Living With Bees

By Sharon Harris

For years I thought how amazing it would be to keep bees, to be able to harvest our own honey, it was like taking the idea of keeping chickens, & all that it meant to be sustainable, to a whole other level.  To be very clear- keeping bees is much more complex than keeping chickens, that much I have learnt.  It is not for the time poor, or the faint hearted, or the poorly prepared.  It is not a simple matter of building a chook house, throwing in grain & greens & collecting eggs.  Not to be confusing, but on another level it is also very simple.

After the idea of keeping a hive took hold back in 2014 I began an amazing journey, one that is continuing.   Learning about bee keeping, with all it intricacies is something that takes time. When I first started I was naïve, I knew it was involved, but without fully processing it I thought I could acquire the knowledge within a comparatively short space of time.  Four years on I know a lot more, and what I know is that I don’t know enough to feel completely comfortable managing a hive completely on my own. 

The one thing I can say unequivocally is that I love having the bees in my garden. They have changed the entire dynamic of the garden. It is like having a living thermometer & barometer in the garden. Cold, warmth, sunshine, day length, rain, they respond to all to the seasons & to the weather conditions.  We cannot see the hives from the house, but we can see the open sky into which the bees fly in their hunt for nectar.  Through the warmer months they never rest as they go off in all different directions in their search.  As the day grows warmer and the sun hits the hive, the bees become a hive of activity.

From Spring to Autumn our entire garden is literally a buzz with bees as they forage amongst the flowers. When the Boston Ivy is flowering it literally hums with the sounds of hundreds of bees. And on warm days the scent of honey pervades the air. To exist in a garden that is filled with the sweet scent of honey is a wondrous way to live.  In winter they venture out only on fine days.  You will see them hanging around the entrance to the hive but you know that they have sealed all air gaps & that they are huddled in the hive providing warmth.  This ebb & flow of activity in response to weather, seasons, what is flowering where influences my movements in the garden.  When the hive was placed in the garden I discovered that I had to adapt my gardening habits, all of sudden I didn’t have free range.  It often surprises people to learn that I keep bees yet I am very allergic to bees.  Not anaphylactic, but enough to warrant medication always being onsite & to get to it pronto.  So with all this wonderful, dynamic energy in my garden I needed to find a way to live with bees.    

THE ANSWER IS EASY, BY LEARNING THEIR HABITS & RESPECTING THEM. 

The hive is situated at the west end of the veggie garden; it was placed in a position so that the bees can exit & enter the hive at 45 degrees & not cross a main path.  What I didn’t factor in when we placed it there, what happens when I am watering or planting or harvesting produce, that 45 degrees is a direct line to ME. So we placed a partition in front of the hive, far enough away that they can easily fly in & out, but high enough that they are forced to fly above head height. I work with them by respecting their daily rhythm, working in the veggie garden in the early morning, or at dusk, or when it is cool, or when it is raining.

Working with the bees has added another dimension to my life in the garden in a wonderful way.   The honey production was the catalyst for keeping bees, and while it is wonderful to have our own honey, the harvesting of honey has become secondary to the health of the bee colony and the continuation the colony, which has led me to an interest in Warre Hives.