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More on My Two-queen Hive Experiment

- September 1, 2015 - Ray Nabors - (excerpt)

Our two queen system has attracted more attention than any article on bees that I have written in a long time. So many folks have read about the system and either asked about starting one or building one like it. I have encouraged all to wait and see how this system turns out before using this exact design. The reasons for this are now becoming apparent.

We must keep in mind that apiculture is different from agriculture. It is also different from animal husbandry or ranching. I have often referred to this acre as a bee ranch. I was once talking with a “hobby rancher” who kept about 10 head of beef cows. The idea was to use his small farm in Kentucky to produce beef for his family at near no cost. He was able to do this. It allows for a small profit in some years and has a breakeven year now and again. His cows are gentle and easily approached. They like the crops on our farm are domesticated. When I told him I had half a million head on an acre, he looked skeptical!

This is a good place to wax historically and even prehistorically. Our first domesticated animal was the dog. It is estimated that people have kept dogs for 15,000 – 30,000 years. Dogs, evidently closely related to wolves, became pets prehistorically. In hunting / gathering societies, the men do the hunting and the women do the gathering. Our female ancestors gathered the plant foods that made up 2/3 of the diet for any group of people. The hunting is more dangerous. Children can grow up without a father, but not without a mother. The men do the hunting. The meat they provide is only 1/3 of the family or village food by volume, but makes up half or more of the total calories and vitamins in the diet. A Natural History of Domesticated Animals, Juliet Clutton-Brock.

Ancient men learned to follow herds of animals in migration for a reliable source of meat. They figured out how to hunt and weed out the most aggressive animals in a herd. This left the docile ones for herding. This effect happened with sheep and goats somewhere in central Eurasia (Eastern Europe and the Middle East) about 10,000 years ago. Cattle, horses and other animals followed. People traded their animals including dogs.

Women in ancient history learned to save the seeds from edible plants and put them into gardens for food close to home. They selected the best seed to save. Wild apples were the size of a thumbnail. We have our great, great, great, etc. grandmothers to thank for apples the size of a baseball. On every continent a grain was developed. In Eurasia it was wheat. This grain is a hybrid between 3 or 4 species. In northern Europe it was barley and rye. In East Asia it was rice. In Africa grain sorghum and millet. In the Americas, it was Maize (corn). We cannot feed large populations without grains.

Dogs were bred for hunting, herding and guarding. The dogs allowed plant and animal domestication. Humans learned to breed plants and animals with desirable characteristics. Dogs would alert the farmers and ranchers when their domesticated plants or animals were under attack from deer or wolves. Without the dog, domestication of plants and animals may not have been possible. You may ask what this has to do with bees? It is simple; bees are not a domesticated animal. That is why beekeeping is referred to as apiculture. In many parts of the world, wild bees are robbed of their honey. Bees are not kept but hunted.

The honey bee is not now nor has it ever been domesticated. When we do experiments with beekeeping, we must always ask the bees. It is a fundamental part of bee research that we attempt to predict how the bees will react to any given change in techniques including hive structure. Obviously, we learn how bees will react to any change in beekeeping techniques after we try it out. Trial and error is the first form of research. The bees teach us and we learn from them. We do not, nor have we ever been able to teach bees anything. We can only breed bees for gentility, health and honey production. We can select varieties and races of bees for many different conditions. We have not nor are we likely to change “beehavior.”

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It has been my privilege to answer the letters of many interested and aspiring beekeepers concerning two-queen systems. I have also had a ….