Friday, March 29, 2013

Melipona Beecheii, the Mayan sting-less bee

Melipona Bee guard at hive entry
I just got back from a heavenly vacation in Tulum. The trip was planed around a woman's goddess retreat. The retreat was based on working with our chakras and the archetype of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, fertility, midwifery, etc. Basically a week to reconnect with our feminine intuitive energy. The timming was set to coincide with the galactic spring equinox! We joined the locals ceremony at the Mayan ruins of the observatory at the edge of the blessed waters of Yemanja. I had the great pleasure and honor of actively participate in the ceremony by translating the entire ceremony. During our retreat, we also did a temazcal in the jungle next to a Cenote and a Mayan clay ceremony where we buried ourselves in the beach to release everything that we no longer need to mother earth and then jumped in the ocean to rinse the clay and the sand and play in the waves. The retreat was followed by visits to great childhood and high school friends and a surprise visit from my beautiful cousin Diego. A gift from life to be able to allow myself such experiences. 
Ah-Muzen-Cab, the Mayan Bee God
It is hard to explain exactly how but, I was guided to Tulum by the bees. Images of what archeologist believe is Ah Mucen Cab appear throughout the ruins of Tulum. Archeologist belive that Ah Mucen Cab was the patron of Tulum and that the region produced a lot of honey. Bees are a symbol of fertility and abundance. For the Mayas, bees also represent a link to the spirit world. I can see that, as they have become that spiritual link for me.
Bees have become my guides and teachers. I wanted to visit the bees during my visit so I did some research and found the Research and Rescue Center for the Melipona Maya in Tulum. The Melipona beecheii is one of the native sting-less bees which is an engendered species. 

Melipona Maya Centro de Investigacion y  Rescate - Tulum, Mexico
I set up a visit to the center with Stefan Palmiere, the bee keeper and director. Stefan was really nice and not only spent lots of time talking to me about the bees, he also opened the hives for me to see and experience the bees. He poured honey on my hand and the bees came to drink it. Most precious experience and feeling. So beautiful and sweet.

Melipona beecheii
I talked to Stefan about my spiritual connection with the bees. He said he was only a farmer, a simple bee keeper and that he did not have such a spiritual connection with the bees but he knows that there is a lot to be learned from the bees. He told me that back in France he had over 600 Apis hives but that it is very hard to keep Apis bees in that area because they are all Africanized. He has to wear two bee suits to work with them and it is so hot in that region that it is almost impossible to do the work.

Melipona brood hive and Mayan god Ah Mucen Cab holding a hive
He told me about all the challenges with the bees, the veroa mites which affect all bees. Also the beetles are destroying entire apiaries. Many apiaries have been quarantined and some are talking about burning all their hives to try to prevent further infection and eradicate the beetle, which spreads easily from apiary to apiary.

Melipona Beecheii
Another big challenge that all bees are facing is the loss of habitat due to human  deforestation. And now, the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) corn and soy to the Yucatan peninsula, which is a real shame and a crime in the land of the corn people. Corn GMO seeds threaten the native corn diversity, the pollinators, and in turn the livelihood of farmers and the health of the consumers eating them. We all need to get informed about GMO's and stop consuming them. It is one of the biggest things we can do to help our furry buzzing friends, our ecosystem and our health. This issue is especially timely as Obama just signed H.R. 933, which contains the   Monsanto Protection Act into law. You can sign a petition requiring mandatory labeling of GMO's here.

Melipona hive
The mysterious sudden disappearance of apparently healthy hives, known as Colony Collapse Disorder is a global problem at all scales. I have lost a few hives to CCD. It is the most unsettling feeling and all bee keepers are experiencing it. Unfortunately it has become the standar to expect 50% loss of all hives. This is a huge problem for comercial bee keepers who's livelihood depend on the health of bees. There are many theories about this problem, most of them, I believe, are made up ideas to cover up the big white elephant on the room: pesticides. Especially the powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are incorporated directly into the plants themselves. That is what GMO seeds do, they have their own pesticides. Bees are driven to different mono-crops all over the country to pollinate. Some of  this crops contain neonicotinoids or are sprayed with other pesticides. Bees have no other source of nectar or pollen and they consume what is available. It seems pretty clear to me, if you feed pesticides to your bees and other pollinators they will die. We are also being fed the same, it is just killing us slower than the bees, but they are a good indicator of the unbalance of our food system. Check out this article on the New York Times about the increasing loss of comercial bees this year. This is a critical time to save our  pollinators.

Back to Stefan. He was delighted to find the Melipona in Tulum and be able to continue his work with bees. He is working with the Melipona not only because they are so docile but also because of the historical reference to the Maya bee keeping tradition in the region. He is now focused on propagating hives to preserve the species and teach people about the Mayan ancient tradition of Melipona bee keeping. He says most local people can remember their parents or grandparents having Meliponas but not so much on this generation. He thinks is important to continue the tradition on this generation to preserve the tradition and prevent a lost art by skipping a generation. The Meliponas are endangered and it is necessary to get more people involved in the care of the bees.

Melipona hive
The hives of the Meliponas are very different than the Apis. The create their hives in empty logs with a brood pyramid on the center and oval container on the sides to hold the honey and the pollen. They produce a lot less honey than the apis so they are not as commercially viable. However their honey is believed to be extremely medicinal and used by midwifes to induce labor and after birth to heal. It is also used to cure cataracts and skin and throat issues.

Native bee hive on wood log

Stefan is working on propagating the bees so he has created a wood box to keep the hives that he is dividing. He had just taught a workshop the weekend I arrived so he had a lot of new hives on his garden. I liked the water channel he created around the hives area to keep the ants out.

Melipona hives
The Melipona queen also looks very different than the Apis. She has a really wide abdomen. The Apis queen has a longer abdomen but no so wide. We were lucky to spot a few queens as we opened the hives.

Melipona Queen
As I was leaving, saying good bye to Stefan, I looked down to my chest and there was one bee holding on to my dress right on my heart. I was so excited and Stefan mockingly said to me "You probably think there is some big spiritual meaning on that right?" and I said "of course, there is a bee holding on to my heart, she wants to go with me" we both laugh and he said he thought the bee was lost and I should take it back to hive, so I did. I spent a little while alone with the bees, thank them for their time and promised to visit them again.

Melipona beechiis
Stefan named me the San Francisco Melipona ambassador. I received the title with great honor and commitment to help him on his cause. He is starting a foundation and needs funds to do the work. I promised to help him find supporters. So keep your eyes out, for soon you will be able to adopt a hive and help Stefan continue his great work to preserve the Meliponia.

Thank you Stefan. I hope to see you and your bees very soon!

In case you are not inspired about pollinators yet, I leave you with this beautiful video
The beauty of Pollination and if you want to read more about the Melipona check out this article in National Geographic. And if you are wondering what you can do to help the bees, plant a garden with local blue and purple flowers, they love those colors and they need the healthy nectar.

Whith honey in my heart, blessed bee.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lessons on bee-ing

Back in October, while winterizing the Algarden hives, I got stung 3 times. I have been working with bees for 4 years now and have been stung many times. But this time, I had an unexpected, unfortunate and much dreaded anaphylactic allergic reaction. I had to give myself the epipan shoot. The experience was shocking, scary and an absolute adrenaline rush. Fortunately, I was ok, and the bees were ready for the winter so I had some time to think about what to do with the bees and how to re-establish my relationship with them before having to open the hive again.

artwork by my dear friend Sunny Solwind

I would had never thought it was possible to fall in love with an insect. Nor would I had thought that I would get so depressed and overwhelmed over a lost relationship with them. But there I was, sobbing in my couch, feeling as if they had "broken up" with me and their "medicine" had become my kryptonite. I had to stay away from them, but I could not bare the idea of giving them up or not having them in my life. 

Bees have thought me so much. The way I garden has been affected by the bees, I always make sure to let my vegetables go to seed so the bees can enjoy the flowers. I make sure there is nectar available for my bees year round, flowers have a new meaning. My view of our integral interconnections with nature, with food, with the universe, with all bee-ings has been forever transformed. I have learned about the "Bien" (bee in German is: Biene) The concept of the bien represents the undividable entity of the hive, as something which is beyond the sum of its small and many parts. Bees have taught me lessons about social life and how to treat each other. I learned about the different mythological and symbolic expressions of bees throughout the world. Nowhere to begin understanding the perfect geometry they are able to create to maximize space and storage. Their zonohedral geometry has set me on a magical journey unlike any other. It will be impossible for me to describe the spiritual connections and experiences that I have had with this magical bee-ings so I won't , and no words can describe the sweetness of their honey and how much I have enjoyed it...

Needless to say, I agonized over my lost relationship with bees. I would wake up from dreams saying apis mellifera. I was so sad and trying to understand what they were trying to say to me. I would sit in meditation and try to listen but kept being distracted by my ego in pain. It took me a while but it is slowly coming to me. It first came on the way of three great friends who wanted me to teach them about the bees. I felt so honored to get that request and figured that by teaching others I can keep my bees and have them do the close up work with the bees while I stand on the side. 

Later, in a ceremonial journey, I became a bee! I was able to experience the immense grief that the bees are experiencing. The tremendous loss not just to their species but to ours and the great devastation we are inflicting on our beloved pacha mama. It was a sadness unlike any I have ever experienced, the sadness of an entire species. At that moment, I surrendered to the great mystery and asked what I could do. How I could be of service. The answer was not clear, but later that month I received an invitation to join the College of the Melissae. I was so excited to learn about this group of like-minded woman working around the magic and mystical wonders of the bees. I signed up right away to the one year program on sacred bee keeping. 

I knew it then, that my calling was to be a bee priestess. To teach and protect our bees. My dream is still formulating but I want to create a bee sanctuary, a sanctuary for bee-ings. A place to bee with the bees and learn about them, heal with them and through them. I do not know the specifics yet, I'm letting the mind wonder and dream for the time bee-ing and I trust that the bees will continue to guide me in the full manifestation of this space. 

For the time being, I'm finding ways to stay involved and connected to the work that is being done to preserve and educate about bees. I attended the bee symposium and we talked about ways to implement flower rows to industrial agriculture, especially for the almond industry in California which produces 95% of almonds in the US and is dependent on bee pollination. Thousands of hives from all over the country get trucked to the area for the 3 weeks that the trees are blooming and then trucked somewhere else as it becomes a food dessert for pollinators. As a Landscape Architect I see myself as being able to play a role in the environmental planning and design of large agricultural spaces to build habitat for pollinators. That is, after all, the quintessential goal of Foodscaping, creating productive landscapes for all species.

Next week I'm going to visit the "Centro de Investigacion y Rescate de la Melipona Maya" The Research and Rescue Center of the Meliponia Maya Stingless Bee in Tulum. The Melipona is an endangered specie and this center is working with local people to teach them how to establish hives, care for them and promote habitat. I'm looking forward to meeting the Melipona and learning some lessons from this group and what they are doing.

I also took the first steep in my educator role and taught my first bee-keeping class, I could not be happier! My students are phenomenal and a great motivation. We opened up both hives (Estela and Gloria - my grandmothers,) we found the queens. They looked great, big, healthy, laying eggs, and ready for the spring. I'm so grateful that they survived the winter. The bees bee-haved like the true ladies that they are and no one got stung. We were all gentle and the experience was beautiful. I had missed my bees so much. Bee-ing in their buzzing is the best medicine. Bee-coming one with the hive is an experience unlike any other and I highly recommend for everybody to experience it at least once in their life time. 

I believe that the allergic reaction I had was a call for action from the bees. It is a big challenge but I'm feeling inspired and up for the task. It is a project that will require the help of many and I'm infinitely grateful for all for your constant and future support through this experience of bee-ing.

With honey in my heart, blessed bee!