Dutch bee hives in Manhattan? Of course. Four hundred years and counting. New York was known as New Amsterdam by its first settlers, the Dutch from Holland who arrived on lower Manhattan Island in 1614. That’s even before the Pilgrims hit the rocks in Massachusetts. New Amsterdam was the capital of New Netherlands and once claimed all of present-day New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as much of New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. It was funded by the Dutch West India Company which had built settlements all over the world. The Dutch thought they’d enter the fur trade, but failed to grow their Manhattan city enough to keep ahead of the English who swooped down from New England, defeating the Dutch in the Battle of Wall Street, around 1665. The English gained control of beehives that the Dutch had brought across the Atlantic as early as 1616 or so. By then, those bees had made The Island their home for fifty years.
I am writing about this because I saw a story that got me thinking about how bees ended up in America. I’m linking to the story about some Dutch bee boxes that were noticed by Irene Plagianos, a Manhattan writer reporting from the NYC financial district. The photos of those hives, which you can view in a ‘slide show’ by jumping to this link, shows brightly coloured equipment and happy Manhattan beekeepers.
Dutch bees in Manhattan? Honey bees are an invasive species. I sometimes tire of beekeepers who claim to be ‘natural beekeepers.’ These are the folks who drive their natural SUVs out to their natural hives every weekend, light a natural steel-bodied smoker, open the hive with a natural metal hive tool and manipulate the natural top-bar frames made from western pine or southern cypress. Then they manipulate the invasive insects which were hauled into North and South America, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands by boat a few hundred years ago. I doubt that many who belly-hoot the merits of their natural beekeeping realize that all beekeeping is unnatural. Attend bee meetings and bragging about natural beekeeping is committing any oxymoron. Honey bees are not natural in most parts of the world. And beekeeping – keeping bees in houses of human design – is not natural anywhere. Robbing bee trees, perhaps, but not beekeeping.
Who’s calling Who an invasive species? Whether you believe humans walked out of Africa or were chased out of Eden, either way we have done a pretty decent job of populating the planet. A frighteningly decent job. From creationists’ estimates of 2 originals (or from some evolutionists’ estimates of 10,000 people during our ‘bottleneck years’) we now number 7,000,000,000 and have set up tents almost everywhere. (Congratulations, humans.)
What do I think? Humans, the invasive species, has introduced honey bees, another invasive species. We’ve also transplanted apples and alfalfa and almonds and a thousand other things from other parts of the world. It’s what we do. What would Italian cooking be without South America’s gift of tomatoes? Or Montana honey without European bees and Asian sweet clover? As we go about the practical business of feeding seven billion souls, we have to do some unnatural things. I’d rather have the world functioning as it does than to role back to the time when Eve’s children were not reaching their 35th birthday and most children died in their first year. People live much longer and much healthier lives under this new, unnatural system. Undoubtedly, we have a lot of mess to clean up. We need strongly enforced laws around pollution and pesticides. But little of what we do with our bees is particularly natural. But that’s not a bad thing.