Three Experts on Bees

We love this recent TED Blog interview with three experts on the relationship between humans and honey bees. The discussion features Marla Spivak, Dennis van Engelsdorp, and Noah Wilson-Rich. We especially like what Dennis had to say about the power of first-hand experience:


What does each of you wish the average person understood about bees? 

DV: Everyone owes it to themselves to open a colony of bees once. I think some people will realize they are not beekeepers, but I think that they’ll overcome a lot of fear and they’ll be awed. Other people will fall in love. I don’t know anyone who has opened a colony of bees on a sunny beautiful day, and seen all those worker bees toiling together in harmony, and not been awed. It’s awe-inspiring. The more you do that, the more you’re connected — not only with the bees, but with the environment around you. I wish everyone that experience.


For more awe-inspiring education on honey bees, watch the original TED Talk from entomologist and MacArthur Fellow Marla Spivak, whose research on breeding mite-resistant honey bees is especially fascinating.



Deadline Extended to March 15th

Dear friends,

Winged: New Writing on Bees has been awarded a grant from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council!

Due to this change, the timeline for Winged has altered. We are giving the project new scope, and extending the submission deadline to March 15th, 2014.

We are thrilled with, and humbled by, the submissions we have received so far. As a reminder, the submission window is currently open for poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and mixed-genre work. We will happily consider both new and previously-published work, as long as the author holds full rights to that work. Profits from book sales will benefit pollinator conservation organizations such as The Xerces Society.

  • Please share information about Winged with friends and colleagues, either through social media, in classes, or by downloading our press release and informational flyer. Spreading the word means so much to us, and so much  for the project.
  • Submit your work! We offer the following considerations to help generate topics or concepts: the honey bee in history, bee symbolism in art, the European honey bee and native pollinators in North America, honey in ancient civilizations, communication via dance, the sounds of and in the hive, personal bee encounters, the bee in sacred literature, humans as pollinators, beekeeping around the world, declining bee populations, the future of beekeeping, a survey of bees in speculative fiction…

Winged is a project with a broader purpose: to create a literary and artistic record of this perilous moment in the relationship between humans and bees. Writers have employed bees and bee imagery for thousands of years, and we are now watching these important muses and symbols ailing, and declining.

No book like Winged currently exists, and much like a colony of bees, we cannot accomplish our goals alone. Whether it is by spreading the word about Winged, attending one of our upcoming events, or submitting your work, we hope you will take this opportunity to help cultivate our growing project, one we believe in, and one we feel is vital for all.


Melissa Reeser Poulin and Jill McKenna Reed
Editors, Winged: New Writing on Bees

First Sting(s): Part One

By Jill McKenna Reed

The first time I got stung by a bee, I can’t be sure it was a bee. In retrospect it was likely a yellow jacket, but I can’t know. I remember it was a hot, mid-western summer day with insects screaming out their songs: “scKzzzzssT… scKzzzzzssT,” and I was small – probably six or so.

I was standing in our narrow garage which was opened to the driveway. Likely I was deciding which vehicle I was going to take out for a spin: the Big Wheel, the pickle car (don’t ask), or the Green Machine. I was not a bike rider. My siblings’ bikes were always too big for me and I was fearful of the heavy frames and the extreme distance to the ground once seated; I wanted to be able to bail out with a soft tumble if need be, not take the hard fall on the concrete, yielding stinging, scraped legs and arms.

Even at that raw age, friends and siblings had long warned me about the possibility of getting stung by a bee, so I wonder if I didn’t just want to get it over with. I had been promised by my friend across the street that the pain would be like death, that I would probably want to die. So that day when a bee flew into the garage and began inspecting me to see if I could possibly yield nectar or pollen, I panicked. I eschewed the instruction that had been drilled into me by my wise, experienced friends and siblings, being: Don’t move, and it will go away.

Naturally, I moved. A lot. In a remarkable, small-child’s dance motivated by fear of an unknown pain. And I began swatting, a lot. From what I can remember, the bee or wasp stung me on the right arm.

Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween
Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween

Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, there was almost no authentic relationship with nature; everything was abbreviated. The bug-spray truck drove down our street every summer night and we deeply inhaled that spray while trying to fall off to sleep. Our yard was chemically treated so no dandelions ever appeared. The corn fields at the mouth of our subdivision were sold and built up with houses before I was 10.

Despite that, some of my most vivid and important memories are of the few verdurous natural spaces I could find. I was fascinated when we studied milkweed pods in the first grade – the way they broke and gave up white fuzz.  We had to wear rain boots that day which I didn’t have, so the teacher put garbage bags and rubber bands over my shoes and secured them up my legs.

My best friend had a Macintosh apple tree in her yard. I was charmed. That the tree could swell small green fruits into the ripe red ones I plucked off on warm days and immediately begin gobbling– this was thrilling. (The humble Macintosh remains one of my favorite snacking apples for this reason.)

The same friend once insisted I borrow her extra pair of ice skates so we could go skating on a pond near our houses. It was the first time I had ice skated and with the snow coming down, it remains a favorite memory. That solid pond, the snow, layers of clothes, no one else around, the gray sky and the pond ringed with dry straw weeds and tall brown grasses frozen into place.

But by the time I was in high school, nature had become a foreign locale. Social life had long since taken over as the all-consuming, enthralling focus of my life. At one point my group of friends got really into camping and going away for the weekend. On one trip to Devil’s Lake, everyone decided to go hiking which would involve some basic rock climbing. I eagerly set out with them. Looking down at my shoes, my friend Nick asked, “…are you going to wear those?” I shrugged. I had no idea that black and white patent leather wingtips (with leather soles) might not be ideal hiking wear. I somehow managed to hike like a champ with those lovely dress shoes on.


Jill McKenna Reed

Jill McKenna Reed is a poet, writing instructor, and beekeeper in Portland, Oregon. She is co-owner of Bee Thinking, a beekeeping supplier specializing in foundationless hives. When she is not writing or teaching, she can be found catching swarms or helping new beekeepers around the Portland area.  Jill earned her MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry, at Portland State University.

Living With Bees: A Poem


Sentences About Living With Bees

by David Jacobsen

Two tires roll the narrow trail, raveling a knobbed line of stitches on the curving dirt.
Shafts of sun brush past evergreens.
His legs pump and the bike thrums, barrel-chested, like the colony of honeybees hived inside the wall behind their bed.
Last spring they watched, delighted, as the garden buzzed with activity.
She told him not to mind when drones began to slip past gapped shingles.
The bees had, along with the sweet-peas and sunflowers, taken root.
Once he had called it waste, all that honey hidden far from taste.
She had stilled him with a finger, a flick of her eyebrows telling him to listen.
Her eyes and teeth had flashed in the dark as she grinned at the nearby sound of industry. Now, nearly home, he watches their house snap into substance between trunks.
A child might have drawn it with crayon: square topped by triangle, four windows, gray smoke looping into sharp blue sky.
His tongue rafts the valley between the ridges of his molars.
He touches a flat spot—a cavity newly filled—that remains unfamiliar.
The bike is hung from its front tire on a hook beneath the back eaves.
From the floor—where he sits to tug shoes and socks from dirt-caked legs—he sees her dancing near the sink, slicing greens in time.
He pads past, touching her waist.
When the noise of hot water stops, she pours two fingers of bourbon into two tumblers.
The smell of soap announces him.
Glasses brush.
She asks him to ready the table.
After bowls and forks, he tips flame to wicks, and the wicks coax wax into a heated dance.
They sit.
He unfolds the story of sunlight fingers smoothing, smoothing ponderosa hair.
Once, months earlier, she had said she could taste them tasting it—told him that in her mind she’d mapped the mellow fruitfulness of the brimming cells: each from a different flower, each with a different flavor.
Nine candles burn while she and he dine inside the only light for a mile or more, twinned.
Near their bed in the other room, nectar sweetens unseen.
Who can know what might be established when the darkness is sufficient.



David Jacobsen lives and writes in central Oregon with his wife and two sons. His pieces can be found in various journals and anthologies, and he is the author of Rookie Dad: Thoughts on First-Time Fatherhood. As D. R. Jacobsen, he is a contributing writer, most recently to The Truest Thing About You. He holds master’s degrees in theology and creative writing and can be reached through his website,

Photo Credits
Top image: Dirk Ingo Franke
Bottom image: Tom W Sulcer

The Bees of Kangaroo Island

Approximately 14 kilometres off the coast of South Australia lies an island about the same size as Puerto Rico. For thousands of years Ramindjeri people have known it as Karta, the island of the dead, sacred home of departed ancestral souls. But nineteenth century colonisation gave it its dominant European name when British explorer Matthew Flinders called it Kangaroo Island.

Known to the locals today as KI, the island thrives on a successful agricultural industry and burgeoning tourism. Early immigrants to KI were mostly British, German, and Italian farmers, stockmen, and beekeepers. In 1884 Ligurian bees were introduced to KI from their native Italy (by way of England, and then Queensland) to not only ensure economic survival, but also because of KI’s abundant bee-friendly flora and its geographical isolation that guaranteed genetic purity.

In 1885 an Act of Parliament was passed in Adelaide to proclaim Kangaroo Island as a sanctuary for the imported Ligurian bees. Following the passing of the 1931 Apiaries Act, which allowed for the inspection and confiscation of vessels or apparatus headed to KI, quarantine on the island has always been strictly enforced.

Photos by Amber Share, Native Food & Wine

Thanks to this legal protection and the inter-generational attention of the island’s beekeepers, KI’s Ligurian bees have remained free of disease since their introduction. To this date they are the only known colony of pure Ligurian bees left in the world, and Kangaroo Island is the only known honeybee sanctuary of its kind.

The significance of this pristine and healthy colony is proven by how Kangaroo Island’s bees are now helping scientists understand the current bee crisis and work to protect the rest of the world’s bee populous, and also, astonishingly, contribute to cancer research. Early studies at the University of Sydney indicate that propolis taken from KI’s bees (an antibacterial substance that all hives make) is high in Reversatrol, which amongst other things has been effective in treating tumors.

Kangaroo Island’s hard-working and reputably gentle-natured Ligurian bees are one of many examples helping us to understand: without the work of honeybees, many food crops will fail. Unless bees are protected, unless the same kind of foresight of legislation passed in 1885 is enacted now, global food shortage is a very real threat, as is the demise of our natural world.

Photos by Amber Share, Native Food and Wine
Photos by Amber Share, Native Food and Wine

All this and I’ve not mentioned the award-winning organic sugar gum honey, or the famous Kangaroo Island honey ice cream.

In essence this blog post is a small contribution to a much larger discussion. What can we each do about the bee crisis? Whether pure-strain Ligurian, or not, a single honeybee does its humble job and in doing so makes an essential contribution to the survival of our planet.

Writers, this is our waggle dance. Winged is our nectar. We must pick up our pens. We must conjure the alchemy of our imagination to awaken, agitate, pollinate, and transform our bee-themed thoughts into the powerful elixir that is story.

We must. This is our humble job.

About the author

HRinglandHolly Ringland grew up on the southeast Queensland coast in Australia. When she was nine her family lived on the road for two years in North America, travelling between national parks, inspiring in Holly what would become a lifelong fascination with different cultures, landscapes, and stories. In her early twenties she moved inland to Australia’s Central Desert where she spent four years working for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and living in the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu. In 2009 Holly moved to the UK and gained her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. She is now working on her Creative Writing PhD with Griffith University and King’s College London. Holly’s research territory is the symbiosis between the creative writing process, ghosts, place, and memory, amongst other ideas that get left at the door of the garden shed in which she is writing her prose fiction submission for Winged.

More at

Grateful appreciation to photographer Amber Share of Native Food and Wine, for her photos of Ligurian honey bees, reposted from original story here.

More Than Honey

From Swiss director Markus Imhoof, the film More Than Honey features macro-lens footage of bees and explores the fate of honey bee colonies around the world. Reviewers seem perplexed by the film’s tone, which they describe as less alarmist than previous documentaries Vanishing of the Bees and Queen of the Sun. Having missed this summer’s screening here in Portland, we’re considering hosting a screening so we can find out for ourselves. Meantime, you can watch the trailer here.

We Can Do It! Discovering Optimism through Beekeeping

By Katie Boehnlein

Like most teachers, I have come to my profession with a healthy dose of optimism. I hope that, provided opportunities to get their hands dirty, ask important questions, and gain new skills, our students can enter the “real world” more equipped to solve real-world problems. The only problem is, the “real world” is disheartening. Increased world hunger. Increased chemicals in our food. Widespread monocropping. Diminishing species diversity. The list goes on. It is a stretch to be optimistic with headlines blaring so much violence and pessimism. However, I am lucky to work at a school that values optimism and innovation.

Catlin Gabel School, located in Portland, OR, sits on 60 acres of school buildings nestled amongst forestland and 2,100 square feet of organic gardens and orchards. The school has an active garden club, growing food year-round for the campus cafeteria, and continually promotes experiential learning opportunities.

Last April, I got an email from my colleague Carter, who is the School Garden Coordinator and a mover and shaker on campus. He was inviting me and other staff members to register for a beekeeping class, as he hoped to install a hive on our school grounds to enhance our garden and orchards, and to provide more opportunities for students to learn real-world skills. I was intrigued by the idea. I didn’t know much about the organism apis mellifera (aka honeybee) but I knew this would be an opportunity to learn new skills and new information about a species I knew little to nothing about.


A few weeks later, I found myself sitting in a windowless classroom, contemplating slides projected on a darkened wall. Images of magnified hexagons, wriggling grubs, enlarged insect eyes, a slew of unpronounceable tools, and humans in strange outfits flashed across the screen. And despite the discomfort that is inevitable when introduced to a foreign world, I was hooked. And the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. I wanted to know everything about this tiny creature!

Nuc Bee Close Up

As an educator, I have seen firsthand the educational benefits of learning about honeybees in the classroom, with connections to science, history, and critical inquiry thinking. Installing a honeybee hive on a school campus allows for endless hands-on opportunities for learning. Bees have an innate sense of mission and communalism. They are not selfish, and biologically cannot survive outside of their community. In a world that is constantly connected and plugged-in, what wonderful qualities to emulate and impart to our students.

Trained in the philosophies of place-based, environmental education, I always try to model a sense of wonder when teaching about the natural world. Nature is much wiser than we are. But I have also seen students become teachers when exploring a beehive. Small children come to school equipped with an innate sense of wonder and curiosity. I visited our school’s first grade classroom to talk to the students about the beehive before I took them out to see it in person.

When I arrived dressed in the beekeeping suit, I heard a collective intake of breath and saw 21 little bodies wriggling with excitement. Hands started popping up during my presentation; the questions were endless. I told them that when we were standing next to the hive, it was important to remain quiet and still, so as to not disturb the hive’s energy. A few minutes later, the students stood inside a mesh tent and pressed themselves against the screen walls, eager to get as close as they could. I was taken aback by their quietness and awe. Our students can teach us the quiet and respect so necessary in beekeeping. Through them, I have learned to approach my time at the hive as a slow, methodical, almost meditative experience. It is all about respect.


I have become fascinated with the idea of stewarding apiaries on school grounds. This summer, I researched school apiaries for CLEARING magazine, curious to learn who else was attempting this activity at their school. I ended up interviewing five inspiring educators teaching in the Northwest who are leaders in the field.

Ryan King has just written his graduate thesis on apiary-based education and is clearly a leader in establishing apiaries as a new place for pedagogical research. Through Ryan, I found Sarah Red-Laird, also known as BeeGirl, who is a champion of honeybee education in Ashland, OR and throughout the United States. I also interviewed Eric Engman at Mt. Vernon High School in Washington, my colleague Carter Latendresse at Catlin Gabel School, and Brian Lacy, a beekeeper in Portland, OR.

From Brian, I learned that our approach in talking to people new to honeybees is so important. I know from experience that kids are naturally more open to the world of bees than adults. Adults are working against years of fear and distrust against bees, sometimes even traumatic events. I visited Brian at his home apiary and worked in his hives without wearing a suit. At first, I stepped back, hesitant, fearful. Would I get stung? But soon enough, I was able to step in without any protection to look in. I held one worker bee on my finger for a couple of seconds. Bees were flitting about all around me, attuned to their roles in the hive and unconcerned with us in their midst. The adult in me was nervous. The child in me was in awe.


From honeybees, I have learned the value of community. I have learned to slow down. And I have learned optimism. Though our sacred honeybee is struggling in a world filled with pesticides and monocrop fields, as an educator I am optimistic. I hope that our schools and community centers can be places for students of all ages to learn more about stewarding the honeybee, a creature that is completely necessary for our wellbeing as a society. There are lots of ways to participate in creating positive change. We can learn about honeybees with our children, we can plant foraging habitat for them, we can buy local honey, and we can even host our own beehives. Together, we can help save the honeybee.

About the author
Katie Boehnlein is a teacher and writer living in Portland, OR, where you can find her discovering the beautiful natural areas of the Rose City by foot and by bike. She grew up exploring the parks and staircases of Southwest Portland, which fueled her passion for ecology and urban exploration. Follow Katie’s adventures on her blog “In the Midst.” Here, you can read her musings on travel, excursions in nature, and, of course, bees!

What’s your perspective on the honey bee? We’d love to hear it. To find out how you can contribute to the Winged blog, please contact the editors.


Every hour, we lose three species

Winged celebrates the honeybee in an effort to protect this creature from disappearing. We also want to honor native bees by sharing the top three needs of native pollinators, according to Xerces:

1) A variety of plant life with overlapping bloom times. Find out which plants your local native bees enjoy, and plant them.

2) Places to nest. Unlike the social, hive-dwelling honeybee, most native bees are solitary and nest in the ground. Learn how to provide a nest.

3) Protection from pesticides. Please. Check your garage shelf. Do you use any of these? Stop. Then check out Melissa Bees’ post on how to talk to your neighbor about pesticides.

Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.
Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.

We’ve chosen to focus on honeybees in this anthology for a number of reasons. Because the honeybee has so captivated the human imagination. Because the honeybee is unique among pollinators in its relationship with humans, developed over thousands of years of honey harvesting and beekeeping. Because we rely so heavily on the hard work of apis mellifera, the European honeybee, an important insect pollinator of the crops making up the majority of our diet. Because the honeybee is in trouble.

Anthophora tricolor. Sam Droege.
Anthophora tricolor. Sam Droege.

But the fact is, native bees are equally fascinating, equally important to our food system, equally threatened. Xerces estimates that over 100 crop species in North America require pollination by an insect pollinator. And research shows that native bees are as effective as honeybees in agricultural pollination if provided with habitat. Xerces points out that given the fragility of the honeybee, it’s important to strengthen the populations of a diverse range of native bees– many of which can pollinate plants in a number of different ways.

Mellisodes dentiventris. Photo Sam Droege.

These photographs, taken by Sam Droeges, appear in the photostream for the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab. They were featured on NPR this week, and I’m in awe of the variety of colors, shapes, and features among the many species pictured.

Xylocopa mordax. Photo Sam Droege.
Xylocopa mordax. Photo Sam Droege.

Some bees specialize in different plants. Mellisodes dentiventris, for example, pollinate composites like goldenaster. Others are generalists, like the carpenter bee (above) . The carpenter bee gets its name from its habit of tunneling into wood to build its nest. Here is another “anti-specialist,” the sweat bee, a member of the largest genera of bees in the world.

Lasioglossum quebecense. Photo Sam Droege.

These photographs are so beautiful, they make me cry. How incredibly complex our world is. How shameful to turn our backs as thousands of species disappear every day. In 2007, the U.N. reported that we lose three species every hour.  That number may well be higher today, in 2013. How many species of bee must we lose before we change our ways?

On truth and industrial agriculture

A debate on NPR this morning has me thinking about the dividing lines we often draw as we attempt to solve problems. In this five-minute spot, “American Farmers Say They Feed the World,” two camps debate the benefits of large-scale industrial-style farming.

Reporter Dan Charles staged a debate between Charlie Arnot, at the Center for Food Integrity, and Margaret Mellon with the Union of Concerned Scientists– effectively positing a divide between farmers and the environment. He wanted to probe the veracity of an idea he says is held by many U.S. farmers, that it is their responsibility to feed the world. According to the big-ag vision, in order to fulfill that promise, farmers will need genetically modified seeds and new pesticides.

This was the moment in the story that especially captured my attention, because it reflects what’s at stake with honeybees. Charles continues:

“This is why the words ‘feed the world’ grate on the nerves of people who believe that large-scale, technology-driven agriculture is bad for the environment and often bad for people.”

It’s the “and” in that phrase that startled me, ringing out like a double negative in one of the ESL classes I sometimes teach. It seemed as simple as a grammatical error. Why repeat the obvious? What’s bad for the environment is always bad for people. We have nowhere else to go. Planet earth is the only environment there is to speak of.

Similarly, what’s good for honeybees is good for us. What’s bad for honeybees is bad for us. All of this is intricately connected, beautifully complicated. There are entire webs of connection uniting pollinators, farming, food, and hunger.

So Charles called in a referee, economist Christopher Barrett, who offered a paraphrase of the statement physicist Niels Bohr made famous: “Sometimes the opposite of a truth isn’t a falsehood, but another truth.”

The industrial farmer who depends on pesticides is trying his best to feed his own family, and may believe it’s the only way to make a difference in the global food system. The commercial beekeeper may depend on a trade he knows to be unsustainable. In turn, the domestic food system depends on the work of his bees.

This is the paradox that exposes those webs of connection. Depleted soil and weakened honeybees are a reflection of the mess we’ve made. We’re all tangled up in the consequences of past choices, and we’re all doing our best to get out. We just see things differently.