Bees, naturally

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About a month ago we took Milkwood Permaculture's two-day course in natural beekeeping with master bee-keeper (warré hive extraordinare) Tim Malfroy. It was a wonderfully inspiring and informative course. We poured over information, facts, myth, statistics, building plans about bee keeping in a world that is so indebted to these mysterious winged creatures. I came away with a desire not so much to "keep bees" as to learn alongside them. Tim took us on the second day to see a former student's thriving apiary in inner-city Sydney. We were led around her house to her back garden - to the apiary - nothing fancy or overstated there - behind a wooden screen fence were two stacks of squarish boxes painted in pastel hues. Drawing closer I could heart a faint buzzing and see a flutter of busy wings about their entrance. Tim walked us through the process of lighting a smoker with cypress pine needles. He then opened up the hives to show us the natural comb which the Warré hive system allow bees to build - he didn't wear any gloves or fancy gear - except a veil over his face. Bees don't want to string you, Tim explained to us, they are simply trying to protect their hives; their queen, brood and internal heat necessary for their survival. I can only remember being stung by a bee maybe once or twice when I was a child. Knowing why and how and when bees sting has helped me understand their nature - and actually appreciate it more. Since taking the course I have noticed how often bees are categorised as "angry" (ie. wanting to sting you) in children's books, cartoons, literature etc... How sad to reduce the nuances and wonderful work of bees to an emotion or a discomfort.

I could write more and more on the subject, but for now I will close by saying it was an honour and pleasure to learn about them - watch them at work - taste fresh golden honey from a natural comb... Our plan is to build two Warré hives and attempt to bait or catch a local swarm in this Spring/Summer season or the next. In the meantime we are looking around the farm for possible wood we can use for construction, and also trying to get our hands on Honeybee Democracy to learn more about the mystery and intelligence of the swarm...