(written by Tim Darby)
When you were a kid did your dad ever take you to a busy bee? I love ‘em.
When confronted with an insurmountable task, someone puts out the word, a whole bunch of people arrive and start running around (seemingly at random) and then, by beer o’clock, the wall has been built, the mountain of mulch has been moved or the playground has been installed. Everyone goes home tired but happy, wondering at the power of collaborative labour and puzzled as to why it doesn’t happen more often.
I guess that’s why we call it a busy bee – man following nature – a whole bunch of little critters buzzing about, working together.
So what could be a more appropriate for a busy bee activity than actually making a bee hive?
You’ve probably seen on TV how things works in a beehive – one of the bees with more information than the others will do a bit of a dance, shaking her tail around, telling everyone where to go.
In our case the guy shaking his tail was Peter. Pete’s a lovely bloke who luckily for us has a passion for relocalised food production (he only sells his honey within 65 kms of its production) and helping people to reconnect to where their food actually comes from.
We have been eating his honey for a while and he had been coming along to our community events for a while, when one day over a cup of tea (sweetened with his honey of course!) he offered to help me make my own bee hive. I invited one of the neighbourhood kids (who loves all things that creep and crawl), he invited some of his mates, and before long Shani sent out a street note and we invited everyone.
On the allotted day by the time Pete and his bee mates Ilka and Sangi arrived we had about 30 men, women and children buzzing about waving their borrowed battery drills like a dozen Dirty Harrys trying to make your day.
Amongst this noise and chaos, Pete’s beekeeper’s serenity calmed everyone down while he chatted about the pleasures and benefits of keeping bees. Did you know for instance that an average field bee works itself to death in just six weeks (it’s a bit like having a mortage) or that a well run hive can contribute up to 200 kilos of honey a year (enough for our whole street to share)?
Then Pete waggled his tail, and once again we flew into a frenzy of drilling screwing, hammering, threading stainless wire and working the wax into the frames. . . . .
One of the best things about the day was the age ranges of the people working together. Although our invitation called for kids with an adult to supervise them, Chloe (aged 20) brought her 47 year old mother because she was really interested in bees and Caroline (who is 84) came by herself because all her kids were busy.
Being a bit of a DIY guy, I also found it really exciting to see people of both genders and all ages getting hands on with the tools. Nobody lost any fingers and by the end of the day we were the proud producers of a solid and reasonably square bee hive.
Ah- the power of collaboration.
But the story does not end there. Since the bee hive busy bee we have gone with Peter a few times to visit the hive, the first time to introduce a new queen. Apparently the queen provides the genetic material for the whole hive and a well bred queen can keep the hive quite passive and easy to work with. The queen is introduced encased in candy so that the bees in the hive have to eat their way in to her. By the time they get to her they have become used to the smell and so they accept her (I wonder if I could get Shani to accept my smelly riding shorts if I coated them in candy?)
When we visit the hive Pete always brings a full size bee suit for himself and a little one so one of the kids in the street can get right amongst the action. Each time we visit I find I am fascinated by some new bee fact. The last time we opened the hive Pete took out some propolis (a waxy pinkish bee building material) which has a natural antiseptic. It cured a mouth ulcer I had in a day.
Having access to a hive has made us much more aware of bees in our own gardens and what blossoms attract them. Last time we went to see the bees some of the kids took flowers they had picked from their own gardens so the bees wouldn’t have to fly so far!
And now a final thought on working cooperatively and bees. Apparently when a new non aggressive queen is introduced to an aggressive hive the bee colony will become less warlike immediately, even before the queen gets a chance to breed her genes into the hive. It’s a phenomenon known as morphic resonance, sort of like social homeopathy.
And really – if it can work for a beehive, why not in human communities?
Bring on world peace!