Bees are all the buzz. In the past decade, backyard beekeeping has multiplied exponentially in urban areas. Budding apiarists around the world are tending beehives just about everywhere, from suburban patios and rooftop terraces to elementary school gardens. These urban naturalists are preserving a tradition that has been alive for more than 4,000 years.
Bees are in our blood. Images of honey collectors were carefully painted in caves 1,500 years ago. Ancient Egyptians introduced the form of beekeeping we practice today, and they took pride in their beehives and carved detailed images of honeybees into temple walls. They knew then what we are just beginning to rediscover about the infectious pleasure of beekeeping.
Bees are often kept for their honey, but honey is just one of their gifts. They offer beeswax, propolis, royal jelly, and pollen packets. Some people keep bees as pollinators, as this is what bees do best. Bees are essential to the food we eat. The tiny, stingless orchard mason bee, for example, will visit more than 2,000 flowers a day. These insects perform their task rain or shine and help keep our crops growing. All they ask for is a safe place to raise their young and access to the glories spring brings. For those who have learned to appreciate bees, honoring this request is a pure delight.
Here in Portland, we have had a mild winter so far. We’re hoping our bee friends are thriving, happy, and ready to bounce into spring as blossoms open. The Xerces Society, also based here in Portland, offers an abundance of information about bees as well as monarch butterflies and other precious invertebrates.
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