Thursday, October 25, 2007

The humble honeybee

When I was a kid and invited new friends to visit, I’d tell them that we had 25 beehives in our backyard. (They’d usually tell me that it might be better if I came to visit them instead!) The cover of this month’s MPT guide features a beautiful photo of a honeybee working on a lavender flower. I was thrilled to see that photo because I’ve always thought that we don’t recognize the importance of pollinators. My father was a beekeeper, and he taught me about the complex life of the simple honeybee.

This Sunday at 7 p.m., MPT will air Nature: Silence of the Bees. The program addresses the massive honeybee die-offs happening all over the world. The phenomenon— first reported in November 2006 and called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)—is now the subject of international emergency research as scientists race to discover the cause of this ecological disaster.

Because I grew up around honeybees, I was always surprised when friends told me how scared they were of them. Mostly they were just scared of getting stung, but it always seemed to me that they just didn’t understand that honeybees were busy collecting nectar to make honey and really weren’t interested in stinging anyone. In spite of the thousands of bees that lived in my backyard, the only sting I ever got was from a hornet and not my father’s beloved honeybees.

Dad felt that each of his 25 beehives had a different personality and that some of the hives were more aggressive and “touchy” than others. When it was honey harvest time, he would use a device called a smoker to calm the bees down. The smoker had a narcotic effect on the bees and anesthetized them for a short time. He would tell me that the more aggressive hives required more smoke than others.

My dad loved beekeeping and always seemed to find some new thing to tell me about his bees. He could talk for hours about so many aspects of beekeeping: swarms (“A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, a swarm in July is not worth a fly,” he’d say), how to raise queen bees, how to determine what kind of honey the bees produced, how to prevent disease….the list goes on.

My dad passed away in 1983 and left behind a legacy of stories about his many interests (bees were just one of them). I’ll always be thankful for the respect he instilled in me for the humble honeybee.

Gladys M. Kaplan
Managing Director, Facilities and Human Resources

Sam Miller (Gladys' father & honeybee enthusiast)


Michael M said...

What a beautiful tribute. I also remember the bees. Once I brought part of the hive to school for show and tell and ate the honey for a snack. It always impressed me how much "work" the bees did for us and how afraid people are of them when they are really our friends :)

Audrey said...

So many or us want to be the King Bee or Queen Bee, when it is the noble honey bee who in reality gets the job done, through teamwork. Such a microcosm of real life.