We just ordered our bees from the Bees Neez Apiary
– 3 lbs of workers and 1 queen! They won’t be ready to pick up until April, so we have plenty of time to get the gear ready and read up on the magical little insects.
Here’s a photo of English garden hives, borrowed from a beautiful website called Honeybees-by-the-Sea
. This style of hive has slightly different insides than a regular set-up, but the biggest difference is the pretty copper roof.
While reading up on one of our favorite topics, Customs and Folklore of Rural England (by Margaret Baker), I came upon some interesting beliefs about “the family bees”. In both England and North America, bees were considered part of the household. They were without fail told of family happenings, and when one of the household married, white ribbons were tied around the hives as the wedding news was “told” to the bees. It was also claimed that bees might choose to attend the wedding on the bride’s bouquet. But more important than wedding news, bees must be told of deaths in the family, or the bees themselves would die. One anecdote from an old Worcestershire family involved the family nurse going out to tap the straw skeps
with the housekey, saying: “Your master’s dead but don’t you go, your mistress will be a good mistress to you”. The bees would then hum to show approval of the new owner.
Bees were also given pieces of the funeral cake, and a bit of every food and drink served at the funeral feast. This being done, the bees would return to work again. In some areas the bees were even formally invited to the funeral. Check out Songs of the Ridings for an old Yorkshire song called Telling the Bees.
Here’s a rather smallish picture of a print by J.P. Davis called Telling the Bees. You can see the woman is draping the hives with black crepe funeral cloth, as in the poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.
There will bee lots more updates as we start assembling what we need to house and care for our first hive. And more on bee folklore as well. It seems our ancestors not only depended on these little critters for their main source of sweetness, and wax for candles, but they respected them as vital members of the family with their own body of knowledge and customs to be observed.