Ode to the Bees: My Adventures in Beekeeping

So work the honeybees;

Creatures, by a rule in nature teach

The art of order to a peopled kingdon.

From Henry V, Act 1, Scene 2, Shakespeare

I may live in a one-bedroom apartment, but that won’t stop my dreams of being an urban homesteader. While I can make my own almond milk and grow wildflowers on my windowsill, I pine for the day when I can share with you the trials and tribulations of keeping my own chickens, harvesting lavender to make essential oil, and (the ultimate!) how my honeybees are faring in their homemade hive.

Last weekend on a sunny morning in San Francisco, I took an urban beekeeping class. I know I put the cart before the horse a bit (we’re hoping to move into a house with a garden early next year), but I’ve been dying to learn the ins and outs of keeping my own bees and what it takes to keep them happy and harvest their honey.

I also picked up an a book called the Way to Bee – Meditation and the Art of Beekeeping by Mark Magill. He is a Buddhist meditation teacher, imparting the art of beekeeping through the four seasons while also sharing the environmental and spiritual lessons we can learn from our buzzing bee friends. He includes meditations in each chapter that help reveal the tranquility and simple pleasure of observing and interacting with the natural world.

Do you know how amazing bees are? This is what I’ve learned:

There are 3 types of bees – the queen, the worker, and the drone. Drones are the only males bees in the hive, existing only to mate with the queen. That means the majority of the hive is lady bees. I find this to be very cool and somehow empowering.

Bees fly in a specific pattern called the waggle dance, that looks like a sort of figure eight. By performing this dance, bees can communicate to each other the direction and distance to important areas like a nectar-filled flower patch, water source, or potential hive location.

Honeybees aren’t actually native to North America, and are a result of colonialism. One of my initial thoughts with keeping honeybees is that I would be helping combat colony collapse disorder. The truth is, colony collapse disorder is a symptom of the greater problem of industrial monoculture. Native bees can be supported in other ways like placing mini bee “apartments” around your property. But by keeping honeybees, you can help spread awareness for bee-friendly gardening and farming and the importance of keeping toxic chemicals out of our soil.

Bees will tell you when they’re angry and about to sting. They make a buzzing sound and emit a pheromone that smells a bit like bananas.  But for the most part, bees have a bad reputation. They are good little ladies who work hard to keep the flowers blooming.

Yes, bees buzz. Any two-year-old will tell you.

But they also hum and murmur and rattle.

Sometimes when you tap the side of the hive in the dead of winter, they’ll make a sound like rustling leaves.

When angry they’ll whine like a high-powered mosquito.

But on those warm, sunny afternoons in spring when they know for certain that winter will have to wait its turn for another year, the bees will send upa  sound that is like no other.

It’s the sound of contentment.

The Way to Bee – Meditation and the Art of Beekeeping

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