Roxana Villa’s passion for the planet, its resources and gifts, is evident in her life as an artist — both in the visual and aromatic arenas. She creates whole, vital, organic perfumes with stories, which can be found in her Etsy shop, Illuminated Perfume. Her latest adventure and mission is to save the honey bee!
I was immersed, typing away on a blog post, when a gift from Aphrodite flew into my life. The golden package was a swarm of winged alchemists, honey bees, who arrived at our compost bin looking for a home. The week before I had watched the film trailer for Queen of the Sun, where French bee historian Yvon Achard says, “Beekeepers are chosen by bees.” Indeed!
During art school I became obsessed with engravings found in vintage and antique books, particularly those having to do with alchemy and nature. The iconic image of the bee sang sweet songs to my hungry art spirit. In May 2004 my husband Greg and I were at our yearly attendance of the Bug Fair at the Natural History Museum. While strolling the aisles, drooling over gem-like bugs resembling miniature cars and African masks, Greg stopped at a booth and made a purchase. It was a small book titled Love in the Garden by Jean-Pierre Otte, filled with short stories of love and treachery among flowers and insects. The story that captured my heart was an enchanting tale of a little velvet-corseted bumblebee in “The Astonishing Deception of the Bee Orchid.” After reading this eight-page poetical fantasy I was quite keen on using the bee as part of the branding for my perfume company. The symbolism of the honey bee originates from their ability to work as an individual, and within a team, to create an intoxicating elixir from the sweet aroma of flowers.
I had a deep yearning to delve into beekeeping but knew nothing about it and really wasn’t sure how to begin. Then last August I read an article in the LA Times that led me to Kirk Anderson and his group, Backwards Beekeepers. Smitten with Kirk’s mission to save the bees, I attended a meeting at a member’s home. I was initiated into a new world — a new vocabulary — with words like “drone,” “caps,” “nuc box,” “bearding mode” and “trap-out,” just to mention a few. I was thrilled to finally be moving forward with manifesting another dream and learning a new skill set. Now, besides saving local oak trees, I’d be going on bee rescue missions!
The dream took some time to manifest, mainly because I couldn’t figure out where to put the hive. When the swarm arrived at the compost bin I took it as a sign and set the hive up there. Nature, in all her infinite wisdom, had intervened and put me on course. The location was perfect, as it was tucked away from people, received morning light and was under the eaves of the studio, which would provide a little extra protection from rain.
That first swarm departed, regrettably, which I’ve since learned is a common tragedy among beekeepers who practice organic, chemical-free beekeeping. The main premise of holistic beekeeping is to allow the bees to do what they do best. The group I belong to uses the word “backwards” because we rely on observation and natural practices, rather than pesticides and other chemicals, to keep our bees thriving. Like organic farming, holistic urban beekeeping is on the rise. Many believe that the small urban beekeeper will bring an end to colony collapse. Organic beekeeping encourages strong bees instead of strong pathogens, and feral and treatment-free bees will be able to thrive throughout the world.
I was devastated when my first swarm left, but a fellow member of my Backwards Beekeeping group said I could have her “bird house” bees if I came to get them. One of the more experienced members of the group, John Lyons, facilitated a “cut out” of the bees, which are now cheerfully residing in a periwinkle bee hive while my husband and I quickly immerse ourselves in the art of organic beekeeping. Luckily we have the Backwards Beekeeping blog and Yahoo group, along with our beekeeping bible, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping.
My bee guru, Kirk, explains that the bees’ problem, like most of nature, is man. There is quite a bit of misinformation being circulated in the media about the bees. The hysteria over “Africanized” bees is factually unsound, and the term itself is essentially useless in evaluating whether or not we can work with any particular hive of bees. I will do what I can in my little microcosm to affect the macrocosm. I invite you to do the same.
Our global hive needs some tending so that we may all evolve to “an illuminated state of floral consciousness.” As author Tom Robbins says,
“With an increased floral consciousness,
humans will begin to make full use of their
‘light brain’ and make more refined and sophisticated use of their ‘smell brain.’
The two are portentously linked.
In fact, they overlap to such an extent that they may be considered inseparable.”
— Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
Thanks to Roxana for sharing her inspiring story of holistic, organic beekeeping.
Do you know of any urban beekeepers? Tell us about them in the comments below!