A stinging insect that evolved 35 million years ago collects nectar from plants. It converts this into honey and stores it so that it can survive the winter as a social unit. To protect this store of honey, each worker bee is armed with a sting which is capable of producing severe irritation, and, at worse death.
There is no substance in nature (unprocessed) that is sweeter than honey. In a world without sugar, bees’ nests were prized discoveries and great efforts were made to steal the honey. Some of the earliest cave paintings show men with ropes and ladders, and flaming brands, climbing up to bees’ nests to hack off some of the comb to get at what must have seemed like an impossibly sweet substance.
Now it all seems so much more civilised; bees are kept in wooden beehives, managed by beekeepers who have an intimate knowledge how the social organisation of the hive works, and are able to manipulate them to their own advantage, to produce colossal crops of honey and also to provide much needed pollination to the huge acreages of crops like almonds, oranges, apples, courgettes, tomatoes, etc.But in fact it only seems that way. Anyone who works with bees knows that you are really only a bystander. Bees still do what they want and their behaviour is ultimately determined by the weather.
If you keep bees at the bottom of your garden, you are sharing your garden with a wild animal, which, like most wild animals, lives a precarious life at the margin of survival. It will swarm if it wants to and go to live elsewhere, and will only produce a honey surplus over and above its daily needs if the sun shines. And this is actually the point. Keeping bees gets you honey, but is also gets you a way into the way nature works. By understanding the way bees respond to all the different aspects of the natural world, the beekeeper is able to recover his own relationship to the natural world through bees.
Beekeepers are much more sensitive to things like the weather because they understand the importance of sunshine to the bees’ ability to gather nectar. You soon come to realise that you can only get what nature gives you.
Around 15% of our diet consists of crops which are pollinated by bees.
The honey bee will visit up to 500 flowers in any one day to collect nectar.