Tokyo Drips With Sweet Honey

I’m fascinated with honey bees. I’m thrilled by the recent rise in urban beekeeping and glad to see that Washington, D.C’s, local beekeeping laws are finally becoming more amenable to this venerable tradition.

One of the earliest extensive treatises on beekeeping was written by Virgil in 29 BC (Virgil’s Georgic IV):

Of air-born honey, gift of heaven, I now
Take up the tale….
The others shine forth and flash with lightning-gleam,
Their backs all blazoned with bright drops of gold
Symmetric: this the likelier breed; from these,
When heaven brings round the season, thou shalt strain
Sweet honey, nor yet so sweet as passing clear,
And mellowing on the tongue the wine-god’s fire.

And the bee as Christian symbol was well-known in Europe. The honey bee has historically been a symbol of Christ’s attributes due to its honey and sting. The honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice and the cross. Bees are also a symbol of the resurrection. The three winter months when bees hibernate reminds Christians of the three days Christ spent in the tomb before rising.

The organization of life in the bees community, with perfectly delineated relationships and its dependence upon and service to the queen bee, also came to reflect an ideal of Christian virtues. Additionally, bees and beehives symbolize eloquence, and are represented with the three known holy orators called doctores melliflui (scholars sweet as honey): St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom. (See more on ancient Christian symbols.)

There’s also St. Gobnait of County Cork in Ireland who is the patron saint of bees. There’s even a contemporary Christian mission group in Uganda called Beekeepers for Christ.

Now, beekeeping is also taking wing in urban Japan! Here’s an excerpt from a recent article:

Eleven stories above the heart of the Tokyo concrete jungle — with its beehive office partitions and swarms of suit-clad worker-bees — enthusiasts have stacked up beehives dripping with golden honey.

“Let’s enjoy the harvest, but be careful you don’t have an accident,” urban beekeeper-in-chief Kazuo Takayasu tells his fellow volunteers from behind the protective fine-mesh net covering his face.

Clad in white body suits, the crew gets to work, squeezing out the glistening syrup using a simple centrifugal machine they crank by hand as a cloud of bees breaks free from the honeycombs. …

The honey is largely organic, he said, because pesticide use has been banned in Tokyo city parks and gardens including the Imperial Palace, about one mile away, where the bees collect much of their nectar. …

Read Beekeepers Add Buzz To Japan Urban Jungle.

Beltway Buzz: D.C.’s Fancy Bees and the ‘First Beehive’ at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave

Fairmont-BeesBees bring joy to life. The more bees there are in the District of Columbia the better off we’ll be. First Lady of Cool Michelle inaugurated the First Beehive last year at the White House along with the First Organic Garden. DCist blogger Vanessa Schipani has a nice update on how those Obama Bees are going. (My favorite part is that White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts rides the subway with his buzzy little friends. Ah yes, it recalls the psalm, ” They surrounded me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns” 118:12.)

White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts has transported more than one thousand bees using Metro — on more than one occasion. Brandts was the guest speaker at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation urban beekeeping course last Monday, the second class in a series of four. A carpenter for the White House, Brandts keeps bees at his home in Maryland. When President Barack Obama got word about Brandts’s hives, a green-eyed commander in chief asked Brandts to set up one for the White House — the First Beehive. In its first full year’s harvest, the hive produced a considerable amount of honey — all told, around 134 pounds — went into the Obama family’s bellies. Fresh honey is delicious, no doubt, but Obama had other, less hedonistic, reasons for harboring thousands of stinging insects next to his organic garden: Bees are pollinators, and bees are dying. A worldwide disappearance of honeybees, known as colony collapse disorder, is thought to result from a combination of disease and environmental factors. …

Urban hives produce exquisite honey. It’s extremely unique and flavorful because the bees collect nectar from myriad types of flowers that grow in our backyards and parks. This is another reason bees should have a home in our cities, especially DC, which has more floral variety than you might imagine. As for living and working alongside a potential enemy — bees will sometimes sting people, of course — it shouldn’t be an issue in a city for which division and acrimony is a cottage industry. As Brandts said, “Bees are more interested in nectar than politics.”–Vanessa Schipani (Read the whole piece here.)

In other news, the luxury hotel chair Fairmont is housing bees on their hotel rooftops around the world, including here in downtown D.C.’s West End neighborhood. So sweet!

In response to the nation’s Honey Bee shortage and as part of the Fairmont Washington DC’s environmental stewardship program, the hotel has recently welcomed 105,000 Italian honey bees to their new home.  The rooftop of The Fairmont Washington, DC is now abuzz with three honey beehives and their residents.  The bees will enhance the hotel’s culinary program along with its interior courtyard garden that already provides fresh herbs and flowers such as edible pansies, and the plants, trees and flowers in the surrounding West End neighborhood.

Peter Lennox: The Origin of ‘Pecking Order’

urbanchickenMy Dad raised chickens in our suburban Sacramento backyard when I was growing up. Their cluck and brrrr and creak formed a soundtrack outside my bedroom window. Many of our legendary family stories involve a chicken in one way or another.

As urban farming gains in popularity and there are debates in D.C. about whether it’s legal to raise chickens at the White House (How About a White House Chicken Flock?), I found Peter Lennox’s recent article Pecking Order to be funny, wry, informative, and even touching.

In addition, the comments from readers are a great plus. They include many stories on the varying levels of chicken intelligence (“they’re not all the sharpest beaks in the coop”) and one reader concludes she’s much rather spend time with her chickens than most of the management consultants she knows.

Enjoy a quick excerpt below:

Keeping chickens may not be the most efficient way to source eggs, of course, but then it depends on what is being measured. I benefit from eggs, mobile garden ornaments, endless amusement and companionship; I even learn from them. My nine-year-old budding evil-scientist son has learnt that evolution can go down as well as up, and that ground-feeding birds can, over generations, get larger and lose the ability to fly. He also discovered that rigging up a chicken catapult baited with corn can improve individuals’ flying skills, but is not likely to reverse the evolutionary trend and is very likely to get you into trouble. Fair enough: he also learnt to take care of them and understand their preferences and behaviour; he teaches them things, and they patiently go along with it as long as some tasty titbit is part of the deal.

Put that way, keeping chickens is a lot more efficient than driving to the supermarket for eggs of unknown heritage. Ours are great eggs with big golden-orange yolks that sit like perfect hemispheres in the pan. Hardly surprising, as these are gourmand chickens: they eat what we eat (chicken excepted, of course). They like sweetcorn, peas, pasta and rice. They love steak and cooked bacon rind. In the course of evolution, I don’t know where chickens developed a taste for cooked pig. Maybe a freak accident: a bolt of lightning; a forest fire; an unfortunate pig … They also like prawns, salmon, cake and bread, and ironically are rather partial to sage and onion stuffing. They are also fans of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, carrot tops, cabbage leaves, grass, shoots – especially the ones you’ve just planted. And they turn all this rather efficiently into eggs and excrement.

Read the rest of Peter Lennox’s Pecking Order.

Jesus Bees and Street Honey

I love bees. I took a semester of bee-keeping when I was studying biology at the University of California, Davis. It was always a great adventure to ride my bike out to the veterinary medicine school where there was a “study hive.” I would spend hours tracking particular bees in the large glass-walled hive. For extra credit in that course, I wrote a collection of “bee poems” to submit with my research.

Someday, I’ll take up the renegade art of urban beekeeping and sell street honey in the inner city. (It’s actually illegal to keep bees inside the District of Columbia.) Read  here for more on the joys of backyard beekeeping.

Bees also have a time-honored place in Christian history. There are several mentions of bees in the Bible. And they are considered to have attributes of Jesus due to their honey and sting. According to an interesting article by Croatian vet students about animal symbolism in Christian art:

Honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice. Furthermore, bees are of the symbols of resurrection. Three winter months during which it does not come out from the bee-hive remind us of three days after Christ’s death when his body was invisible, then appeared again and was resurrected. The organisation of life in the bees community, with perfectly defined interrelations and relation to the queen-bee, became almost the ideal of Christian virtues. On the other hand, bees and bee hive symbolise eloquence, and are presented with the three known holy orators called “Doctores melliflui” (scholars sweet as honey). They are: St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom.

There’s also a fascinating bible study out there somewhere on Judges 14 where a hive of bees in the carcass of the lion distracts Sampson as he is on his way to “take” his enemy wife. Tell me what you find. The Hebrew word for bee is: devorah. It’s etymologically related to the words for “speaking” and “choosing a direction.” It’s associated with prophecy.

Of course, most folks have heard that bees are under attack from climate change and mono-crop agriculture. So eat your honey, plant native wildflowers, don’t use pesticides, and love your bees..