Vanessa has some fascinating insights about bees. A natural beekeeper for many years, Vanessa focuses on the natural ecology and well being of the bees and encourages not just honeybees but many other species including solitary bees. She does not prevent her honeybees from swarming as she views it as an important part of their life cycle for maintaining their health. Instead she anticipates where bees may swarm to and provides lots of baited hives for them to move to.
When a swarm leaves a hive, interestingly they take almost no varroa mites with them. When bees are stressed by the use of chemicals, frequent hive opening or being fed sugar syrup instead of eating their own honey, they can become unhealthy and susceptible to disease. When they do get ill the hive can become dirty and attract varroa mites. Vanessa’s latest hive, a sun hive, is intended to mimic the natural preferred habitat for honeybees.
“Bees like to be up high,” Vanessa told me, “if you see a swarm naturally they’ll almost always be much higher up in a tree where it’s less damp, rather than on the ground for our convenience.” Then there is the shape – honeybees prefer round spaces and the queen will naturally gravitate towards the top of the hive, so the sun hive allows that to happen by not using a queen excluder.
“If you make a bee hotel with cardboard tubes for solitary bees, they like it to be somewhere fairly shaded and not too damp,” said Vanessa. “The thing to remember is that this is where eggs will be.”
Vanessa was dismayed that beekeeping clothing on the market is very expensive and made in sweatshops so she also now runs a business, Buzz, selling beekeeping supplies which she has carefully sourced herself.
The Nuttery at The National Trust’s Washington Old Hall south of Gateshead was a fantastic discovery that brightened my day. Amongst the nut orchard are wildflowers, bee hives, a pond, education projects and wonderful people. Amazingly the garden and Nuttery are free to visit, so if you are anywhere nearby it’s a great place to restore your energy with peace and beauty. I spoke with the gardener Ellaine and some of the volunteers about the Nuttery and how they came to be involved.
Phil Chandler AKA The Barefoot Beekeeper, is obsessed with bees. And with good reason, these amazing ceatures are the foundation of our foodchain, with our foods having been selected over millenia by the actions of bees. What is Natural Beekeeping I asked him and why is it different from the more commercialised style?
In Natural Beekeeping the emphasis is on a respect for the bees and not interferring anymore than is necessary. Rather than taking all the honey and replacing it with a sugar solution, the beekeeper takes only the excess honey that is available and avoids disturbing the hive. Because bees create honey as a food for their babies it contains all the things that they need, so they are stronger if they are able to eat it. The hives are carefully contructed by bees to minimise the risk of airborne diseases, so avoiding opening the hice helps to allow the bees to control the environment inside. You can learn more about natural beekeeping and visit the discussion forum at www.biobee.com.
If you are also interested in supporting the protection of bees, Phil is a founder of Friends of the Bees.
Lush threw us a fundraiser in Oxford this weekend, raising £57 for us with sales of their Charity Pots.
Then we visited bike co-op Broken Spoke, and set out along the beautiful canal and Port Meadow and passed the ruins of Godstow Nunnery.
Further out we found Fai Farms providing artifical bee homes. You could provide living space for bees in a similar way.
We passed Wytham Woods a Site of Special Scientific Interest where the habitat is being preserved.
In total the four of us walked about 35km, mostly on the second day which was a good long practice!