New Workers on the Farm

Life before white sugar probably was pretty good. To those without access to processed sugar or molasses, honey must have seemed like a precious gift, and the bees who made it, magical creatures. I am concluding the same things myself after a recent leap into the world of beekeeping.

For years, my husband and I depended on the neighbor’s beehives to pollinate our vegetable crops. We enjoyed seeing the bees wing in and out of squash and cucumber blossoms early in the mornings, but we took their presence a bit for granted. Until this year.

Spring came and there was silence. Neighbor Richard’s colonies all died during the winter, and at age 88, he decided not to start up again.

As we began checking around for how to obtain bees, we learned that in fact many beekeepers lost bees this winter, either from harsh weather or from two new mites that are sweeping through U.S. apiaries. Nationwide estimates put losses at 90 percent for wild honeybees and 80 percent for domestic ones. (The raw honey price has doubled in the last 18 months.)

All the bee-supply companies we contacted said the same thing: “Sorry, we’re sold out.” We began to have visions of scarce, crooked cucumbers this season, but finally we obtained bees from a hobbyist in a city 100 miles from us who needed to move two hives away from a new bike path behind his yard.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1996
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