Tag Archives: bees

telling the bees.

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The bee friend –  painting by Hans Thoma

The Custom of Telling the Bees

There was a time when almost every rural British family who kept bees followed a strange tradition. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the hives and tell the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen them. Failing to do so often resulted in further losses such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey or even dying. Traditionally, the bees were kept abreast of not only deaths but all important family matters including births, marriages, and long absences due to journeys. If the bees were not told, all sorts of calamities were thought to happen. This peculiar custom is known as “telling the bees”.

Humans have always had a special connection with bees. In medieval Europe, bees were highly prized for their honey and wax. Honey was used as food, to make mead, and as medicine to treat burns, coughs, and other ailments. Beeswax candles burned brighter, longer, and cleaner than other candles. Bees were often kept at monasteries and manor houses, where they were tended with the greatest respect and considered part of the family or community. It was considered rude to quarrel in front of bees.

The practice of telling the bees may have its origins in Celtic mythology that held that bees were the link between our world and the spirit world. So if you had any message that you wished to pass to someone who was dead, all you had to do was tell the bees and they would pass along the message. Telling the bees was widely reported from all around England, and also from many places across Europe. Eventually, the tradition made its way across the Atlantic and into North America.

The typical way to tell the bees was for the head of the household, or “goodwife of the house” to go out to the hives, knock gently to get the attention of the bees, and then softly murmur the solemn news.

Telling the Bees

A widow and her son telling the bees of a death in the family.

Painting by Charles Napier Hemy 

In case of deaths, the beekeeper also wrapped the top of the hive in black. If there was a wedding in the family, the hives were decorated and cake left outside so that the bees could partake in the festivities. Newlyweds introduced themselves to the bees of the house, otherwise their married life was bound to be miserable.

The intimate relationship between bees and their keepers has led to all sorts of folklore. According to one it was bad luck to buy or sell hives, because when you sell one, you sell your luck with your bees. Instead, bees were bartered or given as gifts. If bees flew into a house, a stranger would soon call. If they rested on a roof, good luck was on its way.

But the relationship between bees and humans goes beyond superstition. It’s a fact, that bees help humans survive. 70 of the top 100 crop species that feed 90% of the human population rely on bees for pollination. Without them, these plants would cease to exist and with it all animals that eat those plants. This could have a cascading effect that would ripple up the food chain. Losing a beehive is much worse than losing a supply of honey. The consequences are life threatening. The act of telling the bees emphasizes this deep connection humans share with the insect.

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bee.

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“to make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

one clover, and a bee, and revery.

the revery alone will do, If bees are few.”

-emily dickinson

in honor of world bee day

 

 

image credit: prairie honey

food of the soul.

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at my daughter’s house

getting ready to take the boys to a movie

 i opened the freezer and looked for

something healthy and quick to eat before leaving

i chose what appeared to be

some quinoa/whole oats/ancient grains kind of thing

took off the top and heated it up

when i took my first bite i soon realized

there had been a mistake

on my part

it had a taste and texture that really didn’t register

as anything i had ever eaten before

 vaguely familiar, but not so much

far from an ancient grain

and it did not taste good

though perhaps was healthy

 i looked back again at the top

this time really looking

and saw that it was lightly labeled ‘bee wax’

no doubt from their hives in the backyard

ah, that.

“and what, socrates, is the food of the soul?

surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul.”

-plato

bombs for bees.

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primarythyme-bombs-rainbow-display-seed-balls

the bees could really use some help. in the last 10 years, a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (ccd) has killed off huge numbers of honeybees around the world. it’s normal for beekeepers to lose 10–15 percent of their hives each winter, but beginning in 2006, beekeepers started reporting losses of 30–90 percent. scientists believe ccd may be caused by a combination of pesticides, parasites, and a decline in wildflowers as more and more land is developed.

this is where seedles come in. each “bomb” contains wildflower seeds packed in compost and brightly colored clay. “planting” them is easy: you just throw them on the ground and wait for the rain, sun, and soil to do their work. the candy-colored seed bombs “practically grow themselves,” says the company’s website.
there are six varieties, one for each region of the country, so bee lovers can be sure to plant native flowers that will thrive in their area.

seedles are the brainchild of ei ei khin and chris burley, a couple who initially hoped they could get people to plant a million flowers. they surpassed that number in 2014. in an email to mental_floss, burley (now the company’s “pollinator-in-chief”) said they’ve since set their sights higher: a billion flowers for the bees.
they are especially concerned about the interdependence between honeybees and our food supply. of 100 major american crops, 70 are pollinated by bees; without them, we might not have apples, almonds, carrots, or avocados. to encourage interest and awareness in the plight of the bees, seedles partners with local food companies to give out free seed bombs. because they’re pretty, simple, nontoxic, and foolproof, the seed bombs make great educational tools.

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credits: seedles, mentalfloss, kathy horowitz