Live and Let Bee
A sustainable beekeeping initiative
The Natural Beekeeping Trust is delighted to be collaborating with partner organisations in Turkey, Holland and Macedonia on a two-year international sustainable beekeeping project funded by Erasmus+.
We will document existing practices that focus on sustainable and bee-centred husbandry during field visits in partner countries, and will develop online resources and training opportunities for beekeepers and farmers.
This initiative hopes to investigate and address the causes of declining bee populations, particularly in Turkey, and will culminate in a conference in Istanbul in 2017.
We aim to inspire positive change by fostering and encouraging good stewardship in beekeeping, gardening and farming.
Video from our kick-off meeting, 22-23 February 2016, Haarlem
We were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with our new colleagues in Holland.
This video documents the beginning of Live and Let Bee.
Macedonia Reflections, 22-28 April 2016
Thank you Macedonia. You have a kind and generous soul.
Gizem Atn Nance
The Republic of Macedonia, in its present state, is a paradise for bees. Our wonderful host Fidanco Hristov of Aronija gave us an extensive introduction to his beautiful country. Aronija is the organisation in Macedonia with a strong advocacy for organic farming, so it is incredibly important for all the bees and all of us. It is an Association of producers of organic products, dedicated to education about organic products, their production, as well as to their significance for the health of the people.
We met with our Dutch and Turkish project partners Smart Beeing and Buğday at our base in Delcevo, where a beautiful welcome supper had been prepared by Fidanco and his wife Ane and daughter Simone, who has helped us all very much with essential translation tasks.
Over the course of five days, we explored various regions of unspoilt wilderness and were happy to discover that there is no shortage of forage for the bees. There is an abundance of wildflowers everywhere you look, and it was pleasing to see that many lawns and meadows were left unmown, providing a great variety of flowers, plants and trees.
Not only was the landscape stunning, but we learned that there are still great swathes of organic land, meaning that many of the apiaries we visited produce organically certified honey. There are no truly organic apiaries in the UK or the Netherlands, as the use of chemicals in agriculture is too widespread. In order for an apiary to earn the organic status, there must be a 5km radius of untreated land surrounding the hives. Sadly this makes it almost impossible for British or Dutch beekeepers to produce organic honey due to the widespread use of pesticides.
Macedonian honey is often extraordinarily pure and testing shows it to be free of pesticides and other chemicals.
We believe there would be a strong market for it abroad.
We experienced with some sadness the close correlation between chemical farming and our landscapes growing ever more silent. The older members of our group were transported into times of childhood, when the sounds of insects and birds delighted our senses. In Macedonia, the constant music of our beautiful winged friends served as a stark reminder of what we have lost, perhaps never to regain, unless a marked change of course is enacted in the ways we farm, garden and grow our food.
It was a very great pleasure to spend an intense week together with other lovers of bees from different backgrounds and traditions. A rich time of learning, of conversation in different tongues, and of friendship.
We encountered many “trmki” hives, made from oak-branches, wild clematis “old man’s beard” and cow-dung. These traditional hives were used extensively in Macedonia, but are now becoming rare.
Wherever we found them, they were examined with keen interest especially by those in whose countries beekeeping with modern “conveniences” and ill-conceived treatments has reached a certain climax, a crisis that makes many seek for the wisdom and instinctual connectedness that characterised beekeeping in earlier times and had a high regard for the creature that keeps our world in fruit and flower!
In the times of Alexander of Macedonia (whom we know as Alexander the Great) the Macedonians kept their bees in holes carved in the rocks. We visited a beekeeper who still uses this practice. In spring, the beekeeper carves a hole in the rock wall and covers it with a flat stone or piece of board that is fixed in place with a mixture of cow manure and mud, leaving a small hole for bees to enter. Such cavities, situated at a good height, and only accessible by scrambling up a scree slope, prove very attractive to swarms, which originate from the local wild bee colonies. Once a colony is established and has had sufficient time to forage from the abundant meadows stretching far and wide, the beekeeper breaks open the cover and harvests the honey he considers surplus to the bees’ winter needs. The bees are untreated and healthy.
It was uplifting to meet beekeepers who use minimally invasive techniques in their beekeeping. Many of those we met refrain wherever possible from using treatments. Some allow their bees to swarm and to fully express their natural preferences whereas others engage in a degree of management during the swarming season but do not suppress all swarming. Despite the fact that these are commercial apiaries, there seems to be a high awareness of the needs of the bees and, due to this and the abundant clean forage, , there are exceptionally healthy bee populations. Varroa is reported to be an occasional problem, depending on the season. Where varroa treatments are necessary, they are in line with organic certification rules.
We were pleased to have the opportunity to speak to a group of 30 Macedonian beekeepers during a morning of presentations by our Trustees Heidi Herrmann and Gareth John and representatives from Buğday and Smart Beeing.
Throughout the trip our communications were ably assisted by the interpreting skills of indefatigable Vanco Atanasovski.
Apart from apiaries of many kinds we were also shown some ancient monasteries in different parts of the country, which provided us with welcome breaks for reflection on our action-packed tour of Macedonian bee delights. Our visit happened during the Holy Week of the Christian Orthodox Calendar, so it seemed entirely fitting that our last night in beautiful Macedonia was spent in the serenity of a monastery.
Macedonia provides a haven for bees, but this could quickly change if intensive chemical agriculture and intensive beekeeping become more prevalent. We hope the use of destructive pesticides won’t increase and that the organic agriculture we were privileged to see in this beautiful country becomes more widespread through the work of organisations such as Aronija.
Our Turkish-Dutch-British-Macedonian collaboration will continue with our partners’ visit to us in the UK this June. We are greatly looking forward to receiving our friends from Live and Let Bee to show them our bees and our country.
Our heartfelt thanks to Fidanco, his family and the Macedonian beekeepers who accompanied us on this fascinating journey. Macedonia was a delight
Macedonia Reflections written by the UK team of Live and Let Bee