Sunday, April 5, 2015

Biweekly Bee Update: The Birds and the Bees and the Apple Trees

Yesterday our bee class reunited at the instructor's home/apiary for a hive opening. We installed a new package of bees, and checked in on some of the ones who were overwintering. This past Friday was one of the first warm days of spring, and only the strongest hive had started to leave in search of food. This was a good opportunity for anyone who was still feeling squeamish around bees to get some shock therapy. I had bees in my hair, clothes, face . . . one even landed in my mouth.

The operation seemed surprisingly small for the number of bees they move from Georgia to Massachusetts every year. As I said, it is run out of our instructor's home and while we were there Nick and I were able to purchase our beehives and equipment. The garage stored not only new hives and tools, but all other honeybee paraphernalia imaginable including mead, actively fermenting.

I felt a little silly driving around with a hive in my backseat all day, but there were a lot of things I wanted to get done since I wouldn't be able to on Easter Sunday. On the bright side my car smelt heavily of honey. Someone should produce honey and cedar box scented air fresheners, I'd give them all my money.

After running errands all day I remembered I still had Easter baking to do! Due to the abundance of apples from our CSA share, and the fact that Kristine asked me to make it for her again, I decided to make apple tortes; one for my family and one for Mike's. The day's activities got me thinking about the intricately woven stories of apples and honeybees in our nation's past.

I have been reading Michael Pollan's "The Botany of Desire", a Christmas gift from my brother. Pollan spends some time in the beginning comparing the human and the honeybee due to their similarly reciprocal roles in the natural world. The first section of his book focuses on the apple, a plant which humans have painstakingly manipulated to feed their desire for sweetness.

I was aware that the first domesticated honeybees were brought over by the Puritans to Massachusetts, but what didn't occur to me was their purpose. Rather than use the bees for the products of the hives (though I'm sure that was a bonus), colonists were interested in replicating their beneficial relationship with old world plants. Honeybees followed shortly after the advent of the apple tree. However, many of the grafted varieties transported overseas were not able to survive in their new climate despite the bees' help. This, among other reasons, is what led to the prevalence of apple trees grown from seed and the popularity of cider. Occasionally a new variety of sweet eating apple was discovered in a cider orchard, entirely distinct from European varieties, and better suited to it's new home.

What I found most interesting about John Chapman, AKA Johnny Appleseed, was his opposition to grafting. He claimed it was unnatural and thought it an insult to God's design. I couldn't help but draw parallels between his way of thinking and the anti-GMO movement of today. Anyone who continues to eat sweet apples or corn today is enjoying to result of  millennia of human intervention, whether they choose to acknowledge so or not.

I have everything I need to welcome my bees home a couple of weeks. Now all that's left is to decide what color I should paint my beehive.What do you think, readers? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Happy Easter!

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