Monday, May 21, 2007

What I'm reading: "Following the Bloom"
by Douglas Whynott

I haven't had a lot of time to read lately, and when I do sit down for a minute, it's hard to concentrate; I keep thinking of stuff I have to get done. So it's taking me a while to get through "Following the Bloom: Across America With the Migratory Beekeepers." Nevertheless, I am enjoying expanding what I know about bees with this entertaining and informative book.

You probably like honey, and that's the first thing we think of when we think of beekeepers, but bees also serve a critical roll in agriculture, as pollinators for a huge variety of crops. Migratory beekeepers spend a huge amount of time and effort transporting thousands of hives at a time around the country, in search of the best nectar to feed their colonies and to make money from farmers who need the bees for their blueberry bogs, almond trees, orange groves and other flowering crops. Along the way the beekeepers encounter a lot of misconceptions about what they do, and often fear and anger from people who don't want truckloads of stinging insects set down nearby or even passing through.

This book introduces a number of these dedicated beekeepers and the challenges they encounter, and also explains in detail what the bees do and how they do it. You can learn about the history of commercial beekeeping in the U.S. and how it has evolved, and how it continues to change. A mite that sickens bees is one such challenge, as states impose restrictions to keep it from spreading. Another is the march (or swarm) northward from Latin America of the africanized bee (the so-called killer bee), which is also a honey-producer but much harder to control, with possible devastating effects on the U.S. industry.

Douglas Whynott has a sympathetic and approachable style of telling the beekeepers'story, using personal accounts mixed with factual narrative. Now I've got my eyes peeled for hives in the fields (I saw some in California last week) and will likely have a few questions for the beekeepers I encounter at the next farmers market. And a new appreciation for the sweetness in my tea!

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