Forty Years Ago
Today we look back on more than 40 years among the bees. Indeed we must ask ourselves has beekeeping, which is really the art of guiding our bees to produce more honey, progressed. Indeed we appear nowadays to be producing less honey per colony than we were in 1928 or 1929.
Since then we have spent a lot of time studying bees, their habits and we pride ourselves that we have a scientific knowledge of bees. Indeed comparing our musty records we find that in 1933 we averaged 116 first grade sections per colony from ten colonies and slightly over 140 lb. of run honey per colony. In 1968 another great year our average section output per hive was only 61 and our run honey averaged only 79 lb. per hive.
Our beekeeping knowledge in 1933 was limited. We did know that bees had stings: our bees saw to that in no uncertain or infrequent fashion. We knew that bees must be healthy, and that the colony must be kept from swarming if honey production was to be kept at maximum high level. We knew too that minimum interference with a colony was essential and that was a lesson that we observed because our bees resented any undue interference. These were great years for beekeepers in the honey production business. Life had its problems of course then as now. Sales were difficult in these days. We had to produce an excellent section to keep in the sales race and for that excellent section we got 10/- [10 shillings; 1 shilling is roughly equivalent to just over 6 cent] to 12/- per dozen. But of course 10/- was 10/- in these days. Then as now we had the price cutting sharks but then too the consumer was willing to pay over the odds for the quality product.
Indeed looking back on those happy beekeeping days our first mistake was going to school and learning to read. Soon we were subscribing to bee journals and of course read of the wonderful honey producing qualities of Italian bees. We were like the little boy who was not satisfied with a few nuts. He grabbed so many that he was unable to take his hand out of the jar. We wanted more honey per hive. The books said we should get that by introducing Italian queens. Away went our money, back came the queens. Did we get more honey? No.
We got Isle of Wight disease – our first experience of this crawling disease. All in all we lost ten or 11 colonies but worst of all we lost our pure strain of bees. As the years rolled on we had many more outbreaks of Acarine. Our honey output dropped and things have never been the same since. Yes the hardest beekeeping lesson we ever learned simply was: Keep away from foreign bees.
[John Aherne was secretary/manager/treasurer of the FIBKA at the time and Mrs. Aherne was assistant secretary]