Thursday, 30 June 2011

queen of the sun

We’re coming to the end of the lime blossom nectar flow, with the trees casting their heady scent across Lewes. With friends I’ve been gathering the flowers to dry for my winter linden teas – great for calming nerves and for heading off colds. Part of the heavenly experience of harvesting the blossoms is the intense sound of the bees that cover the trees during the short nectar flow. Lime blossom is a major food source for honeybees during a hungry gap between the spring spurt of blossom and the long-flowering brambles and ivy that they forage for winter stores.

It’s great to connect with all the bees at this time of year – their intensity seems to match the height of the sun. I can and do sit for hours watching the entrance to the beehives I keep in Lewes. Unless the weather is making them agitated, they let me sit nearby because as a natural beekeeper I don’t interfere with them – basically we see the hive as their home, as though a body – to be left undisturbed. And once a year, if there’s enough, we might take a few combs of honey, for medicine.

I’m delighted that the Linklater Pavilion is promoting the marvel of the honeybee and to see so many visitors at their recent Bee the Buzz event. But why are the bees being kept in such an artificial ‘observation hive’ with their frames laid out in two dimensions and with sugar syrup being permanently fed to them? There are more indignities I won’t go on about, because I feel strong feelings of outrage, despair and shame when I think about that hive. Surely a centre of ecology should be modelling the natural, holistic approach at all times? There are other ways of observing bees that don’t involve sacrificing them to the cold glamour of science.

In a lovely film I are hoping to show in the autumn, Queen of the Sun, biodynamic beekeepers point out that we owe our very lives to the honeybees, as they pollinate most of our food. Most ancient cultures saw bees as sacred beings, not just for the work they do for us but because, as anyone who has encountered bees on the bees’ own terms will know: they have so much to teach us.

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