miscellaneous musings

Bee thinking

When I see photos of embattled cities waist deep in concrete and rebar, or images of urban streets paved with asphalt and lined with brick, I wonder about the bees. Where did they go? How did they die? Did anyone care? I think about it, but it seems removed. It happened in some other place.

But on Christmas Eve I was admiring holiday decorations with my husband when we came upon a recent housing development, one I had never seen. Paved driveway and concrete sidewalk covered every square inch of soil. Cars and pickups wedged between dented garbage pails, rusted bicycles, and banks of empty mail boxes. No trees grew. No plants—not even weeds—poked through the “improvements.” Without leaves to rustle, the wind was left to stir a candy wrapper, an empty bread bag. It smelled not of fir, but vaguely of oil.

Yes, I wondered about the bees, but I also thought about the children. How can we expect children who grow up without green in their lives to value nature, to nurture creepy crawlies, to protect insects?

Most of us “bee people” are aware of the problems: rampant use of pesticides that kill both bees and the plants they require, monoculture crops—including lawns—that provide limited nutrients and little protection, and an agricultural system that stresses our bees and spreads pathogens, parasites, and pests. Most of us know that the system must change if we are to save the pollinators, the bounty of the land, and the diversity of our food supply.

But we are the minority. Many of tomorrow’s voters, the people who will have the power to say yeah or nay to change, are living in a world without bugs. They are living in landscapes of stucco, brick, mortar, OSB, and sheetrock. By no fault of their own, they are living in places with no sidewalks, no playgrounds, nowhere to feel the icy chill of winter rain or the warm thrill of a spring breeze. These people, an ever-increasing majority, are the folks who will ultimately determine the fate of the bees and, by extension, the fate of the natural world.

When I sit at my computer, I often ask myself, “What can one person do?” What can I do to make a difference? I am not wealthy; I am not a celebrity; I am not powerful. I do not have friends in high places or supernatural abilities. How can I convince people who never think about bugs that we must care about our pollinators, and we must care fervently?

In the end, I do what I do best. I learn. I write. I photograph. I answer. I speak. I share what I know with anyone who will listen, and that is all I can do. I wish it were more, but at least it is something.

As my fourth year of bee blogging comes to a close, I look forward to the next with renewed hope. Maybe I will convince one more person to care about bees. Maybe I will help someone become a better beekeeper. Maybe I will train the person who finds an answer to varroa mites. Who knows? It’s those thoughts that keep me going.

Without getting too mushy here, I want to thank all of you for dropping by, reading, and commenting. Thank you for over one million page views this year alone, and thank you for sticking by me. To all of you, I wish the very best the new year has to offer. I wish you happiness. And most of all, I wish you peace.



  • Happy New Year! Hopefully our “nature” thinking follows a cycle and once again there shall be renewed interest in bees, bugs and everything live all over the world.

  • Thanks Rusty, I like your poetic thinking. Today in Ellensburg we are covered with beautiful hoarfrost. I wish it wasn’t too cold for the bees. They would love it.

    Have you read Maeterlinck: The Life of Bees? At a banquet celebrating the victory over Germany at the end of WWII in Europe, Churchill read chapters from it to the victorious generals and big wigs!


  • It’s very EASY to ‘stick by’ you Rusty! You are a patient teacher. I am glad you are there to teach one more person about bees. It’s an art…we need more people like you!

    Here is to a beesperous 2014!


  • There will always be people who are curious about the world around them and will seek out information from those that have it. And thanks to the Internet, doing this is easier than it once was. Not all of these people will seek info about bees, but some will. My mother and step father did. They got me interested in it.

    As a result, I talk to whomever will listen to me talk about bees. Some people have no interest in bees. Some find it interesting, but not interesting enough to want to be keepers. My next door neighbor finds it interesting but only because he just wants to make mead. Eventually, I will run into someone that will want to be a keeper.

    And then there’s the frustrating ig’nent people out there that say things like “Why do farmers have to kill all those animals? Why can’t they just get their food from the store like everybody else?” What’s more frustrating is these people vote.

    But as you said, the best you can do is share what you know with people that will listen. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s more than you realize.

    • Chris,

      Remember, too, that they don’t have to become beekeepers to be bee-friendly. Just caring is enough . . . especially when they cast their ballots.

  • I enjoy reading this blog. You are a very dedicated and straightforward person and it is refreshing not to be sold something, to be educated and often enlightened, as well as entertained when I see the teaser. Keep it up. You go girl!

  • When I received the notice that you had posted another article I anxiously opened it hoping to garner more information on the bees. I expected excellence because all your work is always truly refreshing, but I was not expecting to be so blown away. I have read your post through four times and each time I am completely amazed at your skills, your vision and your ability to communicate so well.

    I have spent the afternoon rolling paper straws and putting them into mason bee blocks that I am building and giving away to people who are interested in bees but do not have the ability to have hives of their own. I have gained so much information from your journal, it is so helpful and inspiring. Thank you again and again!! And YES may we all have peace.

    • Wow, David, thank you so much.

      Native bee blocks make a great gift and they really do encourage people to care about bees. It’s a perfect idea for those who are interested in nature but can’t—or prefer not to—become beekeepers. Kudos to you for doing that.

  • Rusty,

    Thanks for all your insight, humor, and love of all things bees. I so appreciate your blog. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


  • Thank you for being a wonderful teacher, Rusty. I treasure your excellent advice and observations each time you post.

    I’m going into my sixth season of hobby beekeeping here in rural Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and really appreciate all insects and the plants they depend on for them and us to stay healthy.

    Looking forward to your upcoming blogs.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thank you for inspiring us this year! We are first-year beekeepers and you have helped us so much along our path. We have planted new flowers, tended our bees, shared our excitement with others, and passed along your wisdom, made moisture quilts, cooked up bee candy, and even shared some of our honey for Christmas gifts this week. Yes, you do make a big difference in this world and we offer our heartfelt thanks!


    • Thank you, Danette. I hope you, your family, and your bees have a prosperous New Year. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  • A long time ago I stated: “You should run for President” somewhat as a joke.

    I now think there is a platform out there. Surely there are some people out there who follow and read some if not all of this website. Those people I am referring to have ability and influence, collectively and individually.

    With persistent effort through elementary schools, one of my bee mentors, Randy Swartz speaks to younger people concerning bees. I’m not sure if he follows your website.

    The point I am driving at here is to be consistent in local settings. I have watched the Albuquerque NM group grow from about forty members to over five times that number.

    Thanks to people just like Randy.
    Thank you for all that you do.

    Fred Beck

    • Thanks, Fred. I think I’ll pass on president (although I do remember your remark)! But I do what I can around here. I speak to schools, college classes, garden clubs, beekeeping clubs, senior centers, community action groups, girl scouts troops . . . whoever will listen.

  • The tragic thing is, such a barren wasteland of concrete is not only bad for wildlife but for people too. There’s plenty of research showing that green space has benefits for people’s health, access to nature has a calming and de-stressing effect. The designers of that housing development should be ashamed of themselves.

    • Emily,

      I agree, but sometimes it not the designers, it’s the lawmakers. Here in Thurston County, WA we have an urban growth act that promotes in-fill in the urban areas. The idea is to keep the city in the city and preserve green space and agriculture in the rural areas. In principle, high-density development may seem like a good idea, but in practice it creates instant slums. For the people who live there, the outdoors doesn’t exist. They walk out their homes just long enough to get into their cars. It is so, so sad. And I agree, it is a mental health nightmare.

  • As ‘one person’ only, you have certainly made a difference. If everyone contributed in some small way to a cause that benefits our society in general, imagine the overall impact. Your blog and article index alone have done that, so the positive, and important progress made here absolutely qualifies for meeting the criteria of ‘one person having an impact’. I hope you have a great holiday season, and look forward to reading additional posts here.

  • I enjoy your blogs immensly and wait patiently for the next. By the way, yesterday it was 55 degrees in Rapid City and the bees were out flying. This afternoon it is 21 degrees and dropping!

    • Tom,

      That’s quite a drop! But I’m always happy when the bees can get out for a cleansing flight. I think it makes all the difference in overwintering success.

  • Keep on blogging. I have learned quite a lot from your posts and have and will continue not only to read them but also to recommend them to others.

    I am about to start a beekeeping meeting here in Idaho Falls with the support of the county extension agent whom I have gotten to know. There are a few who I have mentored as well as others in the area who will most likely come and help make it happen. And to think: going on three years as a beekeeper, all that started because my son wanted an ant farm. I said NO! Then beekeeping was allowed in the city limits, lifting the ban put in place sometime during the thirties. My passing remark on how it would be ‘neat’ to keep bees picked up by my son who held me to it. We bought bees, they survived the winter, we got more bees, made wooden ware, harvested honey… He still likes bees but is not so interested in them as much. I LOVE THEM!

    More hives in 2014? More mentoring? I hope so!

    Willow Creek Honey

    • Ken,

      That ant farm would have saved you a lot of time and money! I love the stories of how people got started in beekeeping. I should run a whole series of them.

  • Rusty –

    Take heart from all the great comments!

    I started my two hives in May of 2012. Since then I’ve spoken in varying detail about them to at least 200 people – friends, neighbors, colleagues at work … even the UPS delivery man. ALL of them were at least politely engaged, MOST of them were genuinely intrigued with at least one aspect, and SOME of them were very interested.

    For myself and my family, I published a book of photos and comments about my first sixteen months of beekeeping. At a recent gathering of friends and family I learned that it had been borrowed and at least skimmed by many more people than I would have ever expected. Long story short – there is interest in honey bees, in what is happening to them, in how they impact all of us, in the way that they live, and in why they fascinate you and me and so many others. You keep blogging. I’ll keep talking. The other commentators will hopefully keep doing what they are doing. All together we’ll keep fanning the fires of interest … because somewhere in that new neighborhood of concrete and battered trash cans is a person wondering where all the honeybees have gone, and what he or she might be able to do about it!

    Louisville KY

    • Michael,

      The photo book is a great idea. I’ve been thinking about doing something similar for the alkali bees and the halictus bees just so people know that they are out there leading productive lives and taking over where the honey bees leave off. Your success gives me encouragement to take the next step. Thanks so much!

  • Dear Rusty,

    Thank you so much for all your publishing. Yours is the site I turn to most often when needing advice. Even when not in search of advice reading all the information you publish and your readers send in makes wonderful reading for any bee lover. I wish it were all in Dutch so all of us here could take advantage of it too. I’d vote for you to be president if I had an American vote as well. Anyone who is hurt by all the concrete wasteland around us must be good for a country. When I sent in a letter about this subject to our local paper it was not accepted as interesting topic for readers. It’s rather sad. Today it is here 7 degrees C. Which is incredibly warm for December. Not a sign of snow or frost anywhere. I hope it stays that way and we go from a mild winter to a warm spring and wonderful pollen and nectar rich summer. What a lovely daydream. Keep well and happy for you and your family in 2014 and keep writing too,

    • Lindy,

      Thanks for the words of encouragement! After a two-week cold snap, we too are getting a warm December. Yesterday, I saw three flocks of Canada geese flying north. North! It worries me because it seems so early. Even though I don’t know much about bird migration, I keep wondering about it.

      But, yes, I’m dreaming about spring too. Yesterday I was our looking for native bees, just because I like to, not because I was expecting to see any!

      Best wishes for the new year, Lindy, and keep in touch.

  • Your blog is a wonderful action to change the world for the better. It is a great resource for those of us who have recently taken up beekeeping (thankfully in greener places than those you describe) and are looking for helpful information. THANK YOU for all your work!

  • Your voice is a very special, and, to me, a vital one. Thank you. In 2013 you inspired at least this one new hobbyist. And I shall go forth and a modified and synthisized version of you shall speak through me too. Happy New Year!!

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