Monday, March 14, 2011

Honey Do

"The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others".   - Saint John Chrysostom

My maternal grandfather used to keep bees.  He would collect the honey and save it in jars.  The jars were kept in an outside storage shed, nicknamed "the honey house".  There was always a jar of honey sitting on the breakfast table, and I assumed jars were given away as gifts, or sold if times were tough.  Years after his death, the house was sold.  Cleaning out the honey house, we found shelves still filled with amber jars of honey.  It was like finding lost treasure.

I always felt a little guilty eating the honey.  I felt sorry for the poor worker bees that used their short lives gathering nectar (most worker bees only live to around 35 days old), only to have their life's work stolen by some strange man clothed in an even stranger white suit.  I did not know that the worker bee actually works herself to death - her wings get frayed and she is rejected by the hive.  But I knew that gathering the honey didn't hurt the bees.  And I knew that what my grandfather did was interesting to most, enviable by some.

The worker bee is appropriately named.  She goes from flower to flower collecting nectar (liquid) (remember getting nectar from honeysuckle as a kid?) and pollen (dry particles).  The pollen gets passed from flower to flower, helping fertilize plants to produce seeds (or, the fruit of the plant, which holds seeds).  The nectar gets stored in a special sack.  When the sack gets full, weighing almost as much as the worker bee herself, she flies to the hive and transfers the nectar to another bee, mouth to mouth.  This nectar is used to produce honey in the hive. Worker bees also have a special undercoating on their abdomen which produces beeswax.  What a multi-tasker!

Gardeners are very much interested in bees.  The reports of declining numbers of bees are alarming, and researchers are working hard to find the cause.  If you understand the  importance of bees on the production of food, you begin to have great respect for the bee - and not just for its sting!  Before we decided on this house, we looked at a number of homes to purchase.  One house, though not exactly what we were looking for, stood out.  The owner of the house kept bees.  The bee boxes and all his equipment were to be sold along with the house.  I often wonder what happened to those bees.


  1. Interesting post about bees, well done! Makes me appreciate them even more and inspires me to grow more plants that provide food for the bees in my own garden!

  2. Christina - Thank you. They really are amazing, aren't they?

  3. Good photos of bees on a variety of plants and interesting blog. I enjoy bees in the garden too but I haven't been able to get any good photos.

  4. Kelli - I don't have a very good camera. These were just lucky!

  5. I saw a bumblebee in my garden yesterday - the first of the season. It was a happy sight!

  6. I love the story about your grandfather's "honey house" and finding the honey after his house was sold. Honey is already kind of a liquefied memory of summer - it's neat that it also gave you a memory of your grandfather.

  7. Bees are very important and I welcome them to my gardens. Great story about your Grandfather.

  8. Our grandparents do seem to stir these memories.Great story about the bees, and the decline is indeed cause for concern. We moved into our house at the time of chernobyl disaster, and dead bumble bees lying on the garden paths were alarming, it was never admitted that there was a connection.

  9. Ginny - I love those big fat bumblebees! I haven't seen any yet this year. They are like teddy bears - kind of lovable, aren't they?

    Stacy - "a liquefied memory of summer" - what a wonderful way to put it.

    Darla - I welcome them, too. I can't remember the last time I got stung. Although I do make sure any children that come to my garden are aware of them. I would hate for them to have that memory at my house!

    Alistair - What an incredible story! Have you written about it? I'm going to have to look and see how many miles away from Chernobyl you are. It's always amazing to me how something in one area impacts so many places.

  10. That's a very interesting post, and well-written. A neighbor of ours keeps bees, and we get the best-tasting honey from them.

  11. Masha - How wonderful for you! Yummmm. I bet the bees dine on your wonderful roses and give it a fabulous flavor.

  12. Dear HollyGarden,this gives me chills. As I was browsing your blog, for some reason I just clicked on this one and just smiled. We are renovating a nearly 100 year old home and just before we purchased it, I had a dream of bees in the backyard. We came down to look at the house and gardens and in the backyard was a beehive that had been there for nearly 5 years so the beekeeper said that came to take it away to his place so we could work on the house. I cannot wait until we are done and I'm going to have at least one hive. I saved two jars of the honey and comb and try to eat a little bit of it now and then. What a precious story! And a special one to me...those old guys know what they're doing!

    1. I hope you do get your bees, and hopefully the beekeeper can help you along. Good luck renovating your home, too! I can tell it's a special place.


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