Hear the Hum

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.

Honey bee caught in flight in the garden at La Quinetire, Buais, Normandy, France

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.

Putting bees into mourning

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.

Image result for telling the bees image

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)

Honeytime

Harvest time.

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
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him (ahem, Emily, all the field bees are girls!!!)
Is aristocracy.

(Emily Dickinson, 1884)

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

(Emily Dickinson, 1896)

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~!

The domination of bees and everything

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.

Farewell June

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.

Image result for Biggest little farm images

It’s all about the soil. Healthy fungi. Biodiversity of plant life and creatures. And above all—Water is life.

Image result for Biggest little farm images

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.

Image result for Image of ducks eating snails

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.

I’m delighted.

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)

Hell’s Backbone

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.

Five Hudson Valley Organizations Join Forces to Train More Young  Farmers, Increase Impact

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.

Scenic Road – Escalante, Utah …atlasobscura.com

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.

Related image

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.

Lorenzo and Dora, Cornelio Candelario Farm, South Valley

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

Bzzz.

honeybee pollinating blackberry at Cornelio Candelario Farm, Albuquerque 2019

Climate Change. So here’s the thing…

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.

Picture

Or Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the brilliant comet that has landed on Congress with her Green New Deal

Or courageous African environmentalist, Wangaari Mathai.

Wangari Maathai in 2001.jpg

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.

Joan Brown | Global Sisters Reportglobalsistersreport.org

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)

Earthrise | 100 Photographs | The Most …100photos.time.comAPOD: 2018 December 24 – Earthrise 1 …apod.nasa.govEarthrise – Wikipediaen.wikipedia.orgEarthrise Revisitedearthobservatory.nasa.gov

Life Affirming

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.

Bernalillo County Seal

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.

I would learn more carefully about the world that bees live within and all their mutual, symbiotic and magnetic resonances with flowers. I would study their habitat. After all, it is ours as well.

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…

The Good, the Bad and the ugly…

I want to talk about climate change for the next few blogs. Don’t tune out.

Image result for Climate change images

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.

Image result for Climate change images

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.

Though I must say, we cannot eat money.

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.

Image result for images of bugs

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.

Related image

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!

Honeybee Democracy

This is good. I began thinking about honeybees collective decision making, especially at the beginning of Trump’s reign or mis-reign of power with all his admirers and supporters.

I’ve spent time reading Dr. Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy, talking bees over dinner with him, and blogging about how honeybees make decisions. Bees have much to teach us.

The following op-ed by Jennifer Finney Boylan couldn’t be said better. She’s spot on. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but the bees do teach us a lot about ourselves as humans, and the dire circumstances we find ourselves in due to poor judgement on all fronts—from dousing our food system with chemicals, to refusing to elect political officials who have the will to act on climate change and the health and safety of our communities, to our will to change our own lifestyles (think, plastic in oceans, carbon in the atmosphere, wars over other nation’s resources for our “interests”).

Anyway. I’ll stop. No one likes a pessimist. We can only tolerate so much bad news as humans. I realize it’s not the best motivator.

Hope you read the following excellent article.

My bees are popping this year! They survived, thanks in part to my careful attention and more engaged activity this last year. I assisted them in facing all the factors arrayed against them, most particularly fighting the varroa mite that is killing bees (climate change and toxic chemicals also up there at the top of the list).

Let’s take advantage of the Spring time to make consistent changes and work for a true democracy. It will take increased and persistent work to make decisions “for the people, by the people”.

Bees and drones and thrones! Bring it on!

Swarm Season: Honey bees are House Hunting!

(Albuquerque, NM, April 24, 2019)-– Do you know anyone who called an exterminator when they discovered a swarm of honey bees? If so, that is especially sad because honey bees are responsible for every third bite of food we consume and they contribute $15 billion to American agriculture each year, and as any beekeeper will tell you, they are battling a combination of diseases, parasites, pesticides, and malnutrition.

Photograph of native bee on Phacelia integrifolia.

April and May are prime swarm season and it’s a special privilege to witness swarming honey bees. 

Albuquerque City Council elected Albuquerque to become a Bee City USA affiliate in 2016 to raise awareness of how vital pollinators are to life as we know it, and the challenges all pollinators face. We are Burque Bee City!

Native bee on Phacelia integrifolia

Honey bees function as a superorganism. In other words, a single honey bee cannot survive alone. While there are more than 20,000 species of bees in the world (think bumble, sweat, mason, leafcutter, digger, miner, carpenter, squash, blueberry, sunflower…), only seven of those species make honey. North America would not have honey bees today had the European colonists not introduced them in 1622 because they needed wax for candles.

The honey bee’s closest cousin is the bumble bee, a fellow colonist, with a queen and worker bees, but not one that overwinters or swarms like the honey bee. Honey bees have a large, complex society in which as many as 60,000 members perform services ranging from gathering food, constructing wax cells, tending the queen, providing health care, heating and cooling, nursing babies, etc.  This allows them to build homes and food stores that get them through the winter, prepared to come out like gangbusters in the spring.

Splitting the colony in half and leaving with the old queen allows a new colony to be born, with a new queen. To prepare for swarming, nurse bees create new queen cells and the old queen’s court withholds food from the queen for a few days to make her flight-weight, since the only other time she has flown was for mating. 

Then the worker bees that are leaving the hive fill their honey stomachs for the journey to their new home. Gorged on honey, their abdomens are so distended they are almost incapable of stinging. 

Unprotected by their hive, a bee swarm is dangerously exposed to rain, cold, and myriad predators, and generally cannot survive more than three days. Ironically, with no hive to defend, they are much less defensive when swarming. Their focus is protecting their queen mother at the center of the swarm. She is responsible for their continued existence because most worker bees don’t live more than six weeks during the growing season.

Throughout the day, scout bees busily fly in about a three-mile range to identify prospective homes. They report back to the swarm through waggle dancing in a figure eight. The more intensely they dance, the better the chances their prospect is dry, protected from predators and large enough to house the colony’s food and babies. It’s really fun to watch multiple waggle dancers on the surface of a swarm!

Image result for waggle dance images
Honeybee waggle dance aka
Whirling dervishes

In a democratic process documented by Dr. Thomas D. Seeley in “Honeybee Democracy”—kind of a town hall meeting, they choose their new home, usually in a hollow tree. If a bee has found a better prospect, a scout will investigate and report back with her own waggle dance. When the scouts reach consensus, the swarm takes flight to build their comb in their new home—wax comb produced from their wax glands to store either pollen, nectar, or brood. 

So, if you see a swarm, let a beekeeper, your local beekeeping chapter, or your local Cooperative Extension Service know immediately, before it changes locations, so a beekeeper can attempt to rescue the bees. In Bernalillo Country the swarm number is CABQ switchboard at #311.  A local directory of willing swarm catchers is available at http://abqbeeks.org/page/report-a-swarm

Almost all beekeepers dream of catching swarms, since buying bees costs about $150 or more per nucleus hive. Most importantly, you will be helping to sustain one of the world’s most fascinating and beneficial creatures.

For more information about the Burque Bee City USA program, contact Anita Amstutz, anita@thinklikeabee.org  

#  #  #

For more information about Bee City USA, visit https://www.beecityusa.org/

For more information about the Xerces Society, visit https://xerces.org/

For information about four simple ways to help pollinators, visit https://xerces.org/bringbackthepollinators/