Sunday, June 18, 2017

Watering the Bees

Until I read Virgil's fourth Georgic, I had never thought about where and how bees drink. But since that Georgic deals with bees, it tells how to site hives for proper watering:
But let clear springs and moss-green pools be near,
And through the grass a streamlet hurrying run,
Some palm-tree o'er the porch extend its shade,
Or huge-grown oleaster, that in Spring,
Their own sweet Spring-tide, when the new-made chiefs
Lead forth the young swarms, and, escaped their comb,
The colony comes forth to sport and play,
The neighbouring bank may lure them from the heat,
Or bough befriend with hospitable shade.
O'er the mid-waters, whether swift or still,
Cast willow-branches and big stones enow,
Bridge after bridge, where they may footing find
And spread their wide wings to the summer sun,
If haply Eurus, swooping as they pause,
Have dashed with spray or plunged them in the deep.
(Translated by J.G. Greenough, courtesy of the Perseus Project.)  The Macmillan edition of the Eclogues and Georgics has a note to this passage that quotes an English publication to the effect that an artificial basin will do if a stream is not handy.

Last weekend, I dealt with the birdbath in our garden a couple of times: once to fill it, once to adjust the support so that the basin is more nearly level. Both times there were two to four small bees flitting about the birdbath. I was pleased that they did not bother to defend the water. I tried to take a photograph, but found that my phone does not work well for small dull-colored bees against dull concrete.


  1. Bees just might be (to me) the most fascinating of all creatures. Thanks for sharing such a fascinating tidbit. I have heard that bees are having tough times in our polluted world, and they might become "threatened species" in the not too distant future; that link in the ecological chain, if damaged or broken, might be beginning of the end because bees are so damned important to so much in the environment. Again, thanks for the tidbits.

  2. Tim, there is concern about the bee population. I don't know what the status now is.

    Let me add that Virgil's information about bees is a bit out of date. He knew a good deal about the tending of bees and which plants were good for them and which bad. However, he supposed with the rest of his world that hives had kings rather than queens, and that bees could be spontaneously generated from rotting carcasses.

  3. A whole day in the garden, and I saw no bees. Just a giant hunter wasp crawling about...

    Favorite recent visitor to the birdbath: flying squirrel. Glad to have seen orioles this year, as they don't always come by this way...

    1. My wife planted milkweed in a bed beside the front yard, hoping to attract butterflies. So far it has attracted bees, often four or six at a time. Perhaps the butterflies will come, for last week we saw our first of the season, on the butterfly bush.