Here at the farm, Katayoun and Eric have an amazing vegetable garden and five awesome goats. We felt cared for as soon as we arrived. A warm-hearted welcome from old friends and affable goats. Dragging ourselves into their home, tired and worn, we couldn’t have asked for more.
Their home is brimming with calm loveliness. But among the more amazing things here are the bees. Katayoun is an aspiring beekeeper. She now has two hives. I love bees. I mean, I’m pretty sure I do. I like the idea of them, though honestly I’ve never been close to actual bees. The closest I’ve ever come was getting attacked by a wasp when I was eleven. Still, for years I’ve been fascinated by honey bees. At least intellectually. My appreciation began when I read Virgil’s Georgics. He uses them as a political allegory. I always thought that was clever.
Katayoun graciously agreed to indulge my curiosity. I was keen to meet bees up close, and I also wanted to photograph them. Katayoun donned her protective outfit and we marched out to the hives.
She has two colonies, different species. One is a colony of Urban bees and the other are called Yogi bees. I am not making this up. Those really are different types of bees. It’s science. And there are surprising differences between the two species.
Bees always make noise. But when a hive is opened, all bees get a bit agitated and start to buzz more loudly. Katayoun didn’t use smoke to calm them down. She told me when she’s inspecting the Yogi bees, if she makes no sudden movements, and pays close attention when handling the sticky boards that house the bees, they don’t attack her. The Yogi bees hum quite calmly. I mean, I’m not gonna lie. Nothing can make your amygdala scream, “Run!” like the rising crescendo of a swarm of bees humming and pouring out of a hive three feet in front of you. It takes a lot of nerve to stand there taking photos. I didn’t have a suit, but I was standing a few feet away, armed with a long lens. Katayoun stands right in the midst of the bee swarm, calmly poking and observing.
Katayoun – safely covered in the beekeeper armour – just slowly lifted each sticky board out and taught me about each of the bees in different stages, where the queen cells were located, and pointed out the different sections of each hive. It was fascinating, if mildly terrifying.
While she doesn’t need smoke to handle the Yogi bees, the Urban bees are a different story. She almost always has to use smoke (or burning sage). They’re just too agitated. They also don’t buzz the same way. Where the Yogi bee buzz is harmonic and somehow calm, the buzzing of the Urban bees is much louder, less harmonic. If the Yogi bees are singing, the Urban bees are screaming.
After almost three years of caring for these two hives, Katayoun noticed that the Urban bees are very busy. They buzz a lot. The foragers – the older, more experienced ones that go out collect pollen and act as defenders – are constantly coming and going from the hive. They’re more aggressive, too. Inside the hive, the bees are moving constantly, buzzing loudly. The Urban bees are literally a hive of activity.
The Yogi bees are different. They’re quieter. They don’t move around as much in the hive when Katayoun inspects it. The foragers are less aggressive and less active in terms of coming and going from the hive. Compared to the Urban bees, the hive seems to work a lot less.
The Urban bees are so busy, Katayoun started to think about how to split up the hive. The Urban bees would soon need a new box if they kept up the pace of activity and growth. She also understood there’d be a lot of honey coming out of the hive.
But after a while she noticed something interesting.
Where Urban bees are a screaming, frenetic mass of “busyness,” the Yogi bees languidly, almost lackadaisically, go about their “business”. The output of the two hives is virtually identical. No difference. They grow at the same rate, produce the same amount of honey. The only thing separating Urban and Yogi bees is noise and agitation. Huh.
I started laughing when she told me this about the bees. “Just like Toronto,” I said. “All of us run around living crazy, screaming at each other, and we get nowhere faster.”
I realized we showed up at the farm as Urban bees. Screaming a little inside, shouty, aggressive, and very busy. We can learn a lot from the Yogi bees.
On our third day at the farm, Karen and I woke up and decided Newfoundland can wait. Just like Urban bees, we had an ambitious agenda planned with lots of busyness. And it was crazy. We hadn’t realized just how tired we were. We needed some rest, not another sprint. We spent almost five days at the farm. We had planned on one. We’re headed West, not East. We’re going to take our time, explore Ontario and western Canada, and slowly make our way to Vancouver.
Katayoun’s bees turned out to be more than allegory. They were teachers. Just when we needed a lesson.