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Eva Crane answers

EVA CRANE, OBE DSC is one of the most prominent ‘bee persons’ of the 20th century. She was amongst the first to draw attention to the great potential for tropical beekeeping and emphasise the need for improved information resources for tropical beekeepers. 

In 1949 Eva Crane became the first Director of IBRA and established the international organisation as we know it today. Her retirement in 1983 allowed her to embark on major literary works, publishing the all-encompassing Bees and Beekeeping in 1990 and currently researching for world history of beekeeping. Dr Crane has received many honours for her work both in the UK and internationally.

Question 1. Dr Crane, you have been able to observe the recent development of top-bar hive beekeeping from its first trials in the 1960s. Do you think top-bar hives will ever become more widely adopted? 

Top-bar hives of the type used for Apis mellifera in Kenya are likely to be used further in places where low-input beekeeping is expanding. A more significant expansion may occur with the traditional top-bar log hives used in northern Vietnam for Apis cerana. In 1989 and 1992 saw them in Bac Thai and Lao Cai provinces bordering on China, and on Cat Ba Island off Hai Phong, where they were probably introduced from the mainland. These hives are quite narrow (internal diameter 17-25 cm), but there was little or no comb attachment to the sides. Some beekeepers had squared off the interior of the log, or used wooden boards to make hive, so that all bars had the same length. I have written an article for Bee World on this beekeeping, with Vu Van Luyen and Vincent Mulder, and it will appear shortly. We have not yet traced the origin of this top-bar beekeeping, but it was described in detail in 1933.

2. Should traditional beekeeping Se encouraged?

The danger with fixed-comb traditional beekeeping is that colonies cannot be examined to detect diseases or parasitic mites. I would say no with Apis mellifera in areas where movable-frame hives are also used, or where honey bees are introduced from elsewhere. would say yes with Apis cerana where there is proper management and no risk of the introduction of Apis mellifera in the near future, and with stingless bees anywhere.

3. What intervention would most help beekeepers in developing countries?

One action that can help beekeepers everywhere is enabling them to get more information that is useful to them. This is usually in the form of written and pictorial material, but it should also include contacts with knowledgeable people in other countries who may help them in the future. Much of the work that you provide is this sort of help, and if more funds were available more could be done. 

4. Can tropical bees be prevented from absconding?

Beekeeping management can help, by reducing stress caused by ants, by excessive day/night temperature changes or other disturbances. Feeding at the onset of dearth periods can also help. It should be remembered that bees generally do not migrate in large regions where vegetation and bee forage are uniform throughout the area as in coastal plains of Malaysia. 

5. Do you believe that beekeeping projects are successful?

This question is too complicated to answer in few sentences here!

6. Given limited funding, what is the best help for beekeepers in areas where bee forage is scarce?

Treat it as such, and do not encourage any expansion of beekeeping, but consider whether to reduce the number of colonies kept. Try to work out how many colonies the forage can support, giving the beekeepers an acceptable honey crop, and manage these as effectively as possible The resources available may keep more colonies alive, but there will be little or no honey for the beekeeper.

7. What words of advice would you give beginner beekeeper?

Learn as much as you can by working with, and listening to, good beekeepers in your local

8. Do you think that beekeeping equipment will be very different 100 years from today?

New materials and more effective mechanical devices have been incorporated into beekeeping during the last 100 years, but there have been few changes in the principle of beekeeping. Transport has become easier and more rapid; and there has consequently been great spread of diseases and pests. I would guess that the next 100 years would see further changes of these types. But I cannot see that the colony as the basic unit of beekeeping will change.

9. You have visited beekeepers in more countries than perhaps any other person. Where would you most like to pay return visit?

It is so difficult for me to choose where to return to, that I shall tell you instead of one region should very much like to visit for the first time, although I think it is not possible at present. I am writing a world history of beekeeping, and am constantly impressed by the capabilities of good traditional beekeepers of the past in some of the less well-known parts of the world. The Zagros mountains on the borders of Iran, Iraq and Turkey have a rich beekeeping tradition, with many different types of hive, and this region may possibly have been focal point from which beekeeping spread to neighbouring areas in the distant past. That is where I should choose to go.

10. In recent years man has interfered considerably with honey bees by introducing pests and diseases to new areas. Presumably resistant strains will ensure honey bees’ survival in the long term. But do you think beekeeping will survive in the short term?

It is necessary to consider the honey bee species separately and I will exclude predictions on the development of strains of a particular species resistant to individual pests or diseases. European Apis mellifera has been so widely spread in the world by man that beekeeping with it will surely survive in some places. Tropical Apis mellifera now lives in many regions with a sparse human population. If beekeeping with this bee died out elsewhere, the bee itself would survive in these regions, and the continuation of beekeeping would then depend to a great extent on the determination of people somewhere to keep bees in hives. Apis cerana and Apis koschevnikovi in Asia are now characteristic of less populated, uncultivated areas, and hive beekeeping with them will survive short-term so long as Apis mellifera is not introduced, with communicable pests and diseases

Bee management using honey bees that nest in the open Apis dorsata, Apis florea and Apis andreniformis is carried out in only a few areas, but it could well survive better, because these bees are affected by fewer pests and diseases of Apis mellifera. But I have not considered here habitat degradation, which is main cause of the reduction of bee colonies.

This is the first of a new series in which Nicola Bradbear interviews prominent people from the beekeeping world, in the hope that the ideas will stimulate others to further thought and debate.