My grandfather kept bees. By the time I was a child, they had sold the farm and moved to a 2-acre parcel where my grandmother kept a kitchen garden and my grandfather kept bees.
A few years ago, when we started hearing about colony collapse disorder, I couldn’t help but think about my grandfather’s bees. I wondered vaguely if the problem might be coming from the industrialization of beekeeping operations. Maybe the variety of backyard beekeeping made for happier bees. There is a remarkable small company in Oregon – Bee Thinking – whose owners must have wondered the same thing.
My grandfather’s hives were behind the garage, an area immediately adjacent to the garden, which we tried to avoid when possible. But the early strawberries were at that end of the garden, a treat we enjoyed as much as the bees did. To give them a little extra pollen, my grandfather spent a few weeks each spring refusing to mow the large patch of clover that grew beyond the garden patch, to the occasional consternation of the neighbors.
There were less bees and hives later, as my grandfather grew older. But when I was a child, they were there, swirling eagerly around the necklaces we made out of clover stems. Grandpa packaged honey I thought was sort of off-putting, with flecks and bits of wax comb embedded. On hot toast, it was wonderful, when the waxy bits melted like butter and the honey tasted ever so slightly of berries.
This is why I love Bee Thinking. I’ve never met owner/founders Matt and Jill Reed, and I doubt I will ever keep bees of my own. They run an appealing operation that allows ordinary people to keep backyard bees. They design and sell beekeeping supplies and hives. They offer classes and advice and, if you have a swarm of bees forming on your property in the Portland area, they will come out and gently take them away. Their blog posts make bee-keeping sound like gratifying work, with a healthy balance of frustration and reward.
We’re living in a world where politicians never seem to stop and smell the clover. They can’t break away from the status quo of corporate finance to ask, “what’s really best to sustain us?” We do need to think about how our food crops are pollinated; we can’t wait until all the bees are gone. The efficiency that drives the pollinations of thousand-acre farms and million-gallon honey production doesn’t seem to be helping this insect species thrive.
That’s why Bee Thinking is remarkable, why home beekeeping is important to the world. Because if things are going to change, we need to save ourselves, one hive at a time.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dakiny/9066282060/