Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bristol Evening Post Article on Sustainable Beekeeping

Keep happier and healthier bees

Saturday, July 09, 2011
Profile image for Bristol Evening Post

Bristol Evening Post

New practices in beekeeping could provide a solution to the recent decline in the number of bees. Suzanne Savill meets the woman behind Bristol Sustainable Bee Group. Pictures: Jon Kent

The white-painted beehives in Jenny Bradley's garden are not just any old beehives.

These are beehives she made herself, and which unlike many traditional bee hives are well-ventilated at the bottom.

Jenny is one of a growing number of people in the Bristol area who have become involved in sustainable beekeeping, and about a year ago she founded the Bristol Sustainable Bee Group.

She explains: "Sustainable beekeeping is about minimal interventionism, and allowing bees to live in the way they have done naturally – and without man – for some 50 million years.

"The main difference is that we put the welfare of the bees first, rather than attempting to maximise the honey production."

Sustainable beekeeping is a new response to the problem of declining bee numbers, which has been blamed on problems ranging from mobile telephone signals to pesticides.

The idea behind it is to keep bees in an environment that is best-suited to them – rather than most suitable for honey production – and helping to maintain the health of the bees by doing so.

"Bees need to keep themselves at a particular temperature to be healthy, and to breed and nurture their young," says Jenny.

"Every time you take the top off their hive to look at them, the temperature drops. Thus, the bees have to use valuable energy to get the hive back to 'bee' temperature.

"Traditional beekeepers usually check their hives once a week, while sustainable bee keepers do it much less frequently. Some do it as little as once a year.

"The varroa mite is a particular problem and thrives in lower temperatures than 'bee' temperature.

"It is a parasite that attaches to the bodies of bees and weakens them. In conjunction with viruses, it can result in bees being weakened by infections, which can contribute to killing them.

"There is some evidence that if you keep the temperature at a consistent 'bee' level, there is less varroa and hence bees are healthier.

"We also let the bees build their own honeycomb. They build beautiful heart-shaped cones and fill them with brood and honey.

"In traditional beekeeping they put in a frame with wax sheets (foundation) and the bees have to fill it in a particular way.

"They also restrict the Queen to a section of the hive and clip her wings to stop her flying away, which we don't do.

"Another difference is that instead of using a smoker to suppress bees – which causes them to panic – we use a fine-mist water-spray bottle with a teaspoon or two of cider vinegar added to the water.

"You can even add a drop or two of certain essential oils to the mix. Peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus are known to be an irritant to the varroa mite."

Jenny, who until recently was Bristol's Lady Mayoress, became interested in the plight of bees after reading a newspaper article in 2009.

"I was appalled at what I read about the decline of bees and the impact on the human species and I wondered what I could do about it," she says.

"Bees pollinate much of our food. Overall, they pollinate 30 per cent of our food, and in some crops as much as 90 per cent. For example, without bees we probably wouldn't have apples, as 90 per cent of them are pollinated by bees.

"I put the article on the wall of my office and I looked at it every day.

"I talked to people who might be interested in doing something, and out of that I heard about someone who was starting up a sustainable beekeeping group in Yatton."

This group proved so popular that Jenny decided to start one for the Bristol area, and got 10 members at the first meeting.

There are now 35 members, and meetings take place at members' homes.

"It's mainly a support group to encourage and help each other in sustainable beekeeping," she says.

"Our members are interested in green issues and sustainability, and we hope to raise awareness about the plight of bees.

"We also hope to show that it's easier and far cheaper to look after your own bees than people expect.

"I made my own hive at the first bee group using plans someone had taken off the internet. We all brought stuff and got stuck in and built hives that probably cost about £25.

"I can't do woodwork, so if I can make a hive then anyone can do it!"

Jenny has three hives, although she is only using one hive at the moment, which contains 40,000 to 60,000 bees.

Jenny points out that people do not have to keep bees themselves in order to help them to survive.

"You can help bees by having a variety of flowering plants in the garden, especially ones with open or single flowers as it makes it easier for them to get to the pollen.

"Have early and late flowering types, as these are the times of year when there are not many flowers around and bees get really hungry, especially when they come out at the end of winter.

"Also, speak out against the use of pesticides as these can kill bees and try not to use them yourself – go organic if you can.

"You can also encourage solitary bees – which do not live in groups like honey bees and bumble bees – by tying together pieces of cane in a bundle and placing them off the ground in your garden, as they will go into it and make a home."

For further information about Bristol Sustainable Bee Group email

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bees Backed by Bristol Green Capital Momentum Group!

Bees have been officially recognised as a project area by Bristol Green Capital's Momentum Group.

A recent visioning meeting picked several key project areas that could contribute to Bristol's ambition to be European Green Capital. One of these project areas was bees which could contribute across many key initiative areas including built environment, business, energy/waste, education/community, biodiversity, food and natural environment.

Built environment projects are beginning to recognise that bees can be incorporated as part of living cities. Whilst new build projects and green field sites provide wonderful planning opportunities to incorporate bees in community, food, natural environment and biodiversity projects, it is also relatively simple to incorporate bees into existing cities.

Rooftops, roof re-builds, balconies, all provide scope either for incorporating suitable homes for bees or for planting foodstuffs that provide a bee season's worth of food stuffs for bees.

Anyone can get involved from young to old, building bumble bee boxes, solitary bee houses or honey bee hives, planting suitable vegetation or raising awareness amongst communities. Projects can be taken into schools to get children involved planting, building and learning.

Similarly waste collection areas can be planted up or house bees.

The food project area is also easily ticked using bees . Bees do not simply give us honey. All bees, honey, bumble and solitary, pollinate our plants including food plants.

Without bees we would not enjoy the diversity of food we have. Many crops are heavily reliant on bees to form a crop at all; for example bees pollinate 90% of apples. Without good pollination many fruits either do not develop or are deformed. Bees are the friends of allotment holders and gardeners.

Bees are not just an engaging creature but a vital one for human beings.

What we need now are resources including volunteers to get some projects going.

Bees Flying in February

My bees were flying yesterday - for the second time this year. I do so hope they find enough food to sustain them through until the weather is warmer and food becomes more plentiful.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Column About Bees in the Bristol Evening Post

Here is an extract from the column I wrote in the Bristol Evening Post about bees. The headline was "We all lived with Bees in our Backyards".

"In past times we all lived with bees in our backyards. They were a natural part of our existence. Living close to the land and food production most people knew and understood the interdependence of man and the environment. Like much in modern Britain the sowing, source, extraction and processing of our food is now far removed from most of our lives. We no longer witness or experience it directly.

Wildscreen, an environmental charity, hosted a debate recently. One of the panellists commented that everything we need, want and have comes from nature. If one crucial part is missing then human kind is in serious trouble.

The honey bee doesn’t just provide honey. Along with solitary bees and bumble bees, they are important pollinators. For example, bees pollinate approximately 90% of apples. Without bees we would have very limited food choices.

Now ravaged by imported disease, pesticides and loss of food sources, the bee is facing many serious challenges to its health and existence.

There are things anyone can do to help. We need to plant trees, shrubs and flowers that provide their food. We need to buy organic to reduce pesticide use. We need healthier, more natural beekeeping methods that are about the bees and not the honey. We need to help bees develop resistance. The bee has survived millennia without man’s intervention. But man changes the rules by changing its habitat.

We need more bees and more people to keep honey bees; to provide homes for bumble and solitary bees. Beekeeping can be simple and cheap. Schoolchildren can build bee houses and plant seeds.

I very much enjoy hearing about bees at official events; the developers at Constructing Excellence who include bees in developments, seeing beehives at Blaise nursery. Bees do well in cities; let us have more bees in Bristol."

From First Lady, "We All Lived with Bees in our Backyards", Bristol Evening Post 18th October 2010 by Jenny Bradley.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review of Bristol Sustainable Bee Group 2010

June saw the first meeting of the new bee group in Bristol, Bristol Sustainable Bee Group (BSBG).

The aim of the group is to support the bee population of honey, solitary and bumble bees. It is about the bees, not the honey.

BSBG believes in sustainable beekeeping methods. It is in favour of finding healthier ways of keeping bees through experimentation. Against the use of harmful pesticides, it encourages planting for bees to give plentiful variety and continuity of foodstuffs throughout the flying season.

As well keeping honey bees, many members encourage solitary and bumble bees by placing suitable houses in their gardens.

As a group BSBG has close links with Yabeep (Yatton Bee Project) which became so successful so quickly that a Bristol based group was needed. BSBG also encompasses greater Bristol including adjacent areas in South Gloucestershire and North Somerset. BSBG is indebted to Yabeep for content on

The first meeting agreed the basis of the group which is very much about mutual support. It runs a 'buddy' system, putting members in touch who live close by for hands on help.

Meetings are held at members houses - mostly in the gardens - monthly in the bee season from early spring through to autumn. We also had a Christmas social in Bristol jointly with Yabeep (

The meetings share experience and knowledge, allow members to get to know one another, and often involve looking at a member's hive.

It has been a great start. Membership includes some experienced, but mostly new, beekeepers, with many having the great excitement of getting their first bees in 2010. We welcome both traditional and top-bar beekeepers as well as non beekeepers with an interest in bees.

Meeting Dates for 2011 are as follows:

5th March Dundry

2nd April

30th April

4th June Hotwells

2nd July Dundry

August No Meeting

3rd September Bishopston

1st October

For more information contact