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Sherlock Holmes bees beekeeper honey bee

Author: Revati

Sherlockian Holmesian

We all know that bees play a vital role in pollinating plants, and that they produce tasty honey and some other products (propolis, beeswax, royal jelly). The most famous detective of the world also had an interest in the tiny insects, after his retirement (at age forty-nine) he kept bees in Sussex.

The history of bees and beekeeping – a short overview

Bees appeared in many famous authors’ work, thanks to their diligence and their social life – the latter was used as a model for human society as well. Among many others Aristotle, Plato, Virgil, Seneca, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Marx mentioned them in their writings. The Merovings used the bee as their royal emblem – the animal symbolized immortality and resurrection. Bees were sacred in many cultures, it was a common belief that they connect the natural world and the underworld. According to Egyptian mythology bees were born from the teardrops of sun god Ra falling to desert sand.

Bees can live a solitary life or they can be a part of a highly organized society. Honey bees live in so-called eusocial colonies – it consists of the mother (the queen), of fertile males and of sterile females (the workers).

There are around twenty thousand known bee species, the most well-known is the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). They can be found in every continent except Antarctica. They are specialized in consuming nectar and pollen. The honey they produce is not just a tasty food, but it can be used in medicine too – sterilized honey is a disinfectant and it helps wounds heal faster.

Honey bees are diligent and useful helpers of beekeepers. At the moment there are seven known species and forty-four subspecies of honey bees. Their origin can be traced back to South and Southeast Asia. Beekeepers keep their bee families in hives, and in one hive there may be up to forty thousand animals. At the beginning of beekeeping it was impossible to collect honey without the destruction of the bees and the whole hive. People later realized what a valuable resource a hive with its inhabitants is. During the middle ages monasteries and abbeys became the centres of beekeeping. Beeswax was used for making candles, while from fermented honey mead was made in areas of Europe where wines would not grow. In the 19th century the American Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth perfected the movable comb hive what made possible the removal of the combs without the destruction of the eggs, larvae or pupae. Several hive designs exist, in America the most dominant is the Langstroth and the Dadant hive, while in the UK a British National Standard Hive is the most popular. Apart from traditional beekeeping there are some other ways or trends as well, such as natural and urban beekeeping – the latter means that the hives are on the top of modern city buildings. It is worth to mention that urban beekeeping appears in Elementary (More intormation: CBS Elementary). Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes has his hives on the roof of his house, and he even names a new subspecies after Watson. Originally there were some beekeeping scenes in Granada’s Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, but unfortunately only some photos remained from these, they were not shown (You can read about the legendary Sherlock Holmes actor here: Jeremy Brett).

Sherlock and the bees

The sleuth himself remarks in The Lion’s Mane that he keeps bees („I, my old housekeeper, and my bees have the estate all to ourselves.”). Anyway, this story is the second that shows the events from Holmes’ view – the first one is The Blanched Soldier. Sherlock’s new activity is also indicated in His Last Bow, when he proudly shows Watson his magnum opus („Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.”).

It may be strange for many that how could a man who spent many years with catching dangerous criminals and avoiding scandals choose such a seemingly boring hobby like keeping bees. At first sight the two activities are as different as chalk and cheese. But when we examine the problem more thoroughly, it turns out that sleuthing and beekeeping have several things in common. Let’s see those characteristics that one needs for both.

1. Patience

Searching for details, evidence and checking facts are necessary during an investigation, and one needs a lot of patience to do them. You also have to be patient to observe bees and care for them.

2. Taking responsibility

An investigation may save lives, and a beekeeper is also responsible for the well-being of his/her bees.

3. Preparedness

A good detective tries to collect as much data as he/she can in order to make his/her work easier. You cannot start keeping bees without knowing at least the basics.

4. Perseverance

No activity can be effective without it. If it is given, the detective surely solves the case, and the beekeeper can collect the precious honey.

My opinion is that Holmes found the perfect pastime for his retired ages in keeping bees. He spent many years in almost constant danger, often under trying circumstances both for his body and his mind. For him observing the life of his bees and caring for them was definitely a sheer relaxation – something that he truly deserved after so many solved mysteries.

Sherlock Holmes bees beekeeper honey bee

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Sherlockian Holmesian

" Sherlock Holmes and the bees "

Author: Revati

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