Bee Lore

By on Aug 6, 2017 in community, environment, news | 0 comments

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“In my garden I spend my days; in my library I spend my nights. My interests are divided between my geraniums and my books. With the flower I am in the present; with the the book I am in the past.”

Alexander Smith 


It’s been an interesting week. I started my new job on Tuesday and have enjoyed the challenge of learning new things. It is part-time at the moment so I still have time to do a bit of pottering, as I love to do on days off. The thing is though, there as been so much rain this week that I have done most of my ‘pottering’ indoors and not in the garden as I had hoped. 


This means, not only is it looking rather out of control and neglected, there are shoots of green sticking out at all angles, I have been missing my opportunity to connect with the outdoors in the physical sense that I believe feeds my inner calm. I worked on Friday, so when I arrived at the weekend I was keen to get some outdoor action!


The great British weather report looked unsettled, the threat of storms and plentiful of rain loomed overhead. Over breakfast it was decided that we would take a drive out to Derbyshire, lots of rolling hills, patch-worked fields and tea shops to go undercover if needed. We made a beeline for Cromford and in particular Scarthin Books, which is so positively full of inspiration it teeters on its antique foundations. And its in such a wonderful setting!


I spent a pleasant half hour hopefully sliding books off the lively shelves in the art room, found some worthy of coffee table status but nothing really grabbed me and said, ‘take me home and be inspired by me!’ The promise of good coffee and a wedge of carrot cake diverted me for a little bit and then led me back to the fiction section.


Next to being immersed in nature, escaping into a good book is one of my favourite things. I found a novel I hadn’t read and was satisfied, I went to find Mr Bee. He was quite engrossed in a book when I reached him so I hung around the poetry section, idly flicking through anthologies I had read many years before, enjoying the memories. My eyes wandered along the shelves and a decorative spine caught my eye. It slipped easily into my palm, something worthy of The Forgotten Library’s own bookshelf. 


I eagerly delved inside. the typeface, the weight of the pages and that marks and imperfections created by time seduced me into bringing it home for a closer inspection. I read some of it this morning, and as you would expect from a book entitled ‘The Glory of the Garden’ it gives a rapturous applause to all things garden related, including bees!

“Every gardener should be a bee-keeper, and every garden should have its hives of bees, for in all matters of fruit culture it has been abundantly proved that we are absolutely dependent on the bees for our fruit crops.”

M.G. Kennedy-Bell


He goes on to ‘big up’ the bee for the flourishing soft fruits that have been growing in our English gardens for centuries and warns of the dangers not looking after our bees. He puts it quite plainly, if you have fruit trees, but no bees, there will be no pollination and no fruit.


This book was first published in London in 1923, and even then there were grave concerns about the decline of the bee population. Even back then there were threats like ‘The Isle of Wight’ disease which wiped out whole colonies of honey bees in the early 1900s. According to ancient mythology, bees were summoned by the noises made to smother the infant Jupiter’s cries by his two older sisters, Melissa and Amalthea. The bees brought him daily supplies of honey to nourish him.


In return, Jupiter bestowed the bees with the ‘power of parthenogenesis‘ (asexual reproduction) and entrusted their descendants to make honey to feed humankind. As far back as history goes the bee has been hugely respected. Old bee-fathers used to raise their hats to the honey bee out of courtesy and Kennedy-Bell urges us to do the same.


He declares the honey bee as being ‘possessed of marvellous perceptions’ and extremely sensitive to not just ‘material and physical’ things but also the mental and moral stuff that we mere mortals cannot always appreciate.In Roman times a ‘flight of bees’ was seen to be a bad omen, Appian says that a swarm of bees settled on the altar and predetermined the battle of Pharsalia, which did not end well for Pompey or Caesar, who was assassinated shortly after victory.


“Pine away, dwine away, anything to leave you. But if you ever grieve your bees, Your bees will never grieve you.”

Rudyard Kipling


A warning not to mistreat the bees, one we could do well to mind in today’s society.  The Greeks and Romans wrote extensively in praise of the bee. Aristotle was one that recognised the regal structure in the hive, although he wrongly assumed it was a King at the head of the hive instead of a Queen. He also affirmed that the worker bees were female and the drones male, as ‘offensive armour would never be given to females.’ A drones’ purpose is to serve and mate with the Queen. 



In the hive everything is done with exacting ‘military precision.’ Nurses tend to the nymphs and larvae, there are ‘ladies of honour’ who wait on the Queen, the ‘house bees’ who use their wings to fan the hive, cooling, warming and helping the evaporation of water in the honey. There are the architects, masons and wax-workers who construct the combs, the foragers who search for nectar to turn to honey, pollen to feed the young, tree sap to form propolis which welds and strengthen the construction of the hive.


The chemists preserve the honey with a drop of formic acid, the ‘capsule-makers’ who seal the cells, the ‘sweepers’ who keep the hive clean, the pall-bearers whose duty it is to remove the corpses, and the guards who keep watch at the entrance to the hive. These sentinels question the comers and goers and identify the novices that return from their very first flight, they scare away intruders and attack their foes whenever necessary.


“Such is the continual, daily work, methodical and organised, going on in each and every hive, and then human beings think they are the only living creatures who know the meaning of work!”

M.G. Kennedy-Bell


And how purposefully they go about their business. Have you ever watched a honey bee, buzz from bloom to bloom? They are tireless and determined and it would seem that whatever is put in their way they will strive to survive. Another lesson in the value of community perhaps…? 


Until next week

Stay sweet 

and keep making honey

The Bee


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