Christine grew up in an English household where her father kept bees, and who has fond memories of being stung due to inadvertently stepping on them as a child. Unfortunately her brother was quite allergic to these little creatures and Dad was forced to give up the bees. Little did they know at the time that quite a number of beekeepers Christine has encountered in her 35+ years of beekeeping are allergic themselves.

A few things I did not realize about bees and the dedicated folks who take care of them:

  1. There should only ever be one queen per swarm – more than one and there is a resulting cat fight between the two ladies. Infrequently do two queens live harmoniously within a single swarm.
  2. Queen bees do not become queens until they are fed the royal jelly. Essentially, they start out sexless (or male, I suppose?) are chosen and bred to become the leaders of the pack. Female leaders are often much better than male leaders anyway, no? Except when two of them occupy the same space.
  3. Queens have two types of males that work for them. The first are droids which are essentially only good as mating partners (and once they’ve mated with the queen, their life is complete, and, literally, it’s done). The second are the worker bees who make honey to feed the swarm (or whomever harvests the honey).
  4. Beekeepers are not necessarily in it for the sweet stuff. There are some who love to be one with the bees (as Christine does). Others are in it to specifically breed queens. And of course there are the honey harvesters. Everyone comes to the hive for different reasons.
  5. Bees have their own moods. Sometimes they are quite chipper, such as the first beekeeper’s swarm that we visited in Xizhou. Christine’s bees are not always in such a pleasant mood. But the UK isn’t quite known for its weather in the way Dali is.
  6. Bees are always on the up and up. Literally, they do not go down and always go up.
  7. As a beekeeper with a desire to learn the art of taking care of bees, to learn the ropes and find ways to improve, better find a guru.
  8. Cities are often good for bees – lots of flowers and they do not need to wait for a field to bloom.

Re-read the above list. When I was listening to Christine talk about her experiences with bees, I found myself thinking there were quite a few more parallels to life than I had anticipated going in. For me bees have been mostly about the honey – which I credit my friend Mark Thirlwall with launching me on a love affair with the stuff after we happened upon a lady who was selling honeycomb while researching a bike trip together in Southern Yunnan, Xishuang Banna. I know my life was never quite the same afterwards.

Any life parallels come to mind for you?

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