Climate March November 2015

On Saturday November 28th, Sustainable Bungay, aided by two bees and some children, paraded through Bungay in order to raise awareness of climate change and the Paris climate talks.

Bungay Town Reeve and marchers

We started outside the Library and were sent off by Terry Reeve, the Town Reeve, pictured above in full regalia. From here we walked up St Mary’s Street.

by the car park

marching up St Marys St

The Butter Cross was next where we re-grouped and chatted with passing general public and handing out Sustainable Bungay newsletters.

Butter Cross

assembled at the Butter Cross

Welcome back Nick

marchers at Butter Cross

From here we then went down Earsham Street, round into Broad Street and back to the Library. Refreshments were then obtained from the Buttercross Tearooms.

Would you like to BEE involved with school visits?

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School Education sessions are coming up!!!
If you’re interested in getting involved it’s a chance to inspire kids, see bees and get out on a farm on the edge of the broads. Visits involve a talk and games based around pollination, the importance of habitat, pesticides, a nature spotting ramble and some more honeybee specific fun facts before unveiling our glass hive. It’s a chance for you to learn more or to share what you know depending on your preference. Visits are on Tuesday mornings in June and July at College Farm in Aldeby (near Beccles). Lift sharing or expenses are covered. Get in touch!! bees@sustainablebungay.com 07791495012

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Flow Hive Thoughts…

Flow Hive. source: images.indigogo.com

Flow Hive. source: images.indigogo.com

At first glance it seems exciting, new, revolutionary. It appears to have arisen out of caring for bees. The no-hive-opening honey collection system. But as one considers the Flow Hive in a little more depth various issues arise. I’m not saying the inventors of the Flow Hive don’t care about bees, but rather they are coming from a beekeeper-centred way of thinking. And I’m not saying that humans should never collect honey, but collecting small amounts from hives in more extensive or backyard systems,  a bee-centred approach, is more likely to create a future where honeybees and humans can co-exist successfully.

Industrialisation of beekeeping and agriculture has placed many stressors on bees and they are becoming less resilient as a result. Management techniques associated with intensive beekeeping including regular manipulation and chemical use, alongside habitat loss, disease and pesticide use are contributing factors in recent losses of honeybees. Honeybees are among many pollinating insects (such as bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths) important to a wide range of plants, including many of the fruit and vegetables we eat. That same pollination service is also important within a wider ecological framework. We need to find ways to bolster their resilience, not break it down. I don’t think the Flow Hive is naturally compatible with this.

Honey is not only delicious and healthier for us than cane or beet sugar, it is primarily a food source for honeybees. They collect nectar and alter it to make honey, the ideal storage substance containing accessible energy with antimicrobial properties. It’s not something we can make. It cannot be replaced adequately by sugar syrup. Some colonies make enough for themselves, some colonies make surplus and some colonies would starve if we didn’t supplement them with sugar syrup or honey occasionally. I firmly believe that for a ‘sustainable’ future we should only take excess honey. Judging this is not an exact science, it means assessing the bees, the weather, season, available forage etc, etc. It means observing the bees, listening to the bees, interacting with the bees and making an informed, deliberate decision to open the hive and remove some honeycomb. It becomes about the bees.

natural comb

natural comb on a Top Bar (from a managed hive)

Conversely the Flow Hive is all about honey collection. Even the strapline ‘It’s the beekeepers dream…’ assumes a non-engaged way of harvesting honey is preferable. The hive uses frames with plastic comb, finished by the bees with wax, that can be cranked apart to release the honey stored in cells within. This honey then flows through tubes to external jars. The beekeeper doesn’t even have to open the hive – ‘that’s great!’ one might say, ‘the bees are undisturbed and I won’t get stung’, but how easy would it be to accidentally take too much, or to forget to consider all those other factors regarding the bees honey requirements which contribute to the survival of the colony? With extensive systems or natural comb hives one or two combs are harvested when surplus is evident. It is much harder to take too much.

It is also worth considering the honeybee colony as a super-organism  – think akin to a mammal in the way it functions with many bees making up a whole body that is more than the sum of it’s parts. In brief this comparison comes down to reproductive rate, self-produced nourishment for young, an internally regulated uterus, internal temperature regulation and capacity for learning/cognitive ability (ref: Tautz. The Buzz about Bees). How the super-organism is managed is an issue that goes beyond the Flow Hive. But I say again, bees are more resilient in an extensive system than they are in an intensive system.

If the colony is viewed as a super-organism the hive is as skin and comb as skeleton, energy store, memory bank (wax sterols and esters are part of their communication system) and womb. There is a respiration system of airflow governed by space and comb formation, and an immune system of anti-microbial substances and guard bees.

horizontal Top Bar Hive

horizontal Top Bar Hive

The Flow Hive uses plastic comb. This intereferes with natural bee behaviours – bees make wax in response to nectar flow, even when they are provided with plastic or pre-made wax sheets (a misguided attempt to direct bee energy away from wax production and towards honey production). Left to themselves honeybees create combs consisting of cells of varying sizes according to purpose (food, worker bee brood or drone brood) and season that curve and join and have entrance ways, dead ends and inaccessible-to-the-beekeeper areas. This complexity is important for maintenance of temperature, humidity and possibly of an anti-microbial atmosphere. The wax is also maintained at the optimum temperature for communication via vibration across the comb, it has been shown that plastic comb intereferes with this. Plastic comb may not appear detrimental, after all many bees live with it, but that doesn’t make it optimal either. And why use a man-made product when the bees can do it for themselves? I wonder if the makers of the Flow Hive plan on using recycled plastic?

It seems to me we should interact with the colony when we harvest some honey, be aware of prevailing conditions and risk getting stung. Acknowledge the needs of the colony as a super-organism and it’s place within the larger organism of our planet.

(Elinor)

 

On Making Space for Nature in Sustainable Bungay

This post was first published on 24th September 2014 under the title Mark Watson on Making Space for Flowers as part of the “Making Space for Nature” theme on the Transition Network website. It appears here unabridged.

IMG_1158“Did you grow all those yourself?”, a young woman asked me last week at Transition Town Tooting’s 7th Foodival.
She was pointing to a wicker basket filled with the aromatic lemon balm, rosemary, anise hyssop, marjoram and a dozen or so more herbs and flowers I was preparing tea from at the event:
“A lot of them I grew at home in Suffolk, some are wild plants and others are from gardens here in Tooting, including the Community Garden up the road.”
She looked suprised, almost shocked. “My only reference for that kind of thing are the supermarket shelves,” she said.

In that moment I realised many things all at once: that events like the Foodival show how we can come together and regain autonomy over what we eat (and drink); that you never know who will walk in the door and get switched on by something they’ve never considered before; that making space for nature goes beyond the world of nature reserves, wildlife documentaries or even pilgrimages into the wilderness. I also realised that an intrinsic engagement with the living world is what I’ve been showing and teaching in the last six years since I became part of the Transition movement; and that Transition has offered me a role where I can use my knowledge and skills to bring plants and people together in a dynamic and inspiring way.

Bungay is a small rural market town of 5000 people on the river Waveney in north-east Suffolk, surrounded by conventionally farmed agricultural land. The common idea that people in rural areas are automatically more connected with nature can be misleading. Wherever we live now much of the time is spent in artificial spaces: in front of computers, television screens, in our minds and indoors.

When I consider Sustainable Bungay, the Transition group where I’ve been most active since 2008, I see that (re)connection with living systems and considering the planet is implicit in everything we do, from the permaculture inspired Library Community garden, to the Give and Grow plant swap days to a cycle ride down to the pub by the locks of the Waveney at Autumn equinox. The very first Transition event I led was a Spring Tonic Walk introducing people from Bungay and Transition Norwich to dandelions, cleavers and nettles, the medicine plants growing in the neighbourhood.

Voilet-adorned prunes detailOur monthly community kitchen, Happy Mondays is now in its fourth year. A meal for 50 people, most of it locally sourced, is prepared from scratch in under three hours and features everything from nettle pesto and bittercress salad to puddings with foraged sweet violets or blackberries from the common.

Bungay Community Bees was formed in 2009 in response to the global pollinator crisis. There are now more than a dozen beehives in orchards and gardens in and around the town. The group has also created a purpose-built apiary (an observation shed with a hand-crafted glass hive) in association with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms. In the summer schoolchildren from the region come to visit the bees and go on nature walks where they learn about flowers and pollinators.

College farm apiary

Even behind the Give and Take days with their ethos of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refashion, Re-just-about-everything, there is the sense that the planet needs a major break from all the stuff the industrial system keeps pumping out. Nature needs a breathing space!

Soil moving banner

A natural breathing space is among the many things that Bungay Community Library Garden offers. In 2009 a subgroup from Sustainable Bungay teamed up with the town library, organised an Introduction to Permaculture course with Graham Burnett and worked with local builders, gardeners, tree surgeons and group members to transform the unused brick courtyard with one jasmine and a honeysuckle into a flourishing community garden with raised beds, fruit trees, flowers and herbs.

BCLG 13.7.2014

Each year since its opening in 2010, the garden’s central bed showcases a different theme: plants for bees in 2011, plants as medicine in 2012, an edible bed in 2013 and this year dyes and textiles. This way people can get a feel for just how multi-faceted plants are and just how interwoven they are in our human lives. In many cases the categories change but the plants stay the same. The calendula you made a tea from in 2012, you tossed into a salad in 2013 and dyed a scarf with the following year!

The person curating the garden each year organises events around the theme. In the Plants for Life series I ran in 2012 focusing on health and wellbeing, there were monthly talks, walks and workshops with guest speakers, on everything from biodynamic growing to walking with weeds to the medicinal properties of homemade wine! I also ran ‘plant surgeries’ during the summer where people could come and ask questions about the project and the plants and exchange their knowledge too.

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The garden has become a focal point for many of Sustainable Bungay’s activities from steering group meetings in the summer to seed and produce swaps, Abundance exchanges of foraged fruit, and apple pressings. It is also the starting point for the wellbeing walks begun by the Arts, Culture and Wellbeing group last year.

The idea behind the walks was to explore local places together to encourage wellbeing and a sense of belonging. How that might increase personal, and particularly community, resilience, help combat the desire to be somewhere else and so encourage lower use of fossil fuels. Many people reported that simply by taking part in the collective walks brought an experience of wellbeing in itself.

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There is more. Recently a group called NR35 (‘Natural Resources’ 35) based on the local postcode, began to explore “how to use our skills, knowledge and labour to generate an income by sustainably managing/harvesting the resources which are wildly abundant around our rural market town.” The results include the harvesting of fruit and vegetable gluts, some of which are supplied to local restaurants and grocers and a communal firewood store. Last spring a small group of us learned how to make a dead hedge with local tree surgeon Paul Jackson. It took just a morning but I remember practically everything Paul taught us.

So what I’m saying here is that making space for nature can start right outside our doors, and in the places we find ourselves. That it’s not always the big exotic landscapes abroad where Nature is to be encountered. We need to discover the natural world where we are and engage with it, because it’s the natural world that makes sense of everything in the end.

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In 2015 it will be my turn again to curate the theme at Bungay Community Library garden, and the focus will be on ‘Helpful Herbs’ of all kinds. Lavender and rosemary are settling into bed, with thyme, St. Johns Wort, sweet cicely and others already there. And I’m working with a team on some exciting events. I’m also planning to map the project as part of a group helping to shape a new Transition Diploma, a collaboration between Gaia University and the Transition Network. Oh, and to make it into a Transition livelihood!

Meanwhile here is a picture from a plant walk around Bury St Edmunds I led in June this year with Sustainable Bury. The caption would probably go something like this:

“You can’t go anywhere nowadays without people sitting on walls looking at Hoary Willowherb!”

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Mark Watson is co-chair of Sustainable Bungay, a Transition Initiative in Suffolk, UK. Mark teaches groups and individuals to reconnect with nature through plants in the places they live. Details about his talks, walks and workshops can be found on Mark in Flowers.

Images: Talking plants and teas at Tooting Foodival, September 2014 by Chris from NappyValleyNet; Wild sweet violets adorn Happy Monday pudding by Josiah Meldrum; School visit to Bungay Community Bees’ observation hive by Elinor McDowell; Preparing the beds, 2010, Bungay Community Library garden (MW); the garden flourishes, summer 2014; Walking with Weeds, Plants for Life, 2012 (MW); 1st Wellbeing walk by the Waveney, 2013 by Charlotte Du Cann; Throwing our arms up under the cherry trees, April 2014 (CDC); Of walls and hoary willowherb in Bury St Edmunds, 2014 by Karen Cannard

Wildflowers at Bungay Castle

BCB’s Gemma Parker has worked with Jasmine Lingwood’s family to create a wildflower area at Bungay Castle. The following is an update from Gemma:

When Jasmine died in 2012 she was kind enough to ask for funeral donations to go to the Bungay Community Bee Group. As Jasmine was a member of Suffolk Wildlife Trust and keen to see wildlife thriving in the area we wanted to use the money in a way that very much reflected the work she did during her lifetime. In the summer of 2013 a group of like minded people along with Jasmine’s family got together at Bungay Castle to see about creating a wild flower area for bees & pollinating insects. With the permission of the Castle Trust we decided that a pilot area should be planted to test whether our idea would work successfully. Using Rose Titchner’s expertise along with experience of sowing a wild flower meadow in Flixton we proceeded in the Autumn to lift the existing turf & sow two wild flower mixes (details of the exact flowers can be found below) ready for flowering the following Spring.
In April 2014 a plaque was erected in memory of Jasmine & the work the bee group has done and the pilot space has developed into a beautiful flowery area. This is a great motivator to extend the area & create a bee border along the castle.

Wildflowers at Bungay Castle

Meadow Mix for Sandy Soils: Yarrow, Common Knapweed, Wild Carrot, Viper’s Bugloss, Lady’s Bedstraw, Oxeye Daisy, Common Toadflax, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Musk Mallow, Ribwort Plantain, Hoary Plantain, Cowslip, Selfheal, Meadow Buttercup, Bulbous Buttercup, Sorrel, Bladder Campion – plus Meadow Grasses (to prevent bareness in winter): Common Bent, Sweet Vernal Grass, Crested Dogstail, Fine-leaved Sheep’s Fescue, Sheep’s Fescue, Slender Creeping Red Fescue, Smaller Cat’s-Tail.
Cornfield Mix: Corn Cockle, Corn Chamomile, Cornflower, Corn Marigold, Common Poppy

Topping Top Bar Afternoon

The sun shone and the bees were busy. Always good news when one wants to look at a colony of bees. I have a horizontal Top Bar Hive (hTBH) in my garden which has had bees in it for two years now, last week they swarmed and gathered handily on my trampoline so now there is a Top Bar nuc box as well. They will be transferred into a hive when the weather improves.

Top Bar hives are a relatively recent introduction to the UK so it was a chance for  interested people to come along and see one in action as well as play around with an empty one. As with any social gathering cake was present, every one of which had bee-pollinated ingredients; chocolate, oranges, lemons, almonds, cherries and of course, coffee.

Bee chat :)

Cakes, all with bee-pollinated ingredients

It’s easier to adopt more ‘natural beekeeping’ or apicentric beekeeping methods with a Top Bar Hive, but Bungay Community Bees  also has conventional National hives and a soon to be tried out modified National (to make use of our spare National equipment without using printed foundation wax sheets – but more of that in a later post). Two of the biggest advantages to a Top Bar Hive are that the bees build their own comb and that when you inspect by opening the hive up only a small section is revealed at a time, thus retaining nest scent and warmth as much as possible.

Get closer!

 

Looking through the glass panel

 

Comb of stores

 

capped honey at the top, nectar in the centre. Fallen comb inside and on the left.

capped honey at the top, nectar in the centre. Fallen comb inside and on the left.

You can see inside and to the left a comb recently fell from the bar, the bees have  attached the upright portion to the follower board, which isn’t terribly helpful from a beekeepers perspective but I have left for now. The horizontal portion is being harvested and the wax used elsewhere. We only inspected a couple of bars this time as I didn’t want to disturb the colony too much, the new queen should be hatching soon.

We had a quick peek inside the nuc box  to see how they had settled in over the week. I had expected  all the syrup I gave them as back-up to have gone but it was only  half gone so they were obviously managing well even with two days confined to the hive due to weather. I had also expected to see maybe two or maybe three bars of comb but they had built on every bar (six in total) although the last was very small still. Happy Bees

Top Bar nuc one week on

 

New comb in Top Bar nuc

If you are interested in any of  our different hive types please get in contact and we can arrange for you to see them. We have hTBH’s as mentioned and are also getting to grips with some Warre (stacking Top Bar Hives) at the moment. They all overwintered well and have produced several swarms already.

We now have a facebook page on which our beekeepers post regular pictures and updates, just search for Bungay Community Bees and ‘like’ the page to receive them.

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...

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