“The town in which I live is very small. All the other farmers raise pigs and cattle, and making a living from bees does give them something to talk about down at the cafe other than fescue foot and the price of pork bellies. Cows and pigs are large animals, and the farmers keep track of them by putting a numbered ear tag on each beast’s ear. It tickles their fancies that someone can make a living with a bunch of wild bugs who can’t be penned and marked, but who fly everywhere, unruly but helpful, pollinating plants and making honey.”
— Sue Hubbell
A Book of Bees
It is in the heat of summer that I can’t help but stop to consider the honey bees.
Love ’em or hate ’em, we would all certainly be in a mess without them. Respect is what all of those worker bees have earned, but rarely get. Unless you are a beekeeper or know one well, it is easy to take the work of bees for granted.
Sue Hubbell wrote several books during her years of living in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri. She kept about 300 hives, some on her own farm and others in the surrounding farm country. She would pay other farmers rent in the form of a gallon of honey a year, and grew to know them all well.
The farmers grew to like the honey, but liked having the bees on their farm land even better, as the clover in their pastures grew “more luxuriant because the bees are there to pollinate it, and the vegetables in their gardens and the fruit on their trees benefit from the bees, too.
“My best and most productive beeyards, however, are those near towns, because townspeople plant flowers and water both their flowers and clover-scattered lawns, providing the bees with a constant supply of fresh blossoms to secrete nectar which they turn into honey,” Hubbell writes.
In this dry summer, so many things concern us: the threat of fire, the fear of crop failure, the oppressing heat drying up the creeks and tributaries and our drinking water supplies. We don’t often think about the honey bees and how much their survival is tied to moisture, and how much their work is tied to plant proliferation.
Hubbell writes, “The ranch hands and I started talking weather because it is of real concern to all of us. It determines their hay crop and my honey crop. In 1980, a year of searing drought, I was able to harvest only six thousand pounds of honey from my three hundred hives and lost bees to starvation in midsummer.
“In another year, when the rains came at the right time, those same three hundred hives gave me thirty-three thousand pounds.
“So we talk weather. We talk hay. We talk bees. We talk farm prices and shake our heads sadly.”
Bees play a large part in our farming world, but their work is needed everywhere. New York’s Central Park relies on many city beekeepers to keep the beauty and balance thriving.
Mature adult bees are protein feeders, thriving on nectar and honey. But young bees need protein to develop, and it is pollen that supplies it.
I have come to know several people who work hard at keeping bees, and know others who receive bee venom therapy for arthritis and other health issues, and it is just another statement for the amazing power of nature, and man’s ability to play a part in the give and take of it all.
We need to keep in mind that bees often struggle, even on a good year, since overgrown, unused pastures filled with wild mint, sweet clover and wildflowers are becoming a thing of the past. Fence rows are kept neat and weed-free in many areas, a fact that has cut out good sources of nectar for bees.
So, plant some wildflowers and let them go. The bees will thank you, and will certainly pay you back in all sorts of ways!