The Insect-Hater’s Guide to Loving Bees

by Julie Tennis on May 17, 2016

I’ll admit it, they are scary. Just about everyone in the arthropod phylum are creepy-crawly, bitey-looking things, and bees are no exception. They have huge mandibles (those grabby things on the face that you see in insect-themed horror movies). They have six legs. They move quickly and erratically. And, they sting. But…

They are also amazing, beautiful little creatures. They have antennae that waver around with as much expression as a dog’s ears. They are furry. They clean themselves like cats. And the touch of their six feet against your skin is as light as a breath of air. But these are things you begin to notice after you stop fearing the bees. So, how to get to that place where you can appreciate bees instead of panicking around them?

My Background

When I was 11, my best friend and I had the misfortune of drawing the attention of a colony of stinging insects that had been harassed by many children along a trail near our school. I don’t know how many times Jeff was stung, but I ran screaming from the forest with 14 white-hot, searing points of pain covering my torso. For the next decade I was one of those people who would flee from any small flying creature; my arms waving wildly over my head, my voice a high-pitched squeal.

Choose to Change

The first step from fear to passion came when I was in college, studying environmental education and outdoor recreation. My love for bats allowed me to see how creatures could be seen as good or bad, depending on the attitude of the viewer. I began making the conscious decision to see the good in every creature. It wasn’t always easy. I’m still challenged by ticks and mosquitos. But deciding to appreciate bees was the first step of my journey.

You might accomplish this step by reading about the benefits of bees. Though, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably ready for the next step!

Start Spying
After my sister and I moved away from home, my dad began beekeeping again, something he hadn’t done since childhood. Now that I had decided to like the animals I’d once despised, I was curious – what are they like when they’re not attacking? My dad would plop down with his lawn chair in front of the hives to watch the bees come and go, so I would stand and watch from the porch. He never got stung. That was interesting data – I used to think bees would sting you as much as look at you, but that didn’t appear to be the case. I began to become more comfortable in the presence of bees.

Do you know a beekeeper? Is there a beekeeping club in your area? Are there colonies you can watch from a safe distance? If not, consider watching some of the many YouTube videos on bees and beekeeping to get a chance to watch these critters from a safe distance. As you become more familiar with their baseline behavior, your fears will start to settle and fade.

Get in Close
My curiosity finally got the better of me and I started spending time close enough to my dad’s hives to feel the occasional bee zip by my face. I would crouch down and watch the pollen-laded field bees jostle for a place to land, then run into the slot to bring their groceries to the workers inside. I became engrossed and began wishing I could interact with the bees on a more personal level.

When you reach this point, seek out someone with a bee suit so you can get up close and personal with the bees. Perhaps there’s an apiary that does tours near you, or a beekeeper with an extra suit who is willing to have you watch over her shoulder as she works.

Make it a Necessity

The tipping point for me, between bystander and beekeeper, was when I discovered I’m allergic to sugar cane. I was able to use honey for sweetener, and nearly cleared out my dad’s supply to keep my sweet tooth happy. Eventually, my dad set me up with my first colony so that I could source my own honey.

Your need doesn’t have to be as urgent as mine was. Perhaps you like flowers, or eating fruit. Maybe you have an appreciation for the natural world. Any of these is good reason to have bees around. Without these furry insects (I’m talking native bees as well as honey bees), we wouldn’t have many of the flowers or fruits we’ve come to enjoy. In fact, without our pollinators, the rest of the natural world begins to suffer as well. Humans are not the only creature who relies on pollinated plants for food.

Your Next Step
What are you going to do to become less fearful of bees? Choose one of the suggestions above, or use them to help devise your own strategy. Then come on over to my Facebook page, @BeeMentor.com, to share your story – I would love to hear about your progress!

If your fear is more deeply rooted, the kind that twists in your chest just thinking about it, I hear you. I have that kind of dread with regards to swimming in natural water. I haven’t figured out a way around it yet, so I don’t feel qualified to advise you. But, once I figure it out, I’ll write another post about facing those soul-squirming phobias. ‘Till then, do what you can to enjoy the most out of bees and the natural world, despite your fears!

Wetland Mitigation Site Study

by Julie Tennis on May 12, 2016

For the past 19 years, Astoria High School’s freshman science students have participated in an annual study of the Astoria Airport Mitigation Bank wetland. Lee Cain and Nick Baisley lead this endeavor, coordinating volunteers and students in two days of data collection. This is my second year volunteering as the bumblebee group leader.

Today I had three students, Maddy, Kevin and Quinton. All three students captured a bee. Despite her aversion to flying insects, Maddy caught the largest bee of the day, a Bombus mixtus worker. Quinton, swinging his net like the hammer of Thor, managed to catch a small sweat bee. Kevin was our most focused hunter, standing motionless as he waited for someone to land on each patch of flowers we surveyed. He was rewarded with this new-to-me bee. We’re not sure of the genus, but preliminary research suggests it is in the miner bee family, possibly Trachandrena.

I love being part of this annual event! If you’re interested in supporting the work they’re doing over at the Astoria High School’s science program, consider connecting with Mr. Cain to volunteer your time or make a donation to the program.

Your First Year

by Julie Tennis on March 13, 2016

My focus this year is going towards this course. If you’re in the area I hope you’ll join us!

Plants for Your Bees – Flowering Quince

March 25, 2015

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a member of the Rose family, cultivated from plants first brought from Japan to Europe in the late 1700’s. The genus went through a few iterations before botanists finally settled on Chaenomeles (which means “split apple.”) Description With space and in full sun, the flowering quince will grow into a […]

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“Where’s the best place to put my beehive?”

June 13, 2014

This is a question I hear often. Here’s what I tell folks: There are five key points to keep in mind when deciding where to place your hive:           • sun exposure           • wind direction           • dampness           • access to water           • neighbors Sun Exposure Beehives don’t have built-in air conditioning or heaters, so the job […]

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Bombus spp. – The Bumblebees

April 11, 2014

S. Name: Bombus spp. (BOM-bus) C. Name: Bumblebee Size: 10-23 mm Flying teddy bears, bumblebees are large and furry and easy to spot. Several species can be found in each state with different species being active at different times of the year. They typically have a base color of black with yellow, orange and/or white […]

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