Learning from the Bees

Lost Hive
October 3, 2014, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A lost a hive this fall.  They swarmed late in the summer.  I thought that they were raising a new queen and I didn’t act.  The hive was weak and the wax moths destroyed what was left.

This shouldn’t be a big deal…it’s one hive of several.  Every beekeeper knows that hives are vulnerable. It happens…but it comes in the midst of a lot of dying.  A dog.  A friend.  A friend’s dog.  A respected former colleague. Too much dying.

Cleaning up the hive is a chore.  Beekeepers will tell you that it’s worth saving the comb that you can.  Building comb is hard work.  The next colony can build up faster, work more efficiently, produce more quickly on drawn comb.  Wait too long and there isn’t much to salvage.

My indecisiveness cost me the colony.  I don’t want it to cost me the whole of the hive.

The lesson I guess is that part of the mourning process is the clean up.  The painful process of purging. Facing the reality that life is about starting over sometimes…seeing the value in the past while trying to ensure that the remains of the colony secure the future of the next.


July 20
July 20, 2014, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This morning.

I buried my dog.

Five feet by five feet by five feet.

Cleaned up the kennel.

Tossed the doggie diapers.

The uneaten food.

The meds.

All the while thinking

He’d really like a long walk

and to sit

watching birds…

Housekeeper Bees
July 8, 2014, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A few days ago I took my house guest out to check the hives.  We have a good nectar flow at this point and I wanted to make sure that the girls didn’t need additional storage space. 

While out, I picked a hive and did a quick hive inspection tour to show my guest, a non-beekeeper, what was going on inside.  I chose my first hive as it’s been a very productive one this year.  (After a couple of years of messing too much with Mother Nature, I just let that hive go this year and the girls are going strong…)  

While we were looking at the hive, I mentioned the housekeeper bees.  My guest asked me about bee jobs and how they know what to do, et al.  I paused for a moment or two and fumbled with an answer akin to “they just do…and when they mature they do the next thing…and so on…”  Then, distracted by an aggressive guard bee I lost my train of thought and never finished the conversation.

As I was driving back to work after taking my guest to the airport this morning, my thoughts drifted back to the bees…they just do…and then when they need to do something else…they do that… They seemingly live their lives and serve in whatever way they are called to serve at that point in their life cycle and they don’t wonder why.  Somehow God has instilled in them an internalized understanding of vocation and a natural resiliency in the face of change.

In less than a month, two dear friends, both more competent than most, have lost jobs unexpectedly and seemingly through no fault of their own–just the life cycle of the organization. Two friends, my age and far healthier than most, have been diagnosed with cancer for the first time and had (or are having) surgery.  Another friend, several years my junior and more resilient than most, has had her cancer reoccur and is facing some hard challenges and life choices. While the bees move seamlessly from place to place and role to role…  Human life transitions…but not so simple or so fluid as life in the hive and hardly seamless.  May God grant us the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference…and just do…

Cleansing Flight
May 16, 2014, 7:18 pm
Filed under: Bee Management

In winter, when the days and nights are frightfully cold, the bees huddle.  It’s a way to protect any brood that may exist and they stay warm.  When there comes a day of warm weather, they venture out.  It’s colloquially called a cleansing flight.  I am told that’s a Victorian term, much nicer than anything we would have come up with in the 21st Century, for a trip out to eliminate the waste that builds up in their systems during months of hibernation.  They go as far away from the hive as is feasible and release.  Then they can return to the hive and do what they need to do to make it to the next warm day.

In life and in work, I think sometimes that people need a cleansing flight as well.  Not for the precise reasons that bees needs theirs, our constitutions are not such that we would develop illness much faster than the bees were we to literally follow their lead; but figuratively.  Work is good and good people work hard even in challenging times, but sometimes a trip away is good:  a cleansing flight to a place where it’s safe and healthy to let it all out.  As for the bees, it’s not always possible, so timing is critical.  But when one has the chance, like the bees, one needs to take it.

Queen Failure
April 21, 2014, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Bee Management, Uncategorized

In the last couple of weeks, as a beekeeper, I’ve been inspecting hives to see how well colonies are fairing as winter ends and spring commences. One of the spring tasks is to determine if the queen is actively laying and what changes in leadership, if any, need to be made in order for the colony to survive. The ideal situation is to find that one has an active, healthy, fertile queen. At this time of the year the beekeeper sees evidence that she started laying already in late winter and has a brood chamber full of soon to be worker bees ready to emerge and a pattern of newly deposited eggs ready to be fed, capped and nurtured as the season goes on.

In a worse case scenario, a beekeeper opens the hive to realize that the queen has been gone for some time and without her presence in the early spring the hive is too weak to survive without drastic steps. The beekeeper needs to combine what’s left of the colony with another queened colony and hope that the two can meld into one strong colony or write off the loss and start over completely. Combining colonies is a last ditch effort to save a colony weakened by climate, loss of resources or failure in leadership. It’s far from the ideal and it’s not what any beekeeper wishes to be doing in spring when nectar is about to flow and the bees should be gearing up for heavy production. Sometimes, though, it’s all we can do.

Often, though, the reality of spring is somewhere in between. The once healthy hive is in trouble not because of a catastrophic failure in leadership–just a gradual decline. For a variety of reasons, some biological and some environmental, a strong queen is now failing. She’s simply unable to produce consistently. The survival of the colony rests in a change of leadership. In many cases, the beekeeper will pinch off the failing queen and and bring a strong new queen in to keep the colony alive and strong. It’s harsh, but the hive simply doesn’t make it with an ineffective leader–the worker bees, no matter how industrious, can’t reproduce without a good queen, and reproduction is critical to production.The bees themselves understand this. If the beekeeper doesn’t do it, a strong colony will do it themselves. When a queen is failing, healthy worker bees will realize that the queen is in trouble. Without any intervention at all, they will begin the process of rearing a new queen and raising her to take over.

Work is not so very different from this. Leadership is critical to the survival of an organization. And a leader who may have raised up a growing organization, may not be the leader who sustains it into the next season.

Until The Nectar Flow
April 4, 2014, 5:52 pm
Filed under: Bee Management, Uncategorized

We’ve had a long winter. For the most part, the girls have done well. Bees, like good, solid employees, don’t need a lot of attention, even in winter. They do their jobs. They hunker down and do what they need to do in order to keep the organization alive until the nectar flow starts. That said, after some winter loss last year, I was careful to wrap my hives this year to give my girls a little extra coverage from the brutality of the current climate. And I did take to feeding the hives fondant last month.

Even industrious workers need support and supplement when we are in a long cold spell. A good beekeeper knows that. Even the strongest hive weakens in winter. It’s a natural part of the business. The queen becomes more conservative in her laying. That means fewer young bees. The workers age. They get tired. Honey stores get depleted. The beekeeper watches. She doesn’t step in unless required. But when she sees that they are running out of fuel, she provides a little candy…just enough to keep them going until the nectar flow starts again. Then she steps back realizing that spring is just around the corner.

Spring Weeding
March 23, 2014, 1:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Shallow rooted grasses
New perennial weeds
Annoyances, not threats

Tap roots
Drill deep
Steal water…life…
Show themselves
Where flowers ought to be.