Final exam week at the College of the Redwoods ended on Friday. The students have taken their tests, so now it’s your turn. Here’s a word problem from Localvore 101:
You live in town but your street is tucked away, out of the hubbub and congestion of the main drag. Lot sizes are large, and many of your neighbors have fruit trees, flowers, and big vegetable gardens. One morning while walking the dog, you notice a swarm of bees gathering around the limb of one of your neighbor’s apple trees. What should you do?
A) Shout, “Bees! Help!” and run around in circles.
B) Keep walking. Who cares as long as the bees aren’t in your yard?
C) Grab a can of Raid and trespass onto your neighbor’s lawn. His shotgun probably isn’t loaded.
D) None of the above. These bees are freebies! Go get a spare hive.
The best answer, of course, is D. Before I moved to Crescent City, I thought a swarm of bees required a certain amount of panic. I knew several people who were deathly allergic to bee stings and never went outside without their Epinephrine pen tucked away somewhere on their persons in case they went into anaphylactic shock. I wasn’t personally afraid of bees, but I wasn’t warm and fuzzy about them.
Now I’m older, wiser, and living in a rural community. I’ve learned to live in relative harmony with bees. It turns out that less than 1 percent of the population is allergic. Bees are not our mortal enemies. We can put down the insecticide. It’s time to cash in.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I experienced a situation like that in the word problem. Although we don’t keep bees ourselves, we know someone who does. In fact, we know a few folks, and we helped our neighbor find help.
Bee swarms are social events in more ways than one; on this particular occasion, more than one interested person showed up to claim the hive. After some friendly negotiations, the privilege of packing off the bees went to my friend from work, the eager fellow in the professional-looking bee suit.
Bee-wrangling is not for the timid or untutored. It takes time to get the swarm into the box. And after that, of course, the work isn’t done. Bees need care, attention and extra food during the lean seasons. But the benefits of beekeeping are numerous. First, you get honey out of the deal, and most of the labor is outsourced. Second, you get first-class pollinators for your orchard or garden. Even your neighbors benefit, because your bees will travel several miles a day, foraging for nectar, pollinating as they go.
They don’t mind trespassing. (By the way, if you answered “C” on the quiz, you should seriously think about moving out of the county, for your own safety.)
The final benefit of beekeeping is that you get bragging rights for local eating. Substitute local honey for sugar when you can, and you not only support our local economy, but you also conserve fossil fuels. Most of our domestic sugar comes from Southern California or Hawaii, so it travels many miles to get to us. Perhaps even more importantly, sugar cane cultivation can be very destructive to the environment. It contributes to soil erosion and declining soil fertility, excessive water consumption, and agrochemical pollution.
By maintaining the neighborhood bees, however, you enhance pollination and support a more sustainable, local environment. How sweet is that?