“Should bees die out, humans will only have four years left on the planet."
This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein. Sadly the least truthful thing about it is the author. Probably originally spoken by American beekeeper Albert N. Stein, various Chinese whispers have lead it to the great physicist's door, perhaps via sensationalist propaganda handed out during a march of European beekeepers in the mid-1990s.
Yet whoever actually said it, the general consensus is that this statement is indeed true; we would be all pretty stuffed without the humble bee.
This is one reason I felt so guilty the day I got over-excited using the hose in the garden and nearly drowned a bumble bee going about her business in a gladioli flower. It kick-started a need to find out more about beekeeping - and thereafter a love affair with all types of bee, but specifically the humble honey bee.
I decided almost there and then to become one of those funny beekeeper people and took it upon myself to chart my journey in a diary. I am very fortunate that that diary has now been published.
I saw my journal as a little way of hopefully helping others to either get involved in beekeeping or, at the very least, understand the bees a bit more. It follows my beekeeping year from the moment I get the idea and tracks my progress while I undertake my beekeeping course, get my hives and through to getting my first set of bees and bringing them home in the car. It then charts my adventures in trying to produce a pot of honey which, in the first year, is not an easy thing to do.
It was during that first year that I realised just how incredible these little insects were. For example, each time a bee flies out of the hive it can fly three miles to a source of nectar. Back at the hive, one of their sisters will have communicated to them about the single flower they are going to visit. They do this by means of the rather amusingly named Waggle Dance. This takes place in the pitch dark of the hive and involves making a figure-of-eight movement. Apparently the pitch and the verocity of the waggles determine the exact location of that single flower to within 3ft over three miles. Amazing really…
I started my beekeeping year with it all being new and exciting and I was having a bit of fun; but as the year progressed I realised just how important my new hobby is and it all became a lot more real. As a father I want to teach my boys (I found out I was to be a father for the second time during that first year) where everything in the world comes from and that things do not just appear on supermarket shelves. Beekeeping has provided a really exciting addition to gardening and I look forward to sharing this hobby with them as they grow older.
There is no hiding the serious message behind the hobby though. Colony Collapse Disorder is perhaps the most prevalent of bees' troubles, whereby bees are alive in the hive one minute and within a few more they will all have died out. A few years ago it was reported that upwards of 30% of all bee colonies were dying out each year in the US. The most frustrating aspect of it is that there is not one fundamental cause, or so it is thought, to date. There is a proven factor in all cases of Colony Collapse Disorder, which is the Varroa Mite, a carrier of disease which seriously weakens colonies - but it is only one of a number of determinates, which is why it is so difficult to stamp out.
Bees' work pollinating crops contributes to at least a third of the average dinner plate each day, so a threat to them is a threat to us. Therefore it is important for everyone to gather arms and join the cause of the humble honey bee (and other bees for that matter) and hopefully my book will be a launch pad for those even vaguely interested.
A percentage of the proceeds from any copies bought through my own website www.surreybeekeeper.co.uk will be donated to two beekeeping charities.
From A to Bee: My First Year As a Beginner Beekeeper by James Dearsley is published by Summersdale on 2nd July.