The 79-year-old housekeeper told the outlet: “It is traditional when someone dies that you go to the hives and say a little prayer and put a black ribbon on the hive... “You knock on each hive and say, ‘The mistress is dead, but don't you go. Your master will be a good master to you.’
A New York Times article indicates that this tradition dates back centuries.
“It’s a very old and well-established tradition, but not something that’s very well-known,” said Mark Norman, a folklorist and the author of “Telling the Bees and Other Customs: The Folklore of Rural Crafts.”..In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was believed that neglecting to tell the bees could lead to various misfortunes, including their death or departure, or a failure to make honey. Nowadays, beekeepers may be less likely to believe they risk bad luck, but they may continue to follow the tradition as “a mark of respect,” Mr. Norman said.
It certainly is a quaint tradition, but it does indicate a modicum of respect for the natural world, and in a way it echoes the Native American traditional "guidelines for the Honorable Harvest."