Have you just stumbled across migratory beekeeping and you think you have what it takes to start it? According to one definition, it is described as the moving of bee colonies from one place to another during a single season but you can find additional information about it if you check it out here.
Beekeeping is a noble, profitable, yet demanding activity that might take every spare hour of your time, depending on the number of hives you’re managing, and how much honey you want to harvest.
Nevertheless, bees are vital for a healthy ecosystem. In fact, according to Albert Einstein, the entire human race would go extinct in less than a decade if bees were to disappear for good.
Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that out of about 100 crop species providing 90% of the worldwide food supplies, 71 of them are pollinated by bees.
In Europe alone, out of the 4,000 plant varieties and little over 260 crop species, 84% exist solely thanks to bee pollination. And, since our population will most likely increase even more in the upcoming decades, the only way to keep up with the food demands is to look after bees and respect their habitats.
However, there are various types of beekeeping, and this includes regular beekeeping and migratory beekeeping. Let’s take a closer look at the latter, and find out more about what it means.
What is the difference between stationary/regular beekeeping and migratory beekeeping?
Most beekeepers prefer to keep their hives stationary, meaning they will find a single spot designated for the activity, maintaining the hives there throughout the year. This is mainly the case for small beekeeping businesses or for those who pick this as a hobby.
Overall, the costs remain about the same season after season, and people can have easy access to honey supplies.
A migratory beekeeper prefers doing things differently. While some of the hives remain stationary, the rest are moved from one place to another to pollinate as many plants as possible.
Also, the purpose of the beekeeper is different. While most stationary beekeepers are in for the honey and other related products, the main purpose of a migratory beekeeper is to pollinate crops. Therefore, harvesting beeswax and honey become secondary and, often enough, the beekeeper won’t even worry about it.
Many migratory beekeepers stick to a small geographic region, preferably one-two regions or two-three states if we’re talking about the United States. Apart from the actual costs of moving hives from one place to another, beekeepers also need to make sure the climate and temperatures are similar, if not identical to not stress the bees.
Some beekeepers don’t confine themselves to a single geographical area and constantly move their hives across the country. They follow the regional growing cycles and the honey flow for best results.
What are the costs of migratory beekeeping?
We should start by saying that migratory beekeeping is, under no circumstances, a job for amateurs or newbies in the field. Unlike stationary beekeeping where you can start with one-two hives and keep a low production of honey for personal use, migratory beekeeping is done on an industrial scale.
Often enough, beekeepers have hundreds, if not thousands of hives, that are moved across the country to pollinate crops and increase food production. Thus, it requires a lot of work, knowledge, time, and resources.
The main task of migratory beekeepers is to arrive in the area long before the pollination season begins to get things set up. After that, the beekeeper waits a couple of weeks to allow bees to pollinate as many flowers and territories as possible before moving to the next state.
In small countries with temperate climates, beekeepers won’t have enough time to move around all regions since spring only lasts for a couple of months.
However, in other countries like the United States, there are plenty of places where agriculture continues year-round, and beekeepers have enough work to last them throughout the twelve months.
Many of them start in California in February, then move to Florida and Georgia from March to April so that they can end up in the Midwest and Northwest by late May-early June.
Is migratory beekeeping safe?
Unfortunately, many studies confirm that migratory beekeeping is bad for honey bees for a variety of reasons.
First of all, the activity disrupts the natural rhythm of the colony. As with all other insects and animals, bee colonies have their own life cycle that begins in late winter and ends in late fall. Each season comes with its own struggles for bees that need to adjust to different temperatures, grow, thrive, pollinate, breed, and prepare the delicious honey.
Colonies that are moved throughout the country to pollinate both winter and summer crops get their signals crossed, and become confused. The changes in climate, temperature, humidity, hours of daylight, and floral types send mixed signals to bees that no longer focus on their natural growth cycle.
In time, these rapid changes of cycles will stress the bees, and even alter their health, making them less resistant to pests and diseases. To put it differently, bees are exploited in the same way as chickens in batteries that are forced to lay eggs constantly, with little to no rest in-between cycles.
Migratory beekeeping also brings together millions of bees in one place where they can easily exchange parasites and diseases. This type of beekeeping is responsible for the rapid spread of bee diseases and even their death, in the past few decades.
It also caters to the needs of monocropped farmlands. In other words, monocultures don’t provide a large variety of nutrients bees require to improve their health and immune systems. Moreover, since we are talking about millions of bees, there will be stiff competition for scarce food supplies provided by these monocrops.
We should also take into account that only a small fraction of the crops are organic, while the vast majority are treated with at least one pesticide.
By moving bees from one monoculture to another, they become exposed to a series of pesticides which seriously threaten their lives and the quality of the pollen and harvested honey. As a result, the honey produced is of inferior quality and doesn’t provide the same beneficial effects and antibacterial properties as the one harvested from organic cultures.
What about transportation?
Migratory beekeeping involves covering a wide area of land in the shortest amount of time. In order to do so, most beekeepers will drive day and night on the national roads, trying to reach their destination as soon as possible. Unfortunately, they won’t cater to the needs of the bees too much.
Often enough, bee colonies will spend days crammed in the back of a truck alongside other 400-500 colonies, during the hottest part of the summer. Poor ventilation, lack of water, and high temperatures are the main factors that alter the behavior of bees, determining them to become agitated, anxious, stressed, and even aggressive.
Bees that actually make it alive to the destination are rarely allowed to rest before starting their pollination journey, which will only add more stress and cause exhaustion and death.
Last but not least, high noises coming from the freeway will also alter the bees’ behavior, causing them to become more stressed. Keep in mind that these insects are not used to noisy environments and prefer quiet fields and remote places.
All these factors will not only decrease the quality of the harvested honey but can also harm bees’ health. In time, migratory beekeeping will cause the death of millions of bees worldwide, which can have disastrous effects on our ecosystem.
What can we do?
While beekeeping should be a rewarding and calming activity, looking after migratory colonies is stressful and dangerous for the insects. Thus, we strongly recommend that you stick to stationary beekeeping and only work with organic crops that can provide high-quality food for bees and honey for you to harvest.
Although migratory beekeeping cannot be abolished while the earth’s population continues to increase, it is our duty to make the bees’ journey as easy as possible, by providing them quality food and a cleaner, fresher environment for them to thrive in.