Ever walk directly into the center of a swarm of bees, stand still, and listen to their gentle, sensuous buzzing?
Neither have I, but I’d like to. And I will if I’m fortunate enough to see one coming my way.
A swarm of bees heralds new life. Thousands of warm bodied bees migrate from one colony, in propagation of a new colony. A thrilling sight! They have gorged on honey, they have no nest to protect, and so are disinclined to sting. They attach themselves temporarily to the limb of a tree, the side of a wall, the basket of a bicycle, anything that accommodates snuggling together for warmth, and protection for their queen. Scouts are sent out in search of a new home. When one is discovered the swarm moves on. Admire them. Do not advance on them with a can of Raid.
Bees sting when their hive is threatened. We prefer super-sized guns for that purpose. Hypersensitivity to bee stings is rare, occurring in 1-2% of the population.
Throughout antiquity bees have been endowed with magical properties. Honey is the golden nectar of the gods. In ancient Egypt and Greece when a swarm settled near a home it was regarded as a prophecy of good fortune. In Celtic myth bees are considered sources of great wisdom. Throughout our western world bees are symbols for the Virgin Mary.
The honeycomb is an engineering marvel, mathematically efficient in structure, each cell a perfect hexagon. Bees work in community for the benefit of the colony. A solitary honeybee cannot survive alone. Workers, all female, forage. Drones mate with the queen. Nurse bees secrete from their glands a high protein royal jelly to nourish the babies. I wonder how they feel about the recent hoopla over attachment parenting?
What smells good to us smells good to bees. Following a honeybee as she weaves seductively from one color laden bloom to the next is to witness nature’s perfect construct.
Supermarket produce shelves overflow with the work of the honeybee. Without bees to pollinate our fruits and vegetables we would ultimately starve. I can think of better ways to lose weight. If the bees vanished our kids might be happier, as vegetables would disappear, but so too would strawberries, peaches, and apples.
Honeybees are the canaries in the coal mine. Their crisis is our crisis. And they are in crisis.
For commercial beekeepers renting out their hives has become far more profitable than selling honey.
Consider this: Every February the largest pollination on earth occurs. Three quarters of all commercial bees in the U.S. are enlisted to pollinate 650,000 acres of almond trees in California. Driven by the latest advertised craze in health benefits almonds reputedly offer, they have become obscenely profitable. The Central Valley of California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds. That’s world aka planet – 80%! For three weeks every year millions of bees are shrink-wrapped onto pallets, loaded onto trucks, and transported across the country to accommodate pesticide infused monoculture. Stressed out and disoriented, they die in droves.
A fledgling movement is afoot to urge the monoculture industries to plant natural food sources to encourage the return of the wild pollinators who have largely disappeared due to loss of habitat. Monoculture relies on pesticides. Change, which must occur, will be slow.
If you find yourself frightened when a swarm settles temporarily near your home, or if you’d like to start your own wild bee colony, contact Michael Thiele at gaiabees.com, a biodynamic beekeeper with Melissa Garden. Revel in his language, and soft-spoken, impassioned admiration for the honeybee.
You may want to welcome the wild pollinators into your garden. Plant lavender, mint, rosemary, dahlia, sunflowers, marigold, clematis, geraniums, foxglove…and so many others.
Remember, if a honeybee flies into your house, she offers blessings and good fortune. Guide her to the exit with care. Let’s fall in love with bees.