Bumblebee on sunflower
Well, beekeeping here is very, very worrying. Not only are you told to treat your bees with chemicals, IT’S THE LAW! Can you believe it? If you refuse to suffocate your bees with toxic chemicals, you can face huge fines.
We met up with a ‘rogue’ natural beekeeper in Prague to get try and understand this madness. To get around this law, he has quite cleverly stated that he is less of a ‘beekeeper’ but more of a ‘bee guardian’. His logic is that if he simply leaves the bees to their own devices, then he’s not a bee ‘keeper’. It seems that here in Czech; the bees are treated like livestock. It’s a strange concept; wild creatures are encouraged out of their trees, domesticated for human benefit and to their detriment, their trees felled so they no longer have habitat, and then have a human world set of rules imposed on them. You are called an irresponsible beekeeper if you ‘allow’ your bees to swarm, and yet as a result, you then need to use chemicals. He reminds us that Czech has not long been out from under communist rule, and that as a result, the population is somewhat more accepting of enforced laws. It all makes me feel really really uneasy.
Things didn’t get much better. In our rogue beekeepers experience, he found that his bees did not survive without chemicals unless he removed all, yes all, brood during the autumn – I guess a sort of shook swarm type thing. It is supposed to mimic the natural break in the varroa cycle caused by the bees swarming; varroa cannot reproduce if there is no brood cells to multiply in. I wouldn’t call this natural…. But this was his experience of the only way to keep his bees alive without chemicals. Surely this however would then put you firmly back in the ‘beekeeper’ box? I also worry about this process because it stops the bees adapting naturally to the varroa. In my mind, the more humans interfere with the bees, the more dependent they become – they are becoming ever more domesticated, and this is to their peril as we have seen. I do however think it is better to do this, than dump a load of miticide in the hive…. But perhaps better in the long run to let the weaker ones die, and the stronger ones continue on.
Okay enough of the doom. Next we met a really wonderful man who had just written a book on Alternative beekeeping – Alternativy V Chovu Vcel A Pristupu K Nim by Radomil Hradil. At the moment it’s only in Czech; really hope he gets it translated into English soon because it looks like a real gem and a great resource for the natural beekeeping community.
Radomil begins to show us his tiny garden, and what he has planted for the bees. At first I think it’s sweet that he wants to show us his few pots – lobelia, marigolds (keeps the slugs away), sage, oregano, Anise Isop, and buckwheat.
Tiny pots full of life
But within these few flower pots, were miniscule fly like black dots that on a closer inspection, were tiny tiny solitary bees! The plants were buzzing with them! He then showed us the rest of his garden. The edges were ablaze with colour from a meadow seed mix he had planted the year before, and in a small section were an astounding variety of plants. St Johns Wort, Sunflowers, Flax, Calendula, Borage, Cosmos, Verbena and Phacelia (if you see blue pollen on a bees legs, it comes from Phacelia).
Edges of garden blooming with meadow mix
In the south-facing corner of the garden were a variety of homemade bee hotels, and I kid you not, the biggest one had every single tube and hole filled with a very happy bee (and many knocking to see if there was any room at the inn only to be rudely turned away at the door). There must have been over 300 solitary bees living happily in their little community.
All at home in this bee hotel
Radomil used cinder block as a base material to then poke various sizes of bamboo canes into. He said he experimented with sunflower stems, elder, and various other hollow stemmed plants but the bees preferred bamboo. Radomil also made a wonderful bee hotel with his daughter out of mud and straw – a kind of cob structure. You mush it all together in whatever fun shape you want, and then poke holes in it. This will be one I do with the kids in the schools from now on. I used to use bamboo but it’s a bit tricky to cut in a classroom, and I way prefer getting muddy hands!
Cob Bee Hotel
Radomil then proudly showed us his compost pile, his desert garden of sedum on the garage roof which he started from one sedum taken from a nearby rock, and the natural patches of plant succession where he stopped mowing. I have never seen so many pollinators in such a tiny space, and I was so surprised what you could do in such a small area.
He opens us his garden every summer to neighbours as part of an open garden scheme and shows others what can be done. Radomil’s garden is a stark comparison to that of next doors – the plastic grass and green shiny box bushes – not a morsel of food for anyone or any thing! It made me realise; we depend so much on bees for our food, but the bees themselves as a result of habitat destruction, no longer have enough food for themselves. In order for the bees to be able to help us, we need to help them. Plastic grass?! UGH.
Roof Garden with Sedum and rocks
One aspect that struck me about Radomil’s garden was that it was potentially temporary. All of the planting, all of the hard work, could be undone in an instant as it was only a rented house and garden. I used to struggle at the thought of spending money on plants, or leaving ‘my’ plants that I’ve nurtured as I rent also. But since keeping bees, I am so much more aware of just what an important lifetime our gardens are for pollinators, and that every plant is a gift to them. If you move on to another house and garden, what you leave behind could inspire the next generation of new arrivals with the coming of many wonderful insects, or may even unexpectedly teach someone the beauty of harvesting your own rhubarb. I now see it as leaving behind a wildlife sanctuary for those after me to be inspired by, and to keep enriching the land as I go.
Beautiful plants in pots
Radomil tells me that he believes that the primary cause of the bee decline is a result of our attitude; that we only exploit nature to yield our benefit. It stems from a shift in human consciousness when we started to separate ourselves from nature. We seem to have convinced ourselves that we are totally independent people; individuals who don’t need help from anyone else. Don’t get me started, but it reminds me of the selfie-stick… (Prepare for rant!) Instead of asking a friend or a passer by to take a photo, people all around the world at prominent tourist destinations are using a silly stick with their camera attached to the other end, walking aimlessly and posing at every occasion. Instead of being in the moment and appreciating this wonderful statue, or taking a quick snap of a gondola in Venice, the trend now is to take a photo with your face covering the majority it. I herby re-name it the selfish-stick! The era of the ego is here. (Rant over)
Radomil’s solution to the problem of our disconnect and lack of empathy with nature, is simple – stop… and observe. Tuning into nature by watching it, being in it, and understanding it. Hopefully, people can then begin to find themselves a bit more. Back when, perhaps when we lived in more close-knit communities, with strong cultural and family traditions, I imagine we would have felt more connected to place, our culture, and therefore felt more at one with yourself. Now I think, because we have lost a lot of this in favour of technology and individualism, I think we cling hold to a sense of home or self by buying the latest I phone, or loosing yourself in a game of Call of Duty. I guess with computer games, it creates a sense of purpose; in this virtual world you can make a change, have a voice, where in the real world your voice is drowned by corrupt politians and big industry.
Because we’re so driven to seek and hold onto the familiar when the world is spinning in such a crazy way, we do so at the detriment of nature. We have forgotten that it used to once speak to us, and we would listen and respond. Now, we don’t seem to be able to hear it over X Factor, or feel it through our four concrete walls. Let’s spend more time in nature, and perhaps then we’ll remember.