There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Truce With The Know-It-Alls … sort of

It’s no secret that my encounters have not gone well with experienced beeks who have assumed the role of teacher or spokesman. Asking a question of them can get you a snide remark, a put-down, or a twenny-minute rant about what a bothersome newbie you are.  … and no useful answer for your question, however stupid it may have appeared.  I’ve held my remarks about this to a minimum here in the blog, but folks have relayed to me that my antipathy still shows.  I’m, like, really effing sorry, okay?

My bad attitude started just about the same time as my interest in ‘saving the bees’ got serious. I was at that “OMG they’re gonna all die” stage in my learning process. Looking around the web, and the local places like the Extension Service and the State bee guys, I mostly found examples of opinionated know-it-alls who would just as soon you go away, thank you very much. Each one of these curmudgeons had his/her own “one right way” to do things and as a newbie you are supposed to just shut up and do as you are told. That’s kind of a generalization on my part which I will address in a bit, but I did find that beekeepers as a group each have a strongly held opinion that they never feel needs to be modified. I still maintain the perception that as individuals they won't understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat ... ever.

Those of you who have been in the environmental activism game, or who are familiar with Daniel Quinn and his writing will immediately recognize the ‘one right way” fallacy and the implications of such an attitude as being the largest signpost on the Road to Hell.  Those of you who know me, will recognize that such poor thinking would have set me off immediately … and it did.

Now this was about the time that the media hype was getting up to the top of the intensity curve, where it seems to be remaining. There were thousands of us animal rights, tree-hugger, back-to-the-land, greenie activists who got sucked in. We recognized the CCD die-offs as one more example of the destruction mankind was wreaking upon the planet.  … and suddenly thousands of us descended upon the world of beekeeping, asking all those stupid newbie questions, ranting about what was wrong with everything and generally trying learn from those curmudgeon beeks at the same time we were trying to give them the “bigger picture” about the planet, the bottleneck, and Kenyan Top Bar Hives before we knew anything. Needless to say we weren’t – and aren’t – well received. 

There were too many of us, and there was not the perception among the beek organizations on the web or in local organizations that the inundation was not gonna stop. Oh sure, there were a few half-hearted efforts to organize ‘something’ to appease us. And, Goddess bless ‘em, many old-time beeks did in fact try to answer questions and steer us toward becoming responsible beekeepers.  But for the most part, the experienced beeks simply resented and/or ignored the newbies.  You can go to all the websites and groups and see their responses  “This is not the site to discuss introductory things, we’re here to do X, read the FAQ before asking, this has all been rehashed interminable times before, go somewhere else, read a book, etc etc.” 

A poor picture, eh?

There is hope. Now into my second year of beekeeping for real, I’ve come to realize that one can indeed break though that barrier and get straight answers. You just have to learn how to talk to ‘em, Newbeeks. You gotta spoon-feed tiny bits o’ question so that their for-the-most-part-not-well-educated-minds can understand what you want. You do indeed have to do your homework first, read their inadequate FAQs, and read some good books on Beekeeping, especially this one. And fer gawd’s sake go easy about ranting at them about how we’re all destroying the planet and causing global warming and they are part of the problem. (They aren’t ready for that enlightenment yet.) As I have said in other places in the blog: listen, keep yer mouth shut about your progressive ideas; then go home and do things your way.

Besides, they have begun to respond positively. Several of the web forums have some decent newbie sections to get you started. One forum I live on has experienced folks who make a point to welcome new beeks and invite them to share their questions.

I just had a long offline conversation with one of the curmudgeon beeks regarding an issue I was alarmed about, and the guy actually had the good grace to get past my derisive snarkiness and set me straight in a semi-pleasant way.

So, things are getting better for newbies. Don’t give up. The established guys are changing, we’re wearing them down. And it seems the few who awoke to the inundation by us all have sorted out their thoughts and started posting helpful stuff. I failed in my normal perception, too, that folks on the net find it too easy to become jerkasoids, whereas in person they can be much more almost human. A friend of mine relayed this to me when she attended a beek conference and met some of the bigger web curmudgeons, only to find them to be pretty nice guys. (It prolly helps to be smart and gorgeous at the same time, however.) I urge you all to check in with ‘em again, and join your local beekeeping group. This time they might make room for you. They may have actually seen a Top Bar Hive by now.

I’m declaring a truce with the old beeks.  There is much to learn and we must learn it from them. For now, I'm invoking the Thumper Rule regarding them on this blog.

Oh, and don’t be quite so worried about ‘saving the bees’. More about that in the next post.

[added May29,'10  Hoo boy. I lasted 2 months and 3 days maintaining the truce. That's pretty good for me. Several of us kind of had a little run-in with the curmudgeons over on the Organic Beekeeper Yahoo Group. If you're signed up you can see the start of it all the way to where they began blocking posted responses, and then somebody dumped every post I ever put up there. (g) A bit unfair, but that's just the way they roll. I had to terminate my membership. There's still alot to learn about sustainable beekeeping but I'll learn from somewhere else. I guess for me it's back to the Thumper Rule even more forcefully. But, hey, the Natural Beekeeping Network Forum seems very promising. And the UK Warré group has been a wonderful resource.]


  1. I know you are serious (for the most part), but just had to laugh here and there during your post. Because I've been through what you are going through, and learned to keep my mouth shut when asking local beeks about pretty much anything. Even though it was hard, and I was quite literally biting my tongue.

    Keep going forward. I'm enjoying this blog and look forward to communicating in future even though I'm taking a slightly different path in my goal to keeping bees naturally and organic. In that "more than one way to skin a cat" sort of theory.

  2. I have grown too frail to even maintain my flower garden more than cursory pruning and the obligatory watering summer will require. So dreams of beeking, or raising chickens and bunnies and bears, oh boy! will remain just dreams.

    That said, I can still man a potato gun. Oh show us the way to the next whiskey bar, oh don't ask why...

    From the back, at a distance, Twinkle does a fine imitation of you wearing a Jerry Garcia/Santa wigbeard.

  3. I think one has to learn this lesson in almost any field of interest. Raising animals, gardening, remodeling .. the "experts" all have their way of doing things and are sure that you will fail if you do differently. I'm slowly learning to just listen and nod and pick out the good advice among the strong opinions. Better to try and fail than to fail by not trying.

    I've seen you recommend the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping" in several posts now, but it's still not available for purchase. How do you know it will be decent? The author's post here sounds promising, but one never really knows until they read it ...

  4. Yeah, it is jumping the gun to be so gung ho about that book, I admit. But I AM trying to stick to the Thumper Rule, and recommending the book is part of that. So many of the beeks who should know have been so much behind it. Plus Dean's site for the book has pretty good articles heading off in the sustainable direction. The competition is so poor, I figure it's gotta be orders of magnitude better. I'm taking it on faith; but ready with "the hook" to re-edit my blog posts and pan it if it's crap. We'll see, won't we.