Our next adventure on the tour was to visit Martin Dettli a very experienced biodynamic, demeter beekeeper, and see the beehives. We were so fortunate that he was able to see us, as he had just returned from an exhausting trip to China, and had not slept much. It was so kind of Martin to teach and show us the hives. Demeter (biodynamic) is a standard of raising animals or food, and it is beyond organic. Rudolf Steiner stressed the importance of allowing animals and plants to be able to express themselves, in other words, to let an animal act and behave as it would naturally. Demeter biodynamic farming also requires that everything be produced on the farm with no outside elements brought in. For demeter beekeeping, this entails natural breeding, natural comb building… Martin said that most bees are not allowed to raise their own queens, and that they are artificially inseminated and transferred to hives, instead of being bred and brought up by an individual hive. This has dangerously reduced the gene pool of bees worldwide.
He tells us that queen bees live about 3 years. Other bees live for approximately three weeks in the summer, and for about six months in the winter. Martin closely observes his hives and is always asking the question “what does the beehive want, or need?” He says that he writes at length weekly concerning his observations of what a particular hive may want or need.
To calm them down he lights his bee smoker.
The end of the year for bees is during July, and then the honey is harvested. Bees prefer to fly 1 to 3 miles in search of nectar, but can fly up to 10 miles for food. He states that there are basically no wild bees in Switzerland, and all are raised in manmade beehives. Martin asks if anyone wants to put on a bee netting hat, and dear Eva jumped at the chance. As time went on, even she realized that these gentle bees were not going to sting anyone.
Nurse bees are bees which make glands to actually nurse the baby bees. After they are nurse bees, they become watcher bees, then they make other glands to be able to build the honeycombs. The eldest bees guide the whole hive, going out in search for food sources, and then they come back and inform the younger bees. They also go scouting to find the best place to swarm, and the eldest scouts make the decision.
Several in our group raise bees or were concerned about colony collapse disorder in bee hives world wide. Martin strongly pointed to the varroa mites being the prime problems in the decline of bees, and he attributed this problem to the modern ways in which bees are kept, as opposed to a more natural method of demeter beekeeping.
Martin had just returned the evening before from a long trip to China. He was invited there to teach and consult about demeter beekeeping. One company there that he consulted with produces 3000 tons of honey a year and has fought for organic beekeeping practices in China for 15 years.
He spoke of an old bee variety, Apis Terrania, high in the remote mountains of China and they have no bee mites at all. They raise bees completely naturally as they have for generations. Fifty percent of all farming done there is by hand, with no tractors or other farm machinery. Many used the old round straw and clay hives.
Steiner said that the old round straw and clay hives would be the best and most natural, but Martin said that with these types of hives, it is very difficult to get the honey out.
He said that most beekeepers fit the hives with a wax form on which the bees then must build their honeycomb. Demeter beekeeping allows the bees to build their comb in the shape and size they prefer best.
He would smoke a hive before opening it, to calm them down.
When wax comes out of the bee it is pure white. The bees clean the comb with propolis and that makes it yellow. I also did not know that drones, the male bees, do not have a stinger and are larger. These are the bees that people put in their mouth and show off that they are not going to get stung by this bee, when actually it is a drone that can’t sting.
The bees use the sun for telling direction to the other bees for the food source. When they fly up, they are saying to go the direction of the sun. Flying down means to go away from the sun, or sun to the left or right.
What a treat it was to spend a glorious afternoon with Martin and the bees. He told us that actually these were not his own hives at the Goetheanum. He brings his way up into the high Alps to feast on the wild flowers there. It is so obvious how much Martin loves bees and takes the best care of them.
Oh, I love getting the chance to sit with a cup of coffee….oh, who am I kidding? I am still lying in bed with this cup!….and catch up on tales of your adventure. Brian made it home last night after being out for three weeks, ack! Beautiful photos and places – and the cows! How gorgeous! I purchased a couple of old yak bells when we were trekking through Nepal, such a lovely sound to hear in the mountains. I also saw some old bells up at the general store in St Elmo….have you been to St Elmo? How is Ms Faline coming along? Maybe I should have just emailed you…can you tell I have been alone with three sick children and farm animals for weeks now?!
xoxo, I’ll email you.
Very interesting post. It makes me even more wish that I could keep bees, but the idea is still pretty intimidating.
It was so fascinating to see everything up close. Natanielle really wants bees someday, but I also think we need to study up more before we take on that responsibility. 🙂