The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
icon of list

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – May 2024

- May 1, 2024 - (excerpt)

Darwin Among the Hives

In reference to my February article, a reader wrote to me: “I have read your many contributions over the years with both respect and admiration, and thus was a little surprised to find myself in some disagreement with the February contribution — ‘Darwin among the Hives.’ My impression is that you have misinterpreted what Tom Seeley means by Darwinian Beekeeping, a term which he himself acknowledges is easily misunderstood. The initial conclusion many draw is ‘survival of the fittest’ with minimal intervention by the beekeeper, whereas it is so very much more than that. I had requested your references in that I had hoped they would show which Seeley works you had consulted, but those references are more an acknowledgement of specific citations. Rather than send a letter to the editor I thought I would get back to you directly, especially as you welcome such input.”
My response: I avoided references to Tom’s work because he is a respected friend and I would never cast aspersions his way. The world is big enough for different viewpoints. But to me, the article was about Darwin’s ideas and how they have been bent this way and that, to serve purposes for which they may not be appropriate.
Darwin was very clear that advancement achieved by human selection is much faster and much more targeted than natural selection — which is by chance and not goal oriented. Survival can entail many different adaptations, including finding a niche that isn’t already occupied, often because the conditions are not very favorable. Further, people utterly tainted the idea of selection as applied to humans. The eugenics movement wanted to eradicate any humans that deviated from some ideal, usually virile white males and their breeding partners.
Quoted in the Washington Post, Seeley said: “What hobby beekeepers are taught is you get your hive in the winter and nail it together and paint it. And then in the spring, you order a package of bees from Florida or Georgia, and those bees are just junk.”
I don’t believe there are junk bees, any more than there are junk people. Sure, our domestic crops and livestock are not necessarily fit to live in the wild without our constant attention. But that was never the point. In the same way, many human beings also cannot survive without the care and attention of others.
If Darwinism is about “let the weak fall by the wayside,” then I am not in favor of that. Of course, that is not how I would define it, in any case. And to me, the notion of caring for my bees and preventing their untimely death from parasites strikes me as a responsibility and not a chore.
Peter L Borst
Ithaca, New York


Save the cottonwoods!

Hello, I was wondering if you are doing any work to promote cottonwood trees to beekeepers? These may be things you know, but just in case:

• Cottonwood resin is sometimes called “bee glue” because bees gather it to make propolis. The resin from the spring leaf bud is a powerful anti-microbial sealant inhibiting fungal and bacterial growth.
• Cottonwoods produce natural rooting hormones. There is a practical application of this property of interest to gardeners. If you cut a small branch of cottonwood and place it in a vase with other plants you would like to root, it will augment the rooting process. Free rooting hormone!
• Cottonwoods need a location with full sun and lots of moisture. They grow particularly well along lakes and rivers as well as in marshy areas. The trees prefer sandy or silty soil, but will tolerate most anything but heavy clay. Trees may grow as much as 13’ in their first year and as much as 5’ in subsequent years under favorable conditions. They are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 2 through 9.

Cottonwood trees are easy to grow, and have incredibly helpful properties that would make any beekeeper’s job easier. The resin is perfect for everything a…