Esther Coles is a London beekeeper who has spoken about the joys of hive-keeping at schools and venues including Kew Gardens and the Bootstrap Bee Garden in Dalston. She runs a bee club at a local school. She’s currently writing a comedy about bees for the BBC.
“If you want to keep bees, it’s essential to go on a course, as you need the practical experience. The BBKA web site is a good place to look for one near you. You’ll learn from qualified, long-standing beekeepers, and the best time to go is spring or early summer. Legally, you can keep bees anywhere. Their natural habitat is in a tree; they like being quite high up, so they can fly off and forage from trees.
In the most ethical form of beekeeping, you don’t take their honey, just provide a natural home, so they can pollinate flowers and fly around the neighbourhood. Your fruit trees will be pollinated, as will your flowers and vegetables. Natural beekeepers don’t open their hives, and let the bees look after themselves. There are downsides to natural beekeeping – the bees often swarm so you may lose your bees, and sometimes the colony that’s left might get stressed, too small to manage on its own, or invaded by robber bees. They’re also very susceptible to diseases carried by mites.
If you want to keep bees as a hobby, but take off any extra honey from the hive, that’s also pretty ethical. You’ll need a really healthy, strong colony of 50,000 bees and keep them as healthy as possible. It’s ethical to let them have their own honey that’s made from nectar from flowers. A lot of commercial bee farmers take the honey from the bees, then feed them a sugar solution to keep them alive, so they’re not living on their own natural substance, and intensive bee farming can also deplete the bees’ immune systems.
However, keeping bees isn’t really the answer to saving the bees, it’s more beneficial to plant as many bee-friendly flowers as you can. They love spring fruit, horse chestnuts, early willows on which to grow their larvae and hatch babies in the spring, then they’ll move onto fruit blossom, then lime trees. Their favourite flowers are tiny ones like forget-me-nots.
Beekeeping is a very relaxing hobby. It keeps you in touch with the world, and reminds you that it’s a very fragile place. Insects are so small; they’re not like the Sumatran tiger or the Indian elephant – it’s been harder for bees to get a voice. They’re getting one, at last though!
Children get so much from beekeeping; they learn science, about looking after your environment, caring for a little, fragile world. Kids love bees because they’re interested in their roles; workers and Queens and the lifecycle
of the bee is so interesting. It’s a female-led society - the girls do all the work. You can tell children, ‘If you were a worker bee, you’d have a mop and brush in your hand, and you’d be going round dusting. If you were a drone, you’d be watching Bee TV and eating honey sandwiches, hanging out, waiting to mate with the queen!’”
HIVE MIND Live a bee inspired life
- Buzzy Bee Body, £9, edenproject.com
- Plan Toys Bee Hives, £20.95, babipur.co.uk
- Gorgeous Body Cream, £16.00, beeinspiredcreams.buzz
- Bee Prepared Immune Formula, £11.99, unbeelievablehealth.co.uk
- Natural Beeswax Crayons, £9.45, consciouscraft.uk
- Pollinator Beebom Seedbom, £3.60, kabloom.co.uk