Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The prodigal blogger and her bees

Lately I've been debating whether to show my keystrokes in public or to disappear into the cyber-sunset and let you all forget that I ever started blogging.  But there's so much to share!!! For instance, some of you probably don't even know that over the last year I became a beekeeper.

I manage these two hives for my work with Friendship Gardens . One of our main goals is to teach the community about sustainable gardening practices. Small-scale and urban beekeeping fits in well with creating a system of vibrant, sustainable backyard and community gardens. My co-workers and I started with "bee school" at our local beekeeper association.

It's been a learning curve, but I have really grown attached to them. I didn't realize how attached until I went into the hives for the first time this spring at the beginning of March and found that one of the hives was completely dead....starved to death, surrounded by a sea of honey.

How is it that a colony of horders could starve to death? You might say that this is an example of a very efficient species being limited by their efficiency.

Bee basics for all you novices out there. 
1) Bees horde. They make WAY more honey than they could possibly eat because their number one concern is the survival of the hive. 
2) Bees slow down reproduction and (ahem) get rid of most of the male drones before winter to make sure that there is enough honey for the hive to survive.
3) When it's cold, the bees cluster together in a circle, shaking their little bodies--basically shivering to create heat that sustains the balmy temps where they feel most content.

So, with all that shivering and all that food, how did they starve?

The cluster of tightly packed bees will move as they continue to shiver, shifting to new cells so that they can continue to eat. All seems pretty reasonable.  But if bees get to a spot where the honey is already gone, they are pretty much screwed because the cluster can't make sharp adjustments in direction. Think of the Titanic.

Still confused? I've started to explain it this way: Imagine you and your friends are driving to a restaurant in a car that only makes right hand turns and you end up in a parking lot, out of gas, but you can see the restaurant just off on the horizon.

Losing that hive was devastating--I cried the whole time I packed up the hive and inspected the second one. I probably would have cried even longer, but I was able to call one of the bee school instructors to help me figure out what happened (Thank you Randall at Cloister Honey!). I'm thrilled to report that the other hive is going strong.  So strong, in fact, that I might be able to create another second hive from it...and so the learning continues.

 I have some philosophical musings about this experience, so stay tuned for my next post.  I promise it won't be a whole year.