Studies in PermApiculture: Philosophy

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of posts in relation to an ongoing project started mid-2016.  After becoming intrigued by beekeeping, I became particularly interested in a lesser-known practice known as PermApiculture.  This unique form of beekeeping was created by Argentinean master beekeeper Oscar Perone, and has been successfully implemented by thousands of people across Central and South America.  Such success has not transitioned well to North America, partially due to the fact that most of the information and education regarding PermApiculture is in Spanish, but also due to the overwhelming dominance of conventional beekeeping in the states.  

With this context and framework in mind, I launched www.permapiculture.com, a informational website on this topic.  I have also incorporated and will seek non-profit tax status in order to better research this form of beekeeping professionally.  The following is how I perceive PermApiculture in relation to modern beekeeping, and why I believe it to be of such great importance.

"Let the bees be bees."

- Oscar Perone

In the PDF located in the 'Hive' page of the website mentioned above, Mr. Perone chooses the following language to introduce the practice of PermApiculture and the Perone Hive:

"PermApiculture (Permanent + Apiculture) is a system of beekeeping designed to imitate the bees’ habitat in nature as closely as possible."

This statement stands in sharp contrast to modern beekeeping, whereby most hives are designed to facilitate honey extraction and the transportation of colonies.  In fact, PermApiculture differs from modern beekeeping in several fundamental ways.

The first is a matter of philosophy, namely, PermApiculture maintains a philosophy centered around respect for the bees and their habitat.  This is most clearly expressed by Mr. Perone himself in a video wherein a Perone hive is opened and a portion of the bees' part exposed, revealing a healthy and flourishing brood.  Mr. Perone says calmly: "This is the hive speaking to us.  It's saying 'respect us, let us show you our potential.'  And the bees show it."  In contrast to this ecological perspective, modern beekeeping operates largely under a philosophy of production.  Be it honey, queens, byproducts such as wax and propolis, or simply pollination, modern beekeeping sees bees as machines that can be maintained and utilized to achieve a desired result.  This functionalist view of bees extends beyond the insects and to their habitat as well, further jeopardizing the vitality of future ecosystems.  PermApiculture offers an alternative philosophy, one whereby respect for the bees is paramount, and from this philosophy a relationship between the bees and the beekeeper is developed, one that is healthy, sustainable, and reciprocal.

The second is a matter of practice.  Modern beekeeping practices are largely centered around commodity production.  This is to say that the practice of beekeeping is conducted in a mechanized and industrialized manner, with regular and continuous intervention in the hive.  While the commercial beekeeping outfit with its profit motive makes no excuses for such endeavors, even the backyard beekeeper, who may intend nothing other than offering a home to local bees, often engages in chemical treatments, artificial frames, swarm inhibition, hive splits, and queen rearing.  PermApiculture stands in opposition to this practice and thus:

"Perone hives are divided into two parts: the bees’ part, where the bees keep their brood and honey reserves, and the beekeeper’s part. Once occupied by bees, Perone hives are only opened once a year to harvest honey from the beekeeper’s part. The beekeeper makes no other interventions and never enters the bees’ part." 

PermApiculture is the only hive whereby the bees are left undisturbed and honey is also able to be harvested.  And while it is of course possible to refrain from intervening in any hive, Mr. Perone argues that only the Perone hive is physically large enough to sustain a colony by providing the bees with their three greatest needs: lots of space, lots of honey, and lots of peace.  When these three needs are met, and this can only occur in a suitably large hive, the colony is strong and healthy enough to survive a myriad of threats without chemical treatment and human intervention.

The third way in which PermApiculture differs from modern beekeeping is that of purpose.  The purpose of modern beekeeping is resource extraction, a phenomenon that extends from honey production to crop pollination.  And while the backyard beekeeper may not share this purpose with the commercial outfit, the tools employed in both cases are subsumed under the chemical-industrial paradigm.  This paradigm has as its sole purpose the location, extraction, and distribution of resources.  Thus, the smaller Langstroth hive is such a size that it can be easily ported by most beekeepers.  It's frames are constructed to be handled and moved.  Even the top bar hives are built such that the honeycomb can be regularly inspected by the beekeeper, thereby exposing the colony to the elements and jeopardizing the ecosystem of the hive.  The purpose of PermApiculture is the sustenance of both bees and beekeeper.  To achieve this purpose, bees are given the space, food, and peace they require, and the beekeeper is afforded what surplus honey is not needed by the colony.

In short, PermApiculture differs from modern beekeeping in that:

  • It maintains a philosophy of respect, rather than a philosophy of production.
  • It practices patience, rather than manipulation.
  • It's purpose is sustained mutual benefit, rather than one-direction resource extraction.

It is only through a synthesis of these three dimensions--philosophy, practice, and purpose--that a coherent and sustainable form of beekeeping can exist.  PermApiculture is such a form, and I look forward to my work with its promotion, research, and future.