Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.
His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,
Gathering honey for many a day.
Bees in the garden, hear what I say!
Northern Europeans brought to Appalachia a custom that when a beekeeper died, the survivors must go tell the bees of their master’s death, persuading them to stay rather than take wing and follow the master to heaven. When we moved in 2012 from our country home to the urban home that we live in now, the new buyers wanted me to leave my bees with them. Luckily, since I wasn’t dead but simply leaving, I felt I should be the one to tell them so. One of my very first lessons as a new beekeeper had been given to me by a man who had been keeping bees for over 40 years. I was so afraid of being stung, I would actually hyperventilate when it came time to get in the hives. He told me to take off my gloves and to rub my bare hands all over the wooden hive parts so that my bees would become acquainted with my smell and would not attack me as if a stranger. I did as I was instructed, knowing that a honeybee’s sense of smell is their strongest natural sense. And from that magic moment forward, those little girls only stung me if I accidentally crushed one. (Well, there was that time that I made the fatal mistake of returning the honey supers to the hives at the end of a long honey harvest day after dark…) Anyway, it only made sense when I left them in the care of their new owners that I should say ‘goodbye’. I cried that day, but the young couple that had bought the place were eager and happy to become their new caretakers, so I knew they would be ok in the end. I even gave them a copy of ‘Natural Beekeeping’ as a house-warming gift.
I’m very thankful that this area of NE TN has a large, active beekeeper’s club. This coming weekend they’ll be holding their annual ‘Bee School’. Rather than me write out all the details about it, I’m just going to link you to them here. I’ll be giving a class at the school on Friday night about ‘Natural Beekeeping’. I
killed kept bees unsuccessfully for the first five years I had them before finally accepting that what I was doing simply wasn’t working very well . It was then that I began to follow my own instincts about what might be best for the bees, and that lead me to a wonderful book called, appropriately enough, “Natural Beekeeping”. I borrowed it three times that winter from the library, and finally realized I had to own it for myself. It revolutionized my thinking about what was really best for the bees and I began to follow the advice the author had given. The following three years I stopped using harsh chemicals and began learning and using other methods of keeping them healthy. It involved a completely wholistic approach, akin to having a successful organic garden by starting with building healthy soil. Guess what? The bees not only survived, they were thriving, and that last summer before moving, I not only had the best honey harvest I’d ever had, I was able to split hives because their colonies had grown so large!
We’ve all heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, and the serious issues honeybees face. I’d like to simply say this: if you can’t keep bees yourself, please plant native flowers and trees that bloom at different times to provide local bees with the pollen and nectar they need to survive, avoid using toxic chemicals in your garden and yard, and continue to fight against GMO plants. And please, go tell the bees how much we love and need them!
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