I spent the whole day Sunday with my bee buddy and good friend, Sarah. We were in the hive yards, mitigating varroa mites—testing and treating.
Recently I learned about German forester, Peter Wohlleben, who wrote,“The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World”. As a forester, fresh out of school he was required to fell trees and spray them with insecticides. Something in him resisted. Doing his own research, he found that “in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings. Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance.”
Mr. Wohlleben has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news — long known to biologists — that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots. (1/29/16 NYT)
Peter ended up quitting his job for the state forestry administration in Rhineland-Palatinate, to try his hand at a more care-ful way of working with trees. He was going to move his family to Sweden to begin his own tree practice, but he had won over the forest’s municipal owners. They quit their contract with the state forestry and hired him back to care for trees in a more conscious manner.
He brought in horses, eliminated insecticides and began experimenting with letting the woods grow wilder. Within two years, the forest went from loss to profit, in part by eliminating expensive machinery and chemicals.(1/29/16 NYT)
Human communities would do well to think like a tree. Or a bee.
Honeybees are inherently communal— each solitary bee doing its duty is important for the whole. The brain of the hive is all of them working together. 10,000 to 80,000 or more honeybees in a hive. They all have their own social roles to contribute, but the “hive mind” works together to create an incredibly intricate social network of communication and decision making about where they will glean and source their food throughout the neighborhood.
Honeybees live sentient lives. They grieve their queens and lost sisters. I’ve seen them act as pallbearers to carry their dead queen carefully out the door. They dance for one another to convey information, they become irate with beekeepers who are not careful— killing their hive mates through careless habits in the hive.
Bees see the need for food to be shared. Recently, an 102 year old woman, recounting her life, told me of how her family would open the back kitchen door to feed the hungry, poor workers coming into Philadelphia after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. Her father and mother were clear. We feed each other. We take care of each other. Bees do that too.
Honeybees are also equal opportunity lenders of their free pollinator services. They do not hoard their gifts but bring them freely to the neighborhood. Their legendary honey is also gratis, though I’m not so sure they give that so freely. We take it from them, usually without too much gnashing of teeth on my end, but usually some death on theirs, as they defend their pride stock fiercely.
As humans on this glorious planet, we are slowly awakening from our trance. We have colonized and dominated the spaces and places of almost every living and wild thing.
Only now, some humans are willing to listen and learn that all living beings have secret or hidden lives that we are only beginning to understand. As we move away from consuming, consuming, consuming to conserving what is left, may we listen closely for the wisdom and beauty awaiting us.
So. First the bad news. We did not receive the #HiveMind grant for creating pollinator wildflower corridors.
Thank you all for your support and cheering us on. Truly, you made a difference!
The good news is that Think Like a Bee and other bee community members met with key players from the City of Albuquerque last Friday. We talked about creating pollinator wildflower corridors nevertheless. Come to find out, Albuquerque’s Clean City’s Wildflower Initiative is already happening in median strips and roadsides!
This is a very exciting project for our neighborhoods to become involved in!
I’ve been thinking alot about what it means to invest in community these days.
I never had my own children.
Yet, perhaps I have many children. Human and non-human. This is the way I am investing in the future.
Many of you invest in community in myriad ways.
Tell me how you are making a difference for future generations!
Hive mind (noun)
a notional entity consisting of a large number of people who share their knowledge or opinions with one another, regarded as producing either uncritical conformity or collective intelligence.
I’m sticking with the “collective intelligence” part of that definition.
Hive mind is like bee crowdsourcing—pulling together all the little brains and best physical energy in the hive to come up with a solution for the good of the whole. Hive Mind is about collaboration.
Think Like a Bee recently wrote a grant called Hive Mind. Here’s what we are imagining:
Wildflower and native plant swathes connecting neighborhood to neighborhood to neighborhood in Albuquerque, creating corridors of tasty food for many pollinators, Spring through Fall…
Think Like A Bee has already contacted and set up a meeting with key players. We are assembling a Hive Mind of beekeepers, wildlife non-profits, and city departments to create this vision. It’s that collective intelligence and collaboration in motion. Now all we need is funding.
Good news! The grant Think Like A Bee wrote made it to the top 12 finalists! The Australian grantor is giving away $40,000 to the right applicants who receive the most votes on-line.
Flow Hive is donating 100% of profits from sales of our Flow Pollinator House that sold out last year in the United States and Australia. This funding will be directed to organisations that support local grassroots pollinator projects in these two countries. We are looking to support pollinator projects of all shapes and sizes—from small backyard activities to larger initiatives…a total of 6-7 projects, as well as runner-up prizes, will be funded in both the USA and Australia
Project 1: Hive Mind
Engaging communities to plant a web of pollinator habitat corridors throughout the city.
Hive Mind takes the amazing capability of honeybees as superorganisms, and mimics their social networking and communication capability to create a web of pollinator habitat corridors throughout this city of a million. Hive Mind will utilize municipal support, who passed the Bee City USA resolution, as well as create a coalition of non-profit organisations such as the Xeric Garden Club, New Mexico Beekeeper Association, and Albuquerque Beeks as well as the Albuquerque Public School who are dedicated to creating wildlife and pollinator habitat corridors. This coalition will then move into the neighbourhoods and community base to educate and advocate for native pollinator habitat and protection, contracting with neighbourhood associations throughout the region to build habitat corridors in their medians, roadsides, public parks and private backyards. It will be a model for preservation and conservation of species, including an intergenerational approach with the inclusion of youth. Vote Now.
Thank you for your support!
It’s summer time and the sweet elixir of nectar is flowing…Honey has now been processed and is available for purchase. My girls have been generous. The honey comes from organic farms and my backyard. It is truly phenomenal in it’s taste and texture and color.
I am selling this as a fundraiser for Think Like A Bee. A portion of the proceeds will go to support this newly and officially recognized IRS 501C3 and our ongoing advocacy/education in the community.
Here’s the price list:
If you would like to reserve your jar(s), please message me on facebook, text my phone number or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make arrangements for pick up. Any unsold honey will be taken to market.
I honor the hard work of my honeybees and give thanks for this generous gift from the earth(though, not without resistance at times and even their demise).
I am glad that I can then offer it to you. Most of all, thank you for your support of Think Like A Bee…
Bee Friends, I have been on a very, VERY long trip this past month. Logging over 1,450 miles, I have been driving the highways and byways of the Eastern United States.
I was disturbed by the spraying and mowing of the vast swaths of medians and shoulders along our interstates.
I passed endless monocrops of corn and soybeans.
While in Harrisonburg, Virginia, my cousin clipped an article entitled “Honeybees Struggle to Eat at Bee Hot Spot”. (Daily News-Record, Harrisonburg, Va, July 3, 2018)
A new federal study finds that honeybees in the Northern Great Plains are having a hard time finding food as conservation land is converted to soybean and corn row crops. These crops have no food value for bees. This area—called “America’s last honeybee refuge”—lost about 629 square miles of prime bee habitat, according to the National Academy of Sciences….From 2006-2016, more than half the conservation land within a mile of bee colonies was converted into agriculture.
“Why can’t we do this?” I said out loud in an irritated voice as I read the article. Meaning, if bees are so crucial for our food system, why do we keep decimating, developing and destroying their livelihood and thus, our own food chain?
I imagined, as I drove along, what would be possible if the medians were filled with GMO and herbicide free wildflowers. How many pollinators could we feed if we created continuous ribbons of habitat for pollinators along our interstates?
Then I came to Northern, Virginia, along Interstate-81. I perked up. Someone with foresight was managing these medians and roadsides, I thought to myself. Fecund and rife with species native to the Shenandoah valley, I saw butterflies zig-zagging their drunken dance as we zoomed by at 75 miles an hour. The dazzling colors were mostly lost on the speeding commuters and semi drivers.
Summer thickets of delicately scented sweet peas. Showy milkweed galore. Tall yellow columns of mullein. Queen Anne’s lace. Twinkling periwinkles. Yellow and purple asters.
Just when I thought I had “spied” and listed them all, new species would pop up. My little “I spy” game kept my mind alert and engaged as I drove along. The variety and color was stunning. Banks of bouquets. Rivers of wildflowers. A feast for the eyes, and packed with nectar and pollen for hungry insects. I wondered if the pollinators, especially Monarch butterflies, had discovered these highways and byways on their migrations?
Orange daylillies, white daisies, foxglove, White Primrose, Purple Thistle, wild berry brambles…oh, and did I mention the miles of Black-eyed Susans?!
Today, a new buzzword for pollinator conservation is habitat corridors.
Think Like A Bee will be working with local beekeeper groups and the City of Albuquerque on this initiative when I return to my fair city.
Meanwhile, I was busy calling as I drove along. I found out in Northwestern Ohio that Ohio DOT has a vision to create pilot programs—experimental sections of wildflower corridors. I congratulated the Environmental Director. Seeding areas with local native varieties of wildflowers, land is allowed to lie fallow—unmowed and unsprayed.
Who is your state, local or regional Department of Transportation Director? Call and find out. Get to know them. Let them know how crucial our pollinators are and ask them to create pollinator habitat corridors in your state, town or region.
We can do this.
Huzzah for June 16-24, Pollinator Week! This was designated once upon a time by the U.S. Department of Interior. It was a day when top officials understood the critical importance of bees for our food and survival. See the Pollinator Partnership, largest nonprofit in the world dedicated to promoting the health of pollinators—critical to food and ecosystems— through conservation, education, and research.
Our Burque Pollinator Festival on June 16 was a success despite the rainy day! Thanks to Seth Hoffman, music maker extraordinaire, who crowned the day with his original tunes!
I celebrate the newly minted 501C3 status of Think Like A Bee! Please raise a cup, tip your hat and/or practically contribute some Honey Money to honor the work of bees. This officially kicks off the June Fundraising campaign for us!
2017 Community Benefits and Outcomes
1. BURQUE BEE CITY USA
We honored Albuquerque’s status as the first Bee City USA in the southwest with a city wide party!
Goals met were increased community awareness for how they can support our new Bee City USA pollinator protection status and ongoing cooperation and education with the City of Albuquerque and neighborhoods to ensure pollinator protection. Check out Burque Bee City’s new webpage at the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division (https://www.cabq.gov/parksandrecreation/open-space/bee-city-usa), Also find us on Facebook
2. SUMMER YOUTH FARM INTERNSHIP
Think Like A Bee collaborated with Cornelio Candelaria Organic Farm to host a summer youth farm internship from May-August 2017. Community Benefits are future generations of youth learning about New Mexico’s long and dignified history of traditional and small scale farming, pollinator importance in food system health and food security. Students participated in local food markets and were introduced to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
As the students worked for Cornelio Candelaria Organic Farm CSA and Think Like A Bee, they learned healthy soil composition, beekeeping 101, composting, seed saving and management, food as medicine, hoop house growing and irrigation, harvesting and marketing. Youth learned life skills including the ethics of hard work, team cooperation, discipline, persistence, courage and independent learning.
3. The Council of All Beings
The youth attended The Council of All Beings, where they made masks of animals and spoke through the voices of these silent ones to tell us humans something we need to hear for this time. The voices of wolf, sunflower, bear, cat, deer and so many others were profound and from the heart.
Youth acquiring very practical skills of beekeeping and pollinator’s keystone importance in our food system as well as habitat for bees. They were able to learn how to sustain a healthy food system, from farm to table and all the steps needed, including pollination, healthy habitat and animal husbandry. The program was duplicated with friends and family of the youth who were invited to a final awards/graduation ceremony. Youth from the program shared their experience, gaining self esteem and merit. Goals for our programs were met as Think Like A Bee was able to help provide ten youth a summer stipend. Ten more youth without nature deficit. Ten youth who didn’t sit in front of their screens all summer. Ten youth who had an amazing hands on experience and made new friends across cultural boundaries and language.
Think Like a Bee will be collaborating with other Bee organizations, Parks and Rec, City Council, Albuquerque Neighborhoods and partners dedicated to habitat/wildlife corridors and preservation
We want to embed best pollinator practices in our city’s communities and build Neighborhood coalitions for bee habitat. We will continue to educate in schools, with youth and children and civic organizations to increase pollinator protection and food security.
We are happy to be the recipient of a grant to create a Rio Grande Watershed documentary with youth interviewing land based elders. We are exploring a very exciting collaborative opportunity with the UNM Taos Digital Media Arts (DMA) to record the stories of New Mexico’s treasured farming and landbased communities for future posterity.
For contributions to our 2018-2019 projects, checks can be sent to Think Like a Bee, c/o 410 Morningside Dr. SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108
OR Click on our website, Think Like a Bee, to donate by credit card.
Thank you for your incredible support. Hive mind at work!
Think Like a Bee is a 501C3, tax exempt organization.
…that sometimes two parallel worlds that we live in converge, collide, intersect or dove- tail nicely. That happened to me with the coming together of my work in the beeyard and the writing of my newly released book entitled, “Soul Tending: Journey into the Heart of Sabbath”.
I keep bees on the fly, blog by night, write whenever I have the chance, work as a chaplain during the week. Rarely have the twain come together. Until Soul Tending.
I was given an amazing opportunity to live and write at Collegeville Institute for almost 4 months in 2016. I originally went there to write my “bee book”. I ended up completing an old manuscript on Sabbath Keeping. It just so happens that the campus of St. Johns College and the Benedictine Monastery next door were rife with bee symbols and real hives. I deepened into the myths and stories associated with bees. Resurrection. Healing. Community as the Hive Mind.
I felt the bees with me, though I was far, far away from my beeyards. They wove their wisdom and the secret life of the hive into my manuscript. Even as they lay dormant, bees were my muse and teachers as I explored ‘Sabbath Mind’ in the frigid, white north of Minnesota.
Sabbath mind cleaves to simplicity. It hungers for it and seeks a simpler life, as a pearl of great price…We must loosen our grip on the daily diet of frantic overwhelm that we have come to think of as normal in our society. We must simplify our mind and life. (Soul Tending: Journey into the Heart of Sabbath, 11)
Bees are single minded. Though they are complex super organisms, they work in one accord. Though they vibrate individually at an alarming speed, when they work together in the hive, they are focused, slow, methodical, with a constant, quiet hum. Their common task is almost imperceptible until suddenly hangs a shining, luminous, white comb.
Here’s what I wrote about the bees and the slow heartbeat of the natural world in the chapter entitled, “Creation as Sabbath Companion: Divine Presence Everywhere”…
Sabbath keeping is like that bee space… a space that required me to learn with a beginners mind. The bee space became an oasis of reciprocity, of the generosity of the creaturely world, so easily missed in a society moving at breakneck speed. When I truly wanted or needed to enter Sabbath mind, I could go into the hive. If I entered slowly, with contemplative mindfulness, following the procedures that honor one’s coming—sending a smoke signal, moving slowly, not harming or squashing their sisters(yes, all the worker bees are female)…doing one’s business quickly and with increasing skill—I was allowed entry unharmed…when I was rushed, anxious, uncertain, and did not take the time to follow the guidelines that honored my bees, they mirrored back to me my own interior landscape—with less than pleasant consequences…they drew me into Sabbath time. Slowing me down… (Soul Tending, Journey Into the Heart of Sabbath, 37)
Thank you Collegeville, for allowing me to bring my worlds together!
I have yet to write that bee book…
Sometimes life hands you an unexpected gift. When it does, you may not recognize it as such at the beginning. You might even wonder if it is a gift.
Miraculously I was handed such a gift in the summer of 2017. Hanging out at the Farm where my bees are kept, it was the end of another very long day with our young farm interns. A young man showed up who clearly knew Lorenzo, the farmer. They greeted one another warmly, exchanged conversation, then Lorenzo beckoned me over.
He introduced me to Aidan, a young student at Amy Biehl High School—a charter school whose focus is based upon community service. Below is a short bio of this remarkable young woman’s life. Students at this school model their lives after her selfless service.
Amy Elizabeth Biehl (April 26, 1967 – August 25, 1993) was a white American graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa who was murdered by black Cape Town residents while a black mob shouted anti-white slurs. The four men convicted of her murder were released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Wikipedia)
Aidan wanted to do his senior project on bees and beekeeping. Lorenzo wondered whether I would be a bee mentor.
And so, we embarked upon a year together in the beeyard. At first, I may have been cautious to take on another student, wondering if I would have enough time and energy after the summer. But over time, it became clear that the payoffs outweighed any cons.
Aidan is smart, respectful, curious, and has made work in the beeyard so much easier and more fun for my 55 year old body! He began by doing what a good Buddhist teacher would call “Chop wood, carry water”. An apprentice to any practice or discipline must first do the hard work of keeping the fires going, food cooked, plates cleaned. Mastering the basics is a good foundation for grounding one’s higher aspirations of a spiritual path.
Knowledge acquisition, as in any spiritual path must be balanced with physical practice, or it just becomes a head trip. Aidan knows this well. He loves hands-on projects and excelled quickly in anything that would keep him engaged in the hive—from starting the smoker, to examining bars of comb, looking for the queen, feeding bees, cleaning hives, burning old diseased comb, carrying tools. He did it all.
For his final senior project, he chronicled his year of beekeeping…
Thank you Aidan, for a most excellent year of learning and bee support. Good luck on your way to New Mexico Tech and all the best in your endeavors. The world is awaiting your creative, intelligent, thoughtful and conscientious leadership.
You have learned to think like a bee, my friend. I will miss you in the beeyard.
Last week I attended the ABQ Beeks meeting, thronging with new and returning beekeepers. We heard about the nasties—varroa mites and American Foulbrood— by a special speaker. At the end of the presentation, he referred to honeybees as “livestock. My hackles went up.
The rise of industrial beekeeping, with the massive migration of hives around the country for pollination services, has contributed to the diseases and disservices we visit upon bees. Not only philosophically, how we think about them as “livestock”, but how we practice beekeeping. Most of their ailments are associated with crowding hives in the beeyard, trucking hives around the country, importation of new apis varieties that colonize native bees, bringing pestilence and disease and imposing chemicals that are harsh and toxic—a “thousand little cuts” according to Mark Winston, bee researcher/author.
In a brief conversation with my bee student after the meeting, I wondered aloud if it was helpful to see honeybees as livestock. Does it diminish this wild creature and draw us away from exploring their nature as a super organism? My student chimed in…”And it’s an insect”, indicating how very different this species is from humans. And yet, how alike we are as well. Superorganism, human, insect, fowl, fourfooted, finned—we all need clean air, water, food. We all need community.
In The Super Organism: The Beauty, Elegance and Strangeness of Insect Societies, Burt Holldobler and E.O. Wilson, Pulitizer Prize winning ant researchers, laid out the “extraordinary lives of social insects…these superorganisms—a tightly knit colony of individuals, formed by altruistic cooperation, complex communication, and division of labor”.
Thomas Seeley, bee researcher and head of the Department of Neurobiology at Cornell University, writes in his book, Honeybee Democracy, about the similarities between the neurons of a human brain and the inner workings of the whole hive collectively:
We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective… A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals, it is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole…Indeed, one can accurately think of a honeybee colony as a single living entity, weighing as much as 5 kilograms (10 pounds) and performing all of the basic physiological processes that support life: ingesting and digesting food, maintaining nutritional balance, circulating resources, exchanging respiratory gases, regulating water content, controlling body temperature, sensing the environment, deciding how to behave, and achieving locomotion. (David Dobbs, Science, 12-27-11)
How can we even imagine how to properly take care of a bee unless we learn to “think like a bee” (which in itself might just be arrogant hubris)—-or at least try more and more to attune to it’s true nature and needs, rather than superimposing our human will on bees for convenience, profit, pleasure and ignorance.
I was glad, in that moment, that my bee student had hung out long enough with me to understand what I hope to convey to future generations…a whole different lens by which to understand creaturely bee-ings of which we only play at stewarding and “keeping”. Truly, they have so much to teach us if we only would pay attention. listen. learn.
At the end of our Bee Meeting, we had a panel of beekeepers talking about the variety of ways they address the disaster of varroa mites in their hives. It ranged from “soft” treatments of essential oils, formic and oxalic acid…to other non-chemical ways of treating bees such as splitting colonies, the “sugar roll”, rotating old, dark brood comb out, and brood breaks.
I wondered if my approach of experimenting with essential oil was seen as “non scientific” and not-credible to some‚ though I cited varroa mite research from University of West Virginia and The University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. I’ve learned that essential oils such as oregano, spearmint, wintergreen, tea tree, thymol, are full of anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pest compounds that can support bees in strengthening their collective immune system, while killing mites in the brood. Herbs being an integral part of bee’s landscape, we can we capitalize on what they already harvest, or is native to their food system? It is less expensive than chemicals and yes, it takes some experimenting.
For me, to Think Like A Bee, is to ask, “what is the bees natural habitat?” and “What will be least toxic? How can I give them good health care without exposing them to harsh and intolerable living conditions?” It’s their home and their hive that I am exploiting in order to reap the rewards of their work.
We humans have much to admire in the the superorganism world.
And much to learn.