For the love of bees
by Jesse Loren
Royal Jelly sounded like something I could be anointed with. I thought bees were something to run from and scream, except I loved poems with bees in them, and art with bees, and honey. For sure HONEY. I was plain bee ignorant. Then at the end of my 49th summer, when the machines shook the walnuts for harvesting time, a swarm cracked loose from the nearby orchard and landed on my fence. Little did I know, it was the start of a journey.
These were angry bees. Not the gentle swarm that appears in spring when the hive splits and the old queen looks for a new home. Those bees are fat on honey and glutted out. They are docile vegans.
Angry bees are a whole different animal. They almost move as one. Once the danger scent is released they have one unfortunate response: Sting Frenzy!
I am not in love with angry bees. Yet, there were a hundred or more on my fence. I called my friend Keith, the beekeeper. He came at once, hat and all, with a bee box and the tray that goes inside. He suited up, walked over and examined the wad of buzzing bees. Yep, no queen. He stuck his box there, right underneath the swarm and put honey in it for them to eat. He said they would probably go inside for the night and eat, and he would come back tomorrow.
The next day they were gone. All the honey was gone too. It was this chance encounter that got me excited about bees. If they had a queen to order them around, it would have been a docile group of organized vegans. This interested me. I also wanted to fight colony collapse.
Colony collapse is rampant across the world. The US alone has 30-90 percent colony collapse. Without bees, no flowers, no fruit, no nuts, no food. No HONEY. Our agriculture and food as we know it will end. It would mean a complete environmental catastrophe.
I know not to use pesticide, especially once fruit begins to bloom. I know to use dormant oil only when the trees are dormant. I wanted to do more than just think of bees and I began to research ways to keep bees.
The traditional Langstroth method is to have a series of boxes that force bees to form hives on vertical planes in predesigned sizes that are reused. It requires many tools and often needs treatment for mites, moths, etc. Another method that supports the bees isn’t like the European style of keeping. It’s the simple Top Bar method. As I began to research the Kenyan Top Bar Hive, I read more and more about the bees.
Daily, I check the yard for bees and began to document their habits. For April, my walnut and pecan trees buzz with bees. In March they were in my willow, they also visit my flowers, irises, arugula and other lettuce flowers. Sometimes they drop into the pool; when I see that, I swoop them out and provide a spot to dry.
I have begun to plant flowers, vegetables and pollinator supporting plants, but in late April, as I checked on my plants, I couldn’t hear any bees.
It was 58 degrees the bees do not belong out, and it is stormy. Between cloudbursts, I wondered if any bees were stranded by the surprise storm. Sure enough, my yellow irises were harboring bees, one or two per flower, in the petals. They can’t keep warm by themselves, and they can’t fly home without energy. I had an idea. I could feed them like my friend fed those wild bees.
I ran inside the house. The honey from my morning tea was still on the counter. I grabbed a spoon and a small cup. I ran out and dipped my fingers in the honey and placed a honey drop next the bee on the outside of the flower. The bee couldn’t hold on and blew off. It tried to hold on, like climbers on Everest. It’s a nasty world when you are no bigger than an inch.
The next bee was smarter, she was tucked away inside the bloom. I plopped some honey next to her. She stuck her feelers right into it, moved closer and started sucking up the honey with her little tube. A bee that will live life to the lees! I was so excited I started to look in more flowers. There were more bees. I fed them all.
My hope is that I provided enough energy for them to fly home. On the other hand, these stranded bees might have been affected by pesticides that scramble their homing ability, leading to hive collapse. I don’t know if they can or will find their way home, but giving them an extra day might help. Maybe bees are just smart enough to weather a storm.
Someday I hope to have my own hive. I don’t want to have multiple hives or anything, just support some pollinators for all they do for us. An hour has passed and the temperature has not changed. The honey is gone, proof they needed calories to weather the storm.
In two weeks, I’ll be attending a pollinator’s garden workshop and UC Davis, and will write about that. In the meantime, keep your yard pesticide free and plant some flowers for the bees.