Bees Are Staying Home For Christmas

First in a Series on Farming and Creativity from Seed Studio Gallery.

The bees have had it with winter travel and are staying put a bit more this year in response to significant losses in hive populations over the past few years, where fatigue seemed to be a major contributing factor. Some have chosen Seed Studio Gallery as their local winter respite, sheltered in a show called “Bee Good”.

According to Nels Veliquette, local Bee Master interviewed last week at The Seed, “Responsible beekeeping today means giving bees an easier life.” Over the past few years, bee hives were moved extensively to follow seasonal needs across the country. Bees lost resilience and became more susceptible to threatening environmental factors such as chemicals, mites, disease and poor nutrition. Over the last three years, more than one in three honey bee colonies have died nationwide, posing a serious risk to our natural food supply.

When bees sneezed, farmers listened. And, it is starting to make a difference. As Nels and I walked through the gallery, he commented that although there is evidence of healthier colonies, honey production is still lagging behind usual output. You’ll see higher prices and less availability this year. I told Nels that I was looking for local honey to carry in the gallery and the very next day, a bunch of Yuba Creek Honey Bears appeared at my door. They were darned cute so I let them in. Lucky me to have so much honey to go along with the bee show.

Yes, bees are a passionate subject. They are geniuses at natural design in so many wondrous ways – the way they build the honey comb pattern, the elegant golden color of honey, the dance for warmth, and the dance for communicating food paths, their bizarre ritual of drone massacre, their complex communal social structure, and their swarm intelligence – all are an opportunity for artistic study.

Placed in historical context, bees have been an art icon with known references dating back to cave drawings of prehistoric man plundering larvae, wax and honey from hives. Nels commented, “The significance of these little creatures seems to be practically encoded in our visual reference.” “Somehow we have known for a long, long time that having bees around is a good thing.”

Every time I look at a bee painting I am reminded of this ancient reverent wisdom. I am also reminded of the bee’s merriment because of how animated they can appear. They are joyous in the way they go about their daily tasks. Notions of creativity and merry making carry over to a discussion with Nels regarding his passion for making mead, a honey wine – the oldest known adult beverage. In fact, Nels is one of twelve mead making men in Northern Michigan who get together occasionally to experiment with Mead recipes that include additive ingredients ranging from herbs and spices to chocolate chips and jalapenos. Nel’s favorite among his own concoctions is split between one called Berserker, blended with carefully selected herbs, and a mead made with Hops. “A merry demeanor is necessary in removing honey from a hive”, says Nels, “Bees hate it when you take their honey, and they’ll let you know it if you act nervous or afraid.”

Beekeepers’ hives truly are a community asset because bees’ pollination and flying radius is one mile from their hives. Having beekeepers nearby benefits everyone’s backyard gardens. No one ever truly keeps the bees, but beekeepers get to provide a hotel of sorts in exchange for honey as money. Seed Studio Gallery is a virtual artistic hive, aiming to extend the metaphor of community asset exemplified by the bees. So, think of a visit as your chance to pollinate a few new ideas and restore resilience. Merry Christmas.

Seed Studio Gallery is a new art and event venue located at 108 Dexter Street, Elk Rapids, Michigan.

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