Beekeeping: A Matter of the Heart
Guest Post by Kate Ferry
A few years ago, the Ferry family experienced a traumatic death. We lost all our girls. During the winter, approximately 50,000 honeybees vanished from my backyard. They went into hibernation after Halloween and never woke up. I don’t know where they went, but come spring, there was no one home in either of my hives.
As the air began to warm and the flowers started turning their faces to the sun, the hives remained dark and empty. No one was home. Come the beginning of March, my worst fears were confirmed when the lids were lifted and not a soul was home. No droning hum. No fluttering wings on my hands. My girls were gone.
Honeybees have been a part of my life for many years now. I have a fondness for their company and I admire their lifestyle and work ethic. I devour honey and relish in the bi-annual collection of the blonde liquid. Their disappearing act and careless state of affairs that the hive was left in left me reeling. Questions kept running through my head and doubts clouded my mind…
Where did they go? Why were dead bee carcasses left in the hive and not carried out with all the waste honeybees unload daily? Why were the honeycombs still laden with amber food? Why did they vanish?
And, the question that stung the most…
What could I have done?
Low and behold the answers are still unknown. It appears that my hit was a case of Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD has been dotting headlines and major publications and news channels for the past few years. It is a mysterious enemy and is killing honeybees and destroying hives at an apocalyptic rate.
The beekeepers are helpless. It is a phenomenon of survival of the fittest. The bees are losing the war at a rate that will eventually devastate our food supply and the pollinated crops so many of us love.
My life as a beekeeper has been in a holding pattern until this year. I missed my girls. I missed the cyclical predictability of their season. I missed their comforting drone and buzz that fills my ears when inspecting the hives.
But, the list of excuses has been long and complicated for why these miraculous creatures have not come back into my life. The money hasn’t been there to start up the expensive hives from start. The time wasn’t there the summer after my daughter Beckett was born in August 2008. Sleep and eating on a semi-regular basis were higher priorities. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Truth be told, the nagging excuse that really kept the ship at bay was my conscience and dreadful fear. I didn’t want to lose another hive. I didn’t want to be disappointed and heartbroken. And, I didn’t want to let my girls down.
In April, I decided to take a deep breath and pulled my shoulders up straight. The order was placed for two boxes of bees and the arrival date was set for the first week for May. As soon as I got the phone call that the bees had arrived, I set about like a maniacal pregnant women counting down the days until the baby pops. I began prepping their house and cleaning out old hive boxes. The pollen patties that had been stored were set to thaw on the counter. The pot was bubbling on the stove and sugar syrup was under way. I wanted to open every door for the girls and give them every opportunity to survive and prosper.
A few days later, Beckett and I drove down to Burlington, Washington (about 30 miles away) and picked up the two boxes of honeybees. They are Italian – I call them my Italian lovelies. The trip home was filled with a monotonous, soothing drone intermixed with a toddler babbling “bees cute”.
The weeks before our fated trip to pick up the bees had been a personal struggle to find where to place the hives and how to provide the best protection for them. My first option was my mother’s home. She lives about 5 minutes from us and her property is 40-acres mixed with open fields and dense forests. The pollen sources available are varied and uniquely well rounded; there are snarled blackberry brambles, massive locust trees that touch the sky, gnarly old apple trees and dandelions as far as the eye can see. It is a wonderful home for honeybees.
My second option was the most obvious, our home and property. We are blessed to have a good size lot and the room to house a handful of hives if we wanted. One of my greatest joys with honeybees is the predictable rhythm of watching the bees go about their daily business.
Our home is also a honeybee’s paradise; we are surrounded by hundreds of acres of raspberry fields. But, the scientific evidence that points to the use of pesticides and other contaminants as a major contributor to their unexplainable death is overwhelming. Raspberries are notoriously one of the most chemical laden foods grown and our home is at the epicenter of this death trap. My mom’s house is a sanctuary in the country that offers enough pollen sources to keep the bees distracted and satisfied. I cannot observe them in my garden or watch their daily interactions, but I have loosely draped them with a safety net of sorts.
But, now the bees had arrived and their home was ready. The boxes of bees were filled to the gills with buzzing insects. The queen was carefully removed, placed safely inside the hive and the bees were dumped in. With a solid thump and shake, the bees fell into the hive like a cascade of sticky marbles – one unit of buzzing dervishes. The syrup feeder was filled. The pollen patty was smushed onto the frames. And, the hives’ lids went back on.
As their buzzing bodies were placed into their new homes, I said a prayer.
I pray that my bees live and flourish in my care and my yard.
I pray that they prosper on their staple diet of pollen and honey.
I pray that I am able to enjoy and deliver the golden nectar to my pantry and my fellow bee devotees.
I pray that my beekeeping fosters in Beckett a magical and wondrous respect for the honeybee.
I pray that my bees prepare for winter with steadfast determination and weather the storm with ease and grace.
I pray that my bees live and flourish.
And, onward we go.
Here’s to a terrific, beautifully successful beekeeping season!
Any beekeepers (or future/hopeful beekeepers) out there? I would love to hear about your experience with your bees!
Written by Kate Ferry. Visit her blog at www.sacredbee.net to follow the Ferry family’s effort to buy organic and local, reduce their waste and eliminate artificial and harmful products from their home.**
Wow. That is really neat… and only slightly creepy. (I’m allergic to bees.) 🙂
As much as I love honey and I think my husband would enjoy beekeeping, I’m too nervous to do it. I’m allergic to bee stings and just the thought of all those bees around starts my heart racing. I would so love to get over this fear though.
Wow. This is beautifully written. First of all, I admire your obvious love and appreciation for honey bees. I have an almost uncontrollable and irrational fear of flying, stinging insects, and often have to fight the urge to knock over my first (and 2nd and 3rd) born to get away from bees. So I find your relationship with them intriguing. Second, I am so saddened by what pesticides and chemicals are doing to God’s creation.
I hope you have a wonderful experience with your new ‘Italian Lovelies.’ I’ll try not to twitch when I read about them or see their pictures. 😉
@Shannon, Thank you for the kind words. Beekeeping has been and adventure and is a true love of mine! Please keep following my blog if you want to learn more about my bees and beekeeping in general.
i’m a wannabe beekeeper currently living in a townhouse with no yard and no access to one, i lovedloveloved this post!!! sometimes i think people think i’m insane because of my fascination with honeybees. i will definitely be following your new hive’s progress!
This was very well written!! I will have to check out your blog Kate.
I loved reading this. I want to be a beekeeper one day and am trying to learn about it beforehand…I didn’t know it was expensive to do. Good to put in the back of my head. I actually just wrote a post this week about wanting bees at http://thursdayfarms.blogspot.com/2010/07/my-own-beeswax.html
I run a water mill in Herefordshire.A bit of rural England.My mill & cottage are made of limestone and the cottage has not been repointed with lime mortar for many years so there are many holes in the walls that wild bees make their home.I only open my mill to the public on sundays and not many visitors come so I sit on the step for hours watching the bumble bees (with orange bottoms) coming and going to their nest a foot away from me.They ignore me flying straight to the wall by the hole then walking in.One sunday I observed a fly sitting on a flat stone some 8 inches from the entrance of the bees nest.It sat there for 20 minutes watching the bees coming & going,like I was doing.During a lull in activity it copied the bees & flew up to the entrance & crawled in.The following Sunday,sitting by the nest,there were a lot of large & small bumble bees walking about drunkenly.Not dead.Not covered in mites that I could see but obviously distressed.The Sunday after that I observed just one bee fly in to the hole.Conclusion.That fly wiped them out.So I suggest some sticky fly paper around the entrance to the hive to zap any flies.The fly was the size of a house fly.But thinner & more streamlined.So much smaller than a blue bottle & slightly smaller than a horse fly.Its body had a brownish or reddish blob midway,I think.Deffinately not all grey anyway.
Its sad my bees got zapped. There are badgers here which dig up the bees nests & eat the lot so I was impressed with my orange bottomed bees choosing a safer habitat than a hole in the ground.Along comes this fly and I`m thinking is this the main cause of the collapse of bee colonies worldwide? Afterall that lady bird that came from Europe recently has very quickly taken over the whole country (in a year) and the Americans Signal Cray Fish have wiped out our native white claw cray fish in 30 years.So worth investigating further.
oh I forgot to say my fly resembled a fruit fly but not a tiny one like we call a vinegar fly.
I’d love to have bees someday. Although I’ve always been afraid of being stung (well I have several times just out and about and I am mildly allergic to it). Beekeeping is sort of on my metal list of dreams…like having my own strawberry and raspberry patch (enough for our family and to share) a giant garden to supply almost all our produce, and chickens. Hmmm I see a trend here…I tend to dream big. 🙂 I really don’t think most of it will happen, but who knows!
LOL I meant “mental” not metal.
My folks have kept bees for around 30 years now. Just enough for family and friends. We’ve seen some die off, and it mostly happens with the purchased bees. What finally happened was they let the bees naturalize a bit with wild queens. Since they live in the country on 29 acres, it’s easier to deal with bees that get a bit testy. But it had to happen because a nearby neighbor had naturalized bees who robbed the docile and placid italians so badly that they starved to death. They just couldn’t hold their own. So in return for more vigorous bees, we must deal with tendencies to grumpiness and/or nastiness depending on weather conditions. Mowing around the boxes must be done in full gear or left to the ducks and geese whom they don’t mind. And they love glueing the frames together. But they produce fabulously and most importantly, they survive.
Here in a Seattle suburb, I have seen fewer honey bees in our backyard each year. It’s gone from doaens to handfuls to just a few now and then. I know there are hives around since bees only travel so far, but less than there used to be. Even the zoo and Pacific Science center have lost large portions of their colonies to CCD. It’s sad. I remember enjoying getting boxes of bees when I was little and feeding the drones. We even took them to school for a demonstration. Now Nana’s grumpy survival bees can only be observed from a distance. At home, we treat our lawn and garden organically and encourage the bumbles and mason and brown bees that do show up. I guess that’s all we can do for now.
Thankyou for sharing with us. I wish more people understood how important bees really are, I think there is a lack of interest for the most part so people don’t have a true understanding how vital a part they play in our food chain. God created them for a purpose. Thank you for your passion in this area of this life we all live. May God Bless you and your family, and protect the bees!
My husband’s Grandpa had lots of bees. He sold honey in Chicago and to the local prison- he had quite a lot of bee equipment. His extractor held about 30 frames! When he passed away a couple years ago we bought the property from my MIL. There was a very small hive of bees here, but a bear destroyed their hive right before we moved in and they were gone.:( Just a few days ago we had a swarm move into a stack of empty hive boxes. Exciting!!! I hope it works out. 🙂
What a lovely post. I am aspiring beekeeper (and countryside dweller). My inner city-bred hubby is a little bee-phobic, so I know we’ll need a big property before he’ll let me start up a hive. I will be following your posts with enthusiasm, and glean what I can until I can have my very own lovelies.
I’m glad you’ve got bees again… although with an allergy to bee-stings… bees are not for me 🙂
Beautifully written blog! I’m enjoying reading it and not just for the information about bees but all the ideas about living a more environmentally safe life and making small changes at home to align with that. Wonderful! Thanks for the guest post!
The collapse of the bees isn’t “unexplained.” It’s clearly pesticide-related. “unexplained” is what they say when they don’t like the answer or don’t want to think that our “wonderful, necessary” moder technology could be a cause.
Very good story, though! Beekeeping is something we may consider someday.
@Kate, I totally agree with you on the pesticide issue. It’s terribly unfortunate that my organic, chemical-free garden can never be big enough to protect all the honeybees…
once again you amaze me
as i slog through “beekeeping for dummies” i dream of an internship at your b&b with its on- site training center .
your descriptions and your passion shine shine shine
of course, your prayer is beyond words
love to you
helpful post here i really learned alot from here thanks for the wonderfull post hope to hear more from you soon
Such a great story, I am delighted that you have take a step in faith and started again.
Although I realize it’s probably too early in the season in your part of the world, I’m anxious to know how your <a href="http://www.secretbeekeepingtips.com/beekeeping-hive/" beekeeping
hive of “Italian lovelies” has survived the winter. Looking forward to an update.
Such a great story, I am delighted that you have take a step in faith and started again.
Although I realize it’s probably too early in the season in your part of the world, I’m anxious to know how your beekeeping hive of “Italian lovelies” has survived the winter. Looking forward to an update.
I’m so sorry to hear about your bees. I thought that CCD mostly hit the big bee farmers that transport their bees to different locations around the country. But I guess it can strike anywhere. They still really don’t know what causes it do they? I can’t imagine a future without honey, or all the delicious fruits and vegetables that we now take for granted.