Working 2050: Beekeeper

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Working 2050 is an homage to Studs Terkel’s Working, a series of possible interviews with workers of the future.

My mother always wanted me to be something practical, like an artist. Every time she visits she waits until I’m totally geared up and starting morning chores and then follows me at a distance, and spends the whole trip behind me standing in the yard with her hands on her hips. “You don’t even get any good selfies because you’ll be covered in netting.”

She’s a little older, so she was always all about brand identity when I was a kid (I think a lot of gen Z is like that). when I first told her I was interested in bees i was 8 and she was excited, she kept adding all of these “machine learning for pollination” courses to my queue. Even when I told her I wanted to be like, an old timey beekeeper, with just a couple of hives I think she was still excited, thinking about microniches and AR content. She made me finish the filmmaker and monetization tracks on Coursera before I turned 18, but after that I focused all of my attention and course credits on bees: preservation, care, behavior, all of it.

I was a moderator for /beekeeping when I was 15 so by the time I was ready to apprentice somewhere I already knew a bunch of great people who had the right permits. one of them was in Montana and had the perfect setup: 800 hives, an extra room, and no 5G. He was really nice, filled out all of the internship paperwork and, more importantly, answered all of my mom’s texts. He was verified but the idea of living with someone you’d never met totally freaked her out — mom stuff. But he was thoughtful, responsive, and even did a full 8 hour live feed for the first few days I was there. I think it made her feel like I was safe but also helped her get used to the idea of beekeeping, she still hadn’t given on the microniche yet.

This guy taught me everything he knew until about three years ago, when he decided he wanted to be closer to his daughter, who lives in the Amazon doing restoration there. He’s been learning more about tropical aquaponic systems, having a blast if social media is any indication, and so he officially (or legally, at any rate) left me all of his hives about a year ago. It’s been me and the hive ever since.

I was never totally sure what drew me to bees. I liked Honey Nut Cheerios? I had a computer game when I was younger that was kind of like an early EdTech class before they figured out how to do that for the trades, where you’d sell honey and try to grow your roadstand honey business into a slightly larger roadside honey business. IMy mom hated it when I played that game, I think now she thinks I was predicting my future! I don’t think there was ever a moment when I was like, yup, ready to go, bees are my life now.

The only thing I can really think of that’s close is maybe the first time I opened up a hive by myself, trying to find the queen. The guy I was working with was good about giving me jobs like that, maybe that weren’t integral to the day to day, but helped me get more comfortable with everything we did, understand how the hive worked. He always talked about finding the Queen as the spy novel of the beekeeper, the most Mission Impossible farming possible. When you’re looking for the queen, you have to be really careful -- you apply a little bit of smoke, but not so much that you’re causing total chaos in the colony. Then you pry each individual frame out of your box, and look for a bee with a wild abdomen, like a bee with a Superman logo on its stomach. It’s also the bee moving as far as possible away from your light.

So I spent like 45 minutes looking for this queen, which honestly was too long -- thinking about so many things I did when I first started, I wasn’t really thinking about what I was doing it, just trying to get to the end of things. But at some point, like maybe the fourth frame I was looking at for the 7th time, trying to find this bee, I realized how loud it was to be right in the middle of this hive -- so many things were happening besides the Queen. Drones were everywhere, flying back and forth between the frame and these flowers, managing the Queen, pollinating, doing grub watch, literally spelling out the angle of the sun with their feet in order to describe where the best flowers were… I don’t know, for some reason it really just connected with me in that moment. That all of those sounds were the sounds of something bigger.

Other than that though, I don’t know: you gotta do something with your time, you know? Or you’re just looking for a microniche for no reason, like my mom.

I can tell beekeeping, even this unmarketed version, is growing on her, though. Sometimes I’ll wake up early and start replacing a frame -- the first time it happened while she was visited I walked right by her on the porch without even noticing she’s there. I’m pretty loud in the suit -- but she never says anything, that’s how I can tell she’s been feeling differently. She just stands there and listens -- to the hive, to me, to the morning.


Bee Hive -- Relaxing Sounds.

Chicago Honey Coop

The Future of Beekeeping?

Beesource, included here solely for the name.