Mountain Lakes, NJ
"Queen of the Sun," the March 2012 feature in Montclair's environmental film series, included many gorgeous shots of bees on many types of flowers, many facts about bees, a discussion of four reasons for Colony Collapse Syndrome (the situation where a hive is suddenly empty), footage of a pro-bee demonstration, and interviews with bee keepers on several continents. Afterward, we learned much more from an audience member who used to keep bees nearby.
Bees are fuzzy. Yellow jackets are shiny, but their similarity damages the reputation of bees.
There are over 4000 types of bees.
Bees have existed for about 125 million years.
Humans and bees have cooperated for about 10,000 years. We have evidence of this in the ancient cultures of India, Persia (Iran), Babylonia, Greece, Rome, and Egypt.
Often bees were considered sacred because they are so essential to our nurturing.
Commercial cultivation of bees began in the late nineteenth century.
In 1923 Rudolf Steinem gave a prescient lecture that warned of the dangers of large-scale bee-keeping.
Each hive has one queen bee. Occasionally she goes on a "marriage flight." Many male drones follow her. She may mate with as many as a dozen in one flight, guaranteeing a variety of genes in the million eggs that she will then lay. Sometimes she lays her weight in eggs in one day.
Each hive has thousands of worker bees, unfertile females who devote their lives to the good of the group. They live in community with apparently no concern for their individual ambitions.
The hive can be viewed as a mega-organism, and can have its own personality.
If a younger queen emerges in her hive, the established queen will lead away half the workers in a "swarm." They may gather in a tree and perhaps set up housekeeping there. One commentator said about a swarm, "Isn't it beautiful?"
The most profitable California crop is almonds raised in the Central Valley. There is nothing there to nourish bees during most of the year, so when the almonds need them, six thousand truck-loads of bees from around the country are driven to CA. About three quarters of our nation's bees service the CA almonds each year. A strong recommendation was made that flower-rich areas should be scattered around these almond groves so they could keep their own bees year round. Then the great drive and gathering of the nation's bees that spreads viruses so effectively would not be needed.
One bee sting is not usually troublesome for a human, but if a person gets over 500 stings, it can be fatal.
Bees and humans have similar odor taste in vegetative matter. Flies like decaying things that humans think smell terrible, but we like the same flowers that bees do.
Flowers and bees are co-evolutionary. Flowers give the bees food, and bees "are the legs of flowers," spreading around their pollen, thereby enabling them to reproduce.
In 2002 about 40% of German bees succumbed to Colony Collapse. In 2006 about 60% of U.S. bees did so.
One of the narrators opined that Colony Collapse is more urgent than climate change because we depend on bees to pollinate our food crops.
One reason for Colony Collapse is monoculture and the resulting habitat loss. A century ago bees could roam freely from Pennsylvania to South Dakota, but now monoculture prevents bees from traveling naturally and finding appropriate food for different times of year. Its poisons cause great "insect deserts."
Another cause of Colony Collapse is the use of lawn chemicals that often poison bees along with the weeds they are designed to kill.
Another is the chemicals used to kill bee mites, little insects that live on bees. They seem to be everywhere, and when commercial bee raisers try to kill off the mites, they apparently kill the bees too. One of the bee-keeping narrators told us that letting nature take its course works with keeping mites in line.
Another is genetic engineering. There was a long piece including, "How can we know the dangers?" and similar sentiments.
Around the country and world, many people keep bees, both large and small-scale. In Europe and the United States there is great concern about Colony Collapse. It hasn't begun in Western Australia, presumably because some poisons are illegal. I thought it was lawn chemicals, but my husband thought it was poisons to kill bee mites. However, some bees brought from Australia to the almond groves in CA apparently had a virus that bothered them little but killed off many less resistant U.S. bees.
We heard many comments from happy bee keepers and lovers from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Germany with large readable subtitles in case you didn't catch their English words. The French narrators spoke French and their subtitles were in miniscule yellow words often on a yellow background. I took a break in those segments.
Backyard and rooftop hives are becoming popular around the world. We saw rooftop hives in New York City, including Manhattan, where they are illegal. Then we saw marchers in the Manhattan streets holding signs and chanting sayings like, "Give bees a chance."
Afterward Harris Zinn told us of his own experience raising bees on his tree-farm in northeastern Pennsylvania. He received the hive itself and a few bees, including a queen, via mail order. He set up the hive according to the directions provided and it took care of itself while his family spent time here in Montclair. When he set it up, he had children aged two, three, and four.
They installed an "extractor," a spinner in a "little house" that could extract honey. The family noticed that the honey tasted somewhat different at different times a year, apparently in response to the flowers the bees were enjoying then.
He noticed that the hive could have different personalities. One year it would be docile and another it would be aggressive.
They enjoyed the honey for six years until bears discovered the hive. He tried various ways to counter the bears, but after three more years finally gave up the hive altogether. One of the good six years his family harvested 300 pounds of honey from two hives. A retailer on Church Street in Montclair sold the excess that his family couldn't eat.