July 30, 2002

Tiny Links in a Delicate Chain


Tiny Links in a Delicate Chain

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
Emily Dickenson

I don't imagine the average person on the street has noticed or would much care. Farmers and orchardists know it, and it is front page news for home gardeners. One of their chief agents in pollination for a vast number of fruit, nut, and vegetable crops...the honey bee...is essentially lost from the wild. Emily, bees are few.

I was in the garden this morning when the noisy drone of bumblebees caught my attention. They were busy as, well, you know...working the squash blossoms along the ground under the oversized leaves. Many of them carried enough pollen on their back legs that I could see the gold saddlebags from 10 feet away. Seeing pollen sacks on bee legs made me ponder how long it had been since I had watched a honeybee pollinate an apple blossom, or blackberry, or sunflower.

Almost all native honeybee hives are now gone due to infestations since the 1980s with varroa mites (an ectoparasite) and tracheal mites (which live in the insects breathing passages). Enormous numbers of maintained hives are hauled around to orchards and farms to perform the task once done 'naturally'. Honeybees are a childhood memory for me, growing up in the deep south where we went barefoot for 6 months every year, and the clover in the grass lead to several bee stings each summer.

In the midst of my pondering, I happened to look up at the corn tassles to see how tall the stalks were now (over 8 feet!) and...there were at least a dozen honeybees gleaning pollen from the anthers that hang like tiny ocre sausages from the male parts up top. Corn is wind pollinated and doesnt need the bees, but the bees need the pollen as food for their young. There must be at least one surviving hive nearby. I hope to try to follow them home as they leave the corn tomorrow. Early in the morning, backlit by the sun as it comes over the ridge, I should be able to see which direction they head in....making a 'bee-line' for home and honey.

And so, honeybees live with us on Goose Creek. Knowing this, my world is more complete. The buzz of this small and once abundant link in the chain of the natural order of things reminds me of our prairie: a complete and interdependent whole of soil and rain, heat and light, insect and flower. Plus one gardener and his revery.

Posted by fred1st at July 30, 2002 05:51 AM
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