Sticky Thoughts

I love honey, not everybody does I know, but for me, the darker the better. And heather honey. Oh yum.

But I eat less honey now than I ever did before I became interested in bees. Initially beekeeping appealed to me as a form of ‘re-skilling’, learning how to become a little more self-sustainable and grounding myself in the processes involved with meeting our everyday needs. I learnt beekeeping alongside bread making, knitting, vegetable growing and basic sewing. Needless to say some of these ventures have been more successful than others. But I digress.

Honey.

It is a miraculous substance, formed from nectar collected by honeybees and transformed into a stickiness that can be stored for a very long time and is not only delicious but can be good for us as well. But, what it’s really, really good for is honey bees. And therein lies my problem. I don’t wish to take what the bees need. However, many colonies make an excess of honey and I’m happy to take that. The difficulty lies in judging the amounts. But time and experience will eventually tell.

There is also something great about buying honey from someone who’s life will be turned around by it. Bees for Development is a fabulous organisation teaching sustainable beekeeping techniques, appropriate for the local environment, while supporting those with no previous income to generate one.

My most recent jar of honey isn’t local (‘our’ bees are fairly newly established and haven’t made enough to take any for the last couple of years, although this year is looking more hopeful). My current jar of honey was bought and started a year ago and comes out when a treat is needed or a throat needs soothing. It comes direct from the beekeepers in the mountains of Corfu and I walked among the abundance of pesticide free wildflowers the nectar came from. I will never have a jar of honey like this again.

Corfu honey

 

 

 

 

Mountains Corfu

 

But then, each jar is pretty special. Here are some amazing Honey facts:

  • Cave paintings in Spain depict the gathering of honey, 15,000 years ago.
  • Honey is a hebrew word meaning enchant
  • Honey is an excellent preservative and was used in embalming
  • Edible honey was found in an Egyptian tomb
  • Romans paid their taxes in honey
  • Honey is anti-bacterial, hydroscopic (water absorbing) and recuperative in terms of energy
  • It’s  a great source of energy, brilliant on ulcers and skin lesions and as an immune system boost
  • Sugar isn’t as sweet as honey
  • Nectar is mostly water, honey has less than 19% water. This occurs by a repeated process of honey consumption and regurgitation which allows water to evaporate
  • It would take 1,100 bees to make 1kg of honey and they would have to visit 4 million flowers
  • One bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon on honey in its entire life. So it’s precious stuff! Scrape that plate clean 🙂

 

Spanish cave painting (copy)

 Woman gathering honey, watercolor copy by F. Benitez Mellado of aMesolithic (c. 10,000/8000–c. 3000 bce) painting in the Cueva de la Arana, near Bicorp, Spain; in the Museum of Prehistory, Valencia, Spain.

Most of our Bungay Community Bees honey is crushed and strained, as is much of it from small-scale honey producers. This allows the inclusion of local pollen – amongst other bits and pieces. Pollen is high in vitamin C and if local enough can assist with acclimating the body for those with hayfever. In contrast, major brand honey is often superheated and ultra-filtered, which removes those benefits.

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Bungay Community Bees honey 2011 (and yes, it was delicious)

So, my personal stance is to consume moderate amounts of honey, from as sustainable a source as possible. If I buy honey I would rather buy from a local beekeeper or a source with humanitarian benefit, not a multi-national brand name.

Meanwhile I shall keep my fingers crossed for the bees in our hives to make loads more honey than they need, while continuing to plant my garden with lovely nectar rich flowers and letting the clover rampage for a bit.

There are various sources of information for the above, but I have directly used Bees4Kids.org.uk and ‘Honey: natures golden healer’ by Gloria Havenhand. There are lots of therapeutic uses in her book – and she only uses surplus honey 🙂

by Elinor McDowall (member of Bungay Community Bees) 

 

 

 

Swarm!

On this lovely April day bees have been on the move.  Swarming is how honey bees increase their numbers. When the colony is in tip-top condition, with a hive full of bees, brood and stores and a new queen developing, the old queen is sent out with some of the older bees to move to a new home. This process is kick-started when forage bees are turned away from the hive and their offerings of nectar refused. Somehow this stimulates a behaviour change and they become scout bees, looking for a suitable new home.  It is common for them to gather around the old queen (slimmed down to allow her to fly) on a nearby object before finally moving on. Today we had a swarm from one of our Warre (stacked top bar) hives in Alburgh. Thankfully they were right next to the hives on a small cherry tree. We gently scooped them into a small (nuc) box with top bars in situ and will let them get settled before transferring into a larger hive.

 

Alburgh swarm from Warre

 

Alburgh swarm from Warre 2

Scooping beesMore scooping beesWaiting for stragglers to enter the boxJust a few left...

THE DYE GARDEN True Blue – a talk about the culture and craft of woad with Mary Sprake – Sunday 20th April, 11am

385px-38_Isatis_tinctoria_LOur first talk in the Dye Garden season will be about the ancient dye plant woad, once the principle source of blue in Europe, before indigo arrived from the East, and artificial dyes were discovered in the 19th century.

On 20th April Mary Sprake of Black Dog Arts will talk about this useful and unusual member of the brassica family and show how the blue dye can be extracted from its leaves and used to dye yarn and cloth. Woad was cultivated extensively in East Anglia (the famous ‘Lavenham blew’ from the medieval wool centre at Lavenham was made from these plants), and woad is still being grown commercially in Norfolk.

Many artists, textile designers and crafts people use woad, as it creates extraordinary hues of blue, as well as being entirely natural and sustainable.

db_2d-scan05_71What is The Dye Garden?

The Dye Garden is part of the permaculture-inspired Library Community Garden, created by Sustainable Bungay in 2009. The showcase central bed changes each year and during the growing year the Garden hosts plant and produce exchanges, events and workshops around its chosen theme. This year we are growing dye and textile plants, and there are already several in situ – including of course a woad plant now getting ready to flower!

Our 2014 programme will be looking at several key plants from different angles: from the perspective of artists, makers, curators and growers. Each event will provide a practical and imaginative insight into our relationships with fabrics and colour through time.

During the growing year of 2014, we’ll be journeying into the myths and culture behind certain plants: visiting the flax and hemp fields of the Waveney Valley; the silk weavers and madder sellers of Norwich; discovering archaic woad, African indigo and how to make paints from local wild flora.

Arts, culture and wellbeing

1a-woadspoolThe Dye Garden is being curated by Sustainable Bungay’s Arts, Culture and Wellbeing group. The project aims to celebrate the  beauty of ordinary things and our place within the fabric of life, within a frame of ecological and social change.

Plants can act as a wonderful bridge between people, a springboard to our imaginations, and open a door to other places and times, knowledge and wonder. So as well as a skill and knowledge-share about plants and textiles, the garden and its events are also an exploration of creativity and wellbeing within the community.

Everyone is invited!

True Blue – a talk about the culture and craft of woad will take place at Bungay Community Library on 20th April at 11am. Free entry (donations welcome).

Images: botanical drawing of woad plant; woad balls being stacked in Norfolk; woad-dyed wool (from www.woad.org.uk/)

Spring Tonic Wellbeing Walk – Saturday 5th April, 11am

Image3313Are you in need of a spring tonic? Why not come on our first wellbeing walk of the year on Saturday 5th April. We’ll be meeting up in Bungay community library garden at 11am, where Mark Watson will introduce the theme of spring tonic plants with an energising potful of tea. Then we’ll map out a route and set off to discover some of those very plants in the pot, and more. You’ll never look at nettles, dandelions and cleavers in the same way again!

Sustainable Bungay’s wellbeing walks started last April and soon became very popular. Every month from spring to autumn, a group of us would set out to walk the many different streets, paths and green places of Bungay, taking notice of everything we found on our way and swapping our own stories and knowledge of the area with each other.

As with all our meetings and events, anyone and everyone is welcome to join the walks. Hope to see you there.

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Spring Tonic Wellbeing Walk, Saturday 5th April, meet 11am in Bungay Community Library Garden. For more info call Mark on 01502 722419