November is the most stressful time of year for bees in Northern California. Brood rearing has reached its low point and the hives spend most of their energy clustering to fend off the cold. Aside from providing sugar water and pollen patties, it’s best for beekeepers to leave their hives to their own devices and hope they pull through the winter.
In the meantime, I’ve been doing a little bit of research about some old superstitions involving bees. Did you know that bees are so aware of their own dignity that it’s improper to buy or sell a swarm? They can, however, be traded. It is a sign of money to come if a bee lands on someone’s hand, and a sign of success if it lands on someone’s head. I’m thinking it must not count if you get stung in the process.
One of the traditions that we take part in is keeping our hives apprised of any changes to our “family”. At one time it was common for keepers to inform the bees of any family birth, marriage or death. Our Queen Bee, Kimberley, captain of Team Bee, told our hives about her own engagement. This is supposed to ensure a long and prosperous marriage.
All of this might seem silly to some, but these superstitions and tales come from a time when people were very connected to their food and and its sources, spending hours each day with livestock and depending upon the health and well-being of plants and animals for their own survival. In addition to standard beekeeping practices, these superstitions were an attempt to keep the bees happy, healthy and productive. At this time of year when we could easily lose our weaker hives and can’t do a thing about it, it’s easy to see why people wanted to believe in these tales. We don’t want to lose our bees!