Introduction to our apiary: The Story so far…
The story of our apiary begins many moons ago, in fact the spring of 2010. At the magical site of Hawkwood just on the edge of London and bordered by Epping forest we set aside an area amongst a young orchard for an Apiary. Over the winter we built several Warre hives and in the spring we picked up our first swarm with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Our swarm came from a wild colony that we know was surviving without chemical treatment. We have from the beginning been committed to finding ways of working with bees that respect the nature of what they are – a superorganism. We wanted to find a practice that worked with the life cycle of the bee and didn’t repeat the mistakes of industrial agriculture. We’ve had lots of help from friends along the way, been inspired by lots of folks and we hope that we’ve inspired some folks ourselves.
Hawkwood is managed by OrganicLea – a workers cooperative. They are an inspiring organization working towards a socially and environmentally just food system. For more information about the amazing things that they are up to check out their website – www.organiclea.org.uk
Our approach starts with the bee first. Through our attempts to understand this organism more deeply we have come across some points that have informed how we work with bees
Working with health – We seek to understand what makes a healthy honeybee colony and use this as our starting point for our activity. Like all genuinely sustainable farming methods we seek to create health in the whole system rather than retrospectively react to disease. We prioritise the health and wholeness of the honeybee over the convenience of the beekeeper.
Bee-appropriate and sustainable hive design – We seek to use hives that are designed with the health of bees in mind. Our blueprint is the hollow tree – the nest site that bees evolved to live in. We allow some concession for the ease of the beekeeper but not at the expense of compromising the integrity or the health of the bee. We seek to use sustainably sourced or recycled materials. and minimize the carbon footprint of our activity. We seek to engage in the process of building our own hives using simple, low-tech and open source designs that increase accessibility and decrease our dependency on out-sourcing our equipment.
Hive temperature and atmosphere – We recognise the significance of the internal hive atmosphere on honeybee health. We seek to use practices and hives that maintain the integrity of the internal hive temperature and atmosphere.
Wax – We view wax as part of the structure of the honeybee super-organism. The wax functions for the bees like a skeleton, uterus, larder and communication system (chemically and vibrationally) and as a consequence should not be manipulated. We believe wax comb should be secreted and constructed by the bees themselves with as minimal human interference as possible.
Swarming – We believe that swarming is the natural reproductive behaviour of the honeybee and as such should be inherently respected. We seek ways to to work with swarming rather than suppressing or dramatically manipulating this behaviour. We believe that swarming is integral to the health of the whole colony.
Locally adapted genes – We believe the international trade in honeybee genetics is deeply problematic. We only use bees sourced from our local area. We seek to use practices that strengthen the gene-pool and promote genetic resilience
Low interference – We seek practices that minimize all interference within the hive and the life-cycle of the honeybee. Inspections are only carried out when deemed absolutely necessary. We practice the art of learning to understand the honeybee super-organism through patient external observation.
Honey – We believe honey is the most appropriate food for bees. We feed bees sugar only in emergency scenarios. We only harvest honey if it is truly surplus to their needs. We only extract honey by pressing, draining and sieving and seek to maintain the integrity of the honey. We seek to challenge and shift the perspective of beekeeping as a practice primarily of honey extraction