Bee Culture is abuzz in Vero Beach
It was the ideal retirement project for a man of intellect and curiosity.
That, at least, is what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided when he thought about what retirement would be like — not for himself but for his famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. In Doyle’s later stories, Holmes retires to the countryside along the English coast and takes up beekeeping. Naturally, the brilliant and eccentric Holmes applies the same kind of deductive reasoning and enthusiastic curiosity to his beehives as he had to his cases. In the story entitled “His Last Bow,” wherein he temporarily comes out of retirement to outwit a German spy, Holmes shows Watson a book he has written about honeybees. “Here is the fruit of my leisured ease,” Holmes says, “the magnum opus of my latter years!” The book is entitled The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. Holmes explains that he researched the book by watching the honeybees in his peaceful countryside apiaries as closely as he had once watched the criminal underworld of London.
The honeybee does indeed merit such close observation. In fact, the title Holmes chooses for his book (all right, the title Doyle has him choose) is an intriguing one that may have multiple layers of meaning. “Bee culture” applies to the agricultural pursuit of keeping honeybees, but it could also suggest that Holmes perceives the complex social behavior of these creatures as a culture in itself — which would fit with his reference to observing them as closely as he had once observed London criminal networks.
Bee culture, in either sense of the phrase, is widely practiced in Vero Beach. Some local beekeepers work with many hives, others with few, but all must be observant of the natural behavior of honeybees in order to be successful.