Air humid enough to make your nostril hairs recoil when you step outside. Pavement scorching hot to the point where you feel bad for your shoes. Occasional thunderstorms that don’t last long enough to cool down the baking soil. This is what I call reading weather, because there is nothing you can do other than stay away from the microwave oven that is the United States right now. But even reading my book The Beekeeper’s Lament I was reminded of the current weather when I came upon a story of North Dakota’s desert-like extremes. Conditions were severe enough to drive out many of the state’s original farmers, which once swung all the way from -51°C to 50°C in the same year.
I picked a bee on an alfalfa flower for my main photo because alfalfa honey tastes good, according to author Hannah Nordhaus and “bee guy” John Miller, who she shadowed throughout the writing of this book. I probably wouldn’t know the difference between alfalfa honey and syrup, especially because there are lackadaisical regulations limiting the watering down of pure honey. These are the delicious bits of information that I have absorbed while delving into the world of beekeeping operations.
I love the way that the author interweaves everyday issues of beekeeping with the scientifically advanced issues that experts are trying to solve in the United States today. Throughout the novel I kept asking myself – what is the beekeeper’s lament? Is it nosema? Colony collapse disorder? Varroa mites? Pesticides? Bee stings? A changing climate? Agricultural theft? Global competition? Gene transfer?
The list of challenges that beekeepers must overcome in order to continue doing business is never-ending. Then there are the issues that consumers face, but aren’t even aware of. Nordhaus explicates the act of honey laundering, diluted honey, and other loopholes in FDA regulation regarding honey. I learned that the honey in my cabinet probably isn’t 100% honey, and that beekeeper John Miller doesn’t even make money off of his when everything is said and done. The demand for almonds is probably the only thing keeping his business from becoming just a super expensive hobby.
After reading about Tulip mania in Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire, flowers seemed to me the epitome of human obsession with beauty. Aside from beauty, flowers offer a rare refuge for pollinators who struggle to find adequate food among monoculture and weedless grass lawns. Interestingly, some think the domesticated honey bees in America will persist despite all of their ailments. Rather, it is the bee species we don’t see on cereal boxes that should be the motivators of conservation efforts.
“The bees you should be concerned about are the 3,999 other bee species living in North America, most of which are solitary, stingless, ground-nesting bees you’ve never heard of. Incredible losses in native bee diversity are already happening.” – Gwen Pearson in WIRED
Regardless of whether the bee grows in a box or in the ground, the struggle for survival still exists. My call to action is thus to grow native plants in your yards, don’t use pesticides, and read good books! Bee well.