Thursday, May 19, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Lavender - a bee favorite
(photo by John Daly)

After a plunge back into the stormy depths of winter, the sun has re-emerged and so have the bees! I'm so happy to see the ladies out and about today. They seem busier than ever, reinvigorated by solar warmth and fresh nectar flow. I found this little lady (see below) crawling around the base of the hive and gave her a new surface to explore.

I live in the Sierra Foothills of California, where we are experiencing a particularly late spring. True, mountain weather is unpredictable, but usually by mid-May the grasses begin to hint of summer gold and river swimming appears somewhere on the distant horizon. This year, I will be surprised to see a safe and swimmer-friendly Yuba River before July. The rain has made everything green, green, green, sending an oddly nostalgic feeling of the Englsih Summer Country across my skin. Watching the weather out my back door, as well as the weather across the globe, has helped to illustrated on a physical level that we truly are living in a time of planetary change.
Good morning to me!

I am so glad the bees are coming back to help guide us through this time of uncertainty and opportunity. I know the buzz is all about Colony Collapse and the disappearance of the bees, as it should be, but I think bees are showing up in the mass human psyche for another reason as well. Bee are teaching us a lesson of stewardship, collective consciousness and love. Bees have been dying off at an alarming rate without much explanation or understanding. Scientists and beekeepers alike have jumped to the forefront to discover the cause and the remedy. Their conclusions are as diverse and varied as each honey source, but there are some very convincing arguments that the basic "back to nature" and "listen to the bees" methods are what we and these solar beings are in need of.

Commercial beekeeping is detrimental to the honeybee. The sudden decline in bee hives over the last ten years threatens not only the honeybee, but also 80% of our food source . The little creatures are showing us they can not withstand monocrop culture and pollination. Commercial practices are harsh and taxing on the species, but have become the accepted method for most modern beekeepers, both commercial and backyard. Bees are being carted across the country on semi-trucks, incessantly disturbed through home/hive inspection, forced to accept foreign artificially inseminated queens, forced to build off uniform pre-made plastic comb, made to live without drones (since drones are not profitable) and weakened through over-use of antibiotics and sugar feed.

Some may say I am a neglectful beekeeper for refusing to feed my bees sugar water, but I believe in the rebounding strength of the species. I know what sugar does to my body, why weaken the bee through a sugar diet as well? I listen to my bees and ask them to tell me what they need. Perhaps they wont make it through the winter without antibiotics, sugar or regular hive inspection, but then again, they have already drawn out 11 panels of comb and are near bursting at the seems. I did not feed them when I first caught them, and they are abundantly reproducing, happy and strong.

Honeycomb seen through the window of my hive.
During the last warm spell they finished 3 combs in just 7 days.

It is a true joy to join the explosion of backyard and urban beekeepers across the globe who are choosing to live with bees again. From city rooftops to country gardens bees are humming through our days. What better teacher for Unity, Love and Community than the superorganism known as the honeybee hive? Just look at them!

Who knew a Honeybee had a heart over it's heart?
This is through the glass window viewer. It has a cover to keep in the dark.
When you open it it lets in a lot of light, so I don't open it too often.

Honeybees are completely dependent on one another. Each bee, through various life stages, performs a role. Each bee is needed. The comb becomes their tissue, the hivebox, their skeleton. One can not survive alone, and thus they are truly one being, many cells coming together to create a whole:

1) Queen - Goddess, mother and life source of the hive. She who chooses gender and brood size. She who serves and is served by her hive. There is never a moment that the bees in the hive do not know where the queen is. As the queen moves around the comb, she brushes up against other bees, passing on her scent. These bees in turn, brush up against other bees and within in minutes the entire hive knows not only the location of the queen, but also her health and well-being. She is a teacher of Divine Source, always giving, always protected, always loved.

2) Drones - Necessary for procreation with other queens from other hives. Drones do this amazing thing in the spring and early summer: they congregate. On warm days they fly out to some mysterious aerial location and congregate with other drones from all the nearby hives. They fly around in the sun waiting for a queen to fly by. When a queen bee flies through the congregation the drones take after her like a tiny comet. The queen mates with multiple drones in one afternoon, and after 1 -4 flights she permanently returns to the hive to lay and fertilize eggs for the rest of her life. Some drone congregation sites have been documented with returning drones for the last 200 years. There are many guesses as to why they choose these sites, but the one I resonate with, is the theory that drones congregate around hotspots in the earth's magnetic field.

Returning bee with pollen collected in little sacs on her legs.

3) Female Bee - Popularly known as the Worker Bee, the female has a multitude of tasks. Throughout her lifespan she will build comb, make bee bread, defend the hive, forage for pollen, forage for nectar, nurse the young, make propolis and make honey. Yes, she works hard, but it is not work as we see it, slaving away day in day out. She is a sister of joyful service to her body, her community. After taking classes with Michael Thiele at the Melissa Garden Honeybee Sanctuary, I am more aware than ever, that our language around bees much change. I will write of Michael Thiele and the Melissa Garden in a later blog, but for now, allow me to follow suit by choosing the label "female bee" over "worker bee". In the words of Michael Thiele, “Living with bees is such an opportunity to study our mind and our heart. Once we start down that path, we’ll discover the language we use is such a problem, such a limitation.”

Entrance to the Melissa Garden

Today I sat inches from the hive entrance and took photographs. (Well, just to the left really). The bees buzzed all around me, landing on my hand or head occasionally, but never stinging. For a moment, I took a break from the viewfinder and turned my face out to the bees coming home with pollen or new information to share. Each bee that approached the hive flew directly up to my face, within an inch, giving me a face to face flurry of wings before continuing inside. Perhaps they were assessing whether or not I was a threat. Perhaps that is the proper and scientific way to decipher their actions. But then again, bees can recognize the face of their "keeper". Maybe, just maybe, today, they were simply coming up to say hello.

Oh, how my heart does sing.


  1. these shots are SOoooo beautiful! thank you for sharing these sweet creatures!

  2. Thanks for these beautiful images and for spreading the bee wisdom. This is a post I'm going direct people to when they wonder about the division of labor in the hive.

    I'm so with you on calling the worker bees female bees. Having a hive full of women is part of the magic of these creatures. I love sitting by the hives watching the pollen come in, trying to guess what plant it came from. (the bright orange from my observations might be dandelion) Have you tasted the pollen yet? I just made my husband have it for the first time on friday and he was delighted by how sweet it is.

    I hope it's okay to link your blog in a post about my adventures in bees over the last few weeks?

  3. so lovely!! I love the pollen pantaloons they wear. :)