Delores Los brings out a little mason jar of light golden honey. She dips in the stir stick, swirls it around and offers me a taste.
Time stops. Seriously, stops.
I’ve eaten flowers before. There’s no mouthful of petals that tastes like this. Bees, what wickedly wonderful alchemy do you do?
“What is it?” I ask, enraptured.
Wildflower honey, Los shrugs.
Practical, strong, the driving force behind the Spud Valley Nordics cross country ski club, 2013 Citizen of the Year, and long-time, now retired, outdoor educator, Los has also become, by default, Pemberton’s bee-guru.
She’s been keeping bees for more than forty years – much of that time, fielding questions from other bee-keepers, sharing her extractor, rescuing swarms, showing kids her hives – so two years ago, she initiated the Pemberton Bee-Keepers’ Association, as a way to share knowledge and boost the community of hive-tenders in Pemberton, Mt Currie and D’Arcy.
They meet twice a year, and the group’s original 16 members have already expanded to 23, reflecting a happy province-wide trend. BC has seen a 35% growth in beekeepers since 2009 with a notable number of under 40 year olds getting their sticky on.
That’s good news for you honey lovers.
In fact, it’s good news for every single one of us, especially those of us who like to eat, you know, food. Bees, you may have heard, are responsible for the pollination of 65% of our plants and foods. The more healthy honey-bees (as well as bumble bees, mason bees and wild bees) there are in an eco-system, the healthier the habitat is for all of us living critters.
Colony collapse disorder, the widespread vanishing of worker bees, has been called a warning by Canadian Mark Winston, a bee expert and the award-winning author of Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive. Their vanishing, he says, is an urgent call to “clean up our toxic house” and kick our societal addiction to agricultural pesticides.
“Loose regulation around pesticides as well as vast subsidies that favor conventional farming have left us awash in annual global chemical use, about 90 million kilograms of pesticides in Canada and 2.7 billion kilograms world-wide,” Winston writes.
Better bee health equals better human health. Winston sees a pretty clear correlation.
On a micro level, many honey-eaters have made the connection too – a teaspoon of honey a day purportedly prevents colds; local honey is a sought-after immune-booster for allergy-sufferers.
Los anticipates another health benefit from her years amongst the bees: “I won’t get arthritis.” Bee venom therapy has a following as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. “If you keep bees,” says Los, “you learn to move slowly, to be calm. But you are going to get stung. I used to think it was an old wives’ tale! But I know many old beekeepers and none of them have arthritis.”
Another local bee-keeper, Dennis Taylor, once told me that working with bees is incredibly relaxing after a hard week of work logging long hours and multi-tasking pretty all the time. “Working with thousands of stinging insects forces you to be calm and thoughtful.”
For most kids, the association with bees is singularly about getting stung, which is partly why, after a career as an experiential educator, Los still gets so much joy teaching kids about bees and welcoming school groups to her property. “They have this little bit of knowledge, but as soon as you open a hive of thousands of bees, they lean in and are just amazed. They’re so interested. In a group with adults, they’ll be the quickest to spot the queen. And they can really identify with the bees. Bees are so misunderstood.”
At the height of summer, Los’ eight hives have almost 800,000 bees, producing 350 pounds of honey from the wildflowers that grow in a 3 square kilometer radius of her house. She extracts and processes the honey by hand; uses it in all her canning and cooking, and sells the excess locally.
Even with that abundance, she buys honey wherever she travels. Just to taste it. “Everywhere I go, I buy and try the honey. It’s nice to taste the differences in place.”
So, thank you, local bee-keepers for braving stings and hungry bears and for tending hives, for gathering together and sharing knowledge, for teaching me the taste of home, for the part you play, protecting the pollinators, in preserving the planet.
In return, I commit to let my clover grow, to make sure my garden has organic flowering things. I will teach my son to react to bees with quiet wonder, not to freak out with flapping fear. I will try not to flap myself, at bees, or at the dandelions taking over the lawn. I will be calm. I will never ever ever spray with neonicotinoids, or anything else that comes in a container labeled “KILLS BEES.” I will finally build that DIY mason bee hive kit. And I will seek out your honey, which is like a reward, for doing all of the above. None of which are onerous – they’re just a manifestation of bee-love. And after one taste of that honey, bee-love I have.
Photos courtesy Dennis Taylor, via: https://choosepemberton.com/2013/03/02/the-real-taste-of-pemberton-dennis-taylors-raw-wildflower-honey/