Richard Evatt, Organic BeeKeeper: Can Organic Bees Survive Beyond Climate Change, Chemicals & Industrial Farming?

Interviewed by

Tim Lynch

Richard Evatt, Organic BeeKeeper: Can Organic Bees Survive Beyond Climate Change, Chemicals & Industrial Farming?

Building an organic bee hive enterprise from nothing to 140 hives with a focus on best practice is achievable.

Knowing the matriarch, the queen bee is the sexual organ of the hive - it is she who lays the foundation for the whole colony - but there are many challenges in a rapidly changing world of the varroa mite and colony collapse. That commercial operations use insecticides to control the varroa disease are likely to cause problems because queens do not survive as long today as in pre-varroa times.

Today, nearly every element within the biosphere is under pressure and yet honey is still seen as an elixir, especially recently, as NZ Manuka Honey becomes a premium for its antibacterial qualities especially with the increase of dis-ease and other ailments - so how is it possible to be a pure honey advocate and producer in our world today?

Nine years ago Richard took time off working as an interior designer to take care of his kids instead - and became a hobby bee keeper that has grown into a robust little organic business.

Starting from 2 hives to 4 to 8 now he has 120 hives and a thriving little business Living on Waiheke Island 7 kilometres off the NZ coast - there are many larger (land) sections with numerous fruit trees, plums, apples and citrus and quite well established too - as well as differing flower gardens including bottle brush, so there is a lot of feed for bees - plus manuka trees - as there has been more reforestation on the island. It was a little over a hundred years ago the island was basically denuded as they used the wood for charcoal in Auckland 17 kilometres by boat across from Waiheke. Native kanuka is now becoming predominant - though there are cabbage trees and flax as well. With very little agricultural and horticultural pressures there are more vineyards, with most of them running organic systems. Other than the use of a little fungicide, which Richard acknowledged is not particularly good for bees, they are not using insecticides that directly affect bees.

Glyphosate is still a challenge though most of the vineyards will not use it and there is not much of it used on Waiheke Island, in a commercial sense.

Bee’s being a matriarchal society the Queen may be the leader, but is actually the egg layer and genetic carrier for the hive as the bees seem to ‘just know' what they need to do - as in anarchy - being a very complex society - no real hierarchy - so the workers can manipulate the Queen as to what they want or ‘think' needs to be done and the Queen can do the same as well. He says it is such a complex society - the more you learn - the more you realise you have yet to learn.

Bees are quite complex - that they can ‘think’ for themselves even when they are connected to a hive mind. That the Bee is an esoteric symbol - especially from ancient Egypt, where they were readily acknowledged.

Nectar for the bees is their carbohydrate and for the flower that is the payment to the bee - for the bee being the sexual organ of the flower.

Honey that is made from nectar when capped off can be stored indefinitely.

Bee researchers overseas are looking at the individual honey properties from differing flowers, some have found anti inflammatory properties which is good for people in their older age.

The strain of varroa mite found in New Zealand in April 2000 was the worst strain of this pest - called Varroa Destructor and is here in NZ to stay. It easily infests hives by jumping from bee to bee within the hive or from flower to bee as bees forage for their food. Prior to that NZ was essentially an organic honey paradise.

Some bees are becoming immune to the chemicals that have been used. Richard listened to Randy Oliver in the USA and decide to go organic and is still successfully doing so. Randy has his own bees which he studies very intently and his relationship with them brings about a deeper intuitive knowing.

http://scientificbeekeeping.com

NZ has the highest number of bees ever at present and growing every year. But, the big producers use synthetic chemicals, which has its drawbacks.

It is very difficult to handle large quantities of hives organically as the extra precautions and checking all the time, is time consuming.

Colony collapse here in NZ has been nowhere as disastrous as it is in the Northern hemisphere. The bee is in some ways the canary in the ecological coal mine.

Bees in the US are a factory system with around 2.74 million colonies and it is huge for almonds in California. This is where they need a million hives to just pollinate the almond flowers. Bees are fed sugar water as well which equals a mono culture - thus shortcuts are taken everywhere and bees may get only one particular pollen, so it can have an effect that stops them becoming robust.

Pollen is what the bees eat and if there is only one flower such as the almond flower - there are problems - because they need a mixed diet.

The thrust of the interview then turns to industrial agriculture and factory farming.

Today’s industrial agriculture is the extractive model that is based on how much profit can be made and we are pushing it to the limits of what the biosphere can provide. We are needing to make some critical decisions as to what is going to be for us to remain as healthy human beings as well as retaining a sustainable environment that will serve future generations and Richard sees that this must apply across the board in all agricultural and horticultural businesses. He says that it is a ‘common sense thing’ and we have to get back to factoring our children into our common future.

Richard also says we have to question why corporations exist and what is their purpose? We have to look at them again, as we have set the whole game up with the wrong goal in mind - it can not be all based on the profit motive or increasing your share portfolio - we need to increase the value of our planet and the biosphere and we are finding this out now.

Manuka honey is big in NZ, but it has become too expensive for the average New Zealander to buy. One of the reasons is that ‘big bee businesses are paying farmers living close to manuka and bush, large amounts of money like $200 a hive for possibly 8 - 10 weeks of honey to place their bees close up, when flowering - driving up the price.

About his bees

Most bees are Italian and we are not allowed to import any stock into NZ now. We do have Carniolan bees in NZ they are a darker bee plus a little black bee that the early NZ settlers brought with them to NZ - these a somewhat feral - but can be found in hives on Great Barrier Island.

NZ exports 35 tonnes of live bees out of the country. That is bees only, their body weight itself, nothing else - for example have a bee alight on your hand that is how heavy one bee is. Then extrapolate what 35 tonnes of these critters are worth in volume. Mostly exported to the USA and Canada as they cannot produce enough of their own up there. All those live bees are exported with a queen.

When the season finishes in NZ and the flowers stop producing - bees from hives are then harvested and a new queen introduced and they are flown up to the Northern hemisphere where that can start all over again as spring emerges - such is the way the industry has become global.

Worker bees may live 40 to 45 days, depending on how much flying they have to do, but in winter they will stay close to the hive, keeping it warm and can live for a couple of months - easily - eating honey and vibrating warmth keeping the little amount of brood around the Queen in the hive alive .

Bees are seen as not as healthy today as previously, as they eat lots of white sugar in winter - when for thousands of years they stored honey which they ate over winter.

A good organic honey apiarist will leave them more honey in the hive so they don’t have to give them sugar. Agrisea here in NZ http://www.agrisea.co.nz - make a sea weed product that can be added to the sugar water to give the bees minerals etc.

In China many trees are hand pollinated due to the atmospheric pollution and smog making it too difficult for bee or even other flying insects to live or survive.

NZ must down scale from the full on industrial factory system - by doing so we may be able to have a viable localised industry.

Compliance costs are huge in NZ pushing people to become bigger businesses - as they are the only ones who can afford the exorbitant compliance fees - so it is totally weighted against the small producer - as there is no government support - especially to contribute to smaller ‘craft; industries.

Thoughts

Richard states, people want the small craft industries that have their own essence and flavour - they don’t want the big homogenous industrial giant. They want to know the guy and even talk with them, who made their cheese, their wine or their honey or the chair you sit in - people don’t mind paying the extra - when they know who and how it was made …they want that human connection … we need to tell Government that we don’t need farms with 2,000 to 3,000 dairy cows, that we can have a farm of 200 to 300 cows and make a very good living - especially that in NZ organic dairy farmers are getting $9.30 per kilo weight of fat compared to the poor return of $5 that conventional chemical farmers are getting. So by supporting the smaller guys to make a better product that is more beneficial to health and takes care of the ecology is being seen as a wise decision.

Biological agriculture and increasing bacterial levels in the soil is bringing huge results - getting rid of the synthetic chemicals that we have been pumping onto the land.

The Corporate model - all it does is pay the investors and the investors have virtual zero to do with the running of the corporation and they have no responsibility and all they care about is the bottom line and how much that can be extracted out of the environment each year.

Richard says, set some goals and do some research, turn off TV and instead check and see where you milk comes from - or where your grapes get sprayed … or how many times your veggies are sprayed.

Grow your own food - or go to a farmers market. Check your seeds that you buy from the local plant shop - ask what coatings they have on their seed - make sure that they are not covered in neonicotinoids - which are extremely dangerous and need to be taken out of the commercial realm. That we need to be proactive as it is important to know what chemicals are on what and one individual can do that - it just means that we make the effort - as many other people can benefit from your initiative and Richard says that if we have a society doing that - then other good things can happen.

He re emphasises that colony collapse is a result of a whole cocktail of chemicals from many various sources all coming together to cause the collapse - the same is with neonicotinoids - they are all contributors to causing increasing problems within the environment.

Richard questions how did the earth system evolve and create healthy living ecological systems and biota that have made it over a hundred million years? That it has been basically healthy for us up until this last century.

When we embrace more holistic and natural systems this will enhance our future for children of today and tomorrow - without the use of all these chemicals.

He mentions that the TPPA, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, is also not in the best interests for the human race, being corporate centred.

Richards Own Websitehttp://www.waihekehoney.co.nz

Randy Oliver - http://scientificbeekeeping.com

http://www.ourplanet.org/greenplanetfm/karen-wealleans-pat-baskett-dangers-of-neonicotinoids

In finishing I wish to mention that I have interviewed four of the Evatt Family, each with an important viewpoint that relate at a holistic, community, involvement - level.

There is father Christopher and son’s Jonathan, Justin and Richard.

A very unique family.

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Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch, is a New Zealander, who is fortunate in that he has whakapapa, or a bloodline that connects him to the Aotearoan Maori. He has been involved as an activist for over 40 years - within the ecological, educational, holistic, metaphysical, spiritual & nuclear free movements. He sees the urgency of the full spectrum challenges that are coming to meet us, and is putting his whole life into being an advocate for todays and tomorrows children. 'To Mobilise Consciousness.'

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