In one of the most clever news headlines I have ever seen, editor Darcy Cheek of Ontario’s Recorder.ca writes: Honey bees go to Lyn church to prey. Any editor/reporter who can come up with a lede-line like that deserves mention. It caught my attention.
Here’s his story: Last week, a swarm settled into an Anglican parish church in farm country, Ontario. The priest’s assistant called for help. With approval from Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (yes, folks, climate change is real enough to have a ministry), the bees were exterminated. That’s right – killed, destroyed, poisoned, and made dead. Later, a local beekeeper named Debbie Hutchings of Debbee’s Bees near Newboro, Ontario, heard about the honey bee liquidation event. She was upset. Ms Hutchings felt that more of an effort could have been made to save the bees. She is likely right.
I have a couple of thoughts on this. First, Ms Hutchings sounds like the sort of beekeeper we all want to know. She runs a small bee farm and sells bee supplies and honey. She rescues bees. She cares about bees. Her great-grandfather’s ancestors were beekeepers and brought bees with them in the mid-1800s when they took a slow boat from England to Canada.
I have to admit that I scoffed when I read that she told reporter Darcy Cheek that she still has honey bee stock that has been in the Hutchings family for 195 years. Of course not, I thought. Two hundred years ago, the bees that her ancestors imported (probably without CFIA approval) would have been black in colour, small in size, and would have had trouble wintering in Ontario, but if they survived, they would build up quickly in the spring. These bees are sometimes called black bees, European dark bees, or Apis mellifera mellifera. Almost everywhere in North America, they have been replaced by more productive Carniolan, Caucasian, and Italian races. The last time I saw the European dark bees in North America was in 1976, along the Pee Dee River at the apiary of a remote South Carolina beekeeper, a friend of mine who kept about ten gum boxes stocked with black bees. It seemed highly improbable that Ms Hutchings had such bees. But I am wrong.
Debbie Hutchings describes her bees on her website:
“[My grandparents] brought the honeybees with them from England. I can’t say that within the last 100 or so years the Hutchings bee hasn’t interbred with other breeds of honeybees, but we have not intentionally cross bred them. I still put my best breeder hives in the basement of the old homestead when winter comes a knocking, just like my Grandfathers did. They are gentle, little dark bees that winter in small clusters that explode when spring comes.“
Sounds like European dark bees to me. Kudos to Debbie Hutchings for recognizing this and keeping the bees going in the traditional way.
And speaking of traditions… The church in Lyn, Ontario, that had the bees destroyed is Saint John the Baptist Anglican parish church. I’ve read the Bible. Twice, in fact. John was the wildman who lived in the desert. He survived (according to The Book) by eating locusts and honey. I think the Ontario church missed a great opportunity to cash in on the amazing miracle of the honey-dripping ceiling. Churches these days are struggling to survive. Attendance is way down. But even I would go to a church that handed out little bowls of locusts and then queued worshipers under a dripping ceiling where fresh honey drizzled down on the locusts. For a really authentic experience, they could even offer camel-skin robes. But alas, the bees were killed. What would John the Baptist say about that?