Honey bees have fascinated people for many centuries. Upon initial reflection, it might be difficult to imagine how a colony of insects might be so interesting to people who are busy with many different activities in their lives. Aside from the enjoyment that many people receive from eating honey, there has to be more to the appeal of honey bees and beekeeping.
One of the appeals of beekeeping is that honeybees can never be completely understood despite the progress we have made in successfully managing hives in many conditions and situations. There is much information to be shared among beekeepers and this really assists us in our efforts; however, beekeeping can never be absolutely mastered. This is similar to other aspects of agriculture—farmers do their best to plant good seed, fertilize, weed, and manage their crops as well as they can, but nature and other variables always come into play. We are grateful for years when nature facilitates our beekeeping and when we have a honey crop that is truly impressive.
There are many mysteries connected with honey bees. Despite some partial explanations afforded to us by science, many questions have not been completely answered: How do honey bees navigate away from and back to their hive? How do honey bees effectively communicate with their waggle dance in total darkness inside the hive? How are the bees’ separate and discrete jobs within the hive coordinated in such a way that colony survival is optimized? Many mysteries remain around mating of queens with drones, the swarming instinct and behaviors, and other aspects of life within a colony. Mystery adds to the appeal of beekeeping.
Living closer to nature is another joy of beekeeping. Locating several hives where they can easily be observed from one’s home or while one carries out other life activities is much like living next to the ocean or some other constantly changing aspect of nature. The variations in outward activity of the hive across the span of a day or across seasons offer ways to stay connected with nature. The wild activity of a hive at the peak of the honeyflow is a beautiful thing to behold.
Joys also abound in the industry and adaptability of honey bees. Our minds cannot fully comprehend the work involved when honey bees visit 2 million blossoms to produce one pound of honey, let alone the pollen collected, beeswax and propolis produced, and the many other jobs that must be completed for a colony to thrive. Honey bees are constantly adapting to conditions around and within their hive. One of the more striking examples of this is during a hive inspection when the hive is completely taken apart and supers are cast asunder—foraging bees continue to come and go from what had been their hive; life within the hive quickly returns to normal as soon as the supers are put back in place.
Beekeepers come to feel close to our bees as fellow inhabitants of nature. We enjoy caring for our bees, helping them to survive, and eating the honey they produce. It is also pleasant to think about the honey as coming from the flowers and blossoms that abound within a 2-3 mile radius of the hives. We enjoy communicating with fellow beekeepers about what we have observed, what we have learned about managing hives, and what we still need to better understand.