What Hatidze Knows

A woman in a desolate corner of North Macedonia claimed to be the last wild beekeeper in Europe made a splash at the Oscars. Her story told in Honeyland took three years to produce on a slim budget and was never expected to win acclaim. I rate movies by how long they stay in my head. Five minutes? Five hours? This time it was still ringing the next day. I recommend watching it.

In the first scene we watch Hatidze Muratova, a vigorous woman of about 50 years old and ethnically Turkic, climbing a rocky precipice to check a bee colony. She removes a covering stone with bare hands to reveal a yellow honeycomb covered with bees. The insects would normally attack an intruder, but not her.

Her life in a deserted village was a spartan existence in a stone shack. It might have been otherwise for the able and intelligent woman, but her father forbade marriage because the youngest daughter was expected to stay with aged parents at home. He had passed away and now she cared for a bedridden mother (who dies). A hard tradition, but Hatidze was happy and obviously sociable at the Skopje market where she bartered jars of honey.

When a family of nomads turned up with a herd of cattle to settle among the ruins of the village, the story moves from the tenderness of home to a tense relationship with new neighbors. They are poor but their lives are more turbulent from poor decisions. Since Hatidze made her living from beekeeping, they hoped to make more income by building an apiary. Later in the season when honeycomb should be saved for the bees in winter they harvested all the honey, forcing their starving bees raid Hatidze’s hives.

She was friendly with one of the sons, teaching him the art of beekeeping. Her philosophy was to take half the honey for herself and leave the rest for them. The boy took the message home, but his father didn’t listen.

This is not just the story of a fascinating character struggling to manage relationships. It was her elementary philosophy that stayed in my head—take half and leave half. It’s a fine mantra for earth care.

For countless thousands of years humans had a negligible impact on earth. Our numbers were low and technology was primitive. The lives of hunter gatherers were probably short, but they lived sustainably. Neolithic people gave up nomadism for settlements where they grew crops and grazed animals. These were more prosperous times but living closer to each other and to their animals promoted disease, theft and a social hierarchy. Choices require trade-offs.

Settlement meant the ability to store harvests and accumulate wealth, so greed and excess are corollaries. Not satisfied with sufficiency, forests are chopped down, sea-beds scraped by trawlers and valuable ore mined to exhaustion for maximum profit regardless of the interests of future generations. The beekeeper of Bekirlija leads a wiser life that seems no less happy for not being conventionally rich.

Next Post: Wax moths—Foes have Virtues too

Bee-line from Virginia

Question: When is a beehive hairy? Answer: When it grows a beard.

A poor joke but it helps to kick-start a post about heating and air-conditioning.

For most of the year, worker bees struggle to maintain the brood chamber in the 90 degree Fahrenheit range (32-35°C) needed for larvae and pupae to thrive in the comb. “Heater bees” keep the hive warm by vibrating their body and wings, which needs energy from honey delivered by other workers. In cold winters, the queen bee stops laying eggs and the hive switches to survival mode by clustering around her in a tight ball to avoid freezing to death. If a tele-thermometer is inserted deep inside the brood chamber you can monitor bee hive breeding activity because the temperature rises to a stable level when she starts laying again in milder weather.

Recent hot weather in the Virginia Peninsular posed the opposite challenge – heat stress. Daytime temperatures peak around 100° (38°C) and the nights stay warm. At such times the brood can perish and their wax cells soften and start to melt. Beekeepers help their colonies to get through the ordeal in July and August by painting their hives white and propping open the top outer cover to encourage a flow of air, but the workers carry a larger share of the effort to keep cool.

If you see lots of bees collecting water from puddles or swimming pools you know they are hot. So intent are they that it’s hard to discourage the industry, but human swimmers have little to fear because they are rarely aggressive except when defending their hive (who can blame them?). They regurgitate water brought home, which evaporates more quickly in the draft created by “cooler bees” lining up to beat their wings near the entrance. Yet another amazing fact about bees.

bee hive
Bearded hives at 10 PM

And bearding? I haven’t seen it in daytime, but when foragers come home after a hot day many of them stay at the hive entrance instead of going inside. It reduces the heat load on the brood. This behavior startled me the first time I shone a flashlight on a hive after dark. The crush of bees climbing over each other in slow motion had avoided taking their heat

Smuttynose brewery
Two old geezers enjoy beer

inside. They looked like a goatee, and the fuzz of brown hair on thousands of heads and thoraxes can fairly be called a beard. Docile and hard to provoke, they ignore nosy neighbors like me who wonder what is going on in their collective brain. I think they are like old geezers I know who love sitting on their porch with a cold beer on a sultry night.

Next Post: Science Flaw and Fraud