Servant of 40 colonies
Fritz Baumgartner, 84, pioneer of biodynamic agriculture, has been a natural beekeeper for more than 15 years. He is responsible for 40 colonies inherited from his father.
For organic beekeeper, Fritz Baumgartner, the bee is the link between earth and cosmos. His 40 colonies of bees are doing well. The secret of his success: Let them swarm. How are your bees?
The colonies are healthy. In the past years I have lost very few colonies and have had hardly any disease problems, though I have to keep a watchful eye out for the Varroa mite. At this point, two colonies are not in perfect health, but then I have not looked after them as well as I might.
How do you explain the health of your bees?
I no longer have professional duties, so I have time for the bees. I can observe the colonies and note any changes in their behaviour. My daily schedule is determined by the bees. When I think in the morning about all that I want to do during the day, then I think of the bees. They give a rhythm to my life. And when in the evening I do a retrospective of my day, my thoughts are again with bees.
Can you describe what the being of the bee is for you?
The bee is a being between earth and cosmos; it connects the two. When a plant blooms, it seeks a relationship with the cosmos. The bee is closely related to the sun and brings to the plant the cosmic element. The relationship of the bee with the sun is evident in the nuptial flight of the queen, or the development of a colony. In winter a colony is 5,000 to 7,000 bees, but like the sun, it grows over the summer to reach 40,000.
You reproduce colonies by natural swarming. Why?
For me, swarming is a very special phenomenon. It is announced by unrest in the colony. It starts when the larva of the young queen is about ten days old. The old queen and part of the colony feel they must leave to make room for the young queen. When the swarm leaves the hive, thousands of bees fly around their queen in the open air. A swarm of bees is an extraordinary natural phenomenon. This cloud of bees produces a very particular sound. When the swarm has settled, I try and give it a new hive. The advantage of swarming is the formation of a new young colony, thereby overcoming disease.
What does the term ‘bee-father’ mean to you?
A beekeeper is linked so closely to his colonies that he feels what they need. Clearly, the colonies also have a link with their breeder. From ancient times it has been known that when a ‘bee-father’ dies his colonies die too. That is why we should let colonies know of the death of their keeper.
What recommendations would you give to those who want to become beekeepers?
It is important, first, to learn the traditional work of the beekeeper. Beekeeping associations offer good basic courses. Studying the literature can also be a great help. When, after a few years, you begin to understand what beekeeping entails, why bees are so special, as is their link with the world of flowers; and when you can recognise the needs of the bees and have been able to take courses in natural beekeeping, only then should you take steps towards natural beekeeping.
How can people who do not belong to the agricultural world help the bees?
From spring to autumn, bees need flowers as a food source. If, in our gardens and on our balconies, we consciously choose shrubs and flowers so that there is always something in bloom from April to September, then the bees find food and there will be no ‘honey hole’. This is how we can help.
Thank you very much for this interview.