A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings by Helen Jukes and Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper by Andrew Coté
While the first hints of spring arouse anticipation in gardeners about seedling starts and turning the soil, as a former beekeeper, springtime still turns my thoughts to bees and this year prompted me to read two delightful books on beekeeping back-to-back to start the year.
If you are thinking about beginning to keep bees, Helen Jukes’ A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings is a great introduction. Documenting her first year of keeping bees in Oxford, England, Jukes talks through practical questions and considerations, from choosing a location and deciding what style of hive best suits that location, to obtaining a colony, to honey production and harvest.
But more than just a primer on beekeeping, Jukes muses about what it means to “keep” wild creatures and whether bees can actually be considered domesticated. A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings is also buzzing with interesting factoids about bees and the history of beekeeping.
The “bee dance” where bees communicate information about a pollen or nectar source is one of the great mysteries of nature. Researchers believe that factors such as body angle and dance duration communicate direction and distance to the source, while the energy of the dance communicates the sweetness of the nectar or presence of obstacles in the path. Jukes notes that, amazingly, this ability is innate, as bees can both dance and interpret the movements even when raised in isolation.
As beekeepers go, while Jukes is quiet and meditative, Andrew Coté (pictured) is like rock ‘n roll with the volume turned up. Coté, a fourth-generation apiarist, is New York City’s premier beekeeper. His curriculum vitae includes Fulbright Scholar, college professor, founder of NYC Beekeeper’s Association, and Executive Director of the nonprofit Bees Without Borders. He also sells his honey in Union Square.
Coté’s recent book, Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper, is chock full of fascinating and outrageous stories about beekeeping in an urban environment. He has captured swarms on stoplights hanging over busy New York streets and from a high ledge at One Times Square—where the New Year’s Eve ball drop happens. He regularly assists NYPD in responding to complaints about poorly kept hives and other honeybee problems.
Google “untilled MOMA” to see Coté’s contribution to the Museum of Modern Art outdoor sculpture “Untilled,” where he was commissioned to figure out how to get bees to build their comb to make a living hive head on the sculpture.
But Coté is not just about beekeeping fun in the big city. For their organization Bees Without Borders, Coté and his father travel to faraway places such as rural Uganda, Haiti, Ecuador, and Iraq to teach beekeepers how to increase their honey yield and income.
Although the tone and setting of these two books are as different as can be, the authors agree completely on one thing—that bees, who pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops (which constitutes about a third of what we eat), are integral to the human food ecosystem and that to ensure the survival of our species, we would do well to treat them like royalty.
As well as being a bee enthusiast—or “beek,” as Andrew Coté would say—Lisa Gresham is the Collection Services Manager at Whatcom County Library System. Visit https://www.wcls.org to find these titles and to learn how WCLS brings the power of sharing to rural Whatcom County.
(Originally published in Cascadia Weekly, Wednesday, February 10, 2021.)