Everybody’s heard it – the insistent, persistent voice of a small child asking “Why?”
They start with one question and then dig deeper and deeper – to your every best answer – there is another “Why?”, another “Why?” and yet another “Why?” Eventually the questions become impossible to answer and the line of questioning comes to an abrupt end, sometimes with a bit of frustration on the part of the adult.
But we really never stop wanting to know “Why?”, do we? As adults, it’s comforting to know that there is a reason for the things that happen. Without a sense of cause and effect we feel lost and out of control. More importantly, if we know why something happens, we know what not to do if we want to prevent that thing from happening.
So it’s challenging to live in a world where we can’t always know the “why” of things. And beekeeping is a prime example of such a world. There are a multitude of variables involved in the keeping of bees – weather, location, colony strength, queen fecundity, availability and quality of forage, temperature, pests and pesticides – just to name a few of the possibilities.
As a business owner, and even more, as a teacher in the top bar hive beekeeping world – it pains me when I am unable to give concise, scientific answers to the questions I am asked by students – answers that soothe and satisfy, instead of insisting that the student be brave, and to come along and learn to live in the uncertain world of nature and beekeeping.
Occasionally we get a little crazy in our search for the reasons why things happen with bees. This can lead to some interesting superstitions! At that point it’s a little like wearing your lucky t-shirt to help the Red Sox win! It makes us feel better – if it works.
But sometimes the answer is “It depends.” This is the answer to things like “How much honey does the average hive produce?” “Will my bees swarm in their first year?”
Then sometimes, the only answer is “I don’t know.” This is a hard one – both for the teacher to offer, and for the student to hear. It’s frequently the answer to “Why didn’t my bees thrive?” It’s especially frustrating to have two hives side by side, and to see one thrive and the other fail – and not be able to discern the why of that.
So one of the hardest lessons in beekeeping is learning that we can’t always know “Why?”. It’s knowing that, and still keeping bees anyway – for the love of the bees, for their pollination skills, and for their wonderful “nectar of the gods” that convinces me that the world is full of “thinking beekeepers” – caring, resourceful, thoughtful people – who will be the folks who help to shift the paradigm from industrial agriculture and its attendant beekeeping practices to S.O.L.D. farming – Small, Organic, Local, and Diverse.
Because that certainly looks to be the only sane direction in a world where you can’t always get the answer to “Why?”.