I wish I could say that my journey into beekeeping began in some profound manner, especially as a person who has spent years working on policies that impact the environment and food security. But the truth is that I started playing The Sims 4 to keep myself entertained during the pandemic, and the game had a beekeeping feature. As I played, I thought, “I can do this.” And that is how my beekeeping journey began.
From there, I joined a local association of beekeepers and took their course for beginning beekeepers. Even after taking the course, I didn't fully know what to expect. The responsibilities of beekeeping change throughout the year. Depending on the circumstances, I need to check the hive weekly, biweekly, or even monthly. Hive checks mainly consist of ensuring the bees are doing what they should — laying eggs, collecting nectar and pollen, making honey — and there are no pests.
There are unpleasant aspects of beekeeping, the most obvious being bee stings. However, there are challenges that I never anticipated: I never imagined that I would grow so attached to my bees, which means I think about them frequently. Is the hive too hot? Is their water the perfect balance of not being too clean, but not too dirty? Do I need to give them sugar water? But the questions don’t stop during their more dormant time in the winter. Is it too cold for them? Are they still alive? Is there enough honey for them? Do I need to leave them fondant (a mix of sugar and water that offers bees food during the winter)? Do they have oxygen after a snow?
At the same time, beekeeping has been so much more rewarding than I anticipated — even though I don’t have honey yet. As a woman who grew up in Washington, D.C., I always thought of myself as a city girl whose life is often removed from nature, so becoming a beekeeper has been an important part of my own self-discovery. I mean, how many beekeepers have you met over the years? Yet alone Black beekeepers?
Beekeeping has also taught me how to let go of control in my pursuit of perfection. The bees don’t need me to control them; they know what they are doing. I have learned to trust the process and let the bees do what God has created them to do. All I can do is help create an environment where they can thrive, but my work is minimal. As long as they do what they are supposed to do, I have to let them be (pun not intended). In reflection, I think that’s a perfect example of how I need to treat life. Instead of trying to control everything, I do what I can, but at the end of the day, let God be God.
Patience is a virtue in life — and beekeeping. Ethical and sustainable beekeeping means it can take at least two years to get honey. New bee colonies — the queen, the work bees, the drones — only make enough honey in the first year for themselves, so many small-scale beekeepers do not harvest until they’re sure the bees have what they need to survive the winter. It is hard getting stung multiple times, spending hot sweaty days in the sun, and trekking through snow without any reward of honey. But waiting for honey is a reminder that the bees are not a commodity that I can control; I am merely a steward.
The most important lesson that I have learned from the bees is the beauty of community. Bees are not concerned about their individual selves; the survival of the colony comes before the needs of any bee, including the queen. I think it is beautiful to see such selflessness. No one bee can do every task of the hive. Bees all serve their role which requires an assembly line of sorts: some bees scout for pollen and nectar, they let other bees know where to go, then they bring the pollen and nectar back, passing it down a line from one bee to another before it is put into frames that hold the honeycomb. This community work is efficient and necessary for their collective mission.
All of these things have shaped how I view my work in environmental policy and food security, issues I care deeply about but don’t have to encounter directly much of the time. I know many people face wildfires, droughts, and flooding in the wake of our ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis, but I don’t feel the immediate impacts of those crises here in D.C. But my ability to care for the bees is heavily dictated by the weather: A record-breaking heat wave or unexpected freeze can mean life or death for the hive. Now, when I speak with farmers, I better understand how extreme heat and cold can devastate their livelihoods.
Even though I couldn’t have expected the lessons I’d learn through it, I am grateful for beekeeping. Stewarding a hive has breathed more life into my advocacy work and showed me the importance of doing my part to protect and restore the planet — work that must be done patiently and always in community.