Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Book explores our relationship with honeybees

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"The Song of Increase: Returning to our Sacred Partnership with Honeybees" by Jacqueline Freeman

Bees aren’t quite as cuddly as dogs or cats, but to Jacqueline Freeman, they’re equally lovable pets.

Freeman, who recently released her first book, “The Song of Increase: Returning to our Sacred Partnership with Honeybees,” has several hives on the small farm in Battle Ground she owns with her husband.

When the pair moved here from New England 20 years ago, she admits, she was a bit wary of the insects. But over time, she has learned to trust them — and they to trust her, she said.

“Beehives actually do have personalities,” Freeman said. “Sometimes, you have hives that are a little reserved or testy, but that’s more rare. My hives, they know me. I can walk up, and they don’t defend against me. They understand I’m not coming to hurt them.”

The book, which is available through most major retailers listed on Freeman’s site at http://spiritbee.com, offers information about how to interact with hives, understand bee behavior and how to best support your hive.

She also gives classes about bees.

Freeman will offer a presentation about bees at a book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 21 at Vintage Books, 6613 E. Mill Plain Blvd. The free presentation, called All About Bees!, also features author Sherian Wright, author of “Mason Bees for the Backyard Gardener.”

Freeman said her approach is a little different from mainstream beekeeping.

“I’m sort of an alternative beekeeper,” she said. “I’m treatment-free and bee-centric. That means I ask ‘Is this good for the bees?’ first, rather than, ‘Is this more convenient for people?’ “

Part of the problem with the high mortality rate of beehives — besides the fact that pesticides kill them — is the people-first mentality of some beekeepers, she added.

“That’s how we’ve gotten into all these problems with bees. (People) are doing things that aren’t necessarily healthy for (the hives),” Freeman said.

Bees react best to a calm mental state, much like skittish dogs or cats, she said. If you’re nervous when you approach a hive, the bees will be nervous as well, she added.

“You have to learn to calm down, how to be on their wavelength,” Freeman said. “They’re paying attention, and it goes both ways. When I go to the bees with a full heart, they come land on my arms and lick the salt from my skin. They’re very gentle. There’s some sort of sweet communication.”

When the couple first bought their Battle Ground farm, they didn’t have any animals or experience in running a farm. They just knew they wanted to live on one.

After they moved in, a neighbor told them they should get chickens, which they did. Then the neighbor told them to get bees, so they did that, too.

“Now, we have chickens, bees, a cow, goats,” Freeman said, with a laugh. “Chickens are a gateway animal.”

It was difficult to get over her initial fear of bees, she said, but the experience has been so rewarding she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t have bees just for the honey. I’m also there for the relationship,” she said. “Honey’s just a perk.”


Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story to share, email bits@columbian.com.