A pasture and a creek separated us from an enchanted forest of evergreens and tall pines. My allies and I would creep through the sage and wildflowers toward the river. We had created an imaginary world as we wriggled our way toward a fallen tree, which crossed the creek. On the other side, the beasts and tarragons of the forest watched from a rocky perch. Our covert actions were too clever. We always made it into the woods undiscovered. There were a few fatalities over the years. One spring, we lost a comrade to the frigid water. He fled wet, cold and crying.
It was fall and I was nine years old. I had ventured out on my own. As I moved through a thicket of goldenrod, I heard the snoring of one of the dragons. The humming vibrated in the distance. Honeybees lifted from the blossoms as I made my way. Their bodies hovered in the air, weighted down by yellow dust. They would land, take off and move in the direction of the sleeping beast.
As I crept closer, I could see a large, dark cloud morphing into different shapes on the branches of an aspen tree.
“It’s amazing isn’t it?”
A woman in a white suite with a safari hat and netting around her face startled me.
“Are those bees?” I pointed at the cloud.
She smiled as she moved closer to the swarm.
“Those are honeybees.”
She grabbed branch cutters and moved in.
“You might want to stand back a bit. They normally don’t attack in a swarm, but you never know.”
I watched as she cut the branch down. With a gentle hand, she carried the branch covered with bees toward a white box in the back of her pickup.
“What are you going to do with them?”
“Keep them. I’m a beekeeper.”
My fascination for the honeybee began, and for weeks, I read books on apiaries, beekeeping and the life of bees. I ordered my first beehive box and assembled it down by the river, near our imaginary giants.
Lately, the news has covered the plight of the honeybees in the world. A few weeks ago, 7 species of yellow faced bees, all native to Hawaii, were placed on the endangered species list for the first time.
I met up with beekeeper, Brad Keck, President of the Northwest Arkansas Beekeepers association, at his apiary.
“Honeybees are not indigenous to North America,” he said. “Early settlers brought the European Honeybee over on their voyage to America.”
I try to imagine being a beekeeper on a large ship. Where do you run if you anger them?
Mr. Keck explained the demise of the honeybees is also caused by the lack of food.
“The increase in human development has decreased the plant life. The amount of vegetation, mainly the wildflower pollen, used by the bees has diminished, causing the bees to starve.”
An average hive needs 40 to 60 pounds of honey to survive the winter months. Most important to humans, as most people know, is honeybees are our pollinators. Without them, we lose the production of fruits, nuts, vegetables, spices and most important, coffee beans. Imagine a world without coffee. I could survive without coffee, maybe. Imagine a world without apples, peaches, oranges, berries and lemons. In addition…, all you guacamole lovers, you can forget your avocados.
Mr. Keck stated planting more wildflowers, clover, Anise Hyssop, Korean Evodia trees, Vitex trees in idle pastures or fields and yards would service the honeybees through the spring and summer months. Fall Sumac, lavender, sage and goldenrod help in the fall for the honeybee’s winter production.
“Unique among all God’s creatures, only the honeybee improves the environment and preys not on any other species.”
~ Royden Brown
Many European cultures refer to bees as God’s messenger. In the spring as you drive by the orchards or the fields of berries you might see white boxes placed among the trees and plants. These white boxes are migratory boxes. Beekeepers stack them on flatbed trailers and lend them to farmers to help in the pollination of the fruit blossoms.
“Liquid Gold” is a name given to honey. After learning more about beekeeping from Brad, I realize the term is from the making of mead or “honey wine”. Brad began beekeeping after learning how to make beer and wine. He found out how much honey it took to make mead and decided to become a beekeeper to produce his own honey. Mead goes as far back as the Roman Empire and Greek gods in mythology.
There is noted archives dated 7000 B.C., which suggests mead fermentation out ages beer and wine. Vikings, Mayans, and Egyptians enjoyed the sweet beverage.
In the fictional world, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, mead is referenced as Meduseld (Mead hall in old English). It was the great “golden” hall built in Rohan. It served as the house for the king.
The field of goldenrod behind my childhood home is gone, along with my honeybees and my dragons. It has been replaced by a subdivision. I still plant wildflowers and lavender wherever I go.
There are beekeeping classes given in each state by their extension offices and by state beekeepers associations. Brad Keck can be reached at Sonora Honey Farm in Springdale Arkansas. www.sonorahoneyfarm.com