I’m absolutely delighted to be writing for Keeping Backyard Bees. Actually, I’m delighted with bees in general, and came to the hobby—and my particular style of Bee-Centered Beekeeping—in a rather magical way.
Several years ago, I found an advertisement for a retreat about sacred beekeeping. I was new to the area, the retreat was close by, and the topic fairly dragged me to the registration site. I’ve been writing about the sacred and healing relationship between humans, animals, and nature for over 20 years now. Sacred bees? This was something new, and it looked right up my ally.
The two-day retreat was held at Friendly Haven Rise Farm in Battle Ground, Washington, and the teachers were Jacqeline Freeman (author, The Song of Increase: Restoring Our Sacred Partnership with Honeybees, and owner of the farm) and Michael Joshin Thiele. Michael is a biodynamic apiculturist who lectures worldwide on keeping bees in more natural and healthy hives, and has designed and installed several beekeeping sanctuaries. He also lectures on the sacredness of bees and beekeeping.
I called the farm and asked Jacqueline if the retreat was appropriate for someone with just about no knowledge of bees and she said, “Of course! You’ll have less to unlearn!”
At that retreat, I held my first honeycomb in my hands, marveled at queen cells, smelled the intoxicating aroma of propolis, and sat surrounded by the hum song of many hives. On the second day, Jacqueline and Michael lead us through a process where we circled a hive, then made a series of toning sounds as Michael instructed. Michael told us to watch and be still. As we slipped into silence after our brief chants, we were stunned to see hundreds of bees suddenly pouring from the hive to encircle us. The cloud of bees rose up to just above our heads, then settled down in a slow swirl around the circle, passing slowly in front of our faces, so close that we could feel the soft breeze of their wings.
I don’t remember how long we stood like that. I remember, though, that when the bees returned to their hive, all of us had tears running down our faces.
That did it. I was hooked! I’ve been bee-dazzled ever since. I started taking classes from Jacqueline (spiritbee.com), Corwin Bell (backyard hive.com), and have listened at the feet of Laura Bee Ferguson and Debra Roberts, Michael Bush (bush farms.com) and of course, Michael Joshin Thiele (gaiabees.com). I brought my first hives home four years ago. All of my teachers and mentors have been wildly unconventional, and so my beekeeping leans that way, too. We all have a style of beekeeping that puts the bees first: What do bees like, in terms of hives, location, care, and forage? What is our relationship with bees? Keeper? Guardian? Steward? Master? These are conversations worth having with ourselves and other beekeepers because the way we see ourselves in relationship to the honeybee will determine her fate.
My yard include Warres, Top Bars, Cathedral hives, log hives, and Sun Hives. I usually have about six hives coming and going at any one time.
I teach a series of beginning beekeeper classes out at the farm now called Bee-Centered Beekeeping: Putting Bees’ Needs First. My approach is non-treatment and minimal intervention, trusting the bees to take care of most things themselves. As Jacqueline and Michael Bush say, “First, do nothing.” This is a hard tenet to learn, especially when we are new to bees and often inclined to be overly helpful. I am hopeful that my efforts with my bees—all collected from swarms—is that I may help to keep a small chalice of golden genetics alive and safe for the future here in my little city yard. It’s a small thing, I know, but when I sit by my hives and watch them work for the good of every living thing, it feels like a big thing to me.
I’m happy to add my perspective to those of the distinguished contributors to this blog. There are many, many different, good ways to “bee.” I sincerely hope my experiences will help you to find your own unique style of bee-ing.