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A Toast to the Honey Bee

Langstroth Memorial in Greenfield

Langstroth Memorial in Greenfield

“The Creator may be seen in all the works of his hands; but in few more directly than in the wise economy of the Honey-Bee.” Lorenzo L. Langstroth  1853

 

            Lorenzo L. Langstroth was Pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield between 1843 and 1848. His memorial on Bank Row, placed in 1948, includes an image of the hive with moveable frames that he invented. For the first time beekeepers, who had been gathering honey since 3500 BCE, could collect honey without destroying the beehive.

            Langstroth makes an appearance several times in A Short History of the Honey Bee: Humans, Flowers, and Bees in the Eternal Chase for Honey by E. Readicker-Henderson with Images by Ilona (Timber Press $19.95), although his connection to Greenfield is never mentioned.

 

A Short History of the Honey Bee

A Short History of the Honey Bee

            Still, in just 163 pages Readicker-Henderson, with the help of Ilona’s beautiful photographs of bees, flowers, many colored pollens and honey, traces the history of the honey bee from the ancient Egyptians who believed honey bees were formed from the tears of the god Ra, and propitiated the gods with offerings of honey, to the ways bees are handled, and threatened by disease and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in our day. I also emphasize, as he does, that we can help threatened bees by not using unnecessary pesticides on our lawns or in our gardens.

            There are fascinating eras in the study of the bee. For centuries the hive was thought to have a king. It was not until 1788 that the nuptial flight of the queen was documented and understood.

            The great mystery of how bees knew where to find good flowers for nectar and pollen was a mystery right up until Karl von Frisch studied bees in the 1960s, closely observing their reactions when he set out bowls of sugar water (which bees like very much) at different distances and different directions. He determined that bees tell the rest of the hive where to find a good nectar source by dancing. “Intensity, angle, sound, and scent. The bees have their own complex language and grammar, all hidden inside a dance not more different than doing the hokey-pokey,” Readicker-Harrison says.

            The Short History of the Honey Bee wanders through centuries of history, myth, science, poetry, and his own experience as a beekeeper beginning when his father brought home a fully populated hive one summer night when the air was sweet with the fragrance of orange blossoms. He was dubious, but after checking his Boy Scout Handbook and seeing that there was a badge to be earned, he softened. When he tasted his first honey that fall, he was totally won over.

            Of the more than 16,000 species of bees that evolved at the same time that flowers appeared on the earth, about 100 million years ago, only seven make honey. Of these, only one, Apis mellifera, is the bee we call the honey bee.  It originated in the Mediterranean area, but was transported to our continent by Spanish explorers in the 17th century. Apparently once you have tasted honey, you cannot be without it for long.

            Certainly our diet cannot be without honey bees. Two-thirds of edible plants, and about one third of the American diet would not exist except for the hard work of the honey bee pollinating the plants we love to eat.  Other pollinators include various insects including wasps, and many bats, so we must be thankful to them as well.

            The life cycle of the bee is described from the moment the queen bee lays an egg in the hexagonal cell made of beeswax to its hatching in 21 days, to take on a sequence of duties, in the hive at first, and finally as a foraging bee, bringing nectar and pollen back to the hive. I think most of us are familiar with the three categories of bees in a hive. There is the queen who will live for a couple of years, laying up to 2000 eggs a day. Every day. The workers care for and feed the queen as well as the brood, and perform all the other tasks involved in maintaining the hive. They will also create a new queen by feeding a few of the larval bees the special royal jelly when there is a need. There are a few drones, whose only function is to mate with the queen on her single nuptial flight; they will be killed or booted out of the hive when their job is done.

            Honey is a main subject of this delightful book.  Readicker-Henderson makes a strong case for passing by supermarket honey and buying local honey. “Forget the wine snobs who tell you that what they drink is the essence of the country. Honey is more than that. It is the truest distillation of the landscape, as specific to a place as the way sunlight hits flowers in the morning,” he says.

            We are fortunate in our area to have several local beekeepers and apiaries. Tim Smith at Apex Orchards sells his honey, as do Bonita and Dan Conlon at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield. Warm Apiaries sells specialty honeys, made from the nectar of a single plant like buckwheat, appleblossoms, raspberry blossoms and basswood. Each flower has its own color, fragrance and flavor, but all are sweet – and good for you. ####

 

            Between the Rows   October 17, 2009

 

Text on memorial marker on the lawn of the 2nd Congregational Church in Greenfield:

 

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth

December 25, 1810

October 6, 1895

Pastor of the Second Congregational Church, Greenfield, Massachusetts

1843 – 1848

Inventor of the moveable-frame bee-hive which made modern beekeeping possible, 1851

Scholar, Observer, Author, Friend of Mankind

This tablet is erected as acknowledgement of the debt of beekeepers of the world to his skills and unselfish leadership

July 18, 1948

2 comments to A Toast to the Honey Bee

  • Hi Pat… I will have to get this book from my library! Great winter reading to learn more about my wild honey bees. I assume they have similar life cycles and habits. The hive here is so high up in an old rock maple that I cannot see into it. Thanks for this tip! Carol

  • admin

    Carol, I envy you your wild bees. We haven’t seen any honeybees at our place this year, inspite of all my bee friendly plants. Linden trees!

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