This week it has been all about the bees!
On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to meet a lovely group of novice beekeepers on a little 'Intro to Beekeeping' course at the Senior Connections project at the TS3 Community Church in east Middlesbrough. Teaching is one of my favourite things to do, but bees are so fascinating that it's an easy task and there's always a group of very willing students. After tasting eight different honeys (eucalyptus was the favourite!) we rattled through a huge quantity of new facts and figures with the aim of explaining a little of what happens in a hive and how a colony functions, as well as what sunstances the little ladies make that can prove useful and a viable alternative to some of the less natural products that often surround us.
And as if by magic, I got a message that evening. Do I know anyone who is looking for a bee colony, as there's one available FOR FREE!
I've been part of a community apiary before, but I've always wanted my own bees. As well as the option of honey, a local alternative to sugar and useful medicinally too, I use beeswax for waterproofing food wraps and for making creams and lotions, lip balm and moisturiser, a little step along the line towards full self sufficiency. I've had a 'bait' hive set up in my garden for several years (this is an empty hive, usually with a little honey and/or beeswax inside to entice in passing swarms) to no avail. Last year I did have a colony move in, but they bypassed the hive and instead set up their home in my bay window roof, literally feet away! Sadly, finding their new location in late summer, they did not have enough time to build up food supplies for during the colder months, and despite being very active and looking healthy, died over the winter. Bee 'starter' colonies, or 'nukes,' short for 'nucleus,' and consisting of a laying queen with enough worker bees to support her, are hideously expensive, usually around the £200 mark, so the offer was way too good to miss! I made contact.
We collected our 'nuke' early morning, whilst it was still cool and they would be relatively inactive. Their previous owner, Noreen, had sealed them into a temporary hive the night before, when all the foraging bees had returned home for the evening. We had a few hiccups - there was a collection of about 50 bees underneath the box that we hadn't anticipated, so we wrapped the whole thing in a couple of net curtains, allowing the air to them, but not allowing them to escape into the car in transit - but otherwise we managed to travel with them in the boot around 20 miles without any of our anticipated fears coming to fruition!
The bees' new home is at the bottom of my partner's garden (sadly I react badly to stings and have only a small and crowded outdoor space, surrounded on all sides by dogs and children!) Their front door faces south and there is an enclosing fence that encourages them to fly high, up and over the neighbours' gardens. There are plenty of trees locally, as well as brambles on their doorstep and garden flowers surrounding them, so hopefully they will have plenty of food. The hive we have is a British National hive, which is pretty standard in this country, but we are not using the square frames inside, just the 'top bars' of each. This allows the bees to build their honeycomb in a much more natural round shape and we will be taking from them only the minimal amount of honey from the margins of their home, if any at all (and certainly none this year whilst they settle and grow. Find out more about natural beekeeping, something I'm really interested in, here). This means we won't disturb them any more than necessary and hopefully won't destroy any 'brood' (baby bees) as we go.
We've left the bees in their temporary home for the time being and although they seem very docile, we fully kitted ourselves up before re-opening the door!
before, these are the distinctive tracks of the leafcutter bees. They roll these leaf circles into tiny cigars and pop their eggs inside them to grow. If you aren't lucky enough to have a honeybee colony of your own, keep your eyes peeled for these instead maybe!
Next year honey?
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.