For me, keeping bees is about education: they are the most amazing ambassadors for insects, pollinators, the local environment, and relate to the current global situation regarding extinctions, climate change and other sobering issues.
Sustainable beekeeping is about not only about how we keep bees, but also using them to regenerate and encourage other wildlife habitats and species. Most of the time, a hive is sited and little thought is given to how much forage is actually available, even for that hive, let alone the other species in the area. Honeybees are large organisms and highly efficient pollinators, and will deprive the existing population if provision of alternative and increased sources of nectar and pollen isn’t addressed. Bees can be propped up with sugar syrup if they are low on stores so a hive owner would not necessarily be aware if the forage was limited. This is categorically NOT sustainable beekeeping.
Helping bees and other pollinators is about providing food and habitat. In the same way that we feed our garden birds, provide water for drinking and bathing, and nest boxes of all shapes and sizes to accommodate the different needs, so we should be doing the same for our insects. Planting nectar- and/or pollen-rich flowers, putting up bee hotels, and reducing any pesticide, fungicide or herbicide use to zero is the best way to start. We can all do this, irrespective of whether we want to keep bees.
The workshops this weekend were about how hives work, how a colony of honeybees works, and how they are different from – and similar to – bumblebees, wasps, hornets, hoverflies and butterflies, and what we can do to help them. Even people who have no intention of keeping bees are still fascinated by what goes on inside that enigmatic wooden box, and somehow looking at the hive’s inner workings (which essentially comprise the bee colony’s internal organs) without bees present is more evocative and fascinating than simply hauling out a frame and trying to spot the queen.
I was fortunate to run Saturday’s course at the beautiful Starnash Farmhouse where we could take a trip around our charming host Vicky’s self-seeded and self-sustaining garden, watching different bumblebees and the occasional honeybee at work. Tea, scones and cake followed.
Sunday’s workshop was organised by Clare, and held at my house, where any bees and flowers were eclipsed by the poultry, lawnmowing bunnies, and an entertaining – if rather noisy – stand off between Clare’s dog and my cat.
I have another Sustainable Beekeeping workshop at Starnash Farmhouse on Saturday 25th, and a couple more dates for Introduction courses at mine. Intermediate courses run later in the season, and if poultry are your thing, come along to Sketching Chickens in the Garden through the summer. All details on the Courses section of this site.