The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America
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“You’llnever think of bees, their keepers, or the fruits (and nuts) of their laborsthe same way again.” —Trevor Corson, author of The Secret Life of Lobsters
Award-winning journalist Hannah Nordhaus tells the remarkable story of John Miller, one of America’s foremost migratory beekeepers, and the myriad and mysterious epidemics threatening American honeybee populations. In luminous, razor-sharp prose, Nordhaus explores the vital role that honeybees play in American agribusiness, the maintenance of our food chain, and the very future of the nation. With an intimate focus and incisive reporting, in a book perfect for fans of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire,and John McPhee’s Oranges, Nordhaus’s stunning exposé illuminates one the most critical issues facing the world today,offering insight, information, and, ultimately, hope.
drones—larger male bees whose sole task is to be available to impregnate a queen—wander around looking for handouts. Amid all this chaos, the queen sits like a rock star in a mosh pit, laying eggs, encircled by fawning workers who tend to her every need. That’s what a healthy colony looks like. But when a colony collapses—when the population dwindles, when the incubating larvae get too cold, when the workers expire in a huddled, fluttering mass inside the hive or crawl out the entrances to die
Instead, he asked him about a rumor he’d heard in the halls. Was it true? Did his bees have tracheal mites? “He turned to me and said if I were you I’d get my bees the hell out of North Dakota,” Miller recalls. The state of California had embarked on a campaign to stave off the mite, destroying outfits in which mites had been detected and closing state borders to hives from states where tracheal mites had been confirmed. The Florida beekeeper knew that North Dakota would soon be on that list.
encounters might not produce normal amounts of venom—but, he says, if you hang around with stinging insects, “sooner or later you’re going to goof up and get stung.” When it happens, Schmidt pays meticulous attention to the type, intensity, and longevity of the pain, describing it in vivid personal detail. There are two ways that insects defend themselves, Schmidt explains. The first is simply to kill or impair the attacker: four to five bee stings, for instance, provide enough toxin to murder a
when, discouraged by high fuel, fertilizer, and equipment costs, and with their children all decamped to Minneapolis to make real livings, they’d leased their farm to a larger operation and retired. After I settled in, they offered me fresh-baked bread with honey. There was lots of honey in the cupboard, and all of it—except one tub of creamy honey from Utah produced by Miller’s aunt Shirley Miller, “widow of David, and her slightly loopy daughter Eileen and son David Jr.”—came from John’s bees.
out of there.” So he does. In late March, he ships 3,000 or so hives home to Newcastle to prepare them to receive new queens; 3,000 travel to Washington to pollinate the pink lady apples; 1,600 go to the cherries around Stockton. On April 2, he divides his Newcastle hives and buys new queens for them; on April 5 the Stockton bees leave the cherries for Newcastle, where they too receive new queens. On May 5 he ships his apple bees from Washington to Gackle, North Dakota, his summer home, for the