I didn’t expect the smell. Putting my nose next to the mesh window, I could hear the bees inside the box buzzing faintly, sleepy but on guard. The sound was reassuring, and satisfied the universal expectation of a buzzing, busy bee. More than that, it served as proof of life–my new associates had traveled safely, and were no doubt eager to exchange the transfer box for a real home. But the smell–a warm and pleasing mix of honey, nutmeg, and vanilla–had never crossed my mind. There was no honey in the box, just a tiny bit of comb they’d started building, so it must have emanated from the bees themselves. How strange, and wonderful, I thought: how much I have to learn about these wild, fuzzy dynamos.
I love honey–and who doesn’t? Honey has been valued for its taste, and healing properties, since ancient times. But the real reason I was standing in my yard wearing a goofy head-net and long protective gloves was food: fruit trees and vegetable beds dot the landscape, and I wanted bees to pollinate them. You’ve probably heard that one of every three bites of food we eat owes its existence to bees and other pollinators–here in California that means almonds, berries, stone fruit, and much, much more.
There’s something larger too, drawing me to keeping bees. Honeybees are amazing, industrious, and magically transformative. A bee’s touch turns flower into fruit, nectar into honey, and honey into wax. But they’re critically endangered, for reasons not yet fully understood, and a world hangs in the balance. One hive, and one small organic orchard, won’t fix the problem, or even solve the mystery. But it might help–and I’m sure I’ll get some great peaches in the process.
This pieced aired as part of KQED FM’s Perspectives series on 5/24/13. Listen here.