11 Pounds of Bees

at 11:43 PM

It's noisy in there, and hot -- 90 degrees no matter rain or shine, freeze or thaw. I lift the lid and they rise to greet me, each one a tiny, fuzzy genius. Though disturbed by my intrusion, they are, happily, mellow and unmilitant. Eleven pounds of them swirl around the hive, or cling to combs inside tending to business more important than my arrival. That's roughly 40,000 honeybees, and they make quite a buzz.

They are dancers, architects and alchemists, making gold -- it seems to us mere primates -- as if from the very air. I know there's more to it but I love the thought of my bees spinning sunlight and flowers into viscous treasure. Brushing them away gingerly, I lift up the combs, one and then another, checking them for eggs and brood and honey before replacing each one back, carefully and with no undue haste.  The bees are patient with me and my intrusion, and for that I'm grateful.

Gratitude, however, doesn't begin to cover what we owe to bees collectively: they pollinate 70 of the top 100 food crops humans cultivate, supplying 90% of our nutrition world-wide. They've been part of agriculture for some 4,500 years and we've all benefitted from their work. We need them, yet consider them -- if we think of them at all -- as a resource to exploit, or maybe even as a nuisance. They're stressed and dying, mostly due to pesticides and habitat destruction.

If you like to eat -- and who doesn't, really? -- you've got a part to play. Plant flowers that will nourish them: natives are best but clover, alfalfa, and many others are good too, even weeds like dandelions. Don't use insecticides or buy plants treated with them. Buy organic, when you can. And buy honey, or other bee products, from a local beekeeper.

You and the bees will be the better for it.

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With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

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