Keeping Bees at the End of the World
Here we are at possibly the end of the world and I’m writing about bees…
Full Disclosure that Will Surprise No one: I’m a bit of a nerd. Growing up in a working class immigrant Latinx home, I was obsessed with comics, video games, and fantasy / science fiction. There was an absolute freedom in diving into a world not my own and feeling powerful even if the characters didn’t look like me. As I aged into high school, I discovered Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While there are very legitimate critiques of portrayals of characters of color, I appreciated it’s feminism. Female characters were written with a depth and complexity not seen elsewhere (check out Whedon on why he writes such strong female characters).
As I got older, I ‘branched’ out to Joss Whedon’s Angel. My favorite part of Angel is that the show explores the banality of evil (how I love you, Hannah Arendt). What is the most damaging is not evil acts done by evil people but everyday acts where people are ‘going along’ with the status quo. Angel taught me that our goal should be striving to resist, to commit to the struggle, and that, at times, the struggle is more important than the winning.
Case in Point: In Angel’s last episode, Not Fade Away, two characters, Gunn and Annie, are talking in South Central LA. She’s in the midst of packing up and moving from one location to another to provide psychiatric services and support to low-income communities and he’s asking her how things are going:
ANNIE: It's not so bad. We've had some really decent donations, and it's helping. (they hand off the boxes to the men on the truck) We actually have a part-time paid psychiatric staff.
GUNN: What if I told you it doesn't help? What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it's all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive, and they will never let it get better down here. What would you do?
ANNIE: I'd get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here. (Gunn nods) Wanna give me a hand?
GUNN: I do.
Right there. What matters is not assured victory but that we will consistently fight against what is unjust to create something better. Why bring this up? Because here we are at what feels like the end of the world and I’m choosing to keep bees. Bees.
Why? There are few things more revolutionary than planting seeds and caring for life that is not your own even as the bombs are falling, the guns are blazing, when children who look like your children are locked in cages, and your community is dying exponentially from a novel disease. I’m choosing bees because in large acts and small, we must all continue to push towards life, towards the beautiful struggle that is resistance even if we are not alive to reap the rewards.
We have so much to learn from our bee relatives on what resistance, struggle, and cooperation look like. Did you know that bees are one of the most important species on Earth,70% of the world’s agriculture requires bees for pollination AND bees are the only living species who don’t carry any pathogens and they are dying off at an exponential rate, almost 90% in the last few years. The list of why bees are incredible and necessary to support all life on earth.
We must return to our plant and animal relatives and to our own ancestral knowledge. If we are to survive, we need to learn what has been lost during the violent process of colonization. Imagine a Puerto Rico where there were thousands of community gardens, where everyone knew how to rebuild, and water purification was the norm. Imagine a California where public education meant that youth were trained in creating defensible space against wildfires. Imagine a New Orleans where bayous were national treasures so that when hurricanes hit, they slowed down enough to pose minimal danger. Activities that should be as natural as breathing are now foreign, scary, and dangerous.
Beekeeping was one of those foreign activities. No one I knew kept bees and it wasn’t until I saw a post on Nextdoor (yes, they sell more than racist propaganda and surveillance) that someone was selling all new (not used) beekeeping equipment for $150 that I was sold. Beekeeping became an accessible reality to me. It was the equivalent of creating a beekeeping avatar of myself on a video game. All of a sudden that entire world became possible. While none of the images of beekeepers looked like me, I was well-versed in using my imagination to imagine myself in all kinds of different skins - organizer, academic, founder, and now beekeeper.
[Important Bee PSA: if you are looking into keeping bees NEVER buy used boxes and wax. There is something called American Foul Brood and there is a chance that your equipment can be infected with it. It’s not worth it.]
And now I want to share this knowledge with you so that I’m not the only person of color who keeps bees in the city. So, if you’re thinking of keeping bees, here’s some knowledge to get you started. Think of it like fairy dust in the form of bee pollen falling from the sky to transport you on the path to beekeeping:
Spring time is the best time to buy a nucleus of bees;
There are so many types of bees and so many places both in person and over the mail where you can get them;
Go with a reputable source - I got my bees from BioFuel Oasis. Their bees are bred for gentleness and are mite resistant. Also, if your queen dies within the first three weeks, they’ll help you out;
While you can catch your own swarm, I would leave that to the professionals.