COVID 19 and Varroa

Years ago I met a man at a writing workshop who had also come under the enchanting spell of honeybees. He had begun to keep bees at a time when unbeknownst to the average beekeeper, a deadly scourge had begun to spread among the beehives.

During the winter of 2006-2007, some beekeepers began to report unusually high losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. As many as 50 percent of all affected colonies demonstrated symptoms inconsistent with any known causes of honey bee death:

**Sudden loss of a colony’s worker bee population with very few dead bees found near the colony.

**The queen and brood (young) remained, and the colonies had relatively abundant honey and pollen reserves.

As beekeepers would come to find out. Honeybee hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees and would eventually die. This combination of events resulting in the loss of a bee colony was called Colony Collapse Disorder.

The most immediate killer would eventually be identified as Varroa Mite, evidently imported from Asia, where bees had learned to adapt. But for the European honeybee, they were defenseless.

Though, as 40+ year bee researcher Mark Winston has said, it’s not just one thing that is killing the bees, it’s “a thousand little cuts”, including habitat pollution and destruction, chemicals and our industrialized agricultural system which assaults bees regularly with glyphosate/herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, GMO’s, and practices that destroy any natural habitat in lieu of big subsidized mono-crops such as corn, soy, barley, wheat, etc.

This man told me his story with tears in his eyes. Where he lived, in Ohio, state governments grappled with too little information and an increasing epidemic of hives infected with varroa mites(which literally attach to a baby bee in the nest and suck the juices out of them over their lifespan, causing parasitic wing deformation and other diseases). Without knowing what was infecting honeybees or how it could impact the bee industry, they finally advised all beekeepers to set their hives on fire to stop the spread.

The man told me of his young son who eagerly asked to go with his dad that day to visit the hives. When the father told him to stay home and why, the child bravely said he “wanted to be with the bees”, even in their hour of death. They wept together as the father sealed the hives and poured gasoline on the hives and set them on fire.

Today, I can hardly bear to write this story. It makes my heart ache and my stomach churn.

As beekeepers, we know the rest of the story…

We no longer destroy our hives. We have learned to live with the decimation of our hives, the 40-55% losses each winter. We have learned to get back up each Spring and try again with what we have left. Honeybees continue to fly and swarm and pollinate—though there are way fewer.

The race is on. Can honeybees evolve and even adapt to mitigate all the disastrous things they face from human practices, lowered immune systems and the dreaded varroa mites? Can bee research make genetic advances that will assist?

Varroa is no different than COVID 19 virus. It is the to the bee family what the Bubonic plague, SARS or MERS or any epidemic virus has been to humanity. The global family, like the honeybees of the 20th century, is rendered defenseless against such potent viruses. They come as silent killers, invisible initially to the eye, but it can take apart the whole Hive. Viruses, like varroa, are clever and adaptable and mutational.

In this COVID 19 pandemic, like the Varroa mite, when human governments don’t know what we’re dealing with, the worst possible measures or lack of measures, are first applied.

black flat screen tv showing 20 00

What, I wonder, is the wisdom of the hive, the ability to Think Like A Bee, in our own hour of a deadly scourge for the global human family? As we will increasingly face what bees and other creatures have already faced due to the absolute degradation of our environment, what can we learn?

I have more questions than answers these days…but I have observed a few things from my years of being mentored by the bees.

We are all interconnected. For many years now, beekeepers have been saying, “Bees are the canaries in the mine”. Actually all living beings have been mirroring back to us signs and signals of what is coming…what is visited on one planetary community member will eventually affect us all. We are not immune from each other’s ills. In a sense, the future is here. All the assaults and insults we have visited upon our planetary immune system have ravaged not only her, but the immune response of all creatures and beings that depend upon her. Climate change and pathogen spillover is real, according to Dr. Michelle Barry of Stanford Global Health Center. Climate change, deforestation and changing ecology is happening. Animal and human ecology is colliding as humans invade and dismantle ecological communities.

Hive mind is the only way through this. We can no longer act as isolated entities. Actually, we must work as inter-species, humans and the natural world, acting together to solve the ills assailing us. I have tried to assist my bees to strengthen their immune system as a hive, I have tried to mitigate the varroa and other terrifying assaults on bees by keeping them in places where farming practices are organic and life affirming. Where all life is honored. Not just humans. How can we as humans listen to our natural systems for wisdom — how they are organized, their resilience and adaptation? How can we listen to other human communities besides our own tribal affiliations as we seek answers together?

Collaboration. Whether viruses or varroa, we have the information together to help and heal the whole. Think Funghi and bacteria. The plant and living organism world has answers for us, and we as humans can offer safe harbor for all living beings from our backyards to our agricultural, forests and wilderness areas. We can act with deep respect and reverence in relationship with the rich biotic community that we humans live within. We are only one building block of the whole network. We all depend upon the web of life.

Gratitude. In a time of COVID 19, everything we receive is abundance. Sharing and not hoarding is critical. I am humbly aware that the gifts of the hive are ostensibly free of charge. Honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, even stings to boost my immune system. Yet, without gratitude, I will exploit, take for granted, take more than my share and not understand that these gifts are not free, ultimately. They require bee size back-breaking work and commitment from the hive to be sustainable for the whole community.

Social Distancing in the hive is not possible with honeybees. They literally live on top of one another and swap spit regularly. But we have learned that too many bees crammed into beeyards with poor conditions, lead to sharing of parasitic mite disease, mites and all kinds of other diseases. Spacing out hives allows them room to be healthy and safe, to thrive. It is a paradigm shift for how we care for our human communities—that we all become “haves” of good housing, healthcare, community resources, clean air, water and food.

The good news is, I still get to visit my bees, and actually all of nature is open to visitors in this time of social quarantining, or “cloistering” as my pastor calls it. It’s a good time to think together about this “new normal”. It is a time of paying attention and being more deeply present to our interior lives and our families, our neighbors. It is a time to put into place new practices as a human family. One that honors all living communities.

First Day of Spring

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.”                                                                                              – E. O. Wilson

Photo by Oleg Magni on

Welcome Spring!

It is the season of crocuses, bee swarms, longer days and the return of the migrating birds.

Even as we are quarantined and more and more isolated from our daily human connections and habits, earth still awaits us. There is solace in green spaces and with the wild ones.

I visited my bee hives this past week. I determined that 5 of 7 were indeed gone. I harvested the honey and cleaned the hives and celebrated the bursting bees in the south valley. They are my hope.

So, even as all of our worlds have shrunk, driving us to become relentlessly local, I’m also finding it has expanded with new ideas and creative imaginings for how to live in these times. With colleagues, friends and family, I am finding hope as we birth new strategies for this Great Turning…a shift from an Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization.

I want to close with the words from Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).

A doctor of the church, she wrote about something called Veriditas or “greening power“. Also known as Saint Hildegard and the Sibyl of the Rhine, she was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mysticvisionary, and polymath.[1][2] She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most-recorded in modern history.[3] She has been considered by many in Europe to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.[4] (Wikipedia) 

Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly. 

The earth is at the same time mother, She is mother of all that is natural

Mother of all that is human.

She is the mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all.

Glance at the sun, see the moon and the stars.Gaze at the beauty of Earth’s greenings.

Now think, what delight God gives to humankind with all these things

All nature is at the disposal of humankind

we are to work with her

For without her we cannot survive.

Bee well and keep your eyes and heart open to the miracles of “greening power”.

Springtime bee friendly tips

Reducing Pesticide Use & Impacts

Thank you Bee City USA/Xerces Society, for this invaluable and timely article.

A small lady beetle climbs amidst flower stems, with a blurred yellow blossom in the background.

(Photo: Xerces Society / Jennifer Hopwood)

The vast majority of invertebrates serve vitally important roles in a healthy environment, including controlling pests, pollinating flowering plants, and providing food for other wildlife. Only a very small number of invertebrates are pests. Yet, the pesticides designed to control unwanted plants and animals rarely distinguish between beneficial invertebrates and those which cause harm. All too often pesticides cause unintended consequences and disrupt the natural systems that sustain us. But, because pesticides are valued for their toxicity to pests, the risks they pose are often accepted⁠—even when healthier, more sustainable options are available.

As part of the Xerces Society’s conservation efforts we strive to reduce reliance on pesticides by supporting the diverse systems that reduce pest problems. Xerces’ staff is sought after to translate complex science so that farmers, backyard gardeners, agency staff, and policy makers can make informed decisions about pesticide use and regulation. And by providing on-the-ground technical support we are increasing the adoption of ecologically sound pest management practices everywhere.

Introduction to Pesticides & Alternatives

Understanding Pesticides & Their Risks

Ecological Pest Management

Reducing Pesticide Impacts in Your Landscape

Balance pest management with protecting pollinators, beneficial insects, and other important invertebrates and their habitat.

Working Lands

Working Lands

Yards & Gardens

Yards & Gardens

Roadsides & Rights-of-Way

Roadsides & Rights-Of-Way

Cities & Towns

Cities & Towns

Natural Lands

Natural Lands



A little New Year Bee love

Think Like a Bee, a bee education and advocacy non-profit (501(c)3 based in Albuquerque, will host a fun(d) raiser at the Flying Star restaurant on Rio Grande, in Albuquerque, NM this Thursday, 4-8pm!

Come on down with your family and enjoy a meal and a little Bee Love! 10% of all proceeds will come to support the work we are doing.

There will be a Raffle, face painting, ways to help bees and fun stuff for families!

Here’s the invite…pass it on!

Here’s some of the good stuff we’ve been up to…

2015-2017 we secured grants to offer youth summer organic farming interns and mentoring on growing good food and the importance of pollinators.

In 2016 we successfully petitioned the City of Albuquerque and unanimously passed a pollinator protection resolution, Burque Bee City, working with CABQ,  neighborhoods, schools and the public on best ways to support healthy pollinators

2018-2019 we worked with UNM Taos Digital Media Arts program and students to create a Rio Grande Documentary with local farmers and Indigenous leaders, on best practices to conserve pollinator habitat for a healthy food future

Today we are taking our documentary on the road! We continuing to educate and advocate about habitat conservation and best bee practices, ways everyone can help keep our air, water, soil and food healthy for all pollinators and seven generations.

Love Life in all its Myriad Forms

Sandia Crest, New Mexico, January 2, 2020

When you fall in love with being alive,
life loves you back. What doesn’t love
to be loved? What doesn’t feel humbled
and ecstatic with the luck of not being left
unrequited? Love the sun and it lets you see
its green and growing edge moving through
the darkest human history like a forest moves
renewed across an ashen void. Falling in love
smooths flaws, sees genius in oddity, morphs
blemishes and bulges into sweet slopes and curves,
restores trust and withers grudges with just
the fascination, the single focus of adoring curiosity. And life itself
always knows it, and gives you back all it’s got.

V. B. Price, Christmas Poem 2019 Mercury Messenger

We face a new year and a new decade. 2020 is apt. We need new vision—clear sight and updated eyeglasses for times such as this. As we head into 2020, I wish you a love affair with all the non-human, created world. Learn about earth’s mind blowing mysteries. Revel in creaturely wisdom. Behold beauty in everything. Teach your children and beloveds.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”

(Baba Dioum, Senegalese Forestry Engineer, 1968.)
Image result for images bee on rose

I’ve found that poetry and image are the forms that can cut quickly to the chase— what is most essential. Here is Life in all its Myriad Forms in the carefully distilled words of the poets heart…and the eyes of the photographer.

What is this dark hum among the roses?

        The bees have gone simple, sipping,

that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?

        They’re small creatures and they are

filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not

        moan in happiness? The little

worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.

        Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand

that life is a blessing. I have found them-haven’t you?

        stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings

a little tattered—so much flying about, to the hive,

        then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,

should the task be to be a scout –sweet, dancing bee.

        I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t

admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I

        haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,

and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and

        read books, I have to

take them off and bend close to study and

        understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact

as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,

        it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee

nuzzling like that into the blouse

        of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course

the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over

        all of us.

Hum, by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,

but with stars in their black feathers,

they spring from the telephone wire

and instantly

they are acrobats

in the freezing wind.

And now, in the theater of air,

they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;

they float like one stippled star

that opens,

becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;

and you watch

and you try

but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it

with no articulated instruction, no pause,

only the silent confirmation

that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin

over and over again,

full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,

even in the ashy city.

I am thinking now

of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots

trying to leave the ground,

I feel my heart

pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.

I want to be light and frolicsome.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,

as though I had wings.

Starlings in Winter – Mary Oliver (from: Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays)
Image result for images starlings
a murmuration of starlings

I look out into my front yard and see dead bees mounting up on the ground around one hive. I fear they haven’t survived the frigid 20 degree temps. I see the Roadrunner as a shadow in the distance, patiently waiting for me to exit so he can swoop in for a feast of bee protein.

If my bees have survived, the queen is already laying eggs deep in the dark, dank hive —preparing a new brood of baby female worker bees who emerge when the temps release their iron grip and the spring flowers beckon.

Here’s to a new year, filled with the peace of wild things, and the ability to see with new sight, to carry out our work in community, dismantling the old and creating anew.

Nada Retreat Center, Crestone, CO

To Die or Reset

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.

To fix a laying worker hive you have to suppress worker ovaries.

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”.

Wisdom among many beekeepers is to dump the whole hive out in the yard and disorient the hive, hopefully dissuading the virgin bee that is dead set on a royal title.

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.

Queen Bee

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 come

Greta 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.

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)


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.