Friday, March 13, 2009

New hives

So my beehives arrived today - not the bees themselves, the boxes that the bees will go in. Well, not the boxes either exactly, but the pieces of wood that my husband and I will assemble that will make the boxes that the bees will live in.

I didn't realize when I first committed to keeping bees that it would involve the same skills needed to assemble model airplanes, but there it is. The bees are worth it.

I became interested in bees when I learned about "colony collapse disorder" which since 2006 has ravaged the global bee population. In 2006 the bee population dropped by some 30-40%, and in the years since the syndrome has persisted. Given that 1/3 of all food depends on bee pollination, this is a big deal. The PBS program "NOVA" did a great overview of this phenomenon. The jury is still out on why this is happening, but one of several potential culprits to emerge has been pesticides.

I am not getting bees for food production, although I would be very happy if my garden produced more due to their presence. Nor even for the honey, although that certainly would be nice. I am in it for the bees.

Bees are extraordinary creatures, living in a highly specialized, exquisitely sensitive, matriarchal society. They communicate among themselves both by "dancing" to indicate where food is, and by chemical exchanges through pheromones and feeding one another. Since I work on environmental issues and chemicals as they affect human health, bees take on a richly symbolic and very real role in this light.

I lived for a year in Russia. While there my husband and I bought our food at the local farmers' market. There was a woman there who sold honey, and she had so many shades of honey - from white to amber to mahogany. Each color had a name. It makes me sad to think of the richness of this world we borrow being diminished. Keeping bees is my small way of contributing.

And the honey would be nice.