bee 1

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
– Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

“… that little wild bee, half starved, ignorant, is the ancestor of all the civilized bees. And, what is more important, as the scientists point out, it is probably to her that we owe nearly all of our flowers and fruit. A hundred thousand varieties of plants would disappear from the earth if the bees did not visit them, carrying the pollen.”

1914 a Denver, Colorado newspaper

No one ever really mentions the stings when you keep honeybees.I suppose there’s no point putting off potential beekeepers before they get to grips with the the grand adventure that is beekeeping. Let’s make it clear from the start . You’ll never be a proper beekeeper and remain sting-free. It goes with the territory. You may be the most fastidious dresser. Your beesuit may be bee- proof, bee-tight and bee-right , but somewhere , some day , you’ll let your guard down and one of those little ladies will cross your defences , possibly even through the fat fabric of your suit, and unleash an irritating but powerful dose of venom that will irritate your poor flesh for a day or two. There’s really no escape.It is the only defense the little creature has at its disposal and it will selflessly use it and die if it feels the hive is threatened. You may love your bees in a sentimental, fuzzy way. You may be an environmentalist . You may love kissing baby seals and have an affinity with all things au naturale and enjoy the laughing company of dolphins, but the humble little female honeybee doesn’t know any of that old tosh.

This is a little wild creature, in fact, an independent moving part of a much larger organism, a bee colony, much like a specific cell in your own body. When the “body” is under threat, the individual female honeybee will selflessly throw its life at that threat.When a bee stings it dies.It is a final act of innate altruism. In fact when the male drone mates, high above the trees in flight, for its one and only time, it dies in an explosion of a singular ecstatic finality. The remainder of its life having been spent lazily being attended to by female bees like an indolent princeling son. If it has not reached its erotic finale by late Autumn it will be discarded by the hive in any case, as some lazy, laggardly ne’er do-well who is surplus to the hive’s winter requirement and not worth its keep anymore . The queen will not lay in winter and there is no need of a breeding drone until the next Spring when the possibility of a split , where a new unmated princess may be left behind, in need of a few new partners raises its head. The old queen will probably decide at some point to leave “that old gang of mine” and set off on its evolutionary plan to build another hive and extend its evolutionary gene -line.

Apparently my bees evolved some 100 million years ago in tandem with their meat-eating cousins the wasps. They were both from the same bloodstock before that but the bees became vegetarian as new species of plants which required the use of insects for pollination, unlike their cone -bearing predecessors, evolved. The bees developed a taste for pollen and a sip of nectar and in doing so helped the plants to pollinate and not totally rely on the wind. to spread their seed for future generations. From these small beginnings bees and flowering plants became mutually inter-dependant. They unknowingly rewarded each other and their untold altruism created an environment that would eventually support all animal life on earth, including us humans.

Keeping bees can teach many things.

Honey is naturally antiseptic and can last for a thousand years or more if kept airtight. A very unique and hard–won substance that can be eaten or used to dress wounds . Perfectly viable honey has been found in ancient tombs many thousands of years after burial. Honey can be every bit as expensive as a fine wine.

For a beekeeper the immediate environment suddenly springs to life as never before. Previously unnoticed, the loud click of the planet’s clock booms out as the blossom springs forth from the flowers and the trees in weekly rotation throughout the Spring and Summer. You may not initially know the names of all the plants but you’ll not miss the white frothing glory of something like Blackthorn blossom festooning the roadside trees. The bees will be seen with their little loaded pollen baskets, waddling , loaded so heavily that they resemble hunched over, bow-legged ladies bringing in their shopping bags. That’s exactly what they are doing and each flower will have a different pastel –hued pollen which they will stack in their larders. Each individual bee will work itself to death within a month.

Many millions of years before mankind was even a notion in a lemur’s tail, bees had developed a viable language and a successful communication structure which you can see working like clockwork perfection in any honeybee hive. They are still one of the very few creatures on the planet that have this fantastic skill besides man. They can “talk” to each other with an elaborate dance which can point with an exact sun-based geometry, where the scout bees have found a new food source. I’ve no doubt when mankind is nothing but the dust of memory and if he hasn’t completely destroyed the flora with his greed and monoculture, that the bees will survive him by another billion years in their perfect way. If they don’t we will be eating a very bland diet because we are totally reliant on this very important creature for virtually all the food, including livestock, which we consume…You might say, we wouldn’t have evolved at all as a species if the honeybee had not preceded us and created an environment that would later sustain everything that we are.

The birds and the bees ……way more important than any king, queen , politician or any of us …..

So I find myself, looking out my window. I was silly enough to rush around to my neighbour’s garden to retrieve one of the first swarms of the year. Silly, because I’d suited up in my bee-suit but forgot that I hadn’t put on my long boots. In the books, the swarm, usually docile and honey-laden…{they have ,after all taken half the honey stores with them}; is easily ushered into a box with a little encouraging smoke, but in real life, some of them drop to the ground and run up any dark opening like a trouser leg…..The stings are no worse than nettle stings when they initially happen….only .an irritant if you have not got an allergy. Later that day the venom kicks in. I’ve been stung enough times and have enough bee-venom coursing through my veins, to know when I’ve been foolish .The itching and the skin tightening can make you waddle like those same little homecoming honeybees.

A couple of days of this irritation and discomfort with liberal doses of Ibuprofen serves to remind one that these creatures deserve respect and at best you are no more than a honey thief in their very ancient scheme of things.


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