It’s Friday; late frosts nip the buds of emerging shoots and coat the lawns with a carpet of sugar frosting. The sun in April skies, spreads dappled shade under budding trees, with greens and yellows especially bright in the spring sunshine.
I’ve joined Mark Douglas of Bee 1 on his land, just outside Neath in South Wales. Apart from putting names to faces, I’m here to assist him in relocating three colonies of bees to their new home in the valley’s. I don my mask and join him in his car. In the back are three Nucleus boxes (‘Nukes’) containing around 60,000 bees complete with their Queens.
Although we can’t hear them, I’m assured by Mark that they are probably a tad fed up, after being rattled around in the back of the car for over an hour, and now as we complete their journey with a mile and a half of bumpy gravel track to their final destination, I would imagine they’re planning their revenge!
Several cattlegrids later and we climb steeply to a clearing in the gorse bushes. In front of me is our ‘Phoebe the Bee’ hive, busy with workers coming and going. Tales from Mother Earth are currently collaborating with Bee1 in getting the conservation message out to children about Bees and other pollinators and has very kindly donated a home for Phoebe.
Mark initially hopes to get a copy of our book to all primary schools in Wales.
Next to that, there’s a fenced off area containing the main apiary, with an array of different hives and the all-important field HQ of Bee 1. I’m charged with carrying one of the Nukes and placing it on a vacant hive, which will become their new home. I suddenly feel the huge weight of responsibility in their success.
We leave the nukes to settle for half an hour or so to calm the bees down, while Mark shows me around the apiary, describing the different hives, looking inside one of the empty hives and talking about his work and the relationships with his sponsors and supporters. Despite the buzzing all around me and the obvious activity around the entrances to the hives, I felt surprisingly calm in the bee’s presence. With the gorse in full bloom, we could see the bulging pollen sacks on the bee’s legs as they returned to the hive after their mornings foraging. Interesting, I noticed the activity being more prominent around the hives that were currently in the sun.
“Right,” said Mark. “Time to get you suited up.” And so, it was a first for me, at 59 years old and with no hesitation, I found myself looking through the netting of the head covering in my bee cover-all suit, with my host also duly attired.
Photo opportunities taken, I discovered that bees don’t much care to have their pictures taken, so no luck there. I then rotated the disc on the front of the nuke to open the entrance allowing the bees to escape, stepping back briskly in case some of them were still looking for vengeance.
In this situation, Mark tells me that bees will fly straight upwards to get a bearing on the hive’s location, taking note of landmarks and trees to guide them home after foraging. He then tells me that the nuke will be left in place for a while before moving the queen and brooding stock to the new hive directly under the styrene box which has been their temporary home.
Having commissioned the three colonies, Mark and I return to the car smiling.
Bee1 was set up to promote the awareness and importance of bees in our ecosystem, and also to use bee keeping as a way of helping in the treatment and recovery to mental wellbeing in humans. The other biproducts from bee keeping is the wonderful honey they produce. Bee1 is also developing and marketing products, from Hive building kits and instruction courses for bee keeping, to honey and flavoured drinks and alcohol. All these products come with a strong message that bees are the most important species on the planet and to also highlight the dangers of the decline in the global populations of all pollinators.
My thanks to Mark for an enjoyable and educational visit. It was truly wonderful to share this experience and to get close to the bees, and to see Phoebe’s home in the beautiful and idyllic countryside of South Wales.
We thank Helen Rogers of Highgate Honey for bringing you today’s guest blog on Feeding the Bees.
Feeding the Bees.
In the UK we have about 270 different types of bee. Most of these are solitary bees, 27 are bumble bees and we have 1 type of honeybee. The different types of bee are all various shapes and sizes – the biggest are the large furry bumbles and the smallest are similar in size to a grain of rice. Flowers are absolutely essential for the survival of bees. Bees need pollen and nectar for nourishment and to feed to the larvae that develop into adult bees. Plants need bees to pollinate their flowers to produce fruit and seeds. Humans rely on these fruits and seeds to keep our bodies healthy and strong.
Some bees are extremely particular about which flowers they like to forage on. Other bees are physically unable to feed on certain plants – their tongue may be too short to reach where the flower stores the nectar, or their body may be too big to fit inside the flower.
If we want to help Phoebe the Bee and her bee friends to thrive, then it is really important that we plant a good range of different flowers to accommodate as many types of bee as possible, wherever we can. At this time of the year, honeybees and bumblebees are busy collecting pollen from flowers like crocuses and snowdrops. This is the protein needed to raise their brood. Later in the year they require a lot of nectar for energy from flowers like borage and lime trees.
The tricky part for gardeners is picking which plants are going to be the best for bees and will also look good and grow well in a particular garden. We have produced a small book, “80 Flowers for Bees” which is a collaboration between a beekeeper and a horticulturalist to help take the guesswork out of choosing suitable flowers. We’ve put in detailed information about when plants flower, what type of soil they like, how big they grow and why they are good for bees. If you’d like to buy a copy, please head over to our website shop: www.highgatehoney.com/shop
Last autumn we started a project to convert the front lawn at our house into a flower garden for bees. In the past we had let dandelions and clover grow and flower in the grass, but we decided that we could do so much more. Late last year we covered the whole lawn with a layer of card, then a layer of compost. This is a brilliant, chemical free, way of killing the grass. Next we poked holes through the card and planted loads of bulbs which are flowering now. It is exciting to see that bees are already foraging on the flowers that we are growing. In a few weeks time, once the chance of frosts has passed, we will scatter a mix of seeds over the area. We’ve picked seeds that will grow into plants whose flowers bees love – We can’t wait to see the results! We hope that our transformation will inspire other people in the neighbourhood to plant more bee friendly flowers.
If you’d like to follow the progress of our lawn to flower garden project, then please follow us on Instagram (@highgatehoney) and join our Facebook group – Plants that Bees Love.
Recently our co-founder Jenny Bailey was asked to write blog for Little Wild Tales on the importance of ‘Re-wilding Childhood’.
It gives us great pleasure to share this with you here.
Our thanks to Ivelina Borislavova who runs Mother Nature Loves You, a lifestyle and food blog for the opportunity for our co-founder and author Jenny, to write a guest blog for her website.
“Many times, as a parent I’ve made up stories with my children, as I’m sure we all have. Invariably, all of mine have featured animals.
Here I share the importance of storytelling and how I believe this simple act can transform lives.”
Recently we joined Aaron Moskowitz on his ‘Get In my Garden’ podcast to share our thoughts
on how connecting with nature greatly benefits us all ….especially children.
We hope you enjoy listening to our discussion here.