After the fireworks last Wednesday evening, at nearly midnight, one of our friends pointed to the top-bar hive and asked if we keep a fan in there.
“No,” I said, confused. “No fan.”
“So what’s making all that noise?” he asked.
I realized then that he was asking about the hum coming from that very busy hive. In the past I have compared the sound to a refrigerator and to the purr of a cat. But here was a non-beekeeper comparing it to an electric fan. Fair enough.
“What are they doing?” he queried. “I thought bees would be quiet at night, sleeping or something.”
My husband explained how the bees must cool the hive and how they must remove most of the water from the nectar to make honey. He explained that they accomplish these tasks by setting up air currents with their wings, and how the collective sound of thousands of wings make the noise that sounds like an electric fan.
It also occurred to me that the fireworks—which I had been torching only 40 feet from the hive—probably agitated the bees as well, adding to the commotion within the hive.
This discussion of hive sounds reminded me that beekeeping engages all the senses, not just some. We see them, hear them, and smell them. We enjoy the taste of their honey and recoil from the burn of their stings. Very few activities engage us as completely—and as viscerally—as beekeeping.
The discussion also reminded me how beekeeping ties our thoughts into other aspects of the environment: The bees are noisy because it is hot, because they have lots of nectar to cure (which means lot of plants are blooming), and because humans are doing obnoxious things. Bees cause us to think about assaults on the environment, things like pesticides, climate change, urbanization—and even fireworks.
So here’s a thought: Instead of banning beekeeping from certain municipalities and neighborhoods, perhaps we should require beekeeping in public schools. If we added a year of beekeeping into the traditional curriculum of reading, writing, and ’rithmetic, we might produce youngsters (and eventually adults) with a better appreciation of the natural world and of the complex relationships that make the damage we do in one place show up so painfully in another.