Listening to Bees

A frame of capped honey

The smallest livestock on our farm are also the most fascinating to observe, from their daily diligence and complexity of social organization to the extraordinary “waggle dance” they use to communicate the location of nectar and new homes. Today, as we prepare to harvest the last of this year’s honey, I’m reminded that the bees have a lot to teach us. We only have to listen.

  • Work together today to provide for tomorrow. Winter is coming and those food stores don’t harvest themselves.
  • Expect your responsibilities to grow as you mature. Clean your room as a kid; be prepared to run the farm as an adult.
  • Be vigilant. A weak line of defense invites invasion, disease, and death.
  • Communicate. Use your best waggle dance to share critical information with those you care about.
  • Socialize. Nothing beats hanging out on the porch with your neighbors at the end of a busy summer’s day.
  • Don’t sting unless it’s absolutely necessary. Fight when the future depends on it, then fight with selfless fury.
  • Remember that you’re a member of the community. No matter how self-sufficient you imagine yourself, you can’t make all of the honey.
  • Don’t move into a mansion when a cottage will do. Live within your means, and learn to recognize, and heed, when enough is enough. A too-big house is harder to heat and cool, harder to clean, and much harder to protect.
  • Build a strong foundation. Be it bridges or buildings or banking systems, a shaky infrastructure puts the whole community at peril.
  • Render unto Caesar. Be prepared to yield an appropriate honey tax. And, be prepared for a revolution if the powers demand too much.

And one final lesson:

The canary in the coal mine. Tennessee bee losses last year were estimated to be as high as 80 percent, attributable only in part to the extreme drought. This catastrophic statistic is set against the background of increasing colony losses across the globe in recent decades. If we listen, the message these tiny, exquisite social creatures are sending us will be clear: the mine has become dangerous. And the fault — and the solution — lies at yours and my collective doorstep.

7 thoughts on “Listening to Bees

  1. Are bees animals you worry a lot about, disproportunately perhaps?
    We have a beekeeper in her third year in the family who’s almost dreading having them, because of the constant worries (practical, not environmental).

    • Michael, Cindy here. Yep, there are a lot of ongoing bee-related tasks to be done: building frames/foundations and boxes; keeping tabs on the strength of each colony; making sure that each hive is queen-right, that is, has a healthy, laying queen; checking on feed stores, then feeding when necessary; testing for varroa mites and treating for them; adding/removing supers and hive bodies, entrance reducers, etc., at appropriate times; and the list goes on. I just happen to love being involved in the inner workings of such an amazing insect community. Also, I want to do what I can, even in a small capacity, to help the bee population continue to survive, and I enjoy being around other beekeepers who feel the same.

      • Hi Cindy,
        thank you for taking the time to answer!
        Yes, those tasks sound very familiar, but I think it’s your last two sentences that make all the difference.

        Beekeeping is considered serious business here, whether you’re an amateur or a professional. The community is mainly one of irascible old men, striking fear into the heart of every newcomer. Even asking about black bees is considered to be an attempt at sabotage because racial purity is at stake.
        The few beekeepers who try not to participate in this madness are mostly urban folks, yet even they pay their membership fees to the old men’s clubs because members get insured.

        I’ve always stayed away from beekeeping because I never saw a way into this sad, overcomplicated little universe.
        Bees are en vogue here, yet the state of things mirrors what goes on in agriculture in general: Whatever your goid intentions – once you’re in, the handcuffs bite.
        It’s nice to hear that you can perform all those tasks in a very different spirit!

  2. Nicely put! They provide many useful examples to us all. Not much of a superannuation/retirement program, however 🙂 Makes me sad to see the old ones forlornly moving around near the entrance when they’ve been booted out and before they cark it.

    • Well, that doesn’t seem too awfully different than our set-up for old folks. Except that the hive let’s them putz around the home. We shuffle ours off to a place out of sight. 🙂

      It has been an interesting year. Only one hive made it through last winter. This year we’ve captured two swarms, both doing quite well. And, we established two packages, both struggling. So, we head into the winter with five hives. Hopefully we do better than the 75% loss last year.

Any thoughts or questions?