Diversions: Stung by the Bug 

Beekeepers pass on the timeless buzz.

Bees kind of know what’s going on. ... with the weather anyway.” Fifer is the president of the Richmond Beekeepers Association, and this is his quiet way of introducing the curious to the world of beekeeping.

As bees bubble onto the ledge of one of his hives, Fifer contemplates them, letting them crawl onto his fingers. Beekeepers seem to share a certain unhurried activeness; they’re patient, knowledgeable and eager to reveal the mysteries of the apiary world.

The association has 80 members and meets once a month. Some keep their membership a secret, because according to member Paul Jamerson, bees are always taking the blame. “If anyone gets stung, it’s always the bees; it’s never wasps and hornets,” he says, chuckling. Members keep their bees in their yards, on roofs, even indoors. They take bees to schools, museums and the State Fair. The honey and beeswax candles change hands, keeping the bees busy.

But the beekeepers keep up. Fifer has a full calendar: He plays bluegrass with the Jubilee Band and is involved in other organizations, as well. Jamerson works part time at a home-improvement store, writes the Beekeeper newsletter and runs a beeswax-candle business. Through it all, neither man seems overwhelmed. They always have time to talk about bees.

“Each bee has jobs, the needs of the hive dictate what happens,” Fifer says. “There’s no foreman or boss. It’s amazing how all this comes together inside a beehive.” The Richmond Beekeepers Association is similarly adaptable. Fifer has been its president a handful of times during the 15 or so years he has been a keeper. When the need arises, he has come in to fill the position, also acting as vice president. “The V.P. has the working job,” he says. “He has to get together the program each month.”

There’s a natural order at work, it seems. The only ongoing drama is with the National Honey Board. Its promotion of foreign honey upsets U.S. beekeepers. Local honey is by far better, according to Fifer, because of its health benefits. Allergic to ragweed? The trace amounts of ragweed pollen in local honey strengthen immunity.

Honey is the eternal food too. Because microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses cannot grow in it, it will last forever. “They’re digging honey out of Egyptian tombs that’s still good,” Fifer says. And if it has crystallized, heat it slowly to return it to its bee-made form. Honey’s antibacterial properties make it perfect for healing wounds, keeping germs out while sealing moisture in. The Richmond Beekeepers work as hard to spread this knowledge of honey as the bees do to make it.

Even bee venom seems to have the power to heal. Bee-sting therapy is being used to fight multiple sclerosis; the venom stimulates the body to produce cortisone. Strategic stinging has been shown to counteract the progression of the disease. Fifer donates bees for this purpose and the response has been positive. He has even heard of a man whose sight was restored, whose strength returned, who, he says, “threw away his cane” after undergoing bee sting therapy.

There does seem to be something of the miraculous in bees — in their ability to heal, to feed and to encourage contemplation. Fifer knows that it is nature humming its best tune, one the other Richmond beekeepers know well. “It’s a never-ending circle once you get involved with it,” he says as evening descends.

The clouds have all passed to the east. It never did rain.




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