What I learned from the bees: patience

by Todd Hardie

This article was originally published in June 2010

(June 2010) — Ninety percent of flowering plants and 40 percent of the foods we eat depend on pollinators — mostly honeybees. They pollinate everything from almonds and apples to tomatoes and watermelon. Bees also are wonderful teachers.

Working with honeybees helps to stretch and fortify one’s patience. To help them make a honey crop, we give them mite-resistant queens, we make sure they have enough room to raise their broods and make honey, and we give them equipment to help them keep their home clean. We also follow organic procedures that encourage them to be stronger in the midst of mites and other environmental challenges, and we wrap them well for the northern winters. But the ultimate control of a honey crop is not in our hands.

Sunny summer weather that’s often cool and seldom hot allows for good crops and encourages flowers to make nectar. Where summer temperatures are hotter, this production of nectar may be shut down.

Rain can be a challenge and cause hardship for vegetable farmers and those that grow strawberries and tomatoes, but things are different in the world of honeybees. The spring rains allow the plants to grow larger and stronger, producing many flowers that will offer nectar. The soil is loaded with water. When we get sun now, and if it is in the time when there are flowers on the clovers, milkweed, knapweed, goldenrod or other flowers, the bees can produce a good crop of honey.

In many years of working with the bees, I often found that the honey crops are made in the last week of the five-month summer season. Imagine a profession where there’s not a weekly paycheck but the whole year’s income primarily is made in a few days at the very end of the season. This has happened over and over and has helped me grow in patience and faith in this work, and also in life itself.

Over the years, I have become very sensitive to the moment in time when, after all the waiting, watching and prayers, I first see that honey is made. I call this the “turning point,” always so thankful for the day. I feel grateful to have experienced a string of miracles where there is no surplus honey one day and then, 10 days later, three or four boxes of honey are found in the upper areas of the hive. 

A life of beekeeping has given me a great peace about the things that I cannot control. Every season we are given daily opportunities to understand serenity more fully.

Todd Hardie has worked with bees for 45 years on his family’s farm in Vermont.

Also in this issue

Northwest food adventures

It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest is home to some of the best food in the world — in fact, it’s probably a big reason why we choose to live here! You’ll always find your favorites at our neighborhood PCCs, but sometimes it’s fun to visit the source and see where some PCC foods come from firsthand.

Your co-op, June 2010

Election, Annual member meeting, Anna Lappé visits PCC, and more