Bungay Beehive Day – Reflections and Celebrations

Bungay Beehive Day was a collaborative effort involving much preparation and hard work by Bungay Community Bees’ Outreach group over the past nine months. With hundreds of people turning up on the day to talk to beekeepers, look at different types of hives, visit the many stalls, or take part in the varied talks, walks, children’s activities and competitions, the festival marquee was truly abuzz on Castle Meadow. All that diligent preparation had truly paid off. And once again warm thanks to everyone who helped to make this event the success it was both before and on the day.

Here are the organisers on their experience of the event:

Gemma (Event Manager, Outreach)
The Bungay Bee Hive Day is the first event of its kind and we wanted it to be both an enjoyable and informative day that would appeal to all ages. I think this was achieved perfectly with the hard work of everyone and I hope all visitors found something of interest.

It was good to meet visitors who had come all the way from Ipswich, Swaffham and also Norwich, as well as some from Sweden who happened to be in the area on Sunday.

The bee day attracted a mix of experienced beekeepers and people just interested to find out more about bees, beekeeping and pollinators. By the end of the day I had a sore throat from talking to so many people, all seemed genuinely interested in finding out what was going on.

As I was managing the event and taking care of the practical logistics, I wasn’t directly involved in any of the activities happening during the day. But this did mean I was able to observe the coming and goings. One of the most noticeable things was the positivity inside the marquee. A lot of the parents commented that they were pleased that there was a children’s craft corner as it meant they could stay longer without feeling guilty that the kid’s weren’t being entertained.

One of the most popular attractions was the observation hive brought along by Waveney Beekeepers where Bob, a very experienced beekeeper, was also able to answer the more unusual and obscure bee questions.

The bee and flower walk caused a mass exodus from the marquee at midday when Mark led a group like the pied piper round Bungay.

The talks happened in a nice space set back within the main marquee. Stallholders were disappointed that they were too tied up with customers to go and listen to the animated speakers.

People had the opportunity to get creative by working with Kathryn from River of Flowers to make a bug hotel to take home. If you wanted to part with your money there were lovely stalls selling bee themed gifts, food and plants, all of which had really good feedback at the end of the day about how they had enjoyed the atmosphere.

There were lots of information stalls – the most spectacular was what looked like a garden on a trestle table created by Philip to show the ideal Bumble Bee Garden, complete with knitted bees.

Those present were not only humans and bees, lots of dogs came along and one even listened to the first talk!

Elinor (Beekeeper, Education and Outreach)
Bungay Beehive Day was a great success for bees, plants and Sustainable Bungay. I met some really interesting people, some of whom are members of Bungay Community Bees but have been unable to come to any previous meetings. It’s always good to put faces to names (and e-mails)!

The atmosphere was relaxed but busy, I loved the way the marquee almost emptied whenever a talk was on as it showed that people were interested in joining in, not just in a quick browse. Having said that, it emptied almost too much when Mark took everyone out on a bee and flower walk; but it did give us a chance to refuel with a cup of coffee.

My children were kept occupied with various craft activities, face (and hand) painting (although they did choose batman and vampire designs instead of bees or flowers…) and candle rolling. One other big draw for lots of children was the Iceni Microscopy table where they looked down microscopes at bees and butterflies, with specific tasks to do such as counting leg segments. I get really excited at the thought of children finding ‘science’ fun.

Bob and Sally Spruce were kind enough to bring an observation hive along, the next best thing to being able to open a hive to see bees at work. I think they were kept pretty busy all day answering various queries. What excellent ambassadors for honey bees they are, several people with big smiles on their faces commented to me on how fascinating Bob and his bees were.

My biggest problem was not being able to do everything at once – help children spot the Queen bee in some photo’s, listen to the talks, chat about top bar hives (lots of interest), make a bug hotel, chase after my daughter as she (continually) legged it down the path looking like a fencing style veil with legs…

However, I did get to experience all of those things and many more. Best of all I enjoyed chatting to people, getting a taste of their views on honey bees and how they are affected by all sorts of issues, what they have done themselves and what they plan to do. It’s how ideas develop. So, roll on next year…..

Mark (Plants for Bees, Outreach)
One question facing the organisers of any event that’s taken time and effort to put on is the terrible ‘WHAT IF NO ONE COMES? It was the same with Bungay Beehive Day. I found myself (quite sincerely, in fact) saying to fellow organisers, “Well, it’s doing it that matters. Let’s enjoy it whatever the turnout.”

So when hundreds of people visited throughout the Bungay Beehive Day, it was an added delight to the fact of our having pulled the event off at all.

I led a Bee and Flower walk at midday through various meadows, ‘wastegrounds’, gardens and verges in Bungay ending up at the Library Community Garden. Just before twelve Philip Evans clapped his hands and I announced the walk. I then stood in the marquee for several minutes with five people and thought, okay, well perhaps I expected ten or fifteen, but fine, it’ll be intimate and I won’t have to talk loudly.”

At noon as we walked out of the tent I looked behind me to see what turned out to be a crowd of over thirty people, all coming to look for bees and flowers in Bungay. It was lovely. Walking and talking and paying attention to what’s growing, flowering and pollinating around us – from spear thistles (beloved of bees) to common mallow and even to the much-maligned common ragwort.

I spoke about a shift in attitude from having ‘control over everything’ to being in relationship and reciprocity with the plants and animals we share the earth with – and with each other. I really appreciated Paul taking photos and talking about the value of ivy flowers to bees and how the sticky honeydew from aphids that falls from lime trees does not damage car paintwork. You just wipe it off before it goes mouldy.

The weather was fine and sunny for the walk, and I was thrilled to introduce people to the Library Community Garden, blooming away with poppies, fennel, corn marigold, feverfew, native vervains, cultivated verbenas and anise hyssop – and being visited by bumblebees aplenty. I ran ahead to warn Angharad that a crowd of thirty people was about to enter the library garden. Plant lover that she is, she was only bothered because she was working and couldn’t get to Beehive Day.

Back at the festival marquee Philip and Charlotte were busy moving chairs outside for Philip’s Bumblebee and wildflower talk. Twenty five people came to hear it.
“That man over there knows too much”, he said gesturing towards me. “So he’s banned from answering any more questions.”
“Did I steal your thunder, Philip?” I joked.
“Yes”, he laughed.

It was a great talk, I held my tongue and I learnt something I didn’t know, which is that when you see bumblebees inert on flowers as if they are sleeping, it’s because they are cold (being cold-blooded). If you put a little honey in your hand and breathe over it gently onto the bumblebee it warms up and revives. I actually tried it this week and it’s absolutely true.

I also gave a talk on The Healing Power of Honey, from its use in old civilisations such as Egypt (antiseptic and wound dressing), up to modern day society (still used for wound dressings in UK hospitals). I also included propolis and beeswax and passed around a Yarrow and salve I made earlier in the year with beeswax, very good for cuts – and piles!

It was a beautiful and rewarding day. Margi from The Natural Beekeeping Trust wrote to say she was struck by just how inclusive, diverse and holistic the event was with so many different ways to keep bees (and different hives to keep them in) represented.

Charlotte (Plants for Bees, Press, Publicity and Talks, Outreach)
Like everyone else I was up at dawn collecting the thirty plus flowers (mostly wild) from the hedgerows that would sit in honey jars on the Plants for Bees stall all day. Each jar held a selection of plants from different habitats (heathland, garden, road verges), or subjects (Love Weeds). The stall was next to our board of flower photographs and descriptions of the honeybee year, key issues they face such as the June gap and modern agricultural practices, and how we can help them – not just by growing bee-friendly plants in our gardens but becoming aware of the crucial relationships between wild flowers and pollinators of all kinds.

As the organiser for the four talks that day (On Bee Guardians, Creating Urban Wildflower Meadows, The Healing Power of Honey, Bumblebees) I was thrilled that there were good audiences for all of them. Margie Robbins opened the day by describing the bio-dynamic approaches to beekeeping, following principles described by the philosopher Rudolph Steiner. In his 1923 lectures on modern beekeeping Steiner predicted the present honeybee crisis caused by over-production and interferences with the bees’ natural cycles. What became clear in all of these communications is that the fate of the honeybee is linked with our own:

” . . . though it was a first-of-its kind event Bungay Beehive Day attracted the attention of people from all over East Anglia. Because, no matter how dark and difficult the times, there is something the honeybee colony has that brings people together in a certain spirit. And it is this spirit that Steiner referred to when he said that, in spite of the crisis, the evolution of people would follow along the lines of the honeybee.

It’s not personal, said Margie from the Natural Beekeeping Trust as she described the way bees work with each other and the world. The Trust promotes a move away from commercial beekeeping practices towards a harmonious relationship with the bees and a respect for nature. And though there was respect for the scientific method the talks we gave that day were about something else.

People say they have done Transition for years, they don’t need to be part of a Transition group, or they try and hide the Transition word at all costs from their friends and community and pretend it is something else, something less challenging, less well . . . evolutionary. But the fact remains it is evolutionary. Not in the way Steiner or a scientist might describe evolution, but because it is effecting something people have not done collectively before, which is to live in harmony in nature and with each other, having spent millennia living against nature and against each other.” from The Spirit of the Beehive – full article here.

Eloise (Education, Outreach and Plants for Bees)
A great day enjoyed by all, even though the night before was a late one for me getting everything ready!

Seeing how much the children enjoyed making the bee masks, puppets and pictures made up for any tiredness. And it wasn’t just the kids, one mum who was really enjoying making a mask said it was the most fun she’d had in ages! “Everyone is together all under one roof – that’s what makes it special”, one mum said.

It made me think about positive action and how beneficial it is to act upon something which is outside yourself and your own world. In this case to become immersed in the world of pollinators and of our wild landscapes and their importance to the whole system.

To engage with people in a variety of ways in order to tickle their imagination, to raise the consciousness and to then find yourself open to recieving all the beauty and wonder that is around us everywhere.

Observing being, I feel the first step is like standing at a view point on the ridge of a mountain, taking in some breathtaking scene. The journey then becomes your own. You can climb down with this amazing memory in your mind, or you can choose to understand more about what you are seeing, to understand your relationship to it, it’s relationship to the rest of the world.

Photos courtesy of Adele Goodchild, Charlotte Du Cann, Keith Parker, Muhammad Amin, Mark Watson and Paul Jackson

Bungay Beehive Day – Sunday 24th July, 10.30am – 4pm on Castle Meadow

Bungay Beehive Day is a celebration of the honeybee and other pollinating insects along with the plants they love. It’s a first-of-its-kind event organised by Bungay Community Bees (BCB) as part of the Bungay Festival and aims to promote awareness and enjoyment of the key relationship between people, plants and bees.

Although we’ll be celebrating “all things bee” our theme will centre on the importance of insect pollination and how everyone can grow and protect flowers to support bees and other insects in our local environment. Come and find out what our group is doing and what each of us can do in response to the worldwide honeybee crisis and to help restore balance in our overstretched environment.

Central to the day and the marquee will be an observation hive provided by Waveney Beekeepers, so everyone can see how honey bees work within a hive. There wil also be a display of our recent venture into top bar hives. A wide diversity of stalls will be busy giving both information all about bees and bee-friendly plants and everything you need to know about becoming a beekeeper and also selling plants and seeds, bee-related crafts and of course honey! There will be an activities area for children from making a bee swarm to to a flower mural and on the stage there will be a lively series of  workshops and talks running through the day.

So if you want to know how to make a bee hotel and beeswax candle, find out about natural beekeeping, bumblebees or how to plant a ‘patch in a pot’ of bees’ favourite wildflowers, this is where you need to be!

We’ll have guest speakers from both the innovative River of Flowers project talking about creating urban meadows in green corridors, pollination and bio-diversity, and the Natural Beekeeping Trust on beekeeping on an earth-friendly scale. On the Bee and Flower walk we’ll visit a variety of ‘green spaces’ in Bungay (including the burgeoning Library Courtyard Community Garden), on the lookout for the wild (and not so wild) flowers that the bees are visiting. There will also be a talk on the healing power of honey. And throughout the day you’ll be able to talk to Bungay Community Beekeepers about all our activities and even join the group if you haven’t yet subscribed.

Oh, and calling all bakers. If you bake and bring along a honey cake and enter it into the competition, you could win a £15 gift voucher from BCB organiser and master cake maker from Three Willows Café, Gemma Parker.

Talks 11am Bee Guardians: Natural Beekeeping Trust 12 noon Bee and Flower Walk 1pm Bee corridors and biodiversity: River of Flowers 2pm Healing Power of Honey 3pm Bumblebees.

Workshops 11am-12.30pm Wildflowers for gardens and making bee Hotels. 2.30-4pm Wildflowers for allotments and vegetable gardens and making bug hotels. Ongoing making beeswax candles and beeframes; children’s activities: making puppets, mobiles, masks and bee and flower mural.

Honey cake competition: Bake and bring along a honey cake with the most delicious winning a £15 gift voucher. 3pm Judging

Everyone is welcome. Refreshments are available.

If you would like to help out on the day please let us know.

Contact Gemma: enquiries@humblecake.co.uk or Mark: markintransition@hotmail.co.uk or Tel. 01502 722419

All Under One Roof – good job, it was pouring!

Sustainable Bungay were out in force on a very rainy Saturday at the All Under One Roof environmental information event organised by Emmanuel Church. Kris, Josiah, Lesley, Elinor, Nick and Eloise had been working hard to get SBs new information board ready on time, and it certainly drew attention on the day. One woman said, “I knew about Sustainable Bungay, but I didn’t know you did EVERYTHING!” You can see the display board and find out about that ‘everything’ downstairs at Bungay Library all this week. Here’s Lesley and Kris giving us a name.

Of course it’s not just Sustainable Bungay doing ‘everything’. Other organisations all under the same roof on Saturday included organic co-operative Greengrow from Ilketshall St Andrew selling vegetables straight from their smallholding (great first peppers and parsley by the way Becky), Kind Water and Suffolk’s Greener homes DIY Scheme (we put in an order for some free hemp roof insulation and a water butt). Daphne Vivian Neal and Jean Aldous were there representing fuel cell energy and its potential for combatting climate change, and allthingsgreener, an eco-shop based in Harleston, were selling everything from recycled notepads to fairtrade sustainable latex household gloves (we bought a pair of these, very good for work in the garden).


The Emmanuel Church itself has 220 solar panels on two roofs now generating electricity from the sun – this is the biggest community solar array countywide so far. This provides the church with all its own energy needs and makes around £3,000 per year from the government’s feed-in tariff scheme. The money will go towards improving the energy efficiency of its buildings and raising awareness of environmental concerns both in the town and its hinterland.

On the lead-up to the Bungay Beehive Day next Sunday and thanks to Elinor, Josiah and Mark doing a rather frantic writing-editing-publishing marathon at the beginning of last week we now have a smashing new Bungay Community Bees leaflet. And following last Saturday’s EADT article on Bungay Community Bees, we were featured again this week in The Beccles and Bungay journal -… Here’s Charlotte with the article and Elinor in the article and holding a poster.

Library Update

Bungay’s library courtyard is positively blooming this summer as its beautiful, new wildlife garden comes into its own with a great burst of activity.

Colourful chamomile, cornflowers, poppies and foxgloves catch the eye, not only of library visitors but bumble bees and many other insects. And there are plenty of feathered visitors too, including a pair of blue tits who have successfully reared a family of youngsters in one of the new bird-boxes.

To celebrate the success of this flourishing community project and to boost the ongoing Save Bungay Library campaign, a Midsummer Evening is being staged at the library courtyard on Friday, 24 June, from 7-10pm.

All library supporters and well-wishers are invited to come along. Drinks and nibbles are provided and local musicians will add to the atmosphere, playing acoustic instruments.

Over the past year, this underused courtyard space has been transformed into a hive of activity. This spring pupils from Bungay Primary School saw the bulbs they had planted last Autumn emerge from the earth and burst into bloom. On May Day Sustainable Bungay held a second Give and Grow Day, exchanging seedlings, seeds, flowers and veg (and growing tips!) and establishing a permanent plant and produce corner.

During the drought, the library staff and volunteers have been kept busy watering the assorted herbs, wildflowers and young fruit trees, relying on tap water when the rainwater butts ran dry. The busy staff are seeking someone who is willing to spend a few minutes each week, sweeping the courtyard to keep it looking spick and span. Dustpan and broom will be provided! A shed with tools and compost for garden maintenance is now in situ.

Sara Johnson, who redesigned the courtyard garden with the project’s working party, is really pleased with its progress. “I’m delighted – after the freezing conditions of the winter and now a prolonged drought – that it’s established and positively thriving.”

For more details about the midsummer evening, or if you would like to contribute any refreshments, please contact the library staff or email: info@sustainablebungay.com.

Addendum,  Notes from Library Courtyard subgroup meeting, 13/7/11. Sara, Paul, Richard and Nick met to clarify some issues relating to this project.

Maintenance. Richard is doing a lot of day-to-day maintenance and is happy to continue. Sara, Paul (and Jenni) have also been chipping-in and will continue to do so, with some assistance from library staff. Paul suggested that we should begin to put together some information so that whatever circumstances arise we ensure that maintenance might be handed over to others. He will put together a sheet about pruning & care of the fruit trees. Nick will get a ring-binder to leave in the library to collate this information with other pertinent material. Richard noted that the waterbutt along the side passage is not filling efficiently and Nick said he’d speak to Paul Coleman to try to get it fixed. We agreed that the birdbox housing the camera should be moved to the back wall where it will be tucked in behind the ivy and provide a more sheltered space. Nick wondered whether it would be worth reapplying to ACCF funding for a retractable awning in view of the future of the library apparently becoming secure.

Wooden Commemorative Plaque. Nick has had some contact with Mark Goldsworthy about this but the cost and questions of layout & wording have held back progress. The consensus here was that something simple and inexpensive would be best, and that an attempt to acknowledge sponsors in this way would lead to a situation “where do we stop?” and that it isn’t sensible to do so. Paul felt that acknowledging the permaculture course which sparked off the project is important, and that educational benefits – central to Amanda’s motivation – need to be acknowledged. Paul can supply the wood. Simple lettering using pyrography might be effective: does anyone know someone who might do this? If a large area of the plaque is left blank then we could attach laminated notices to it, such as before and after photographs; maybe create a booklet describing the project and thanking sponsors which could be made available here…

Public Information. Josiah has stressed the importance of providing information to visitors about the ethos behind the garden (using the noticeboard area above?) and plants within it. People felt that plant labels should be inobtrusive – a simple plastic tie with the latin name printed on would suffice, and anyone who wanted to know more could do so in the library! Nick agreed to source some plastic labels and fine markers.

Annual theme for 2012. Medicinal plants is the planned theme. Nick will ask Mark Watson if he is happy to lead on this.

Autumn produce exchange. The last SB meeting proposed an autumn event to compliment the Give & Grow in Spring where people get together to exchange produce. The suggested dates are Sunday 25th September or 2nd October.

Top Bar Hive looking good

So – it was the second inspection of the tbh today. The bees had built a little more comb along the top bars but were still quite a small colony. All was looking well, we found eggs, larvae, sealed brood and the queen (second most handsome in the world – can’t quite equal Superhive II queen I’m afraid). The greatest difference between this and the previous inspection was the presence of nectar and pollen stores; they must finally be settling in.

Several of the observation group hadn’t seen the horizontal tbh in action, although one has just taken custody of a Warre (vertical) one. It will be interesting to compare notes, although I definitely lean towards a horizontal system when thinking about lifting and ease of inspections.

I know I’ve said it before, but there is something really satisfying in seeing the bees living on comb they have built from scratch. I feel inordinately proud of them, even though they are just getting on with being honeybees…….

Unopened for 2 years… and Superhive lives on (genetically)!

What a fabulous honeybee day!

The first port of call was to investigate a hive lost in nettles that hadn’t been looked at for at least 2 years. Thankfully Philip had been busy with a scythe before we got there otherwise I’m not sure we would have even found it! We took the smoker but didn’t really need to use it, the bees were so quiet. On the other hand, a hive tool was imperative as they had stuck everything down incredibly firmly. It wasn’t a large colony but there was a healthy mix of eggs, larvae and sealed brood and no obvious sign of disease, although they were a little low on stores. I popped back early evening to give them a sugar syrup feed feeling confident in their docility and my ability to put a feeder on the crown board with relatively little disturbance. Unfortunately I bumped the hive, sploshed the syrup and ended up running away through nettles after receiving stings to my face and wrist; there’s a reason one wears protective clothing!

Next was a visit to the Barsham hives where we met some others of the group to inspect the new nuc and the newly thriving Superhive mark II. The nuc has truly small bees in it, even the queen is tiny, but they are doing all the right things and looking healthy and happy.

Superhive II is expanding at a great rate of knots, the brood nest already fills about 3/4 of the chamber and the Queen was easy to spot as she is so large and handsome (just like her mother!). Today was the first time I’ve noticed wasps around the hives so I narrowed the entrance on Superhive II to make it easier for the guard bees to defend, the others have tiny entrances already.

The final inspection took place back in Bungay where we looked in the top bar hive (separate blog post).