Why Do I Keep Bees?

My son dates a fabulous young woman from “the other side of the tracks.”

The people on “our side of the tracks” are farmers, engineers, and other laborers. “Her people” are Ivy League professors, internationally known journalists, doctors and lawyers; except for those who are both doctors and lawyers. We’re decent people, but we just read magazines, instead of being featured on their covers.

I recently attended a gathering of “her people.” They are kind, engaging and friendly. Because I can’t eloquently discuss Mideast diplomacy, life-saving medical innovations (for which they hold the patents), or the merits of a Princeton versus a Yale PhD, I spent the evening successfully hiding behind robust potted plants, except for occasional (OK, frequent) trips out to the awesome buffet for refills—especially from the chocolate section.

I’m introverted by nature, so I was quite comfortable hanging out with ferns. But somehow, word got out that I was a beekeeper. Elite, sophisticated people made a beeline to talk with me.

While I am not usually a conversationalist, like most beeks, that changes when it comes to talking about bees. I stepped out from behind the sculpted bonsai and started fielding the questions flying at me like my bees that day they merrily swarmed in front of my eyes.

As a beekeeper, I’ve spoken to several nursery and elementary schools, among other educational venues. From preschoolers to 4th graders, science camp kids to inner-city second graders, kids ask about the same dozen questions.

I was delighted and amused that PhDs and MDs ask about the same dozen questions as well!

This observation is in no way meant to mock the intelligence of the highly and well-educated, but instead to highlight what I think is one of the coolest things about honeybees: no matter whether you’re following Wall Street or Sesame Street, you find the amber insect that both stings and makes unsurpassed sweetness incredibly fascinating.

While the questions asked by kindergarteners and patent lawyers were generally the same, I did give the older audience more complete information. For example, to “Have you ever been stung?” the answer was “Yes” for the kids and “Yes, by both bees and bad investments” for the adults.

To the question “Where do bees go in the winter?” I explained they generally stay snuggled in a group in the hive, but added for the adults “Except for those with the means to head south.”

The adults all nodded their heads in understanding. They all have the means to head south, and I suspect their southern “winter hives” are quite lovely.

You know that awareness of Colony Collapse Disorder has gone waaaaaay beyond commercial beekeepers and researchers when a solemn-eyed, gap-toothed first grader asked if any of my bees have died of that “mystery thing.”

I answered that question with “No, I don’t believe so.”

I expanded that answer for the older set, because I’ve had plenty of bees die. It isn’t because of that mystery thing, but rather my own ineptitude. For example, there was the first year, when I thought if wrapping hives is good, really wrapping them must be even better. They were wrapped so well that I suspect the lack of ventilation / moisture build-up killed them. It was a classic lesson of “too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” Too bad I didn’t think of that lesson before I had 34 dark chocolate cups filled with raspberries.

No matter who I am talking to, a question that is always asked is “why do you keep bees?” I share how we need pollinators, how local honey helps allergies and is a smart food, how I enjoy the perpetual learning and challenges of beekeeping.

The gathering of investment bankers-attorneys-doctors then asked another question: “Is there a good ROI on beekeeping?”

I laughed a lot at that question, and reminded them of how I routinely keep bees, but not very well or for very long. For me there’s a huge ROI, but it is negative. But, if I look beyond the dollars to the fun of beekeeping, it pays huge dividends in working my mind, working my body and overall enjoyment.

The adults looked at me like they sort of understood.

When kids inevitably ask “Why do you keep bees?” I give them the simple answer: Because bees are so cool.

The kids fully understand.

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