Monday, February 21, 2011

In anticipation of bees

I have always been fascinated by bees. Their ability to transport their tiny bodies, laden with the pollen of summer flowers, on wings too tiny for flight is, truly, awe inspiring. Bees, in fact, shouldn't be able to fly at all. In 1934, it was recorded that bees defied all the laws of aerodynamics. But there they were, humming busily between the calendulas, apple blossoms, and bee balm, blissfully unaware that they should be treading about on the ground.

It wasn't until last night watching "Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds" (and the groundbreaking slow motion photography of Michael H. Dickinson that sorted all this out in 2006) that I learned what a feat of aviation marvel bees perform. During flight, their bumpy half-drunken flight, they actually use short choppy high speed flapping and twist their wings so that both the backward and forward motions create lift. For their body size, their flapping is outrageously fast. Nothing short of amazing!

But really amazes me about bees is honey. I love honey. Its gooey goldenness on a spoon was used by my mom as a cough suppressant when I was a child. An evening of laboured coughing was invariably met by a spoonful of sweet goodness to be sucked. I don't actually know if there is any medicinal benefit to honey in this use, but the slow coating of my throat seemed to help. I would drift off to sleep comforted at least.

For my children, when they were young and wouldn't swallow a pill, I would often crush it up and hide it in a thick dollop of honey on a spoon. One upping Mary Poppins' spoonful of sugar, I felt much better giving the kids something a little closer to the garden than the factory.

So tonight, I extend my affair with bees on their terms. I enrolled in a beekeeping course and have been looking to the first night for weeks. I have a spot picked out for the first of possibly several hives right along the drainage ravine that runs beside our house. It is thick with blackberry brambles and promises a sweet and dusky honey reminiscent of a forest in late August. If you ever had the chance to be in a Pacific coast forest late summer, you know the smell I, musky, and above all blackberry scented.
As part of my overall yard revamping, my adopted children will gain a place of honour and we will have to spend many a day pondering their needs, their society, and their work. And while the payoff of honey may take until next year to really flow (pardon the pun!) we will likely have a little reward by early Fall this year.  They will also be the deciding factor for future plantings. Everything in the little land around our house will now be chosen with their bee friendly nature in mind.

Then the big decisions will come. Mead or gifts? How much do we hoard away for ourselves? What can I do to take out the sugar and substitute honey in my baking and cooking? What kind of jars would be best to give away at Christmas. Like the bees, I will be flapping quite hard here for a while.

(Thanks to IslandMoments Newsletter Jan/Feb2010 for the gorgeous bee picture at the top of the blog!)