Partial to Home: Honeybees offer virus preview


Birney Imes



With a bit of imagination you could say that last fall our bees gave us a preview of the pandemic now besetting us. Suddenly they started dying in large numbers. I would walk out mornings to find piles of dead honeybees on the ground around the hives. Not only was it confounding, it was heart-wrenching. These thousands of small flying creatures were our pets.


My beekeeping mentor, Bud Watt, formerly of Cooksville in Noxubee County, now in Buras, Louisiana, opined they had gotten into some agricultural poison, possibly something a neighborhood gardener had put out -- Sevin dust, commonly used on tomato plants, will kill bees.


My other beekeeping mentor, Randy Burris, suggested a new queen might revive the hive. I installed a new queen, but she was not able to work her magic and soon we had two vacant hives.



I took it as a sign. Over the 15 years or so I'd kept bees, I'd made new friends, learned a lot, enjoyed boundless honey and had a lot of fun. All thanks to the bees.


Despite protestations from family, it was time to move on.


The bees, however, had different ideas. More on that in a minute.


Just as was the case with the bees, we have a mysterious new disease afflicting humankind. The difference is we have proven measures we can take to mitigate its spread.


This is not conjecture or breaking news: wearing masks and observing safe physical distancing inhibits the spread of the COVID-19 virus.


Yet there is so much bucking and snorting about it.


It infringes on my personal rights, folks say. Oh, please.


Sitting patiently at a seemingly interminable stoplight when there are no motorists near, obeying traffic laws and paying taxes. For the sake of a civilized society, we make concessions all the time one could say infringe on personal rights.


Thousands and thousands of Americans are dead from this virus; millions are out of work; the economy is reeling. Again the numbers are on an upward trajectory. Wearing a face mask when you go into a business seems like a meager price to pay to slow the spread of the virus.


A woman who runs a downtown business that requires patrons to wear masks told me this story last week. A guy comes in and declares he's not wearing a mask. "I'll just take my chances," he said.


"It's not about you," she said, handing him a mask.


No, it's about us all, young and old. We have a responsibility to each other.


At least I hope people feel that way.


At the farmers' market Saturday, a woman about my age, who was not wearing a mask declared, "I wish we would all get this stuff and we'd be done with it."


"I doubt the 120,000 or so Americans who have died from the virus would agree with you," I said.


"Oh, they're inflating the numbers," she said. She seemed angry.


Seems in this day and time we embrace the news source that feeds our political leanings. Only problem is the effects of COVID-19 aren't a matter of opinion.


According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of July 2, there have been 124,000 deaths from the virus in this country and 525,557 deaths worldwide. I'm not sure why Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, perhaps this country's leading medical center, would inflate numbers.


Meanwhile, back at the hive ...


On Father's Day after a paddling trip on the Sipsey River, as I was cleaning up my kayak, Beth called from the house that Rita Boykin had phoned about a swarm of bees in their yard.


Rita said someone had tried unsuccessfully for three days to catch the swarm. Apparently Mother Nature had a Father's Day gift in mind for me.


Eddie Boykin, who is a mechanic during the week, works on cars with his son Peyton in his off hours. Father and son paused from their restoration project and pointed to what looked like a bare spot in the middle of a large grassy field.


It was late afternoon and had started to rain.


As in the case of most swarm calls, I'd come prepared to shake the bees from a limb into a cardboard box. I was unprepared for a carpet of bees on the ground.


The girls looked miserable, wet and by now no doubt starved. I put a small hive down next to the bees. Inside were a few frames with some beeswax on them. Almost instantly the bees started marching into the hive.


By the next morning, every bee was inside the hive. I sealed it up and on the way home stopped at Sunflower for sugar.


At home I set them up in the backyard and mixed some sugar water for them.


That first day I probably went outside 50 times to look in on them. It's nice to have honeybees back in the neighborhood again.


It takes thousands of worker bees to sustain a hive. I hope the queen is steadily laying eggs -- it takes about three weeks before brood hatches out.


Is this hive going to make it? Can't say for sure, but signs are promising.


Fingers crossed.




Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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