This week is Bee Needs Week, a week dedicated to educating ourselves about the impact bees have on our lives, and how we can strive to make the world a better place for them.
Bees are the reason we are able to live on Earth. Without these fluffy little pollinators, entire ecosystems would collapse.
In recent years, more and more people have become aware of the importance of helping bees out, but a lot can still be done.
To celebrate Bee Needs Week, we spoke to Stroud beekeeper, Peter Lead, to find out about everything bees and beekeeping – including how we can help.
Peter started beekeeping 12 years ago when his children bought him a beginners kit for Father’s Day, and said that being launched into a ‘spaceman’s outfit’ has taken him on an interesting journey, which has seen him eventually becoming chairman of Stroud Beekeepers – a role he is retiring from later this year.
“Its become a fundamental part of my life.” Peter, 69, said.
“There is a magic about the honeybee. In a hive or a nest there could be up to 60, maybe even 70, thousand bees. They’re all in the hive in the dark, they’re all communicating with each other.
“It’s magic how they can communicate. For half the life of the worker bee they stay inside the nest and they organise the distribution of the nectar, pollen and water that’s brought in by the foraging bees.
“When they get surplus nectar, that’s when they store it away for honey making, which is just extracting the water content from the nectar to take it down to about 18-19% water so it can store safely, and that’s their winter food.
“It’s a whole magic of interaction and communication – humans can learn so much from it.”
Peter has steered towards the natural, or low intervention, branch of beekeeping, which is more for the benefit of the bee and not for the economic benefit of the beekeeper.
“I much prefer to let the bees look after themselves, if they’re genetically strong and healthy and left alone then the bee will develop its genetic strength and survive.” Peter said.
“If it’s genetically weak and dies then so be it. The bee needs to survive this horrid world we exist in at the moment without human intervention.
“One of the problems we’ve got is lack of natural habitat.
“I get calls from people who have got bees that have swarmed into their attic or cavity in their house, and they can be a nuisance – so there’s a need for natural habitat.”
Elsewhere in the world, colony collapse disorder can cause a huge issue for bee populations.
This abnormal phenomenon happens when the majority of worker bees leave the hive, leaving behind the queen, a lot of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the immature bees.
However, Peter says that colony collapse disorder is not really an issue here, instead, farmers and landowners need to reconsider how they care for their crops.
“The major issue is chemical contaminants used to try and control weed and insects, and that does make it difficult for all pollinating insects.” said Peter.
“I think to respect all bees, then gardens need to be free of any form of insecticides.
By all means if you spot a tired bee give it a drink of sugar water on a spoon, but don’t leave it out readily for them.
Plant nectar-rich plants in your garden and hanging baskets.
Leave out bowls of water with gravel/small pebbles placed inside for them to drink.
DO NOT FEED BEES HONEY – it could be disastrous! They don’t eat it and can spread disease which would mean certain death for a bee colony and likely many more hives in the vicinity.
“Farmers and landowners need to not use insecticides and there needs to be an abundance of the old fashioned flowers – not the hybrid flowers that have many petals and no pollen that is safe for the insects to come and feed from.
“I think if everybody was aware that if they had some nice flowers and didn’t use insecticides, they would be able to sit outside in their gardens with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and they’d be watching butterflies, moths and bees.
“Their garden would look lovely, and they would have lots of entertainment – but I think the most important thing is that children get the understanding that bees aren’t to be afraid of.
“They’re to be respected, loved, and admired.”
Those who have tasted local honey will know that it is an entirely different taste to honey found in the supermarket.
The flavour of raw, local honey which comes ‘straight from the bee’, according to Peter, depends on the plant the bees go to. Lime honey is an entirely different taste to pear blossom honey from an orchard.
Local honey is not only said to taste better than commercial honey, but has its own benefits.
“I think we all need to become more sustainable and therefore look to our immediate surroundings and support businesses and people within our own area.” Peter said.
“Honey from a beekeeper is what we call raw honey – it is spun or crushed out of the wax comb and jarred so you get all the proteins and nutrients that are plentiful.
“And of course, it comes from flowers surrounding you.
“I don’t know how proven it is, but it is well spoken of that local, raw honey will help hayfever sufferers.
“That’s because you’re absorbing the pollen within the honey, because that hasn’t been heated and destroyed as it is in commercial honey.
“It’s a totally different flavour to commercial honey which really is a bit like golden syrup because they generally heat the honey, which gets rid of all the goodness which is contained in raw honey, and quite often the honey is adulterated so that it’s not just pure honey.”