I talk to my bees. It’s not as if I have actual conversations with them, but I do find that I can often solve problems or come to decisions when I’m working in the Bee America apiary. Beekeepers must maintain a calm and measured approach to tending their charges–one can’t rush through the maintenance and care of bees—else the hive will become agitated. Agitated bees are more likely to sting and while I’ve been stung before, it is something I hope to avoid.
Maintaining a Zen-like approach to beekeeping not only results in happy bees, but it allows one’s mind to open, which is the perfect state for problem solving or decision-making. And, it turns out that talking to bees is actually a traditional English custom dating back to the early 1800s known as telling the bees.
In nineteenth century Britain, bees were considered part of the extended family and were kept abreast of important life events like marriages, births and deaths. People strongly believed that if bees were not informed of family gossip, then bad things would happen—bees would leave the hive, stop making honey or die. Hence was born the charming custom of the telling the bees. This notion was actually based upon a much older believe that honey bees were special messengers of the Greek gods and informing one’s bees of family news was akin to keeping the gods apprised of human affairs.
This custom spread as European settlers brought their honey bees to colonial America. Bees were regarded as part of the family and even the larger community or settlement. When key events happened to those who cared for them, the bees were told. In fact, bees were often invited to weddings and funerals and if they did not attend, small gifts of food (i.e., wedding cake and sweets, funeral biscuits and wine) were left outside the hive.
However, this idea of telling the bees goes beyond the announcements of major life events. Beekeepers have long communicated with their bees—sharing their concerns, thoughts and joys as part of their regular communion with them. Maybe its because they believe, like beekeepers of yesteryear, that bees will relay their messages onto a higher power or maybe it’s because their gentle buzzing provides a soothing background for a monologue. While ancient people believed that the bees had a wisdom they could impart to us, modern beekeepers know that bees do have a thing or two to teach us about those traits in them that we most admire: industry, transformation and altruism.