Grit Blogs > The Open Book

Listen to the Bees

By Jean Teller, Sr. Assoc. Editor

Tags: Queen of the Sun, beekeeping, honeybees,

Jean TellerMost of what I know about bees I learned as we compiled our latest installment of Grit’s Country Skills Series, our new Guide to Backyard Bees and Honey. I’ve always loved honey, and I’ve found a local source, which is even better – both for me and the environment.

So as I showed off the bee guide at a recent family reunion, I was amazed when my cousin told me about a new documentary all about bees, Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees TellingUs? And I was even more amazed to discover on my return to the office that we had received a copy of the documentary.

Ian Davies, a London rooftop beekeeper, holds a few of his charges.  

I’ve watched it twice. 

With captivating imagery and compelling interviews, Queen of the Sun explores the world of the honeybee, the threatening landscape facing both the honeybee and humankind, and what we might be able to do about the crisis.

Director Taggart Siegel (he also made The Real Dirt on Farmer John) opens with biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk talking about colony collapse disorder and continues with a number of amazing, interesting and thought-provoking interviews with a wide variety of experts.

Catch a glimpse into the life of a honeybee in Queen of the Sun, What Are the Bees Telling Us?It seems that in 1923, Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, predicted the collapse of honeybees within 80 to 100 years. As Hauk says, “Colony collapse disorder is the bill we are getting for all we have done to bees.” The documentary discusses the problem, highlighting the devastating effects of pesticides and genetically modified crops, and what happens when we have a monoculture agricultural system that includes migratory bee hives.

One expert calls monoculture a desert for bees. With only one crop producing pollen only a few weeks of the year, bees are unable to live in those areas, so farmers are forced to bring in hives from around the country to pollinate crops. The migratory beekeepers load hundreds of hives onto semitrailers and drive to where the crops are, often across the entire country. Not only does this stress the bees, the beekeepers use artificial means (high-fructose corn syrup and antibiotics) to maintain the hives, plus any diseases that hives from one region may have are then passed on to all the other hives arriving to help a single crop be pollinated.

Then we have the use of pesticides – some say the overuse of pesticides – which many believe is the root cause of colony collapse disorder. An entomologist interviewed for Queen of the Sun talks about a new class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, that are neurotoxic, affecting a bee’s ability to learn, remember and navigate. Thus bees are unable to find their way back to their hive.

All in all, the information found in Queen of the Sun is overwhelmingly scary, but the filmmakers present it in such as way as to be more thought-provoking than fearful. And they offer some wonderful solutions to the problem.

What about a monoculture farmer setting aside a portion of his land for a bee-friendly smorgasbord of plants, allowing bees to live on his property all year round? What about everyone putting a honeybee hive in their garden, or on their city rooftop?

While Queen of the Sun offers many questions, it also offers some answers, and an amazing array of people who are passionate about bees, beekeeping and the future of the planet. It’s a delightful documentary well worth seeing.