This summer I was asked to write an article for the European organization, Free the Bees. The article was originally posted in German and French, and can be viewed here. The following is the English translation.
Twenty-five years ago I encountered the Honeybees during spontaneous initiation into an ancient lineage of European shamanism. Communing with them revealed their role in the ongoing evolution of human consciousness and deep esoteric insights. They also shared that they were in crisis, facing an immanent global decline. "The Queen has fallen", they said...
The bees asked for a sanctuary where the loving, reverent and mutually beneficial relationship they had once enjoyed with humans could be restored. They led me to a remote district on the big island of Hawaii where I founded Artemis Smiles Honeybee Sanctuary in 2001. Having never studied beekeeping, I established my own practices through direct communication with them. As I explored my new home I marveled at the abundant wild colonies inhabiting caves, lava cliffs and tree cavities of the dry coastal and upland rainforests. With my background in biological science, I observed the natural behavior of these wild hives, and the bees themselves became my teachers.
Image: Alison is listening to the bees!
From 2004-2006 I went to work for a commercial queen producer. I discovered that Hawaii island is home to the largest queen export industry in the world. The sacred honeybee, upon whose tiny backs the entire history -and the future- of human civilization rests, has fallen into the soul-less realm of industrial factory-farming. My experience convinced me that a primary reason for the decline of honeybees is rooted in artificial queen production. On Hawaii island nearly a half-million ‘queens’ are produced for export by grafting the worker larvae of a mere handful of ‘breeders’, limiting genetic variation and potential survival traits. ‘Breeder’ queens, which produce both the annual crop of exported queens and the drones they mate with, have been highly selected through an artificial insemination process that includes sensory and oxygen deprivation. These ‘fallen’ queens rarely live even one year.
Mating nucs in coffee farm sprayed heavily with herbicides. These are where cells are inserted, then bulk bees and syrup added. Cell will hatch, new queen will mate and then is caught and caged for shipping, a new cell added etc.
Worker larvae grafted into plastic queen cups move from the breeder hive, to cell-builder colony, to incubator, to mating yard nucleus. Two weeks later the newly mated queens are caught, caged, ‘banked’, and finally shipped to North American beekeepers. Sugar syrup, soy-based ‘pollen’ and chemical stimulants and medications accompany every step of the process. This fractionated method of queen production strips from the bees their relationship to their genetic lineage and to their local environment, and eliminates any possibility of natural selection and adaptation.
I now understood why the bees had directed me to rescue wild colonies from homes or other undesirable locations and relocate them to the sanctuary. Our wild bees still had their full complement of millions of years of genetic wisdom. Their ‘immune system’-the sense of cohesion as a super-organism- and related survival traits were still intact. Unlike the ‘productive’ commercial bees, the worker populations in wild colonies expanded and contracted in response to local environmental conditions such as rainfall and nectar flow. It became clear why my bees had insisted ”we need to swarm”, and that I support their natural reproduction and other innate behaviors.
Healthy drone comb from a deep Top Bar hive.
From 2019-2021 I went back to work for a queen producer who hired me to help them ‘do better for the bees’. My work included the development and testing of so-called organic treatments including thymol, formic and oxalic acid. The mites were growing resistant to chemicals and despite regular applications the company was still losing 60% of their hives annually. It had been ten years since the arrival of Varroa and SHB to the island. Ten years since I had first observed the detrimental effect industrial production methods are having on the bees. The decline continues. Hawaii supplies Canada with 75% of its imported Queens…last year’s winter losses averaged 45.5%.
The difference between the weak, immune-suppressed, treatment-dependent commercial bees and the Sanctuary’s thriving treatment-free, vibrant and healthy colonies is easy to see. Artemis Smiles is now home to a growing 'genetic bank' of survivor colonies. Our swarms are repopulating the wilderness around the sanctuary with feral colonies once again, and we are even getting calls for wild bee rescues! We continue to offer sanctuary and advocacy for the bees, and are adding more educational opportunities for those interested in regenerative and conservation beekeeping.
The bees took to 'SunHives' made from local grass...treatment-free survivors getting ready to swarm!
“The mites and the beetles are not our enemies, they are our liberators!” is one of the most surprising things I have ever heard from the bees. Yet it makes sense; the bees are ‘opting out’ of the industrial agribusiness model and moving back among us. Public awareness and a desire to ‘save the bees’ has led to a renaissance in small-scale, hobby and back-yard beekeeping globally, including North America. With this new interest comes great opportunity for both honeybees and humans to restore a mutually beneficial relationship; one which could spill over to other pollinators, native plants, healthy forests and soils. Perhaps it is actually the honeybees who will save us as they renew our connection and intelligent relationship with the natural world.