PAEAN TO THE LAST BEES
A Bit of Prose in Praise of Simple Bees
by Ronald Lindeboom
I am going to have to move our three year old bee colony to its new home, next week. After years of living with and learning from bees, I am going to miss the colony. They are such industrious and focused little things. They are a collective personality greatly influenced by the queen of the hive: if you have an aggressive queen, you have an aggressive hive. Get one of the mellower European Honeybee strains, such as those from Italy or France, and you have gentler bees.
People think swarming bees are a danger but when they are swarming, they are at their weakest, most vulnerable and gentle state. Why? When bees swarm it is because they have grown the hive to 30,000 bees who worked together to create such vitality in the hive that a new queen was made who will stay with half the bees in the existing hive -- while the old queen will say goodbye to the new daughter queen and will leave with half the bees to start a new hive somewhere else. The older and more experienced bees that built the hive, will leave the honey for their young. Really? Yes, really.
protected by her sister bees.
If they do not succeed in establishing a new hive in three days, the swarm will likely die. It's a matter of life or death because they cannot return to the old hive they built. They have only one thing on their mind and it isn't stinging you -- no, every fiber and focus of the swarm is focused only on finding a safe place for the queen to establish a hive. That is all their genome has wired into their electro-chemical-magnetic collective mind. If they succeed in using their magnetic GPS internal circuitry to establish a new hive, they will help preserve the last vestiges of a species in real peril of extinction.
In the last 20 years or so, we have lost 80% of the bee population and just this last Winter, we lost a third of the 20% that was left. We have learned to respect whales and sharks, hopefully we will learn to appreciate and protect the tiny little honeybee. We are cheering for the girls but it doesn't look good for them.
Our hive has been wonderful to share a garden with. They have kept all of the trees and plants very fertile and productive. I have had some gardens in my life but none that were anywhere near as verdant and fruitful as this one. We credit the winged little girls for that.
Bees get a bad rap. Yes, some people are allergic to them and will die if they do not receive treatment soon. But most people are okay with bees and the bees really do not want to sting you anyway -- to us they seem to be aware that a sting means their death. They warn you first, if you are paying attention. They will "bump" you, grazing you and buzzing you as a warning that basically says, "Not today, stay away. Come back later."
Other times, they will let you get right into the hive and even take some of the honey if you wish. Bees are not selfish, not only do they live for the collective but they will openly share with you too, if you are caring for a garden like we do -- a garden which our hive of bees frequent. They get to know you and your role in the chain. They are intelligent and they seem to understand that you have a role in the garden, too, and that you belong there. They leave you alone. If you take some of the honey, they expect that -- you are a part of the garden, after all.
I know beekeepers who do not even wear any protective gear when they gather honey from their bees.
We will really miss the girls, it has been a great experience. We found out that the homeowners association in the area of the town where we bought, will not let us raise bees in our new neighborhood. So we may have to find a way to raise some somewhere else. Who knows? I do not want to stop trying to help a few thousand bees survive in these terrible times when honeybees look like they may soon be extinct.