Something for everyone – films about bees

Long sunny afternoons on the allotment are already this year’s memories. Winter is coming, and Sundays are for curling up indoors with a good film.

There’s a game newbie beekeepers play. Complete the sentence ‘You know you’re a beekeeper when…..’ Filling the blank includes first sting, having a frame full of bees and honey fall apart in your hands, and the first time you leave your hive tool under a roof, then spend hours searching for it!

This year I added a new category. ‘You know you’re a beekeeper when…. you watch a film about beekeeping and think I wouldn’t do that‘. While everyone looks after their bees differently, when this happens, it shows how far you’ve travelled on the beekeeping path.

Here’s a variety of films with a beekeeping theme. Hopefully, something for everyone as we move through the winter months.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORI2PFOePYM&ab_channel=HDRetroTrailers

Ulee’s gold is a 1997 US film written and directed by Victor Nuñez and starring Peter Fonda as Ulee Jackson, a widowed beekeeper from Florida. Struggling with his broken and troubled family, the film made use of existing beekeeping apiaries, with the family of beekeepers acting as consultants and playing the role of extras. The honey Ulee’s bees make comes from the nectar of the tupelo tree. A bit like heather honey in the UK, the light tupelo honey is sought after for its mild but original taste.

A review on Variety describes the film as “A gem of rare emotional depth and integrity, “Ulee’s Gold” is the cinematic equivalent of a wonderful old backwater town, a community bypassed by the interstate of the mainstream American film industry that possesses virtues and knowledge that travellers in the fast lane never stop to appreciate.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7nhkNAfHtw&ab_channel=GoodDeedEntertainment 

Tell it to the bees is a 2019 film based on the book by Fiona Shaw. Set in the 1950’s, it’s the story of two women; Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger), and Jean Paquin (Anna Paquin). They come together through Lydia’s son who is interested in Jean’s bee colonies. The film contains the memorable line ‘tell the bees your secrets then they won’t fly away’. Reviews are mixed but most of them agree it perfectly recreates a small town atmosphere where two women moving in together creates suspicion and increasingly negative reactions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY9RvcbzTCw&t=92s&ab_channel=MOVIEPREDICTOR 

I loved the book Secret life of bees by Sue Monk Kidd so was looking forward to the 2008 film adaptation. It didn’t disappoint. Secret Life of Bees is set in South Carolina, the story follows the journey of Lily Ray (Dakota Fanning) and her family’s housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). The two leave home and, guided by the label on a jar of “Black Madonna Honey“, they arrive at the Tiburon home of August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her sisters May (Sophie Okonedo) and June (Alicia Keys). Lily becomes an apprentice beekeeper and finally discovers the truth about her mother, who she believed, wrongly, abandoned her as a child. Set against 1960’s racism in the American south, the film offers a realistic portrayal of rural life and is a coming-to-age story which will stay with you long after the film ends.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycccI-ES_2w&ab_channel=MovieTrailerFan1980

Bee stings cause many people to be more than a little afraid of them. This fear underlines The deadly bees, a British horror film based on H.F. Heard’s 1941 novel A Taste for Honey. An exhausted singer, sent away for a holiday to Seagull Island, finds a farmer rearing a strain of deadly bees. As the trailer above shows, it’s typical of the horror genre in the 1960’s. Starring Suzanna Leigh, and Frank Finlay, the film is dated to say the least, and watching this in 2021 provides comedy as much as fear. It does nothing to persuade anyone to consider beekeeping as a hobby or career but is worth watching as a reminder of a style of filmmaking long since abandoned.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvIHtXc_Urg&ab_channel=MovieclipsClassicTrailers 

Another horror film with bees in a starring role, is The Swarm, based on Arthur Herzog’s 1974 book. Starring Michael Caine and Richard Chamberlain, it uses the common trope of a swarm of killer bees annihilating everything in its path, and a group of humans seeking to destroy them.  A classic example of US horror from the 1970’s, the stye is less dated than the British equivalent, or maybe it’s just the presence of Michael Caine who always has a gift for making the absurd seem credible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4ZzMkDLjWI&ab_channel=MovieclipsTrailers

Bees can also be found in the Sci Fi film Jupiter Ascending. Produced by Andy and Lana Wachowski, you might expect something far-fetched but watchable, and viewers comments suggest it lives up to expectations. Jupiter Ascending was slated by the critics but even they admit the music is great and the special effects are superb. The character of Stinger, played by Sean Bean, is half human and half honeybee. The bees give him enhanced speed, special vision, and a sense of loyalty, so at least the bees have some positives. Stinger keeps hives and dabbles in genetic engineering. The film is a typical action-packed intergalactic adventure, with lots of CGI, and the voice of Sean Bean as an added bonus!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz_MxmGP6Aw&list=PLM6a8JVoBC8KPWgoevQ4hcVFU73gh7ZW-&index=3&ab_channel=DamienPerez 

I couldn’t write about bee films without including the classic family favourite, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. This can be watched in segments on YouTube, beginning with Part One (which is all credits) and followed by Pooh’s Stoutness Exercises. Who doesn’t love Pooh Bear and can’t identify with the part where he splits his stitches.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VONRQMx78YI&ab_channel=AnimationTrailers

On the subject of animations, there’s also the Dreamworks film Bee Movie. Voiced by Jerry Seinfeld and Renée Zellweger, it tells the story of Barry B. Benson, a bee who can communicate with humans. In the supermarket, he discovers they’ve been stealing and eating honey, and on a visit to Honey Farms, Barry sees first-hand the terrible conditions the bees live under, such as the use of smoke to daze and confuse them. Barry decides to sue the human race to end their exploitation.

Like most animations, it has multiple layers of meaning and if, like me, you’re a fan of Dreamworks and Pixar etc, Bee Movie is worth a look.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B27ORUHlp6E&ab_channel=NEON

If you can manage subtitles, I’d recommend Honeyland. Set in Turkey, this is a film/documentary portraying the life of Hatidže Muratova, who lives in the remote mountain village of Bekirlija, with no electricity or running water. Hatidže is a keeper of wild bees who earns her living by selling honey in a town a four-hour walk from her home. The film shows Hatidže collecting honey from nests in remote places, and you can hear her chanting ‘half for me, half for you’ based on the traditional custom of her grandfather, who taught her how honey was essential for giving bees enough energy to fly and mate. Visually stunning, it explores topics such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity and human exploitation of natural resources.

Another subtitled film about bees is called Keeping the Bees. I can’t find a trailer and it only seems to be available on Netflix which is a shame because it’s well worth watching. This is a story about what happens when the youngest daughter, Ayse, returns to her childhood home in northeastern Turkey, because her mother is ill. As she lies dying, her mother tells her she wants Ayse to take over her beehives. Ayse has built a life for herself in Germany and is afraid of the bees, but nevertheless makes an attempt to fulfil her mother’s wish.  The community is set in a rural area and is full of local traditions and customs. If you have Netflix, or know someone who has, I’d recommend it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vQ5PV-bNtM&ab_channel=DocumentaryTrailers

Queen of the sun; what the bees are telling us is a documentary full of wonderful characters. It takes a serious look at the role of bees in nature and what can be done to try and prevent Colony Collapse Disorder, where beekeepers find their bees have mysteriously disappeared. Including the perspective of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world, it shows what people are doing to try and help, and gives insight into all the different ways bees can be kept and looked after.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rac_D_v-nrc&ab_channel=1091Pictures

The documentary The Pollinators is set in the US, where Colony Collapse Disorder was first recognised. It follows the migratory beekeepers who drive truckloads of honeybees across the United States, often from Florida to California, to ensure the pollination of flowers in areas where bee populations have diminished.

Einstein is reputed to have said ‘If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.

The exact source of this quote is unknown, but we’re dependent on bees for fruit and vegetables, not to mention the role they play in maintaining the natural ecosystem on which we all depend, so there may be some truth in the statement.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NT05qEJxUk&ab_channel=FilmsBoutique

More than Honey is full of the most amazing photography of the life of bees, both within and without the hive. It also looks at pollination problems and their effect on beekeepers around the world, with insight into beekeeping in California, Switzerland, China and Australia. Made by Markus Imhoof, and narrated by John Hurt, More than Honey is a hard-hitting look at the reality of a world which, if not in crisis now, very soon will be if issues like Colony Collapse Disorder are not better understood and dealt with.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEY9tcZS_eY&ab_channel=BioHoneyBeeFarm

Finally, Who Killed the Honey Bee is a UK documentary narrated by Martha Kearney, who presented the four-part BBC series The Wonder of Bees. This followed her own experiences as a novice beekeeper and clips from the programmes appear in this documentary.  Who Killed the Honey Bee includes a looks at commercial beekeeping and the changes bought about in the industry by the mysterious loss of colonies. The full documentary is available on YouTube and can be watched on the link above.


The next bee-related blog will take a look at books with a beekeeping theme. If you have any recommendations, please leave the details in the comment box below, contact me via Twitter @suewatling or email watlingsue@gmail.com.


 

maybe I should have tanged the swarm

image from a medieval manuscript showing someone tanging a swarm

Last year I had a colony swarm within a few weeks of it arriving on the allotment. I wrote about this in The Day the bees Left, with a follow-up post After the bees swarmed. If I’d known about tanging, I might have given it a try. Tanging is to hit a metal object, loudly and with enthusiasm. This is alleged to encourage the bees to return to their hive, or settle in a cluster above the head of the tanger.

image of tanging in Victorian times

There’s lots of references to tanging, both historical and contemporary. Search ‘tanging bees’ on YouTube for videos of beekeepers trying it out, such as the one below where the practice seems to make the bees change their minds about leaving.

This year I was determined to avoid another swarm situation, but determination was not enough. The swarming instinct is strong. Once it’s kicked in, it can be hard to persuade the bees to change their minds. Fortunately, my bees seem to have found a new first-stage swarming spot on the allotment behind me. Even more fortunately, Walter, my plot neighbour, loves them.

This is part one of the swarming story for 2021.

I met the first swarm on a warm sunny Sunday morning at the end of May, after several weeks of poor weather. I’d just arrived at the plot when Walter called for me. There was a cluster of bees, up the side of a fence post, and extending out onto the lower branches of a tree. Here it was, my first swarm of the year.

I did what most newbie beekeepers do and panicked. Mentor Patrick was having a cup of tea, Sunday morning style, but in the best mentoring fashion, was soon driving down the allotment road, booted, suited and ready to go. He loves bees!

Walter was fascinated. He said they’d arrived the day before. He’d filmed them and posted the clip onto Facebook.

He knew the queen was in the cluster, and that the bees would follow her, so was watching our every move with interest. Patrick cut back some branches and sprayed the cluster with water to help them bond together, before laying a white sheet out on the ground while I fetched a nuc to catch them in.

The nuc was my first mistake. It was too heavy. The roof was a tight fit and the floor separate so, like all things in beekeeping, I learned by doing that a lighter box with an integral floor was a better option. In the role of assistant, I held the box as best I could under the base of the cluster, as Patrick tapped the branch and down it fell., covering me in bees. Patrick flipped the box over, stood it on the sheet and propped one end up so the other bees could walk in and join their queen. At least, that was the theory.

You know when you get a bee on the outside of your veil, and for a moment it looks like it’s on the inside?

It took me a moment to realise it wasn’t an illusion. The bee really was inside. When the cluster fell and covered me, there must have been the tiniest of gaps somewhere and this bee had found it. Fortunately, it wasn’t bothered but I decided the best option was for us to part company.

Immediately!

Meanwhile, the bees continued to find their way into the box.

Patrick was full of swarm-catcher tricks such as having a queen bee suspended in a jar of pure alcohol and lemongrass so he could transfer her pheromones onto the swarm box.

After a while, we noticed the bees were reclustering on a branch above the original swarm spot. This could have been a sign we didn’t have the queen, but as the bees were walking into the box, it might have been some stragglers who’d detected a smell of her. Maybe she’d rested on that branch during the initial flight.  Patrick brushed them in with a feather saying he preferred feathers because bees can get caught in the hairs of a bee brush and they don’t like it. The last thing you want is to upset a bee, especially a calm, happy one.

We also smoked the tree as this can disguise any lingering queen pheromones. Some beekeepers suggest using a deodorant spray or air freshener, but smoke feels more natural and, as you’re likely to have your smoker with you, it’s one less thing to carry in your swarm kit.

Finally, there were more bees in the box than were buzzing around, so Patrick wrapped it up in the sheet and carried it back to my allotment. As it was hot and sunny, we put it in the shade by the side of the shed, and I returned that evening to transfer them into their new forever home.

I got everything prepared, unwrapped the sheet, opened the lid and – nothing. The box was empty. I don’t know how they got out. I’d been working in the apiary later that day and saw no sign of escapees, plus the entrance was shut. However they’d done it, they were gone. I’d lost my swarm.

It had been a textbook collection. The cluster was reachable and close by. My plot neighbours were delighted to see the bees up close, and collecting them had gone well, but I’d lost them all.

Bees swarm in two stages. The first is where the queen and her attendants leave the hive and gather somewhere relatively close by, while scout bees determine their final destination. The colony then agrees on their new home and during the second stage, they fly off. The whole process from hive to new home can take several days.

Where they went, I’ll never know but the act of collecting them had been a new learning experience. This was useful because the following week, I received a call from Walter to say another cluster was forming, this time on one of his apple trees. I booted and suited up on my own, ready to go solo collecting for the first time.

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