bee stories honey bee behavior muddled thinking

Bathing with bees

It was day seven without a septic pump. I’ve lived on the same rural property for 20 years, and things happen. Walking around with a shovel is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. If it’s not the septic pump, it’s the house pump. If it’s not the house pump, it’s the well pump. And when the power goes, it all goes. We’ve endured multiple ten-day power outages in the past, so I’m completely accustomed to cooking, cleaning, and bathing on just quarts per day.

This situation, which occurred in late June, was rather luxurious as far as these things go. It was summer, for one thing—not 40 degrees and raining, the way it usually is. And although the septic pump was out, we still had power—and power means water. Yay! But it was complicated because that water could not go down the drain. The pump was on order and in the hands of people who still had flush toilets. So what’s the hurry?

On this day I decided to shower in the backyard. No one was home but me, and it was warm and sunny. I laid out the garden hoses in the sun so the water would warm.

What I had forgotten was that during the spring I had put a beehive in my favorite backyard spot. Also, since it was taking so much time to do ordinary things like clean dishes, wash clothes, and take care of personal necessities with nothing but a bucket and shovel, the lawn remained unmowed. Instead, the grass was tall, the clover abloom, and all of it was alive with said bees. Hmm.

With towel in hand, I watched them dart in and out for a few minutes. Then I shrugged: what the heck?  I stripped down to nothing, tip-toed through the clover, and proceeded to soap up with the garden hose eight feet in front of a bustling hive. It’s what beekeepers do, right?

So what happened? Absolutely nothing. Like so many creatures, honey bees seem to know the difference between a threat and a bath. They continued to come and go, buzzing loudly, but politely detouring around me at 20 miles per hour.

It made me think of all those nervous neighbors—the people who freak when bees move in nearby, the people who cower from hives as if they were bombs, the people who call the police, animal control, or the sheriff’s office when their neighbors install a hive. It would be good for people to see this—well, parts of it anyway—just to know how user friendly bees can be.

Sure, they can be testy at times, but so can people, dogs, deer, and chickens. It made me wonder why the fear factor is so overwhelming. Is it instinct or is it taught? Is it rational or irrational? Why do things that are truly dangerous—cars, for example—not bother us in the least?

In 2010 in the United States there were approximately 5,419,000 vehicle crashes, which resulted in 32,885 deaths and 2,339,000 injuries. In the same year in the United States, approximately 100 people died from the stings of all insects including bees, wasps, and hornets.

In spite of this, no one “reports” their neighbors for owning a car, truck, or other vehicle. People don’t complain to the zoning board or the town council. People don’t warn their kids to stay away or draft letters to lawyers.  What is wrong with us? When did we lose our little minds?



One beautiful sight: a new pump.

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  • YOU know I agree with this post. I liked the mental image of you tiptoeing through the clover. 🙂

  • I regularly sit leaning against a tree 4 feet from the entrance to my hive and watch the bees; as a new beekeeper it’s a great way for me to keep track of what they’re bringing in. They never care, I periodically get investigated and once a tired forager with full pollen baskets rested on my knee before going in, but I’ve never been stung for my curiosity.

  • I just got a hive from a lady who had moved into an area covered by a homeowners association. She was told (after over a year) that she could not keep her bees there. However, she was allowed to keep the chickens. Go figure. (They’re really nice bees, too.)

  • I find that most people seemed scared of our bees because they’ve been stung buy wasps. Our local wasps are nasty and aggressive and highly territorial. I actually can’t stand the things. I’m sure we humans all look the same to insects but it seems most people just lump bees with wasps.

    • I agree wasps are nasty things, even so I can’t say I have ever been stung by one before. It’s the same thing with french fries; a plate of fries is far more likely to do you harm then a few bees 🙂 For us the summer and spring are docile months, fall they get a bit more defensive, but I’m talking about wandering around the apiary 4-5 feet away from the hives.

  • By analogy: one neighbor has little grandchildren who are afraid of horses. She excuses this and doesn’t try to help them overcome their fear. BUT she sees no problem letting them go 4-wheeling without helmets or adult supervision. Irrationality, no question.

    In defense of wasps, from gardening organically for over 30 years, if you see a wasp in the garden, it has a cabbage worm in its jaws. They scare me because I hate being stung, but that’s a rational fear.

    Great post!

  • I live in a pretty rural area in the high desert of California and our electric company is not to be depended on. Although I’ve got my fridge, freezer and evaporative cooler on solar, I was wondering what to do about bathing and dish cleaning. Last year I found this really nice solar shower. It is a work of art as many things made in France are – made just like a real shower with water mixers and has solar water tubes which you can endlessly add onto. I turned part of my greenhouse (not used in summer) into a fabulous bathing area – and added a tub. Now I find myself just using that in the summer and I planted some sand cherries in there to keep me company – it looks out into the hives. I then built an outdoor kitchen – next to the hives. I love to wash dishes out there and listen and watch my bee crew in action. The backside of the kitchen is where all the pumpkin patches are so it is pretty cool. Developed all this out of necessity and it has turned into a beautiful luxury that I am so happy with.

  • I would like to interview you on your experience with mold and bee’s.
    I am part of a great group on Linked In called:
    Mold inspectors and mold remediators and we are now talking about bee’s and mold.
    I love your web site and your info.
    Thank you,
    David Snell