by Monique Léger, a beekeeper at Carp Ridge
“. . . tantus amor florum, et generandi gloria mellis”
~Virgile, quatrième livre des Georgiques (consacré aux abeilles)
(translation: “so ardent is their passion for flowers, and such, their glory in making honey”)
The ancient Roman poet Virgil wrote about how there is, in bees, a portion of the Divine Mind.
And we as simple beekeepers see this mind in action. Activity in symbiosis with the sun, the flowers. I always wonder why I feel as though I have been near the ocean when I return from the beeyard. The humming, the pitch, the scent. Something perfect, yet beyond a true understanding.
This is why I love being with the bees. I really know nothing at all. I’ve been taught a few things that make my life and the bees lives a little easier, but these are surface things. The relationship is not equal. I want them more than they want me.
I sometimes have bee dreams. Working in the yard, all is disproportionate. A huge, immense bee appears and I can see every single detail of her. She sees colours that are invisible to me. She senses danger by density of light, sudden movements, disruption.
Wearing dark clothes is less welcoming to the bees than wearing white or light coloured fabric. The strangest place I have been stung is on my knees. I was wearing a skirt and dark leggings. And they went for the knees! ‘Bees knees’ usually means the best, but here it was a bad joke!
I started beekeeping because I wanted to be alone, not go to meetings, learn slowly and learn for the rest of my life. Bingo!
Yes it is slow, but no longer is it solo. My friend photographer Bob Boisvert was smitten after a few visits to the bee yard. Now he and his wife Lynne and I care for five hives: four in Carp Ridge at CREWC and one in the city. I look forward to Lynne’s beautiful bottle labels as much as the honey flowing out of the combs.
With three of us, the work is shared and so are the stories and the pleasure. And we get a visual log of our work over the years. With every visit, my adrenaline rushes while I remain totally focused and calm. I learn by doing, I pray by praying, I observe by observing. This alone suffices to return week after week to see the bees.
The weather interests me now not because I love warm sunny days, but because these are good days for the bees. My sixth winter with them is approaching. Will they make it? Will the bear find something else to satisfy his urges in the spring? Will the winter be harsh? Or too warm? The hives will have to fight with mould.
Will the spring start three weeks early again next year? Will the bees have enough honey left from their reserves? All I have for them are questions.
We will be moving the beeyard to a new location in the spring. If you have seen them at the back of the trail at Carp Ridge, just keep walking and you will see them on a wooden platform. The bees at CREWC have an incredibly rich and diverse flora from field flowers to forest trees. Flowers bloom from close to the ground to way up high in the trees. The sumac is definitely one of the particularities of the Ridge honey’s distinct taste. Light and lemony is the closest I can come to describing it.
The city hive is in an organic garden with a few pear trees just above it. We think the bees are making pear honey in the city! We are ever the romantics. We’ve not collected any honey from that hive in order to give the bees a good head start with all the honey for themselves for the winter. After all, the beekeeper is the honey robber.
These are a few of the seminal works on bees from the 18th and 19th centuries: Dadant, Georges de Layens, Bonnier, Bertrand, Hamet, Weber, Clément, Abbott Collin, Langstroth, Bevan, Cook, Cheshire, Cowan, Root, Dzierson, Van Berlepsch, Pollmann, Vogel, Materlinck, Huber.
As you can see, many, many people have written about the world’s bees.
These works will keep me warm for the winter along with my questions.
(BeesKnees image below by Lynne Lalonde; winter hive photo above by Bob Boisvert)