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Flowers for Bees. Growing for Bees. Thank you, World

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of Nature

Rachel Carson

Are my bees warm enough? This anxious question is on many a beekeeper’s mind during long winter nights, second only to wondering whether they have enough to eat. It may be timely, therefore, to revisit one of the commonly held notions about the bee colonies’ need for help – or not – for maintaining the winter warmth of the cluster. We are grateful to Paul Honigman from Oxford Natural Beekeepers for shedding light on the question of thermodynamics in the hive; here is his account for your interest. We take comfort from knowing that our straw-clad sunhive colonies, such as the one above, are as snug as can be in very cold weather. The photo above shows a sunhive made by Alberthe Palma, a biodynamic beekeeper in the Netherlands, who kindly sent us this delightful winter collage. Whether your colonies have enough to eat is a concern to best entertain, and take action about, if needed, until the dandelion blooms. Certainly, in England, a long spell of warm weather lasting well into December has kept the colonies active, and quite out of tune with the offerings of the flowering world.

Growing for Bees. Winter is the time to imagine the garden, allotment or community space, to look at what grows there with bee eyes, to make plans for new borders and meadows, and …. order seeds, bulbs and plants with abandon. What could be more fruitful than envisaging, whilst the bees are enjoying their winter rest, the feast of blossoms they will discover when they sally forth from the hives, as they soon will, all being well. Such is “bee work” in winter, and thankfully many people who have never kept bees and never will, are now devoted to growing for bees. The bees have invaded many a heart through calling attention to their troubles, and we may thank them for it.

So we might be studying books, such as IBRA’s lavishly illustrated Plants for Bees, or natural beekeeper Sarah Cowell’s perfect e-book Honeybee Plants.There is such a richness of stunningly beautiful plants for bees and other pollinators to discover. However, we live in times strangely divorced from Nature’s intentions, as you will appreciate when you consider the bizarre fact that most of the seeds and bulbs offered for sale today have been drenched in so-called “plant protection agents”, mostly of the neonicotinoid variety. So it behoves us well to check carefully with any supplier of seeds, bulbs or plants whether their wares are intact, and free of GMOs or toxins that will be present in the pollen or nectar of the plant our bees will sup on.

Neonicotinoid pesticides, today’s preferred seed dressing, are entrenched in the soil or embedded in the seed and the poisons are taken up by the plant and transported to all its tissues, including roots, stems, leaves, pollen and nectar. Our own research has persuaded us to be on the bee-safe side and choose biodynamic growers, such as Stormy Hall and Ecobulbs whose ethics we trust absolutely. Other purveyors of seeds guaranteed to be sound in all respects are and There are sure to be others, and if you know of any, we would love to hear from you and help spread the good news. If you would like to read further on the subject, there is much wisdom about matters horticultural and otherwise in the writings of John Walker on his website, earthfriendlygardener.

Thank you world Do you know that feeling? Waking up in the morning, glad to be alive, suffused with a sense of gratitude for all there is? We all have it, as children, more or less unconsciously, but the woes of adult life, or rather the inner habits of adult consciousness, can easily submerge it. A state of grace, surely, visited upon us, albeit rarely, to remind us that there is life, and life goes on, and that we must never lose heart, whatever dark forces threaten the world, our beautiful earth – of whose travails we are perfectly and painfully conscious. Every act of kindness, every instance of loving attention, each seed we plant, every gift given or received is an acknowledgement, an avowal to the good and the true. Goodness is powerful. Multinational corporations peddling poisons are not powerful by nature; only by human passiveness. There is hope in that, as long as we do not lose heart. Will the light prevail? It is up to us, is it not? And gratitude is an attitude that can be acquired, can even become a habit, a dynamic inner gesture, rather than a state, of mind. In time, it may even take root in one’s heart, and then the world changes a little, or a lot.

Speaking of goodness, I came across an inspiring little tweet (sic) by the infinitely charismatic American farmer Joel Salatin (find him on youtube!) whose groundbreaking ideas for agriculture hold real promise of changing many hearts and minds: “If we devote ourselves to sacredness in our vocations the world will rise to meet us”. What a declaration of faith from someone who has seen it all, as it were, working in a country where much of agriculture is not only devoid of culture, but an extremely aggressive form of warfare against Nature, a dead end. Joel Salatin is a force for change; he loves the earth, his passion is boundless, he is devoted to the ideal of agriculture in the true sense of the word. What he expressed in the contemporary form of a tweet resonated powerfully for us working together in the Natural Beekeeping Trust. This chilly February week, beginning with the Celtic Festival of Imbolc, followed by Candlemas, has brought us much wondrous warmth of goodwill, expressed in a number of very generous donations from well-wishers as far afield as Australia and the United States, not to mention the steady support we receive from British bee lovers.

What more to say than thank you world for affirming our resolve to work for the bees as best we can, in a spirit of inquiry and mindful of their sacred purpose. Far be it from us to attempt to define their mission. They have much to reveal that we cannot fathom yet. But we feel part of a great community of people who care for the bees. Together we have hope to achieve wonders, especially if we strive to emulate the bees’ sense of purpose! More insight is sure to come, as our hearts, as well as our collective human heart awakens to be an organ of perception. For now we may be certain that the Bee has power to help us human beings find our rightful place in Nature, and help fix what is broken.

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