Everyday Gardeners

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The Buzz on Honeybees

You could say that bees are in my blood. After all, my Dad’s twin brother, my Uncle Steve, was for years an avid apiarist in central Indiana. Every December I could expect to find a beautiful, brand-spanking new jar of Baggett Honey waiting for me beneath my parents’ Christmas tree. And I would ration my special jar of Baggett Honey, using only a couple of tablespoons of the sweet elixir at a time on my morning oatmeal. I’ve always been fascinated by bees of all shapes and sizes, most especially our non-native honeybees. I like to show children who visit my garden how easy it is to pet the fuzzy abdomen of a bumblebee while feeding on the nectar of of my bee balm or anise hyssop. A couple of years ago, I was even lucky enough to produce a story on backyard beekeeping, so I had the chance to experience the process up close and personal. That’s me below suited up in a veil and protective overalls.

“The historic relationship between humans and their bees is long and enduring,” reads the introduction to The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Uses (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; 2011) by Richard A. Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch, just one of one a half-dozen recent titles to come across my desk that explores the culture of bee and backyard beekeeping. “Honey, beeswax, and mead (the alcoholic drink made from honey) are part of a worldwide industry, yet, in the twenty-first century the numbers of honeybees are falling at an alarming rate, due to a mysterious condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which emerged late in 2006 and for which no one has yet discovered the cause. It is only as more and more of the world’s honeybees die that we are now beginning to appreciate not only hoe fragile their survival really is but also their importance to the agricultural economy globally owing to their pollination of crops. If bees are to survive into the twenty-second century, we must take them seriously.”

Here, from top to bottom, are the books pictured above:

Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper: What Not to Do When Keeping Bees (with Apologies to My Own) by Bill Turnbull (The Experiement; 2011).

Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper by C. Marina Marchese (Black Dog & Leventhal; 2009).

The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture by Gene Kritsky (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Homemade Living: Keeping Bees by Ashley English (Lark Crafts; 2011).

The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses by Richard A. Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch (Abrams, 2011).

• The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook: A Guide to Creating, Harvesting, and Cooking with Natural Honeys by Kim Flottum (Quarry Books; 2009).

2 Responses to “ The Buzz on Honeybees ”

  1. Hi James!
    I’ve been curious about bee-keeping myself, can you recommend a good starting point for a neophyte?

  2. @David,
    I started out 18 years ago, by joining up with a local beekeeping association/club. There you’ll find mentors gladly willing to assist a neophyte. Besides that, pick up one of those books listed above or Beekeeping for Dummies. One of the biggest hurdles is to overcome the fear of bees and the stinger. Yet, you’ll soon realize, that they sting only as a last resort because they die quickly afterwards and that their primary interests are to protect the hive, collect nectar & pollen. Then perhaps you’ll eventually discover Apitherapy, the use of the products of the beehive for health and well-being! or as I like to call it, Happy Therapie!

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