Doing Business With Bees

They want my nectar and pollen. In return, they distribute my pollen and assure my crop’s spate.

 
 

Doing Business With Bees
PHOTO: JONATHAN KOLATCH
 

Wassaic, N.Y.

I could spend an entire afternoon in the orchard this time of year, watching the bees do their work. There is a knack to it, this bee watching. You cross the meadow and eye the trees—sometimes blocks of solid white or pink or rose; sometimes clusters of flowers here and there. Where are they, these sneaky little bees? Lost in green tips of fuzzy new leaves and bare brown branches. Don’t they know the bloom is here?

Better lie in the grass and scan the skies. There they are—against the blue. Darting in and out from tree to branch to blossom—stuffing their tummies, doing my farmer’s work. A furtive, efficient lot are they, not built for beauty like the bumbles and queens. These are workers: small and quick. In and out, up and down. First the pears, then the apples, then the wildflowers. Only a few days to work from bloom till fall.

They know what they want and they’ll give a fair price. From my blossoms: most of the nectar and a share of the pollen, to take back to the hive and procure their good fate. In return, they’ll distribute my pollen and assure my crop’s spate.

Watch how they burrow their purposeful snouts. In a few hours, their task is done.

Persistent, industrious little creatures, these bees. Sundays and holidays, they work, sunrise to sunset, but only on their terms. No overtime, not even a minute, job finished or not. They won’t work in the cold, nor in the rain—only in sunlight. They’ll do their best in the wind, but when it blows too rough, they will perch in silence and await the next lull.

“Terms accepted,” says the farmer. “My pollen, my nectar, my apples, my pears.”

Hold your horses. There’s competition out there. The apple, the pear, the dandelion.

The dandelion? “Have you no sense, you ravenous bee? The pear is a prince, the dandelion a knave.”

“Pride plays no part,” says the hive’s practical scout. “Have you seen the rhododendron? He primps and he panders, but what does he offer? Sure, the pear is a prince, but where is his prize? Ten percent nectar? Bah, what is that? The dandy’s got 40. We want to get fat.”

Out come the mowers; the dandy’s no more.

“OK, pears for 10,” says the bee, “but only till Monday; the apples give more.”

Mr. Kolatch grows apples and pears and writes about the Far East. He is author of “China Mosaic.”

Appeared in the May 16, 2018, print edition.

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