The New Age beekeeper pays attention to the health of the hives

SEBASTOPOL – The life of a honey bee isn’t so pretty these days: almost 50 percent of them died last year. Pick the reasons: parasites, pesticides, starvation, global warming. Michael Thiele, executive director of Apis Arborea ( in Sonoma County, adds something else: housing.

For him, boxes are the problem, as they are for a certain former US President.

“Something didn’t feel right,” Thiele said of the beekeeper’s usual tools. “I used the regular bee box that the beekeeper gave me and there was something that made me wonder if there might be other ways to house bees – other ways of beekeeping.”

That was the beginning of Apis Arborea. At his home near Sebastopol, Thiele met with KPIX to discuss his organization.

“I co-founded a honey bee sanctuary in 2007. It focused on alternatives to traditional beekeeping. We decided to really integrate biomimicry and allow bees to live the way they have lived for millions of years — namely, in trees,” explained Thiele.

yes trees No white boxes.

“It’s really challenging to witness this conventional (beekeeping) system,” continued Thiele. “Because if you look at these boxes, you can pretty much see that they weren’t designed with animal welfare in mind. The design is from the 1850s, but it’s too cold, it’s too big. A beekeeping system, then.” Commercialization and mechanization means not looking at the animal, but really looking at profit and other systems. It’s not natural at all. The annual mortality rate is up to 68 percent of honey bees in boxes. Imagine over 2 million beehives every year! And easy in the United States! And 68% of them – over 1 million of them – phew! Gone every year. Compare that to honey bees living in the wild and remote areas where the average life expectancy is over six years.”

When asked if this data will be heartbreaking for people who keep bees and think they are doing the right thing, Thiele buried his head in his hands.

“Oh my God. Yes. heartbreaking. Heartbreaking is exactly the right word.”

Thiele’s organization designed tree nests that mimic the nest characteristics and conditions of wild honey bees.

“We’re bringing that wisdom back, that wisdom millions of years old, into a design that also reflects their needs and creates conditions for their well-being, their survival and their health,” he said.

The nests are made of partially hollowed-out tree trunks. The process requires chisels, chainsaws, and routers, accompanied by lots of grunting and sweating. The result: an approximately 20 cm wide drill hole that runs through the middle of a 120 cm long section of log. These are towed into the forest, lifted dozens of meters above the ground and attached parallel to trees. Within a few days a cloud of bees had swarmed in and settled.

Apis Arborea has hung approximately 150 tree nests throughout Northern California and is currently investigating the results of the operation.

“The goal is to proceed nationwide – actually worldwide,” said Thiele. “This is a big global movement that has really gained momentum. We try to encourage others to get involved, and that’s why we hold workshops and events – to convey the idea that we need to change what we do.” “We really have no choice but to change so that together we can system that really has no future.”

For Thiele, who has often placed his hand on the humming swarm of wriggling bees in the nests, one question was clear: will you ever get stung?

“Rarely,” he replied. “The more you move with them — with their life gestures — the more you integrate biomimicry, the less they get upset because something is moving with them and not against them. It feels like shaking hands with your best friend ever.

After seeing Thiele’s dedication to bees and their welfare, one wonders if the feeling might be mutual.

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