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A Conversation with Holley Bishop, Author of Robbing the Bees

Posted Jan 17 2010 7:06pm

Six years ago, Holley Bishop, a New Yorker working in publishing and yearning for nature, bought a little farmhouse and a few private acres of her own in Connecticut. While figuring out how to be a weekend farmer, she visited a neighbor with beehives in his backyard. One drop of the fresh honey he had harvested himself ignited her interest in honeybees and their sweet liquid gold creation. After being seduced by the first real taste of honey, Bishop obtained two hives of her own, harvested her very own honey and became obsessed with bees, honey, and their role in human history.

 As she became more involved in beekeeping, Bishop searched for the definitive book that could pull together the natural science, myths, and facts about bees and honey for a layperson like her. Since she couldn't find the book she wanted to read, she decided to write it herself. After spending thousands of hours observing bees, working with them, researching their history and lore, harvesting honey and tasting varieties of it from around the world, Bishop was inspired to write ROBBING THE BEES: A Biography of Honey, The Sweet Liquid Gold That Seduced the World . The culmination of her efforts and passion, ROBBING THE BEES is a comprehensive biography of honey and its benevolent insect-creators. A Conversation with Holley Bishop, Author of Robbing the Bees Q: Why did you write it with the bee-related books? How they are impressed you? A:That should be the early spring of 2004, I learned from "The New York Times" saw the story to the effect that the past year, U.S. beekeepers in 35 states in varying degrees to find their own honey bizarre disappearance or death. This phenomenon attracted the close attention of many biologists. As far as I know, in North America, more than 90 kinds of economic crops need bees to help pollinate the flowers to gain nutrients, grow fruits and seeds. To this end, many orchards and farms every year, the introduction of a large number of bees. Bees disappeared, crops may not be mature, apples, blueberries, peaches and other fruits may not be the result.  I was writing and insect-related article, on several occasions to the bee farm, and there have been many close contact with bees. "The New York Times" report, so I'm sorry, I think of Einstein's words: "If the bee disappeared in the world, humans are unable to survive for four years!"  I have studied a large number of bee-related knowledge. That in humans before the advent of the Earth has already bee. Ancient times, people believe that bees are sent down a messenger god, and even think that they themselves gods, and cellular them live in caves and painted on the walls of temples, written into the toilet paper scroll inside, using poetry and art strongly commended. Bees are flying out of the Euphrates River, in the history of human civilization has played a vital role - to teach pollen, honey brewed into the human food, liquid currency and 100 medicine capsule. Small bees, in the history of the development of human civilization, the immortal feats.  In 2006, I have more than two years, bee-keeping history, the most important life started writing a book - "Bee accompany happy life."  Q: “The challenges and joys of beekeeping aren’t obvious to everyone,” you write in Robbing the Bees. What appeals to you about bees? What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered? A:I guess the thing that’s not obvious to everyone is that bees are such extraordinary creatures. I didn’t know it myself until I acquired ten thousand of them six years ago, and began to get acquainted with their magic. They are gentle, generous and tremendously powerful.  There is huge joy and appeal in discovery, and every stage of beekeeping has been a discovery for me, coming as I did from a place of almost total ignorance. I think it is basically a miracle what these creatures accomplish, transforming the juices of the landscape into honey, one tiny little droplet at a time. The appeal of beekeeping is that the bees let you witness all their miracles – I have watched bees being born, poking their way out of their comb incubators, I have watched the queen lay eggs, and the drama of a dead bee being dragged to the entrance of the hive and pushed out. Sitting next to a hive and watching hundreds of bees swoop onto the stoop is a pageant of miracles, watching them dance and communicate with each other about their treasures, which will soon be yours. On many of their hind legs you can see colorful little pellets of pollen, which they have gathered from plants in order to feed their young, cross-pollinating the plants in the landscape in the process. Lifting the lid off a hive and watching the bees boil up with an electrifying murmur, then scooping a handful into your (usually gloved) hand and watching them crawl around, inspecting and exploring, tasting your gloves with their feet, is another inspiring experience. Bringing the handful closer to your face, you can see their delicate fur, and shiny, almost diaphanous wings, their luminous tiger-eye body stripes and tiny waving antennae. I’m not sure appeal is even the right word. Bees mesmerize me.  The challenges are many. (though the joys far outweigh them) Although I have never really farmed anything other than a tomato bed, I think that beekeeping is a lot like crop farming, with many of the same challenges – your own skills and experience as a farmer, weather, pests, and the health of your livestock are constant concerns. My biggest challenge has always been getting my girls through the cold new England winters. The first year I kept bees, they all died, so now I try to feed them lots of sugar water in the fall to get them bulked up and ready for the cold, and I pile hay bales in front of the hives to protect them from the bitter winds. If that doesn’t work this winter, I am thinking about moving the hives into the garage next year. As Smiley says, "its hard work keeping bees alive, but its worth it, they’re always teaching you something.”  Q: When did you start beekeeping? How to find bees navigation system by phone signal interference. A:The summer of 2004, I started beekeeping. I first rented in New York, a residential suburb, and then bought two boxes from the apiary bees. To allow sufficient bee pollen can be taken, I have to drive to the raising of bees taken to other flowers of the land. Time, I would have taken to keep the bees away from New York more than 50 kilometers of a hill. During the wait for bees collect nectar from flowers, while I enjoy the bright sun, while beekeeping diary writing in a notebook. A few hours later, I am ready to return to place of residence. But the approaching hive and found a beehive, only a small amount of bees, most of the bees fly back neither. Think of "The New York Times" report, I am very anxious.  I look around, and finally at the top of the hill cell phone signal towers, under a lot of struggling to see the bees in the flower on the ground, while the small number of bees still flying in the air, but also a loss flawless. See the cell phone signal towers, I thought a move. In the access to relevant information, I know, no matter how much flight bees, can rely on their own navigation system to find way back home. I think the cell phone signal radiation would interfere with bee navigation systems, resulting in them do not find the way home. Later, I went with a small amount of bee stronger cell phone signal radiation area. Through the experiment, I found: In the radiation region, the left the nest of bees flying in the air, flight direction. Back to the place of residence, I borrowed more than 10 in a turned on cell phone, put it next to the open hive, resulting in the hive where bees are reluctant to fly.  From then on, I refuse to use their phone again. But I know that I am only one person refused to use mobile phones, does not change the fate of their bees. I decided to stay away from the city, with the raising of bees moved to Connecticut in a village, and planted a large number of various types of accommodation around the flowering plants, had played a madding crowd of pastoral life.   Q: Over a three year period you made frequent trips to Wewahitchka, Florida, to visit Donald Smiley, the professional beekeeper you profile in Robbing the Bees. How did you decide what material to include in the book。 A:I kept waiting for Donald Smiley to pull out his Screen Actors Guild card and explain in his slow southern twang that he had been sent by central casting to play the part of the perfect, colorful, dedicated Florida Tupelo farmer. Smiley and the town he grew up in are so rich in history, anecdote and local flavor that it really was hard to select the greatest hits to include in the book, there were so many to choose from. There are still some stories I would have liked to include, like the one about Smiley hunting alligators on the river at night, or how his wife Paula actually collects rocks, or his assistant George’s run-ins with law enforcement, but I tried to keep my reader’s patience in mind, and tell a story that wasn’t overwhelmed with obscure history, technical material or extraneous Smiley stories. I found Smiley and his life absolutely fascinating, so I had to remind myself frequently that he was the guide for the story, not the story itself. It also helped to structure the book around a typical year in Smiley’s typical apiary – once I had explained the beekeeping business at hand, and garnished it with anecdote, history and science, I knew it was time to move on to the next chapter.  It was extremely difficult to narrow down all the historical material. All over the world, there are so many rich and varied beekeeping traditions and chronologies; I basically tried to achieve the nearly impossible task of concocting a simple, linear, and extremely broad story of how beekeeping evolved over several centuries. In many cases my research, and what was included in the book, was limited by language. For example, beekeeping in China is an ancient art, but not many documents exist, and they’ve not yet been translated, (and I don’t read Mandarin), so I didn’t include as much about Chinese beekeeping as I would have liked.  Q: Why was Don Smiley such a willing participant in sharing his time and knowledge about beekeeping? A:Smiley likes nothing more than to talk about bees, about how much he loves them and how important they are to each and every one of us, honey lover or not. He repeated this mantra of adoration to the point that it got a little dull sometimes, but I don’t think he noticed (or cared); he is so genuine, passionate, and tireless when it comes to his bees. He didn’t ask me much about the book as I was writing it, other than to inquire if it was going to be good for the bees and the beekeeping industry. “As long as it helps the bees, I’m happy,” was a frequent Smiley refrain. Beekeeping seems to promote this kind of passion; I’ve encountered it in virtually every beekeeper I’ve met. They are always generously willing to answer questions and share their knowledge and passion as long as it helps the bees.  Also, Donald Smiley is a craftsman. As if showing off a piece of fine hand-hewn furniture, a nugget of blown glass, or a prize-winning pumpkin, Smiley is proud of his skills, his healthy, productive bees and their delicious honey and he’s eager to show them off.   Q: How many varieties of honey are there? Why is tupelo, Don Smiley’s most valuable honey, such a prized commodity? A:There are as many kinds of honey as there are plants that produce nectar, and blends of those nectars are infinite in combination. In my own tiny apiary, for example, I get several distinct flavors of honey each season as the plant forage changes. In the spring I get a wildflower blend that is light and sweet, full of dandelion and forsythia. Then in the fall I get a darker honey redolent of sumac and goldenrod, plants that offer their nectar later in the summer. If there is a change in the backyard balance of blossoms and nectar, I will taste it in my honey. Last year, for example, the bamboo behind my house flourished unexpectedly (I still don’t really know why, but the plants went crazy), and my honey was as red as it has ever been, the result of a surge in bamboo nectar! Thanks to mother nature, I can safely say that every year I produce several different and unique blends of honey.  Tupelois prized for its light color, sweet flavor, and purity. It doesn’t crystallize as easily as some honeys do, and many people find this extremely attractive. I also think that Tupelo is prized because, like a fine wine, it is produced in such limited quantities in such a specific and spectacular place, and has a unique history, which heightens its appeal for collectors and connoisseurs.   Q: Aside from producing honey, what other ways are bees utilized? A:I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t planned on including a chapter on pollination when I originally proposed this book, thinking that pollination was just a sidebar in a story about bees and honey. As my research continued, I realized that the world as we know it is dependant on the cross-pollination of plants by insects, bees in particular. At least a third of our food supply is dependant on them. For this reason, the business of crop pollination by bees is in fact more important, beneficial and lucrative than their honey production. I figured if this was news to me, it might be news to most readers, and deserved a chapter of its own.  The production of wax is another way that bees are utilized. These days there are plenty of alternatives, but beeswax is still used in candles, cosmetics, polishes, and gums, and of course in beekeeping.  Bees are utilized to a small extent for their venom. I don’t know the numbers exactly, but thousands of sufferers of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and similar ailments willingly sting themselves with bees, believing that the venom will alleviate their symptoms. There is a large body of anecdotal evidence that suggests this is true.   Q: It is said that writing this book, you suffer from skin cancer, is that all you keep bees to help you find. A:Yes. This sounds incredible, but such things happen in my body, and this is what I decided, "accompanied by the happy life of bees" to "Bee Legends" reasons.  2006 summer day, I rest in the garden. Daze, you will feel some itching arm. Open your eyes, we found that a bee. I drive it away, the preparations for writing, there are a few bees flew to his arm, they are slowly crawling the side, side to spit on my skin propolis. The face of mischievous little guy who endlessly, I reluctantly returned to the study, and continue to write. I like the smell coming from the window blowing the breath of nature, in this unit breath, I can write the best sense of the text. So, I never closed the window. But the bees have not been let go because I am into the study, they flew into the study and from the window. The face of persistent bees are, I will crack the window, leaving only a little bit of hope that this nonsense can stop them. But the hundreds of thousands of bees gathered at the windows on the defensive on that small gap before the gap desperately to squeeze into the body, flew into the study continue after bare skin on my vomit precious propolis.  Bees their get down, let me state simply can not enter the writing. In desperation, I had lit in the windowsill of a de-worming medicine specialist, would like to use this method are cautioned not to place undue bee joke. But the next scene I'd rather die: bee who would rather die, but also the cracks along the window and drilling study, the propolis spit into my skin. I am a little scared, understand that bees are by no means a joke of such acts, there must be others I am unknown reasons. I first thought is your own skin what's wrong. Thought here, I immediately rushed to the hospital to be checked. Carefully observed under a microscope, doctors removed my skin and found that the organization which actually have cancer! Doctors concluded that I am suffering from early stage skin cancer.   Q: You rejected the doctor's treatment requirements, choose to let the bees raised by treatment? It's amazing. A:Now think about it, I indeed the practice of sub-crazy, but when I did.  Doctor there told me the cause of skin cancer were analyzed, that this is a perennial in the wild due to over-acceptance of sunlight exposure. After further examination, the doctor was surprised to find that my skin cancer, did not deteriorate as quickly as the other patients, cancer cells have not spread, they are effectively controlled within a certain range. While it can not explain this strange phenomenon, the doctor advised me, or chemotherapy. I do not want the side effects of chemotherapy come up with other symptoms, and therefore refused chemotherapy.  I think that my cancer cells are effectively controlled within a certain range there is no proliferation, might be the role of propolis. Later, I looked up large amounts of data and found that Propolis is a bee's survival, reproduction and development of material base pairs of viruses, bacteria, fungi have a stronger inhibition, killing role, but no toxic side effects on normal cells. Propolis is immune factors activator, which contains flavonoids and many active ingredients, can significantly improve the body's immunity. Propolis works against cancer flavonoids are mainly flavonoids and flavonols, flavone and flavanone dihydro-alcohol compounds, these substances can inhibit carcinogens. This finding, I believe that friends bee propolis spit on me on my implementation of the special treatment.  Next, the face of madness coming from all directions to my bare skin, bee propolis spit, I do not have business as usual, and then expelled. Lying with flowers and the scent of fields of crops, I have a day to let the group of the wizard on my skin smear. I accept the bees while their alternative treatments, they continued to work, "accompanied by bees happy life." Three months later, I found that the bees flew me to less and less in the end even if it is I went to the skin and rub the pollen, the bees were no longer flew. Once again, I went to hospital for examination, the doctor diagnosed my skin cancer has been better.  I will own this adventure with the bees included in the "accompanied by the happy life of bees," a book, and the title changed to "bees legend."   Q: How have the methods of beekeeping and harvesting honey changed over the last few centuries and how have they stayed the same? How closely do Don Smiley’s practices mirror those used by beekeepers hundreds of years ago? A:That was one of the hardest things to achieve in the book – explaining the many, many, incremental ways in which beekeeping and harvesting honey have evolved in different times and places, while at the same time conveying that the basics have not changed at all. Bees are wild creatures which, if you are nice to them, will set up house in an appropriate vessel and begin making honey for themselves and some extra for the keeper. This has been the case from the earliest apiaries to the present. Donald Smiley has modern equipment and trucks and electricity, but his process is simple and ancient; robbing honey from the hive when nature and the bees indicate there is surplus. Electricity, the standardization of movable frame box hives and the invention of the centrifugal extractor have eased and sped the harvest up in the last hundred and fifty years, but the ancient concept and practice of beekeeping haven’t changed, just the equipment.  Q: You quote Don Smiley as saying, “There’s always more to learn. Not a year goes by that I don’t see something different, learn something different.” Six years after taking up beekeeping, do you feel the same way? A:Absolutely. I was talking to a wine producer and collector the other day, and he said that every year he realizes how little he knows. Every year I am humbled, educated, and inspired to learn and know more, and every year I realize how much I don’t know. Even now, after researching for three years and writing an entire book on the subject, I see things in the hive that are a complete mystery to me. My two brothers have both started keeping bees in recent years, and of course they call me with all of their bee-related questions and concerns, and often I am completely flummoxed by the problems they describe. Though I have been keeping bees for six years and have researched and written about them for thousands of hours, I still consider myself a beginner.  Q: What are some common misconceptions people have about bees? A:That they’re mean and dangerous and that anyone who enjoys working with them must be completely eccentric. That the painful sting they received was definitely from a honeybee, and not the equally likely result of an attack by a malicious hornet or wasp.  Q: It might surprise people to know that honeybees are not native to North America. When and where were honeybees introduced on this continent? A:I mention in the book that bees were very likely on the Mayflower, though there is no record of it, but a few years later, records from an English ship coming to the colonies reference stocks of bees, so I am sure that bees were introduced to the New England area in the early seventeenth century. Spanish missionaries soon followed, bringing their own stocks of bees. I like to suppose that the earliest settlers went to this trouble because they could not risk or tolerate the possibility that life in the new world would be without sweetness, so they brought their own sweet factoriesbee hives。 Q: As sugar became more affordable and gained popularity, honey consumption declined. Is there hope for a honey renaissance? A:If everyone on the planet reads Robbing the Bees, and realizes how important bees are, and how beneficial the honey they produce, and how insidious and generally unhelpful processed sugar is, there will be a honey revolution! But until that revolution, I think there is hope for a honey renaissance as more people learn about sustainable agriculture and slow food, get turned off to chemicals and additives, shop at natural markets or the local farm stand, and learn about the magic, mystery and flavor of honey.  Q. What are the questions you are most frequently asked when people find out you are a beekeeper? A.“ Really? Why would you want to do that?”  Now I can just hand them a copy of my book.  Q. “How many bees do you have?” A.I have two hives, which I keep in standard boxes. In the height of summer, when the colonies are at their biggest and strongest, each of these boxes holds about 60,000 bees, so usually I boast about having over a hundred thousand bees. This impresses (and sometimes terrifies) most casual questioners, but it is actually a very small number when you think about Smiley’s 700 hives, or the giant operations that support thousands of colonies and millions, even billions of individual bees.   Q. “Do you get stung a lot? Does it hurt.?” A.I do get stung a couple times a year, but it’s usually because I have done something stupid to provoke my bees, who are only trying to defend their home, and who die after they sting, which seems an unfair arrangement to me when their cause is so noble and the difference in our sizes so vast. I usually feel worse about the sacrificed bee than I do about the pain and swelling that follow the sting. Yes, it hurts a LOT. Just thinking about getting stung is enough to make me shudder and check the zipper on my bee suit about five times. However, the more stings you receive, the more the body is accustomed to the poison, and the lesser the reaction, so I should probably try to get stung even more. This past season, I was cleaning out some equipment, and somehow I scraped a stinger from a dead bee into my little fingertip. Even this half-sting was surprisingly painful, and the swelling that followed was robust. It’s powerful stuff.  Q. What exactly is honey? A.This question is usually asked a little sheepishly, as if of course everyone should know what honey is, but a lot of people don’t. They know that bees make it, but how and from what? In addition to being the world’s first sweetener, the food of mythical gods and mere mortals for centuries, I explain that honey is distilled plant nectar, which bees gather from a variety of blossoms and dry or cure into a sweet syrup that they store and use as food.

Once I have answered these questions, I usually add a few fascinating bee facts, like that the entire colony is overseen by one monarch, the queen, and that most of the bees in the colony who work for her are female. I like to add that the males, or drones, do very little in the colony other than impregnate the queen and mooch food from the hives’ food supply. I usually finish my bee sales pitch by explaining that one bee will make only about a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime, which I hope will inspire wonder and appreciation for the bee’s noble efforts on our behalf.

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