parks, and forestry departments to accommodate all pollinators. Towns and cities are turning the corner on asphalt, lawns, and pretty but inedible flowers for pollinators. The same is happening in the big ag fields. Between crop rows in those barren isles, forages are being planted. Herbicides are looked at with less esteem and more caution, and governments are rethinking land-use policies to accommodate more pollinators, whether bees, birds, bats, or butterflies. The sun is rising just a little on these dark issues. And backyard beekeepers are leading the way.
Several countries have banned some classes of pesticides, dietary supplements for bees have flourished, new Varroa control strategies have come forth, and whole generations of beekeepers have appeared, concerned and committed to helping honey bees.
You will begin your beekeeping adventure knowing what can go wrong and will be well-armed with new information plus the tried-and-true ways of beekeeping. You will be a smarter, better beekeeper. With this book, a bit of outdoor wisdom, and a colony or two of honey bees, you will truly enjoy the art, the science, and the adventure of beekeeping. By applying what we share here, you will be able to enjoy the garden crops you harvest, the honey you and your bees produce, and the beneficial products made from the efforts of your bees and your work.
What could be sweeter? Once again, we can enjoy the bees!