I am a Bee Keeper

The sun is shining after a couple of cool gray days.

While winter pruning fruit trees, I notice how the bees are coming back to life outside of their three hives. We steward a little fruit and vegetable farm here at Echo Valley Organics on Saltspring Island sits on the Salish Sea off the West Coast of Canada. This land will soon bee buzzing with all kinds of pollinating insects, the majority of which will bee the European Honey bees.

The first warm days bring out the “Ladies” for sanitation flights (i.e. poop) and and newly hatched out “New-bees” in need of their ‘Orientation Flight.’ These will be the next season of nectar collectors and pollen gatherers. It’s always such a tricky time. Everything looks great -and then the weather turns cold and wet. Without enough food the hives can die. But early spring warmth brings out the earliest flowers like snowdrops, crocus, cyclamen, pussy willows, hazelnuts and big leaf maples to support the colonies. An abundance of cottonwoods, Douglas fir, and pine trees supply loads of propolis for the colony’s health.

I became a fulltime beekeeper by chance. My long-time friend Kelly, I call her my “Bee Mamma,” was tending 19 hives and needed more land for forage area. By hostessing two of her hives, the orchard received better pollination and, in general, the plants around the valley felt more vital and abundant. Then another neighbour who had unused beekeeping equipment asked me if I wanted any of it. YES!

And so it began on my Birthing Day. Kelly gifted me with a full, ready to go hive of bees consisting of a fertile Queen, laying frames of brood (baby bees) and several frames of food (honey/pollen) along with some worker bees.

It’s a Magical World. The World of Bees. I tell people that know me “If I don’t answer the phone it’s probably because I’m out sitting with the bees having a cuppa tea”. They get it. Bees are great teachers. Living with hives now for several years, I have begun a profound journey of understanding the workings of a hive. Weather. Forage availability. Location of the hives. Morning Sunshine. Evening light. And of course pheromones. Beekeepers have an intimate relationship with their hives. They know my scent and respond to it.

The first hive (I call number #1) I received from Kelly, did very well, growing large, fast. One day last year, my darlin’ husband Robin Hood sensed that the hive may swarm as they erratically flew around or crawled over the outside of their box. As I approached to investigate, they all calmly crawled back into the hive. The next day however, while my family was visiting for Fathers Day, they swarmed. As my 86 year-old Mom directed traffic, I crawled up a 30 foot ladder into a tree wearing my bee suit, clutching a pair of secateurs and a box to capture them in, while holding on to the ladder with my legs and trying to stay calm so as not to disturb the swarm. We had a private conversation the essence of which was, “Would you like to stay or go?”

Once safely down the ladder, and back into the orchard where their empty hive waited, I poured them back over the frames. We now live with 3 healthy hives that have all made it through the winter.

It’s a choice not to harvest any honey, or wax from these hives (It takes nearly 200 flights for a honey bee to make a teaspoon of honey) and so the hives live their lives as healthy as possible in a relatively, still pristine environment: hundred year old apple orchards and sheep farms next door, flourishing veggies and flower gardens on most neighbours land. People getting more, and more informed about our life-dependant reciprocal relationship bees. Because of environmental and economic toxicity around the Globe, there seems to bee  more effort to plant food and flowers gardens alongside hightly benefically mixed hedgerows. That’s good. It’s of great interest that I write with the thought of the plight of bees around the Globe. So many factors affect what is going on in their world. But what strikes me as strange is we as a species knowing these facts are going about our days with this information in front of us and yet we aren’t able to stop the causes. During the last several years with air flights restricted the Ozone has started to repair itself. We can change the negative effects of a World in trouble if, and when we want to  -What will it take for the way we have taken, and not given back to change? It might just bee  Global food issues. Wars have been fought over because of bread –and honey.

I will finish with this. The affection I have for these beautiful creatures, who represent the communities we could all live in, are right outside the backdoor. Everyday I walk up to them and see it in action. Living daily on an island that supports a diverse community, that is in touch with Nature, and actively discusses what is staring us in the face, all allows for great conversations around what might or could bee next. Mostly, it begins with, “How’s your Garden grow?”

I do love it all.

Mark Stevens