Children’s fiction about honey bees is rare and this gem from 1957 is hard to find. A Swarm in June by Rosemary Garland is a charming junior novel that beautifully combines bee lore with childhood wonder. Seven year old Jonathan finds a wild swarm in June (‘worth a silver spoon’) but a visiting cousin is scared of bees. It takes an attack by a stoat to unite the cousins in the end. It’s an innocent tale and the bee wisdom is timeless: beating a gong to attract a swarm; tracking bees with thistledown; and ‘telling the bees’ about important events in our lives. Best of all is the way the boy is so comfortable around the bees.
Archive for the ‘Bees’ Category
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour – Isaac Watts
For a long life, breakfast daily on honey. – Pythagoras
Human beings have fabricated the illusion that they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to 7 billion people. – Achim Steiner
Life is all one – as big as the world and as small as a honey bee. – Hattie Ellis
Bees … their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. – Ray Bradbury
We have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light. – Jonathan Swift
The comb of the hive bee is absolutely perfect. – Charles Darwin
‘Neonicotinoids’ … a clunky word, but one that everybody should know. They (‘neonics’ for short) are the most widely used insecticides in the world – they’re now found in almost every managed landscape from farms to home gardens (and use is increasing rapidly). Neonics are non-targeted (ie.lazy) pest control: they’re usually coated on seeds and the poison stays in the plant as it grows. And the residue can remain in plant tissue, pollen, soil and water for years – it’s these residues that can kill beneficial wildlife: bees, birds, soil creatures and helper insects. That makes neonics a threat to our food supply because:
- Bees and other pollinators directly provide much of our food
- Soil creatures (worms, microbes) are vital for soil health
- Helper insects (predatory and parasitic species) provide natural pest control
Why would we want to harm any of these? The EU has put a two year ban on neonics (because of damage to bees)but they are still used in NZ and are available to the public. Let’s ask garden and hardware shops to stop selling them (Placemakers and The Warehouse have recently withdrawn them) and the EPA to ban them.
Honey, Nature’s Golden Healer by Gloria Havenhand is a superb book that deftly balances bee science, beekeeping expertise, folklore and health tips. Honey is more than just another spread for your toast:
‘Most people know very little about honey and its healing powers… Research has shown honey deserves to move into the serious league for healing.’
I thought I knew every fascinating fact about honey but I found many new insights here:
- Beeswax is made by bees only 10 to 18 days old who consume about 10 kg of honey to make 1 kg of wax.
- A little honey before bedtime fuels the brain overnight because the live stores the sugar (fructose).
- Raw honey is best to eat. Most supermarket honey is treated which removes vitamins, anti-bacterials and pollen nutrients.
- Always scrape out the honey jar – that last 1/10 of teaspoon represents the honey collected by one bee in her entire lifetime.
City life can distance people from nature and from the consequences of environmental damage. One solution is to bring nature to people’s door-steps, such as bringing beehives into the city. Murray and Heidi Rixon rent beehives into home gardens. They visit the hives regularly and teach their clients how to manage the bees and provide protective bee suits for the whole family. People can choose their degree of involvement with the hives and most are very keen to learn.
They say the Rentahive business has a ”massive feel-good factor” and people are driven by the urge to do something positive and proactive about the bee crisis. Customers are also excited to get a share of the honey. Murray and Heidi have just launched a schools’ project to teach children about bees. The children can partake in beehive construction, help with care of the hive and honey extraction.
There are many benefits having hives in an urban setting: bees get a longer flowering season and a wider variety of pollen/nectar sources; gardens are well-pollinated; honey flavours are unique; and best of all, people more fully engage with the environment.
A female bee lives for only about six weeks in summer. But it’s a life lived to the full because she’s constantly changing jobs: from cleaner to babysitter, builder, honey-chef, queen-groomer, guard, forager, undertaker and scout. Here is the diary of a teen bee:
Week 1 Dear Diary, So unfair! The work started the moment I hatched. I had to clean out my birth cell (ew!), then spend the whole week tidying the rest of the hive. My older sisters call me a ‘house bee’ and say I’m not allowed outside ‘til I’m 21 days. And I’m like, no way sister!
Week 2 Dear Diary, Yay! I’m a babysitter. The babies are sooo cute but totally exhausting. I have to check them 1300 times a day (okay, call me obsessive) to make sure they’re okay. Meanwhile the comb cleaning goes on 4EVAH…
Week 3 Dear Diary, I’ve graduated to building honeycomb, and I have to admit my hexagons are pretty groovy. I make honey in my so-called spare time – when I’m not still CLEANING!! Celebrated my 21st with my first flight and harvested nectar from flowers – it’s such a sweet job!
In the 1960s, Jane Goodall was criticised for saying chimpanzees have emotions. Today the evidence suggests she’s right, although scientists remain wary of anthropomorphism (associating human traits with animals). Of course animals don’t see the world exactly we do, but we shouldn’t ignore what we have in common with them:
Anthropo-denial: A blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other animals, or the animal-like characteristics of ourselves. – F. de Waal
The weight of scientific evidence is that animal have thoughts, feelings and intelligence – animals are not mere ‘survival machines’. It’s now accepted that humans and animals share many traits, and Marc Bekoff (The Emotional Lives of Animals) even suggests some anthropomorphism is inevitable. This all fits nicely with evolution which teaches us animals are our relatives and all life is connected. Forgetting this relationship has led to the honey bee crisis, for example, as people have treated bees as tools rather than partners in pollination.
Acknowledged as individuals, those sparrows, salamanders and squirrels are not interchangeable parts of a species machine. They are beings with their own inner lives and experiences. – Brandon Keim (Animal Consciousness)
A little anthropomorphism can help give children empathy with the natural world. When writing Flight of the Honey Bee I wanted accurate science yet also a sense of a bee’s experience. Should I use human concepts such as ‘know’, ‘remember’, captivate’, and ‘story’? Should I even call the bees ‘sisters’? The answer was yes. Honey bees have language, intelligence, and memory (and maybe something like emotions); and they’re more genetically sisters than humans.
They are not us, but to look into their eyes is to know that someone is in there. Imposing our own specific thoughts and feelings on that someone is in one sense too imaginative, in presuming he could receive the world in the way we do, and in another not imaginative enough, in not opening our minds to the full possibilities of his difference.- Caitrin Nicol (Do Elephants Have Souls?)
1. The bee and its place in history: article by Claire Preston, author of new book, Bee.
The bee is the only creature on the planet that is a true creative artisan. It gathers materials and transforms them to make not only architecture but food.– Claire Preston
2. The Trouble With Beekeeping in the Anthropocene: summary of Time Magazine’s feature on bees.
We are a species that increasingly has omnipotence without omniscience. – Bryan Walsh
Daleks exterminate, and humans do too:
We’re killing the bees, who make our food.
Bees make us honey, and food for free,
But Daleks love bees, so why can’t we?
Perhaps it’s because the Daleks have a ‘hive mind’, a collective consciousness – like honey bees which communicate by smell, touch, and democratic systems.
Listen to the Dalek High Commander speak:
Honey bees are the glue that holds our agricultural system together…Hannah Nordhaus
This handsome, respectful volume deserves a place on the shelf … it succeeds in accurately dramatizing honeybee behavior. – Kirkus Reviews
Flight of the Honey Bee review by artist, Claire Beynon:
“Given the state of our environment, the sooner we introduce our children to bees – to their intelligence, their intricate behaviour and increasing vulnerability – the better. Flight of the Honey Bee is the perfect book to do this, combining as it does Raymond Huber’s careful language and well-researched text with Brian Lovelock’s meticulously observed paintings. Cleverly formatted, fiction and non-fiction – story and fact – are woven together as two discreet yet interconnected strands: young readers can choose their flight path.
Exquisite to look at and a pleasure to explore.
Scout the bee – named after the feisty protagonist in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird – and her tightly-knit community of hardworking bees demonstrate these small creatures’ importance in the pollinaton of plants and the well-being of our planet. Flight of the Honey Bee is about bee behavior but it will also teach children about subtler things; wonder, beauty, the value of group functioning and collaborative effort, reproduction, risk, courage, the joys of flight – those rhythms and principles essential for any thriving community. The hum of the parts.
This book has all the essentials of a satisfying story: it asks questions and it informs. It invites observation and participation. There’s drama. Suspense. Conflict. Danger. Hope. And a happy ending. At the close of her adventure, Scout is a wily-er bee than she was when she set out from her hive on her first nectar-seeking adventure. As all characters must, she grows through her experiences. We come to care about her and her safe passage home.
Visually, Flight of the Honey Bee is exquisite to look at and a pleasure to explore – each double page spread is as stunning as the one preceding it. It will be immediately appealing to young readers. I was struck by how beautifully integrated the text and images are; they belong together like honey and honeycomb. The language is tender and witty (the line about ‘sun-powder’ is a wonderful change from ‘gun-powder’); and the paintings – a combination of watercolour, acrylic ink and coloured pencils – are spectacular; compositionally bold, delicate, exuberant and information-rich. Looking at them through my adult eyes, I can’t help thinking about fractals, the mathematics inherent in nature, the ever-present background dialogue between shape and sound, pattern and colour. Children will pore over them. And they will love Scout for her feisty resourcefulness.
- Beebuzz: Flowers have small electric fields that bees can detect and use to distinguish the flowers with the best nectar.
- Beespresso: Several types of flower have traces of caffeine in their nectar which bees are more attracted to than flowers without.
- Beetox: Honey detoxifies bees by triggering genes for making anti-microbial chemicals.
- Beefriend: Bees use their right antenna to tell friend from foe: it has more of the smell sensing hairs on it than the left antenna.
- Beestill: Even non-fatal amounts of pesticides will eventually fatally erode a beehive.
In late autumn the male bees (drones) were pushed outside the hive to die. The female worker bees can’t afford the honey to feed them all. Now it’s winter, the large bee family has hunkered down. They huddle in a tight ball which traps the heat of their bodies. It’s amazing that even when it’s way below zero outside, bees can keep the cluster at around 35 ̊C (95˚F). To adjust their temperature, bees vibrate their wing muscles and constantly change places with each other within the huddle. This close cooperation means bees can control the temperature and survive in cold climates. They eat honey in winter and on the odd fine day the bees fly outside to poo, as is their hygienic habit.
This is a victory for the precautionary principle, which is supposed to underlie environmental regulation.– Dr Lynn Dicks
The EU has banned the nerve agent that has been contributing to honey bee decline around the world. The scientific evidence against these extremely toxic nicotine-based pesticides has grown steadily. Honey bees have contributed to our survival for the past 20,000 years and it’s time we showed them similar courtesy. These banned pesticides are still widely used on NZ crops (eg.corn) and sold to the public in garden centres (eg. the Confidor brand). Bee photo by Sophie Huber.
There are other way to deal with pests without harming bees:
It is high time we returned to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – an approach focussed on minimising pesticide use, maximising the number of biological control agents, using cultural controls such as crop rotations, and monitoring pest numbers so that chemical controls only need be applied when there is a problem.– Prof David Goulson
A Bee in a Cathedral by Joel Levy is a fascinating book of science analogies and astonishing numbers. Suitable for all ages, only the physics section is a bit complex. A few of my favourites factoids:
- Every day 1 million meteoroids strike the Earth.
- Travelling in a rocket at 250,000km/h, it would take you 18,000 years to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.
- Most of the living cells in your body are less than a month old.
- About 50 million neutrinos are passing through you now.
- Every molecule in a glass of water is changing partners billions of times a second.
- How hard does your heart work? Empty a bathtub in 15 minutes using only a teacup —do this without stopping for the rest of your life.
If an atom were blown up to the size of a cathedral, the nucleus would be no larger than a bee buzzing about in the centre.
Saint Nicholas was born about 280 AD into a rich family. When his parents died he used his wealth to help the poor and sick, often giving gifts in secret. He became a Christian bishop and was imprisoned by the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. Nicholas is the Patron Saint of Greece and the model for Santa Claus. Saints were known as ‘Divine Bees’ because honey was a symbol of God’s grace – honey was often given as a gift to children on St. Nicholas’ Day.
Picture: a painting of St. Nicholas from 1294 AD
Bees and humans are partners: we can’t survive without their pollinating skill; bees can’t survive without a clean world. Keep the partnership alive by donating to:
1. Bees For Development: combats poverty through beekeeping. Teaches beekeeping skills in poor communities; providing income and boosting the environment. Their patron is Sting, naturally (Photo: Paolo Roversi). Informative website too: Bees For Development.
2. Oxfam: Plan B helps struggling women in Ethiopia take up beekeeping and earn a living.
3. Tear Fund: The Bees Knees fund helps a family start a beekeeping business with a beehive and training.
Honey bees have six (girl) powers to beat any comic super hero, and a few super villains. Every decent super hero has only one weakness; for bees it’s also their only defence: when a bee stings, it dies.
1. Super Flyers
Like Superman, bees are great flyers. A bee flies about 1000 km in her life. If she was human sized, that’d be like going five times around the planet. And she can carry 122 times her own weight.
2. Super Attractors
Like Magneto, honey bees use magnetism and electricity. They have their own navigational GPS thanks to millions of magnetic crystals inside them to sense the Earth’s magnetic field. Bees also have a negative electrical charge (static) which attracts positively charged pollen to their furry bodies.
3. Super Therms
Like Torch and Mr Freeze, bees cope with extreme temperatures. In the heat, air- conditioner bees fan their wings to cool the hive – bees have even been found living on a lava field at 60 ̊C. In the freezing cold, bees huddle in a tight ball, disengage their wing-muscles, and shiver to keep warm.
4. Super Smarts
Like Professor X, bees are super intelligent communicators. They are the only other creatures we know that use a symbolic language. The bee dance indicates direction and distance to flowers, and the quality. Bees also use smell to talk: the queen controls her family with pheromones. Bee brains are tiny but their neuron density is 10x ours. Bees can count, tell time, measure, memorize, solve problems and make decisions.
5. Super Food
Like Wolverine, bees have healing powers. Honey is nutritious, lasts forever, and is a healer too; killing bacteria and fungi. In humans, Manuka honey fights infections, and heals burns. Bees use sticky propolis to keep their hives germ-free; it’s anti-bacterial, and probably anti-cancer.
6. Super Transformers
Like Spiderman, bees can change their genetic structure. A queen bee is not born that way – any girl bee can become a queen. The worker bees prepare a royal baby by feeding it on royal jelly. This ‘genetic jelly’ triggers DNA which transforms the baby into a queen.
Hand-made beehives date back 3000 years (to Israel) and early hives were made of clay or straw. Bees and humans helped each other expand into new lands as settlers transported the bees with them for crop pollination. For centuries beekeepers melted the wax comb to get the honey out, forcing the poor bees to rebuild it every time. Then in 1851 pastor Lorenzo Langstroth designed a hive like a filing cabinet that could be used over and over.
Young Mary Bumby introduced honey bees to NZ in 1839, bringing them on a ship from England in straw hives. Today about 3,251 New Zealanders are beekeepers, most of them hobbyists. Our government’s ‘Beehive’ building is shaped like a straw hive called a skep. Skeps were enlarged by adding layers called ‘ekes’ – hence the saying ‘to eke things out’ (is there a National Party joke here?). Bees thrive in human cities but NZ City Council rules say that bees are ‘inappropriate in residential areas’. However, increasingly, beehives are kept in city parks in many countries and with almost zero feral (wild) bee numbers we need bees to pollinate our home gardens. Honour the bee partnership by planting flowers. (Photo: apiary in central Paris public park.)
It’s the most important relationship on Earth. Everything you taste and smell in Nature depends on pollinators who carry the essence of life.
Pollination is ‘a love story that feeds the Earth.’ – Louie Schwartzberg.
For a flower to reproduce, its pollen (male) must get to an egg (female) in another flower – and bees do most of the moving. The result is a cornucopia of foods from cherries to cashews, and courgettes to coffee. Our relationship with the pollinators is equally important: it’s honey bee season now so give them fresh water, flowers, and spray-free gardens. Watch a clip from Louie Schwatzberg’s dazzling new movie, Wings of Life.
Nature is what we see -
The Hill – the Afternoon -
Squirrel – Eclipse – the Bumble bee -
Nay – Nature is Heaven -
Nature is what we hear -
The Bobolink – the Sea -
Thunder – the Cricket -
Nay – Nature is Harmony -
Nature is what we know -
Yet have no art to say -
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
– Emily Dickinson
Things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. – Wittgenstein
It’s Love Our Kiwi Bees Week. We can’t survive without bees and bees can’t survive without us. They give us fruit, flowers, vegetables, and herbs – let’s return the love by giving them clean habitats (Eg. avoid bee-toxic home garden sprays).
Honey bees have a body clock to keep track of time – this is vital because flowers produce nectar at different hours of the day – dandelions at 9am, for example. We have a similar inner clock but most of us rely on outer clocks to tell the time. If our devices were removed we’d probably learn to use our body clock too. Bees learn very quickly. Scientists trained some bees to feed (on sugar water) at 10.30am, and after that the bees turned up at exactly that time to be fed.
It’s autumn for the honey bees and soon the drones will be pushed out of the beehive to die. Male bees have a high life in summer: eating and sleeping – the females even clean up their droppings – but then they’re executed. Why have drones? To mate with a new queen. Several drones will mate with her and die gruesomely in the act. Drones themselves have no father; they hatch from unfertilised eggs. It was once thought all bees came from virgin queen births, until in 1788 a blind Swiss naturalist, Francois Huber (I’m not making this up), proved that queens mated – the event is nicely novelized in The Beekeeper’s Pupil by Sara George.
After reading Wolfram’s dramatic story I discovered his daughter’s wonderful art. Alexandra Milton is an animal artist and children’s book illustrator. She creates her creatures by collage, using hand-made papers with mysterious names: Korean mingeishi, Thai silk thread, Himalayan khadi, and Payhembury marbled paper. Her honey bee illustration below is warm and characterful (like bees).
I aim to celebrate all that is to be marvelled at in nature; to catch, in colour and form, a glimpse of the miracle of creation Alexandra Milton
The latest on the pesticide threat to bees (see Nicotine Bees) is a small victory: a garden supplier has removed the words ‘low toxic to beneficial insects’ from an advertisement for Confidor. This pesticide is extremely toxic to the world’s most beneficial insect, the honey bee. These nicotine-based pesticides are banned in Europe because of links to bee deaths. They stay in the plant right through to flowering – so bees are poisoned by pollen, nectar, dust, and water. Latest research shows how the pesticides contribute to the bee crisis by exposing bees from multiple sources. Photo: Sarah Anderson.
5 Ways to Save the Bees:
- Avoid chemicals such as Confidor, Poncho, Advantage, Marathon, Merit and Admire (grotesque names).
- Buy local honey.
- Grow bee-friendly plants, such as lavender.
- Let there be weeds; let the broccoli go to seed.
- Put out clean water in a shallow dish.
Alone we are one drop, together we are an ocean Ryunosuke Satoro
Honey bees are a super-organism: each one working for the health of the whole. In the same way many people contribute to a book. At the writer’s end: family, friends, writing group, experts, research subjects. At the publishers: editor, proof-reader, designer, publicist, education coordinator, accountant. In the world: distributors, retailers, reviewers, website designer, media, networkers and most importantly, readers. Readers are the book’s power — an unread book will wither like a hive without a queen.
Photo: Swarm by Sarah Anderson
My new honey bee novel for children, Wings, is launched today. It grew from a couple of seeds: the pesticide threat to bees and a fascination with giant hornets (it was almost titled ‘Hornet’). While writing, I learned a lot about character ‘balance’ – they do take on their own life, but you need to nudge them now and them. I had fun with the nasty hornet (Torgo), the loopy acid-bee (Ash), and a puzzle snake (Fang). Hardest part was deciding about the death of a character. I’ve tried to create a gripping tale; and trusting in the power of story (okay, and a good editor) I hope readers will see bees in a new light.
…when reading takes place, that individual brain is forever changed, both physiologically and intellectually. Maryanne Wolf
The home garden supplier, Yates, advertises a handy spray-can of pesticide as ‘low toxic to beneficial insects’ and ‘soft on beneficial insects’. Lies. The pesticide is extremely toxic to the world’s most beneficial insect, the honey bee – a nerve poison 7000 times more lethal than DDT. The pesticide (Confidor) contains nicotine-based poisons which are now banned in France, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia, because of links to massive bee deaths.
These nicotine pesticides (‘neonicotinoids’) are widely used on NZ crops and are now available to the public. Labelling them ‘soft’ on pollinators is biting the hand the feeds us. Bees have been our partners for ages– our important foods need bee pollination. Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic – the whole plant remains toxic right through to flowering. If spray drift doesn’t kill them, bees could be poisoned by pollen, nectar, and drinking water. Even sub-lethal doses weaken bees’ reproduction, immune systems, navigation, and memory.
Government agencies are not restricting neonicotinoids, so we all need to act: suppliers can label honestly; garden shops can warn customers; and gardeners can avoid ‘handy’ poisons. Neonicotinoids are in these products: Confidor, Advantage, Merit and Admire (what shameless names).
ERMA is the authority that manages the poisons sprayed on our food crops. ‘Manages’ is the weasel word – meaning ‘we tell you the risk, but the choice is yours’. A powerful chemical (clothianidin) that ERMA approves for NZ crops is banned in Europe, and even the US authority was recently warned – by its own scientists – that the chemical is ‘highly toxic to beneficial insects such as honey bees’. Problem is, it’s so persistent it remains in plants through to the pollen stage (especially corn), and in meat and milk.
When I asked ERMA if they would review the chemical in NZ they said they already ‘managed’ the use of it (they tend to be slow to ban poisons). In the end it’s up to us whether we accept pesticide residues in our food (yes, clothianidin is there). But while we have some choice to eat organic, honey bees don’t, and they are already in decline.
Full article: The authority that kicked the beehive (download – pdf)
Bee photo by Sarah Anderson who also writes a beautiful blog.