Book Corner: The amazing world of bees
Book title: More Than Honey: The Survival of Bees and the Future of Our World
Authors: Markus Imhoof and Claus-Peter Lieckfeld
Publisher: Greystone Books, 2014
REVIEW BY JULES TORTI
More Than Honey, by Markus Imhoof (a German filmmaker) and Claus-Peter Lieckfeld (co-founder of the German ecological magazine Natur), reads like a Stephen King novel. It’s a thriller B movie, literally. The book is based on the award-winning documentary (of the same name), and is a necessary resource for garden gurus, bee ambassadors, aspiring beekeepers, and armchair honey eaters.
There’s so much to digest in More Than Honey. Did you know that bees never defecate in the hive? From the waggle dance (something bees do to communicate with each other) to apitherapy (bee products for medicinal use) to the skinny behind royal jelly, it’s all here in detail.
Wild bees can visit more than 8,800 blossoms a day. Many honeybees are migrant workers—freighted by trucks from winter depots in Idaho to California for duty in February. Some bees are flown from Florida to the west coast almond blossoms, then to Washington for apple and cherry blooms, back to Florida for citrus, and then onward to New England for blueberries.
Migratory beekeeping is not a new development—it can be traced back to the pioneering efforts of Nephi Ephraim Miller in 1895. He bought a train ticket for his bees from Blackfoot, Idaho, with the notion of extending the honey-gathering season. The bees responded dutifully. Now, “pollination guys” pimp out their colonies for $150 each. Crunch the numbers and the 15,000 colonies necessary for the month-long pollination of almonds clocks in at US $2.25 million. This migration comes with a long list of logistics and variables, including agreements with long-haul truck drivers with precious bee cargo agreeing to keep personal fluid intake to a minimum. Adding any additional time to the bees’ commute can have fatal results.
More Than Honey stitches together colourful apiary history and biology while putting a magnifying glass to the current Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) crisis. Cue up the X Files soundtrack here. The bees are simply gone. In 2007, from Taiwan to New Brunswick (where 60 percent of the province’s honeybees vanished), fingers are being pointed—but in so many directions. Cellphone towers are altering bee behaviour (bees will actually buzz louder and fly away from their hives in these areas). The neo-nicotinoids that successfully protect sugar beets, chard, potato, corn, and onion crops can’t distinguish between pests and beneficial insects such as bees. The pesticide brings the chemical transmission of signals in the bee’s brain to a standstill.
Maybe Varroa mites are to blame for CCD. Flies attach eggs to the bees, robbing them of their sense of direction. Dubbed the “bee AIDS,” deformed wings and a total immune system breakdown might be the final blow from a mite invasion. Imhoof and Lieckfeld believe CCD is the sum of these various causes: “The bees die as a result of the success of civilization; they die because of us.”
But More Than Honey does not read like a 150-page obituary. Peppered with glossy images of bees in all kinds of action, the book is essential for anyone who is curious about the life cycle of bees, including killer bees. In 1956, zoologist and bee researcher Warwick Estevam Kerr and his team attempted to crossbreed African bees. Hoping to combine the gentleness of the European bee with the heat-loving of the African species, the plan was to design a perfect bespoke bee for the South American climate. There were escapees from the test colony and 36 queens formed their own colonies. Drones mated with the locals and the crossbreeding began, untethered. The offspring didn’t mind the heat, but they did not go gently into the night as predicted. Mild instead became wild.
The killer bee goof-up hinted at bigger design 1flaws of the future. Attempts to breed out the aggression of bees is also diminishing their disease resistance. However, bees are finding help from human pollinators in China. Using feather bundles attached to sticks, humans are attempting to replicate the work of bees when apples blossom.
Slow down with a glass of Diamond Estates 20 Bees Baco Noir or Whistler Brewing Company’s Bear Paw Honey Lager. With a cruising speed of 25km/hour and 280 wingbeats per second, it will be hard to keep up to our duty-bound drones.
BIO/ JULES TORTI WRITES BOOK REVIEWS FOR THE VANCOUVER SUN AND HAS BEEN KNOWN TO FLY BACK FROM UGANDA WITH MULTIPLE JARS OF KAMPALA’S NOT TONIGHT HONEY.