Thursday 3 June 2010

Bungay Community Bees - Reappearance of the Bees

This May it's been a busy month in Transition. Plant swaps, carbon conversations, Strangers' circles, blogs, bulletins. And yesterday afternoon, bees.

I've recently joined the Bungay Community Bees project (Britain's first bee CSA) and twenty five of us converged at Gemma's in Flixton to help build frames for the new beehives in time for the arrival of the first queen bees in June.

There really was a buzz as Elinor and Gemma reported on the progress so far. As well as getting our three hives (one of them donated), two more people are already being trained up as beekeepers and there are more and more offers of land where the bees can be kept...and of course, there's the bee blog. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Eloise are going to map out all the local wild and garden bee-loving plants and trees throughout the coming year.

Then we all got down to some serious woodwork. Luckily enough we had an experienced carpenter present - I haven't done any woodwork since school - a very long time ago - and I was not good at it!

People feel very strongly about bees. And particularly now with the loss of so many colonies here and abroad. Our neighbour Julia, who we bought the first hive from, lost hers in London. Waveney Valley beekeepers are reporting losses of about a third. And even the most experienced beekeepers say there seems to be no single, simple explanation. Keeping bees and providing organic, pesticide-free land with plants that bees love (like White Clover, pictured - pink when young and later turning white) has to be one way forward. See Sustainable Bungay's website for excellent bee links and information.

Yesterday I brought along Anise Hyssop and Mexican Hyssop for Gemma and Elinor. These are two of my favourite bee plants. I talk and fuss about them so much that Charlotte can't bear it any longer so don't tell her I'm writing about them on the blog! Anise Hyssop is also called Licorice Mint and the whole plant has an amazing smell of anis or licorice as its names suggest. The leaves make great tea. Mexican Hyssop has a more minty smell and is an ingredient in herbal medicine for the heart in Mexico. They are closely related and cross-pollinate so it's best to grow them far apart - especially as bees love them both madly and visit them with great gusto when they flower - which is over a long period in the summer. The seedheads are attractive, long-lasting and smell amazing. Enough! Enough of this encomium!

But the plant of the month must be Lemon Balm, which Andy talked about in his Deadly Resistances post. Also in the Mint family, its Latin name Melissa means honey bee. Both the smell and the tea of Lemon Balm really revive flagging spirits and cheer the heart. And bees really do love it. (Mark Watson)

Pics: Bungay Community Bees people get to grips with hives, frames and foundations, and young white clover in a bee friendly field; Anise Hyssop or Licorice Mint on either side of Mexican Evening Primrose, July

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