Learn about the life and wisdom of the honeybee colony and how we can best serve their needs as beekeepers
Why They're Important
The honeybees are a keystone species and essential to the continued growth and flourishing of life on Earth. This member of the insect order Hymenoptera (the stinging insects) plays a key role in creating acids in its body, namely formic acid and its derivatives, which are the building blocks of plant life. Without the creation of these acids by the honeybees and the other stinging insects, plant life on Earth could not continue as we know it.
The honeybees are also an indicator species – they are very sensitive to toxins, pollutants, EMF’s (electric and magnetic fields), and other forces of environmental degradation. In this way, the honeybees become a barometer and an early warning sign for ecological collapse. Depletion of the soil, pollution of our water and atmosphere, lack of plant diversity, increased use of toxins, a focus on profit over health – all of these threaten to destroy many forms of life, including the bees and our own.
The honeybees are key pollinators. They are unique in their capacity to over-winter each year as a hive – ready to fly out and aid in pollination starting again in late winter/early spring. In the increasingly unstable and fluctuating weather patterns of our changing climate, they have the ability to be present for pollination when the plants are flowering, even if the plants seem to be flowering dangerously out of their “normal” rhythm. Honeybees are also responsible for pollinating 40-70% of our diet – including some of the tastiest foods we eat such as apples, peaches, strawberries, nuts, avocados, broccoli, and cucumbers – as well as medicinal plants such as echinacea, lavender, rosemary, & sage.
The honeybees are our partners in evolution. Human beings benefit greatly from the healing products and medicines that the bees can give us when they are healthy and thriving – their surplus honey, propolis, and wax. These substances have been revered and cherished for their value for human health for thousands of years, and they can be received as a wonderful gift in years of bounty. But what can we give the bees in return? How can we serve them? This is the essential question that drives our work at Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary.
“Actually, every human being should show the greatest interest in the subject because, much more than you can imagine, our lives depend upon beekeeping.”
Why They're In Trouble
Statistics speak very loudly, especially those gathered over the past forty years. In the recent decades of the 1960s and 1970s, waves of massive death rates of bee hives were reported in Europe. During the next decade, the varroa mite, imported from the East, claimed an increasing number of hives, and beekeepers lost between half to two-thirds (and in some cases all) of their hives in a single year!
The same pattern repeated itself in America a few years later. In 1996 the newspapers reported that approximately sixty percent of the honeybees in the United States had been lost; some states showed losses up to ninety percent. Expressed in numbers, that means a decrease of hives from seven million to two-and-a-half million! With an average hive numbering 40,000 worker bees in the summer, this loss has quite an impact on many facets of nature in addition to the activity of pollination.
The recent Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has raised the flag from orange to red; another wave of heavy losses has reached us and we are importing thousands of nucleus hives from Australia to guarantee the almond and citrus fruit pollination in California.
Other health problems continue to plague the bee population; not only varroa mites, but also tracheal mites, foulbrood, nosema, the small hive beetle and all kinds of bacteria and viruses.
What Is The Cause?
The scientific and beekeeping communities commonly report that the population of honeybees has been adversely affected by:
- Neurotoxic pesticides
- Mites & viruses
- Mono-crop agribusiness and loss of habitat
- Migratory beekeeping
These are all important factors, and certainly have contributed to the ongoing high hive losses. But the most foundational weakening of honeybee hives have come through exploitative beekeeping practices. It is our conviction that these factors need to be more and more widely addressed in order for any true and sustained healing to occur:
- Artificial queen breeding
- Using recycled wax or plastic foundations
- Feeding sugar/corn syrup in large quantities
- Exploitive honey harvests
- Swarm prevention
- Over-stocking the land with too many hives
- Migratory beekeeping
As long as these beekeeping practices continue, the health of the honeybees will inevitably continue to weaken. We cannot turn this crisis around only by pointing our finger at the mites, the pesticides, and agribusiness — a wider and deeper understanding of the situation is necessary.
What We're Doing
Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary was founded in the certainty that there can be a better future for the honeybees. At this time, with Colony Collapse Disorder and a host of illnesses, mites and beetles undermining the bees’ health and endangering their survival, we have to think of them as patients in the emergency room – and we must start by asking the right questions. Instead of focusing on how much honey we can get from the bees we must ask what can be done to protect, strengthen and heal them. At Spikenard we do not focus on viruses, bacteria, fungi – these are usually the symptoms of a deeper problem and only take over when an organism is weakened.
Our work for the bees is based on:
- Hive forms that respect and approach roundness, and equipment that promotes hive warmth and scent.
- The bees make their own natural wax comb.
- The hive is respected as an organism and nurtured in its inherent tendencies for the creation of the right amount of workers, drones, and queens.
- The celebration of swarming as the most vital and sustainable method of expanding the apiary, breeding queens, and selling bees/hives.
- The adoption of a conservative approach to the feeding of sugar and harvesting of honey.
- A holistic approach to healing and treatments.
- An understanding of the land and the bees as one, and a focus on providing the best bee forage.
We have already seen substantial results: over the past 10 years, our winter losses average 13% – well below the national average of 45%.
It is our commitment to cultivate and share a deeper understanding of the honeybee and her needs, and to exemplify a lively, thriving, and supportive sanctuary ecosystem and apiary on our land in Floyd, Virginia.
What You Can Do
There are lots of things that you can do to help support the honeybee:
- Learn the difference between natural and commercial beekeeping and heighten your consumer awareness around products such as royal jelly, pollen, and honey.
- Plant flowers, shrubs and trees for the bees and pollinators.
- Let the dandelions and other important wildflowers bloom.
- Become a beekeeper and learn to take care of the bees’ needs.
- Join our email list, follow us on social media, watch our videos, read our books.
- Join our Honeybee Sanctuary Network and community to connect to other beekeepers and land stewards who are creating sanctuary in their locale.
- Support our work by making a donation to Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary.
We are solely supported by the generosity of individuals, organizations, and grantors like you! Your contributions help us with our work for and with the bees, from administrative expenses to planting forage, developing and maintaining the sanctuary, giving workshops, lectures and having educational activities for children. We thank you and the bees thank you!
Your heartfelt love for nature and the honeybees can find meaningful expression by contributing to Spikenard Farm. If you are inspired to help, PLEASE DONATE.
You may also write a check and mail it to:
Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary
401 Floyd Hideaway Lane SE
Floyd, VA 24091
All donations are fully tax deductible.
We thank you in advance for your investment in the future of the earth and our life with the bees.
Bees & Beekeeping Reading List
Bees | Rudolf Steiner
Bees & Honey | Michael Weiler
At the Hive Entrance | H. Storch
Biodynamic Beekeeping | Matthias Thun
Queen of the Sun | Taggart Siegel & Jon Betz
Top-Bar Beekeeping | Les Crowder & Heather Harrell
Beekeeping For All | Abbe Warre
Natural Beekeeping with the Warre Hive | David Heaf
The Buzz about Bees | Jürgen Tautz
Honeybee Democracy | Thomas D. Seeley
The Lives of Bees | Thomas D. Seeley
Song of Increase | Jacqueline Freeman
The Spiritual Foundations of Beekeeping | Iwer Thor Lorezen
Honeybee Anatomy | Ian Stell