Across from a field in the neighborhood I was raised in East Texas there lived an old man with a contagious laugh and smile, exposing two gold covered front teeth. Being a bit of a jokester, and always wearing overalls with a thin white t-shirt underneath, he worked hard with excellence, enjoyed creativity, and possessed a tender soul. He was not only a very seasoned beekeeper and phenomenal vegetable and fruit gardner, he was also a provider who freely gave away what he produced and knew.
I, along with my younger brother, befriended him as pre-teens as we seached the field and nearby wooded area for box turtles. A friendship ensued as he gave me tidbits of wisdom about gardening, sending me home with an armful of produce. But it was him who introduced me to the world of beekeeping and gave me a love for growing fruit and vegetables. I became his assistant and helped him work his 13 beehives. By the time I graduated from high school I myself had 9 beehives. Sadly, while away for military training with the United States Navy, I lost all my beehives due to a certain chemical sprayed around town.
But on 24 May 2014 I was blessed to discover that a swarm of mild-mannered honey bees made a home underneath my grapevines at one corner of my detached garage (as seen in above pic). After allowing them to grow out some honeycomb with brood and honey, I decided to transplant them into a beehive. To be sure, I never intended to return to beekeeping because my life is so busy with teaching, scholarship, and ministry. But when that swarm of bees made a home in my backyard, the opportunity presented itself to return to a hobby I thoroughly loved, the art and science of beekeeping. Now, I have an officially registered apiary in Stafford, Texas.
As an urban beekeeper the bees are able to collect nectar given the wide diversity of blooming bushes, trees, and flowers among landscaped yards and parks within a four mile radius. Coupled with the mild winters, early spring, and late spring in southwest Houston, the honey I receive is not only amazing, but aways unique.
When I open a beehive I am not only carefully studying the bees, their production of brood and honey (discovering the each hive is unique with a story to tell), but I am also seeing design, engineered complexity, and instinctual genius. The way the bees communicate with each other, their orientation and navigation skills, how they are able to produce either a female worker bee or a queen bee (one and the same egg) with the amount of royal jelly applied, the types of tasks bees perform, and the manner in which they develop, is simply astonishing. But I don't merely look at the bees with all of their complexity, design, and beauty, I also follow it along to the One who created them. Here I stand in awe! Adapting a comment made by C.S. Lewis in his wonderful article, "Meditation of a Tool Shed," looking at and following along are two different experiences. I not only am able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary lives of bees, but I am also able to follow what I am observing to the Creator who made them. Thus, a two-fold aesthetic experience occurs that nourishes the mind, inflames the heart, and feeds the soul.
I encourage you to plant flowers and trees that will help the bees! We are in need to expand our bee population for so many reasons. Therefore, as you landscape, ask your nursery or an agricultural extension agent, what you can plant that will benefit the bees, and consequently, benefit the rest of us. Consider planting bee attractive plants, flowers, and trees that bloom different times or seasons of the year (e.g., early spring; late spring; early summer; late summer; fall).