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by Jon Zawislak - March 6, 2017
A visit to the bee hive can often be hot, heavy, uncomfortable work. When there are
chores that need to be done, the bees rarely consider our schedules, and we sometime
hurry through our hive inspections. But when new beekeepers, or other visitors, ask
me to look at a hive with them, it's a chance to slow down and point out all the amazing
little details that sometimes get only a cursory glance.
Last week I spent an afternoon in the apiary with Mark Fonville, a local photographer and filmmaker, who has been working on a short film for the
Soybean Board. That project will highlight some of our recent UA Division of Agriculture research
on honey bees and pesticides, and Mark needed some footage of bees and hives to include in
the film. It was a sunny day, the bees were in a cooperative mood, and Mark was fearless
as they buzzed around his camera, getting close to the action, and capturing some amazing
details of life in the hive. Mark produced and shared this brief film to highlight some of the footage he took of the honey bees' business.
Taking an opportunity to show off my bees to a novice reminds me to more fully appreciate
these amazing little creatures. Mankind has never truly tamed the bee. They are wild animals, which we have somehow been able to convince they might be happy
to live in these wooden boxes. But our hives are really for our convenience, and
not for the bees. No matter how many lectures we attend, books we read, or colonies we
own, we'll never fully understand the bees. Theirs is a beautiful, intricate, fascinating
world of their own, and remains utterly alien to our minds. We can peek inside and
try to figure out what they are planning. Sometimes we try to encourage them in their
efforts, and sometimes we try to thwart what we perceive to be their aims. Sometimes
it works... but not always. We sometimes can get too caught up in managing colonies
for production. This can be especially so in the spring season, when we rush around
to prevent (or recapture) swarms, and try and stay ahead of the honey flow, while
we battle hive beetles and varroa mites.
It's good to occasionally slow down and just take it all in again. We need to take
a moment to appreciate the bees with the same childlike wonder we possessed when we
were clumsily learning to care for our first hive, and everything was brand new and
still mystical. We should all take the time to show off your bees to someone new
this season. We need to nurture that magical allure that we all felt when we first
beheld the majesty and mystery inside a bee hive, and the triumph we felt the first
time we spotted that elusive queen bee on our own.
Honey bees need friends now more than ever, and beekeepers are too few. Beekeeping
has a steep learning curve, and the first year will be the most challenging. Like
parenthood, we have no real choice but to dive right in with no real experience, and
try to digest all the contradicting advice (some great, some terrible) from countless
sources. If you can mentor a new beekeeper, it will ease their mind, and you will
become better for it. Having to teach skills always causes us to refine our own,
because we have to think discretely about them. And trying to answer questions on
the why's and how's of every little thing will invariably point out gaps in our own
knowledge, which we should scramble to fill. Even if we can't spend an entire season
helping others along their way, occasionally showing off the alluring charm of our
bees to others will help them to appreciate these tiny creatures a little more. And
who knows, we may plant a seed that could eventually blossom into a passion to pursue
their own beekeeping someday.