Because this was was the first blog entry I did for this website, I decided to go back to the beginning and explain how I “discovered” bees and then decided to write a book about them. The information below is excerpted from an essay I wrote for The Wall Street Journal that answers these questions:
“Until recently, the faintest sound of a bee would put me on high alert, ready to run for cover once it (or rather, she, as I recently learned) buzzed into view. But last fall, on a beautiful clear morning in Lancaster County, Pa., I found myself standing in the midst of a swarm of honeybees, two of them crawling up the arm of my sweater and one, I was pretty sure, walking around in my hair. Ten feet away was a hive, with more bees sunning themselves on a narrow landing board.
I wasn’t wearing the protective netting or gloves that one associates with beekeepers. I was calmly talking with the hive’s owner, whom I had driven out from Philadelphia to see. I wanted to understand what beekeeping was all about. One of the things he told me was that if you don’t make any moves that might startle the bees, don’t get in their flight path and don’t act like you are afraid they will sting you, then (most likely) they won’t.
It was a big moment for me, and it started out almost by accident when my brother dropped off a jar of honey produced by two hives in his backyard. Since the honey was better than any I had bought in a store, I showed some interest in his hives, from a distance.
The next week, I noticed a listing in our local newspaper for a beekeeping demonstration at a nearby nature habitat. I decided to go, if only to buy more honey. I got, not stung, but hooked—captivated by these tiny insects, whose social order is spectacularly efficient and complex.
For example, I now know that the career of a female worker bee spans many jobs, from nursemaid to forager, wax producer to water carrier. I know that individual bees will fly up to nine miles in search of nectar, and that they can convey a flower bed’s location to their fellow bees just by the way they flap their wings and wiggle their tails. I know how a beekeeper at a county fair is able to attract a huge cluster of bees to his upper body to form what looks like a bee beard, and I know the steps that will follow when a package of honeybees arrives from the U.S. Postal Service, ready to set up shop (build honeycomb) in their new home.
A Glimpse of the Future
Beekeepers are intriguing in their own right, a clannish culture as likely to practice their rituals on the roofs of New York City apartment buildings as in suburban backyards and rural pastures. They tend their bees with the intensity and love of a mother looking after her brood (my brother calls the bees his “girls”) and they worry constantly about the health of their hives—ingenious, multilayered structures that house thousands of worker (female) bees, up to a couple of hundred lazy drones (male bees) and the all important queen.
I have no plans to be a beekeeper myself. It requires a constant awareness of the bees’ seasonal cycle, and lack of attention can mean losing the hive. But I have considered writing a book about the beekeeping…”
And here it is: “Bees on the Roof.” I hope you like it.