Les Femmes


The summer is well advanced and for us it’s been an exciting one. My husband and I decided to become beekeepers last fall, took a course in Beginning Beekeeping over the winter, and got two nucleus hives in May.

How we decided on this adventure is a story in itself. We square dance and one of the gentleman in our club, who is 87, was a commercial beekeeper for about 45 years. He used to work as many as five hundred hives and transported them up and down the Shenandoah Valley to pollinate the orchards. After his wife died several years ago, Gordon got rid of the bees, but after two years decided he missed “the girls” (the worker bees are all females) and now keeps about thirty hives just for fun. He doesn’t even harvest the honey since he’s diabetic. Talking to Gordon about beekeeping stimulated a latent interest and here we are – first year beekeepers!

If I could only put
 into the hearts of all,
 the fire that is burning
within my own heart,
and that makes me love
the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much.

Blessed Jacinta of Fatima

We visited Gordon’s bee yard on a warm day last March and watched while he opened a hive and explained  what was going on inside. It gave us a chance to see in action what we were learning in class.  Gordon is our mentor and his experience and advice have been absolutely invaluable in our first season. We didn’t expect to get any honey at all this year because the goal of the first-year beekeeper is to get the new hives through the winter. So most of what the bees collect is used to feed them. But our bees have been so busy and collected so much nectar, that we had an entire super (a ten frame box) filled with capped honey to extract at a July honey harvest party, another fun experience!

What our bees produced is a light golden honey that our two little local granddaughters like to eat right out of the jar on a spoon or on a pretzel stick. Yum! The type of honey produced depends on where the bees collect nectar. We plan to save a jar from this harvest to compare with what we get next year. (Presuming our bees survive the winter.) It should be entirely different. We got our bees after our apple trees finished blooming. Next year that will be a crop for the foragers along with other early bloomers.

I’m not surprised that medieval monks kept bees. Not only are they a great source of food and drink (honey is a principal ingredient in mead, a popular medieval drink made of fermented honey and water), they pollinated the monastery gardens and offered a show-and-tell illustration of God’s providence and the blessedness of fruitful labor.

Every bee in the hive has a job. While the summer bees only live about six weeks, they are busy indeed. They cycle through numerous roles: nursemaids who care for the brood, housekeepers who clean out the cells, the queen’s court who escort her around the brood chamber as she lays up to 1500 eggs a day, guards who keep out robber bees, and, of course, the foragers who collect nectar, pollen, and water for the hive. It takes all of them to care for the community and produce the sweet harvest. Now isn’t that a lesson for life about our dependence on one another? Even the drones, whose primary function is to fertilize a virgin queen, play a role keeping the hive happy. (Perhaps they are troubadours.)

Who can look at the complexity of a bee colony and say it happened by chance? When I commented to Gordon and Tom (a beekeeper with one season under his belt) that I couldn’t imagine an atheist beekeeper, they both agreed.

The patron saint of beekeepers is an Irish lass named St. Gobnait who lived in the 5th or 6th century. She is particularly venerated in Kerry and the diocesan website has a long entry about her. Although a native of County Clare, Gobnait fled to Inis Oirr to escape an enemy. There she experienced a vision of an angel who sent her to find the “place of her resurrection” where nine white deer grazed. After a long journey she discovered them at Baile Bhuirne and settled there until her death. Many stories from tradition tell about the beekeeping saint among them miraculous healings and honey-based cures. One tale relates how Gobnait protected Baile Bhuirne from a plague by drawing a line around the parish which was never breached. Another describes her keeping a force of invaders from cattle rustling by releasing bees from her hives who attacked the marauders forcing them to flee.

Honeybees are indeed among the wonders of God’s creation, but they are endangered by a combination of parasites, pesticides and GMO crops. A new movie  documentary called More than Honey describes the disturbing collapse of the honeybee population. It includes what is likely an apocryphal story about Albert Einstein who supposedly said that if honeybees disappeared mankind would have only four more years to live. That is probably an exaggeration, but it puts into focus the essential role honeybees play in pollinating many of the world’s crops. It is certainly a reminder that we are called by God to be good stewards of the earth. We are trying to do our part by contributing to the health of the honeybees. And we plan to return to the Lord one tenth of our production as our thanksgiving honey tithe.

Editors Note: Do you appreciate the Les Femmes newsletter? If yes, please consider a donation. Check your mailing label. If the date is past, your subscription is overdue. We send the newsletter gratis to every priest, DRE, school principal, and seminarian in the diocese.

Les Femmes is a founding member of the Catholic Media Coalition a group of print and electronic publishers. See www.catholicmediacoalition.org

Table of Contents