I am delighted to have Pip on the blog today who’s new to beekeeping and fell in love with the bees when she won a course to learn all about them. Pip is learning about keeping Bees in the city and is a fellow green living blogger across at A Refuge For Daffodils. Take it away Pip…
Hi all, my name is Pip and I’m an aspiring beekeeper. All I’m missing is my own beehives and the space to put them!
I first became interested in beekeeping through a course at work. A competition was held to find the lucky few who would be allowed up to the beehives kept on top of the seventh story on one of our buildings to learn more about bees and beekeeping. It was a little bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the golden tickets, except that our prize was to find ourselves up on a very high roof with no barriers around the edge, and thousands upon thousands of bees flying about our heads.
The first thing that surprised me, as I embarked on the classes, was how unscary bees are up close. It probably helps that I was covered head to toe in a beekeeping suit, but they really, really aren’t scary at all. They weren’t interested in stinging or attacking us, perhaps because they already have so much to do – the life of a worker bee is completely exhausting! I am aware that there are some angry bees out there – luckily I haven’t come across any yet!
What I have learned is that the bee family encompasses the most fascinating, strange, wonderful array of creatures, and even if they weren’t completely essential to life as we know it, we should be doing everything in our power to preserve and protect them. According to my beekeeping bible, the Haynes Bee Manual, they can switch their eyesight to black and white to save energy whilst flying – how amazing is that? The ways they communicate with each other (such as the famous waggle dance) and make their collective decisions is almost unfathomable.
I loved my brief bee encounters last year, and decided to step it up a gear by taking classes with the rather wonderful North London Beekeepers Association, an amazingly diverse selection of North Londoners who are passionate about sharing their knowledge through classes and a special hidden teaching apiary on Hampstead Heath. And it appears that North London is simply covered in bees, with hives hidden away in back gardens, schools and allotments all over the place!
You might think London is a rather strange place for so many bees, but it turns out it’s a surprisingly good home. Instead of fields and fields of (often pesticide-sprayed) monocrops, city bees can have access to a huge variety of flowers and trees in the forms of parks and gardens. These can be great places for bees because of their very closeness to human activity – less chemicals sprayed, and the human desire for different colours and patterns means that a huge variety of foraging material can be available. This also helps protect against pollen ‘gaps’ in the year – for example, if bees only have access to one or two pollen sources, this means that when those pollen sources stop, those bees may not have anything to replace that pollen with. In a city, someone is usually growing something somewhere that a bee can put to use.
London also produces some of the most delicious honey I have ever tasted (yes, I’m biased), which some beekeepers put down to this large selection of flowers and trees on offer. I’ve also learned that bees apparently LOVE oil-seed rape, and will fly past all sorts of other potential pollen sources to get to it. Unfortunately, oil-seed rape honey often isn’t found to be as tasty as other flower varieties. But in our overcrowded, dirty, concrete-ridden city, this obviously isn’t a problem, as we don’t have any fields!
It is wonderful, in this busy, noisy hub, to spend time with nature and to be able to observe these wild creatures at work. And of course, I’ve been bitten by the beekeeping bug, and can’t wait to have some of my own. Unfortunately, I have nowhere to keep a hive or two. Or three, or four, or five (apparently once you start, you can’t stop!). This means I’m currently on the lookout for a little patch to build my own tiny bee empire.
But regardless of where you live, I cannot recommend enough getting in touch with your nearest beekeeping society and finding out about what they’re up to – whether it’s learning beekeeping skills, trying new and exciting types of honey, going to talks or anything else, everyone’s lives can be improved by finding out about bees
Thank you for a great insight into London bees Pip, it’s great to know that even in our urban sprawl the bees are still doing well. Later in the week I’ll be posting the top five plants for bees so you can get planting some in your garden to plug those pollen gaps Pip was talking about.