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Donate now to our annual fundraising event for pollinator protection!
Think Like a Bee is a tax exempt, registered 501C3. All donations are tax deductible
Before the end of this bee season, I found a laying worker hive. Any beekeeper will know that this is the worst possible situation. The queen’s demise has left the hive without any clear direction—or brood for future generations. They will surely die.
Eggs of laying workers. To fix a laying worker hive you have to suppress worker ovaries.
Into this void steps regular female worker bees, whose eggs haven’t been fertilized. But she is determined to take the title of “queen bee” by laying, basically, empty bullets. She fills up the hive with unfertilized haploid eggs. They become drones. The hive fills up with boys and food. Without the diploid worker bee eggs from the Queen bee, the hive will surely die.
So, for the less bee- inclined among you, already you are saying, “please, what happened? Stop this bee-ease talk”.
Then, switch the hive to one that has fresh brood from another well endowed sister hive and put a few queen-right bars of brood, along with a mated queen in there. When the disoriented bees finally find their way back to the hive, it has been “reset”. The laying worker will be “balled” and thrown out, if the new queen has the blessing of the other workers.
Easier said than done.
Come to find out, this is NOT best practice. Beekeeping for dummies.
The youtube videos I watched were neat and easy. Bees were always cooperative and friendly. Clearly it had been rehearsed. Multiple times.
I obtained my queen on a late Sunday afternoon, the heat was a severe 97 degrees Fahrenheit. I needed to put her in before nightfall. Unfortunately, the storm clouds began to gather as we drove home. Big fat drops fell.
Bees hate rain.
I hate rain. Especially when I’m trying to work with the bees—mainly because they hate rain.
Nevertheless I recruited my husband. We valiantly suited up and I began to shake the bees out far from their hive, bar by bar. As the storm clouds receded, another kind of storm took over. Bees rose up in a tornado of indignation, no happy queen pheromones to mute their fury. First they found my bare feet inside my purple crocs. Then they found their way into my hood.
My husband stood aside and watched in fascination. I danced around the yard, until finally taking refuge in our screened in porch. I returned.
We shook those bees out, rearranged their reality, and stirred them up. big time. Some robber bees in the neighborhood came to join the melee. Honey dripping everywhere as the heat melted the Topbars of honeycomb like butter.
I raced to get all the brood, Topbars and the queen in her little cage arranged inside before the enraged and confused bees began their trek back to their hive.
All this to say, I think it worked. Before I closed them up for the winter, I checked. The girls are accepting the new queen.
I am left to think about this thing of “re-setting” a hive…I am paying attention to the fact that I am in process of re-setting some things in my own life.
And then there is our culture. Seems like we are going through the same shake down. Especially around global climate chaos. We are in the midst of a big shuffle. A messy, gnarly shake down to reset our lifestyles and our body politic. Perhaps, pretty please, along with my girls, this re-set will take us all in a positive and life-giving direction.
I love what Greta Thunberg, the wonder girl for climate action, said:
When we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope—look for action. Then the hope will comeGreta Thunberg
If we don’t find the courage to “shake it all out”, If we continue in the same trajectory, death will be a sure route. It should give us the courage to re-set.
Youth Global climate summits are coming up in cities across the country on Fridays.
Check out one near you! Join them. The youth are leading this time.
Recently I was climbing Raven’s Ridge in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which surround Santa Fe.
As my husband and I walked along in silence, leaves crackling under our feet and the crisp smell of Autumn in our nostrils, I heard a hum. Barely audible unless I stopped stock still. But, yes, it was there.
It sounded familiar. We stopped. I listened. I noticed bees. The death knell had not yet tolled for their short summer lives. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
I felt comforted by this sound, as I always do when I enter the inner sanctum of the honeybee hive or sit at the feet of the hive.
It is the sound of life.
This past weekend, I led a women’s Soul Tending retreat in Indianapolis, thanks to the gracious invitation and hosting of my sister in law. This is my other life, based on the book I wrote, “Soul Tending, Journey into the Heart of Sabbath”
As we came to the final ceremony to close our time together, we remembered All Souls day, bringing our sacred objects to the altar and, often tearfully saying the names of our beloveds who had flown across that great river to the other side. After each naming, we said, “May their memory be a blessing”.
I remembered the bees. They are only one of millions of species estimated to be driven into extinction in this time of increasing climate chaos from fossil fuel activity and carbon dioxide released into the air. Our planet is warming, disrupting weather patterns, our natural greenhouse, and causing ecological catastrophes.
There is a story circulated from medieval times in the old country of Europe. Upon the death of the Beekeeper, loved ones would first go out to the beehive and in hushed tones, tell the girls that their keeper was dead. Gone. Traveling now to another country.
Not so strange. Throughout time and mythologically, Bees have always been associated with resurrection, a symbol of life and fertility, and evidently, upon death, new life!
But more than this, in this strange and endearing practice of “Telling the Bees“, it bespeaks the inclusion of the girls as part of the family circle. Bees shared generously of the gifts from their hive, not only honey, but the gift of pollination and the health of our food system. A trusting relationship was forged . The love and respect of bees with the old, beloved beekeeper and his/her family was real.
I celebrate the fact that humans are awakening to the preciousness of “the other”, our wild non-human relations and the importance of insects.
I am grateful for the young ones among us who are sending strong, clear messages that “time is up” and we must change our ways and bring about the transition to a fossil free future.
I am also very often, sitting and weeping, lamenting the loss of so much that we have not understood as our relations. Family. The wild ones. planet earth and all her inhabitants. It is time for us to hear the Bees “telling the humans” about our own death, if we are not willing to change our ways.
Getting back to the hum.
We are moving towards winter solstice. Winter. And the bees are still flying. After a few cold snaps, the weather returns to 50, 60, 70 degrees F where I live in New Mexico. While I love to hear the hum of the hive, it brings me great joy, I am also aware that if they stay active, honeybees will eat up their winter honey and pollen stores too quickly. They must go dormant soon.
I am listening to the hum. It keeps me awake. I am praying. I am acting on behalf of the bees.
In the name of the Bee -And of the Butterfly -And of the Breeze – Amen! (Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886)
It’s been a lush Spring, with flowers galore from the rains. I’ve begun to harvest some of my girl’s honey.
Emily Dickinson celebrates bees, clover and honey…often.
I wonder why I never knew about her connection to the bees?
The pedigree of honey(Emily Dickinson, 1884)
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him (ahem, Emily, all the field bees are girls!!!)
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,(Emily Dickinson, 1896)
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
If you would like a pint of local, raw and artisanal, organic honey ($12), send me a message. Limited availability.
Here’s to a pint of the amber elixir…Celebrate pollinators~!
Nothing new. It’s the economic system we have proudly built in the West. Anything that is gift, given freely by Mother Earth, is quickly snatched up by hungry profit seekers. It is codified, standardized, chemicalized and dominated. A system that has industrialized almost every part of our food system, destroyed and pillaged the natural world and spread a religion of “not enough”, scarcity. Abundance is only for the few who can afford it.
Recently, my brother sent me the trailer for Honeyland, the most awarded film at the Sundance Film Festival this year. It was an epic 3 year project in the making.
I watched it and wrote back to him:
I think this will break my heart…it’s the colonization story all over again. A woman’s way of protecting and caring for the community (of bees and humans) “half for us and half for the bees” is stomped into the ground by this profiteering, domination system. It is the sorrow of losing a way of life.
What began as a beautiful reflection on a woman’s relationship with the honeybees in a far and distant land, is trampled. Here’s the story line…
Hatidze lives with her ailing mother in the mountains of Macedonia, making a living cultivating honey using ancient beekeeping traditions. When an unruly family moves in next door, what at first seems like a balm for her solitude becomes a source of tension as they, too, want to practice beekeeping, while disregarding her advice…HONEYLAND is an epic, visually stunning portrait of the delicate balance between nature and humanity that has something sweet for everyone.
For me, movies like this are wake up calls. May they come thick and fast from this new generation of movie makers.
I pray it will give those who see this film a will to speak and see and hear, as Jane Fonda says, “a reverence humming” all around us.
It’s the only hope we have for our food web. For humanity sake itself.
I hope you’ll see it.
This is the month for the bees – the heavy, sweet month – with much of the promise and the failure of the crop year in it. (The Old Farmers Almanac, 1944)
It is the outgoing month of June. In the bee world, it is Pollinator month. Summer Solstice. The month of honey harvesting (if you are lucky). The peak of fertility.
Now, into July, the queen will taper off her laying of eggs. Food will become less abundant. Here in the Southwest, temperatures will soar into the triple digits. Plants will turn brown. Rain is scarce. Nectar and pollen flow dries up. I imagine the bees lolling around in their hive, drinking Meade, fanning themselves with their collective 4 million gossamer wings. They’ve worked their patuttis off since February and now they can just live off the fruits of their labor. Relax a little. Until the Fall bloom…
I left a few of my early Spring swarms languish too long in their hives without checking them. Now they are overpopulated and honey is oozing out of them. Blackberry honey and wildflower honey.
If the Old Farmers Almanac is correct, the harvested honey is a bellwether of promise for a very, very good year.
Recently my husband and I saw “The Biggest Little Farm”. It is a hilarious, heartwarming and gripping 7 year saga of a young enthusiastic couple from Los Angeles choosing to commit and dedicate their energy and life to growing healthy food. She is a chef. He is a documentary filmmaker.
It’s all about the soil. Healthy fungi. Biodiversity of plant life and creatures. And above all—Water is life.
These wanna be farmers became bona fide as they turned dead, inert dirt into a cornucopia of living soil and food.
They managed to also raise a stunning army of beneficial bugs to fight the pestilence that descended upon Paradise at some point. As they began to see every single life form as having a purpose, they became creative.
Even those coyotes hovering on the horizon had a role to play. Those very same coyotes saved the farm when the gophers overran the orchard. The coyotes moved in, feasting upon those unfortunate critters night after night.
The ducks saved the day upon the snail invasion.
The story, in the end, is about the hard years and the triumphant years. As life goes, sorrow and joy are usually two sides of the same coin. Eventually all the blood, sweat and tears of building a wholistic web of life, with the full spectrum of microrganisms to predators, pays off—in dividends. Their eggs and produce are snatched up at the local farmers market for taste and delicacy. Crowds descend to see this biggest, little farm.
After 10 years of my own wonder lusting after the mysterious honeybee, the spectacular joy of being in the presence of the hive mind — as well as slogging through some of my own horrendous years of bee death, mutiny, pestilence, robbing and my own ignorance—Molly and John feel like old friends. I want to sit down over a glass of California Chardonnay and swap stories.
This year, I sit back and watch my girls soar, almost without my meddling or doing anything. Like a parent of my 10th child, I am less over-anxious. I have less need to control or know everything. I feel more permissive.
For years, I have worked to build up colonies of healthy, local queens, low mite counts, strong immune systems and always, ALWAYS, organic farms or chemical free habitats. It’s paying off this year.
And you will bee too when you taste my honey.
Summer’s in the sound of June, Summer and a deepened tune, Of the bees and of the birds, And the loitering of lover’s words.James Henry Leigh Hunt, English poet (1784-1859)
Many people are changing our food system, bit by bit. They get precious little recognition for creating healthy, sustainable and poison-free, local “living Food” webs. Unlike famous chefs such as Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, Paula Dean or Michelle Obama, who had a garden at the White House, they toil invisibly.
I want to honor all these humble, salt of the earth, soil warriors, who are feeding communities and changing the way we see and eat food. For they are rejecting a food system dripping with fossil fuel and renewing our vision for agriculture on a smaller scale to withstand climate change and support pollinators and all living beings healthfully into the future.
Healing our food is beyond important not only for bees but human and earth’s survival. With our current sick, industrial agricultural system, bees will not survive into the next century. Food insecurity will be massive.
Let me tell you about two of my heroines, laboring in Boulder Utah, along Hell’s Backbone in South Central Utah, to bring real food back to the tables. Part of the Bears Ears National Monument, sacred and ceremonial ancestral lands for indigenous peoples, designated by Obama, torn asunder by Trump and his band of oil and gas cronies, it is now under litigation to preserve its integrity.
Back in the day, Boulder Utah, largely a Mormon settlement of ranchers, pop. 225, was remote enough, and off the beaten trail, to attract few visitors. I heard it’s claim to fame was having the purest air in the country.
Today Boulder has Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm, with an ardent following of fans and curious tourists who just need a burger.
Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle, both well seasoned chefs, came to this “edge of the wilderness” over 19 years ago to open a restaurant. Their vision was big. In a remote area, with winter lasting half the year, they planned to opt out of the “toxic supply of mega-factory farms and corporate distribution hubs like Sysco….and make a stand for real food untainted by poisons and an enormous carbon footprint…[with]food far superior in flavor and nutrition” (This Immeasurable Place: Food and Farming from the Edge of Wilderness, Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle, 2017), p.19.
To do this they began to keep their own chickens, grow all the produce they could and recycle, compost and plow 100% of their food waste back into the earth and the animals. Blake bought 6 acres and named it Blaker’s Acres. They employed a posse of young millennials, brilliant and unafraid of hard work, ready to roll up their sleeves and jump on the steep learning curve.
What has come about all these years later is a testament to hard work, vision and unrelenting courage. It is a haven for all living beings. Blake is Buddhist and none of the critters that come calling for dinner, will ever be destroyed. Only outsmarted. Mice will be relocated, deer fences erected, and folk remedies employed such as cinnamon to repell ants and a bag of water with a penny taped to it for the flies. It’s been brutal at times with gophers, weeds, aphids, frost and micro climates shredding crops. Blake says that she is often wracked with doubt and fear, but welcomes her anxiety to the table as an honored guest. It is her spiritual teacher.
The most fascinating story for me of course was their ill fated and short lived experiment with honeybees. One day they noticed when checking them, that they smelled like a litter box. Turned out a mountain lion had come in the night, peed on the hives and knocked them over. That was the end of that.
The story of food doesn’t end there. As their very town and the land has been threatened now by oil and gas and the current powers that be, these two women chefs, of Hell’s Backbone Grill, have mobilized a whole community not only around nutritious sustainable food, but advocacy for this treasured land. They realize that if big oil and the frackers move in, the water and soil will no longer be protected. They have received national acclaim and a whole new wave of followers from their courageous stance.
So this week, find a farmer that you admire and honor say thank you.
As for the bees….this is National Pollinator Week. Twelve years ago, the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June to bring awareness and a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.
So this week you can also honor the bees. Find out what YOU can do to help protect our important pollinators: https://pollinator.org/pollinator-week
I promised you I’d be exploring ways to find hope in the face of this monster tsunami of climate chaos facing our lovely home and all her creatures.
But many days I feel despair. I avoid writing my blog. I don’t want to report on another project or initiative or grant funded green project. Are they really making a difference?
When I look at the big picture or hear the ppm’s of carbon that are being spewed today—evidently higher than they’ve been for millions of years— I go into a fog. I think of all the species going extinct. My rage overwhelms me at the lack of political will. A hopeless wall of grief rises around me and I fall into a very dark place.
Then I think of Greta Thunberg, 15 year old Swedish Climate activist.
Or Phyllis Stiles, who started Bee City USA.
Or Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the brilliant comet that has landed on Congress with her Green New Deal
Or courageous African environmentalist, Wangaari Mathai.
Maathai in 2001
And my friend, Sister Joan Brown, Franciscan, Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light chapter in Albuquerque NM— honored under Obama’s White House with 12 others nationwide who are working to reverse the odds of Climate Change. She goes where angels fear to tread.
Or Lyla June Johnston, Standing Rock young spiritual leader, earth warrioress
And I realize. It’s not the projects, ideas, wind turbines, new solar panels giving me hope. It’s the voices, the energy, the courageous, quite frankly, women behind the movements and projects. Like the suffragettes, they are often considered whack jobs or disregarded as alarmist or sirens in their own times. But they are the wise ones. I will follow them into the wilderness, for they embody what is real and what is possible. Despite the odds, they are igniting movements around the world.
When I think of hopeful things happening, I think that it is happening locally, usually one woman at a time, with a vision in hand, calling on her city, village, township or pueblo to take a step beyond complacence and “the way we’ve always done it”.
I look at the small things done with great love in my community, and around the world, and I have enough juice for one more day.
If you have hopeful stories where you are, please send them to me. People often do send me amazing bee stories, and I try to incorporate them into my blog. I can’t lift this alone, friends. I need your voices, your strength, your hope and your action to continue the work of climate justice. Pollinators will not survive this without human intervention.
Together as I work locally, and you do the same, we will create a web of resilience and change reaching around the world—a womb of protection around our Earth home.
An excerpt from “Home Planet”, (Chinese-American astronaut, Taylor Wang):
A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl, who upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the earth for the first time. “I could not help but love and cherish her.”Home Planet by Kevin W. Kelley (Da Capo Press, 1988)
My last blog was all the bad news about global climate change and how it is fueling weather changes.
A twin to Global Climate Change is the fossil fuel-driven big agriculture industry. It has become a massive enterprise of government subsidies, driving a monoculture of crops, drenched in chemicals—particularly glyphosates (herbicide) and neo-nicitinoids (insecticide). Our current mainstream food system is full of ecocidal chemicals.
On the bright side, something very happy happened recently in my chosen, fair state of New Mexico. Commission sacks weed control chemical, read the headline.
The County decided to stop the use of glyphosate products, i.e. ROUNDUP. It’s use has skyrocketed—from big ag to our backyards. Scientists have researched long enough (40 years for MIT scientist Dr. Stephanie Seneff) to know that they cause very bad things in humans, soil and all beings exposed. Like those entities who cheered the monstrous and persistent DDT poison in the 50’s and 60’s, giants like Monsanto and Bayer will fight to the end when the public demands change. They will call the results hooey and seriously bully anyone who says that chemicals are wreaking havoc on our bodies, our food and our habitat.
Yet, in a major paradigm shift, the commission passed this unanimously. Debbie O’Malley said, “It’s about trying to do the right thing for the health and welfare of the community”BY JESSICA DYER / JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
Published: Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019 at 11:40pm
This is a large undertaking with a department encompassing 123 properties and 2, 209 acres. But it is setting a precedent and an example for the state and the city in how to stop using an easy “fix” on our publicly shared spaces. They are showing us that it is possible to use other means for weeds. Old fashioned hand pulling and tools comes to mind. More manual labor, more jobs for humans, also comes to mind.
When I began working with the bees as a beekeeper, I felt as though I had joined a secret underground organization. Like the FreeMasons, I undertook multiple levels and years of training. Freemasons have the apprentice, fellow craft and master mason. I have no idea what that means in the Freemason world, but I can imagine what that might mean for a beekeeper.
I began by apprenticing myself to the wonder of the bee—a more endlessly fascinating mystery than a prescriptive being with easily solvable answers. I learned that interacting in the natural world requires one to slow down. Listen. Learn about hive – mind and bee world.
Fellow craft was learning to use the tools of beekeeping. The zoot suit itself made me feel invincible and part of a secretive society. It is also bloody hot in the middle of summer.
Then there is the smoker and and bee-brush with feather thin bristles. There are the hive tools to pry the bars apart.
Finally, master mason conjures up the years of classes I took to become more accomplished and find out how much I still didn’t know.
I do have my certified beekeeper award. But, be clear, it does not inoculate one against ignorance and human error and arrogance when working with the hive mind, the secret society of bees.
If I were to go back to the drawing board with my apprentice, fellow craft, and master mason training, I would include an immersion course into the poetry of bees, their mythology and sacred significance. It invokes reverence.
We do not often understand or even desire to recognize our surroundings with any form of mastery as most critters have been evolved to do. We move readily from one place to another. Humans have lost the ability to be deeply grounded in place—relentlessly local and aware.
Yet, When we are synergistically connected we will become fierce protectors of the land, air and water from whence our food comes. As our tiny anthropocentric world view changes, we will not readily harm or destroy.
So, thank you Bernalillo County Commission. You are my heroes! You may have done this for the sake of humans and to avoid a lawsuit (of which there are aplenty against Monsanto’s glyphosate products these days), but it helps all living beings and in the end, makes our food chain safer and healthier.
City of Albuquerque, please sit up and note. You are next…
I want to talk about climate change for the next few blogs. Don’t tune out.
It is a freight train coming down the tracks, and most of us are blissfully blind and deaf to it’s consequences. We are quite happy with our lifestyles thank you very much.
Bad and devastating, ugly consequences are beginning to snowball. The alarm is going off pretty much 24-7 now.
There are also amazing ideas, and courageous climate justice actions—a growing consciousness of what is happening to our planet —gratis human lifestyles. Think Greta Thunberg.
I want to chronicle both.
Mainly because I care about bees, I adore good healthy food, I care about humans, I spend lots of time in nature and I am in love with this precious biosphere we call Earth.
I believe it is a moral and ethical and spiritual responsibility we have as humans to protect and preserve all of this God-given creation— much as we do our economic interests—for the next generation.
As it exponentially increases, climate change and human inaction will wreak havoc on our food system. We can’t even begin to understand the impact of the bug apocalypse. So complete has the war on bugs been in our industrial agricultural system and in our backyards, that they have eradicated not only the “bad actors”, but the beneficials as well. As The Guardian puts it, “Insects have no place to hide”.
Earth’s littlest creatures are feeling the the heat. Bees, the workhorses of our food pollination system, are in trouble.
As they disappear, these tiny building blocks of our food system and the necessary biodiversity for all life, will eventually lead to the demise of humans. One of the largest indicators of a planet on hospice is the extinction of species—beginning with the smallest— which are the foundation for all life on Mother Earthship.
In a recent article “Species are Dying. Who is Listening“, Brad Plumer writes:
As many as one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction because of farming, poaching, pollution, the transport of invasive species and increasingly global warming. Almost everywhere you look, nature is vanishing before our eyes….
“People don’t see that species are vanishing because many of these species are not visible”, said Dirk S. Schmeller, a research professor at National Polytechnic Institute in France…and the variety of ways that biodiversity loss can affect people he said, “Is so complex that people can have difficulties in grasping the links“NYT, Saturday May 11, 2019
The article concludes that when we destroy nature, we undermine our quality of life.
“Life on Earth is an intricate fabric, and it’s not like we’re looking at it from the outside,” Sandra Diza a lead author of [the recent] report and an ecologist at the National University [In Argentina]…”we are threads in that fabric. If the fabric is getting holes and fraying, that affects us all”NYT, Saturday May 11, 2019
Often we become overwhelmed with human problems. Our myopic vision of our own passing existence and survival takes front and center.
Perhaps it’s time to look beyond our own species to wake up to the fact that without healthy eco-systems on planet earth, the human stage drama will quickly see curtains.
Who is listening?
Stay tuned…upcoming blogs promise not to be all gloom and doom! You will see practical actions that are making a difference and consider ways you can be a part of the change!