At the Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project we have always tried to encourage wildlife habitats, especially for pollinating insects like solitary bees.
So, last year I completed the full training with Cambridge Bee Keeping Association with the plan to set up a bee keeping project on the allotment site.
We were lucky that the extremely overgrown plot next to our existing wildlife area became free at the beginning of the year. So we took it on, began clearing it and planted a willow screen ready to develop it into a bee friendly area.
The group members have varying interest in the thought of caring for some honey bees at the project. Some are really keen to get involved and look forward to the benefits to their physical, emotional and mental health that can come from the rewarding pastime.
However, by caring for a hive of bees there can also be benefits for the wider community and even humanity as a whole.
The majority of flowering plants need animals to pollinate them. But it’s not just pretty flowers that we need to thank the honeybees for. Approximately, one third of the average diet (far more if you have a plant based diet) has been pollinated by them. Nuts, carrots, soya beans, broccoli, apples, strawberries, avocados, even Alfalfa the clover-like plant grown widely for cattle feed are dependent on the honeybee, as is the cotton for the tee-shirt you’re wearing.
But honeybees across the world are dying at an alarming rate. In America, one in three hives was left lifeless at the beginning of 2008 and this death rate has been rising rapidly over the last decade. If or when the world loses the honeybee for good, agriculture will collapse and our civilization as we know it will be in real danger.
What is to blame for this catastrophe? Viruses, parasites, pesticides and climate change have all played a part in the decline of the honeybee as they have weakened populations. But the main culprits are the industrial beekeepers themselves who have worked their bees to death by shipping their hives thousands of miles every year to different monoculture sites, all in the name of agribusiness profits.
So, what can YOU do about this problem?
There are so many ways that you can help the honeybee at home, in the garden, on an allotment or at a horticulture therapy project. If you plant ornamental plants, choose single, open flowers for easy pollination (bees can’t get inside double flowers.) Grow a combination of different edible crops and consider a wildflower bed, a pond and a native hedge. DON’T use pesticides and other chemicals – these have been proven to affect the populations of many pollinating animals including honeybees. If you shop at supermarkets, try to choose organic produce or buy your fruit and vegetables (that you don’t grow yourself) at a local farmer’s market. By not buying into the huge monoculture agribusinesses you will be protecting our honeybees across the world.
And of course, you could consider keeping a hive and caring for some healthy bees yourself.
So, today we went to pick up our first hive from Stephen at the Cambridge Bee Keeping Association. It’s flat pack!
We will be very excited to get it built and populated so we can enjoy watching honey bees join our other pollinating insects at the project. Watch this space for updates!