The Travelling Bee Company in Gateshead Explain What We Can Do to Protect Bees
As World Bee Day approaches, and with the help of The Travelling Bee Company, we take a look at just how important bees really are to our ecosystem, and what we can do to help protect them
‘Simply put, bees are the biggest pollinators in nature,’ says Callum Chambers, Head Beekeeper at Gateshead-based The Travelling Bee Company. ‘All flora needs pollination to reproduce which essentially helps wildflowers, trees, and crops to blossom and grow in greater numbers, and of course many other species rely on all this for food and for their habitats. Pollinators (especially honeybees) really do carry the ecosystem on their backs.’
There are more than 250 species of bee native to the UK, 24 of which are bumblebees, one a honeybee and the rest are all solitary bees. Callum, his father Mark and sister Heather run The Travelling Bee Co., a family business that specialises in producing raw, natural and unprocessed honey in an ethical way, with their focus on the welfare of their humble nectar-loving honeybees. And with more than 18 million bees in their care, they know what they’re talking about.
‘We have apiaries all across the North East, from Darlington to the Borders, and even over the border up to Argyll & Bute in Scotland,’ Callum tells us. ‘Some of our apiaries are more urban than others, collecting from a wide range of wildflowers and some we take to various crops. We rear a lot of our own queen bees too, taken from the calmest and best producing colonies. This often yields the best results, a thriving colony that produces lots of amazing honey.
‘We put our bees' quality of life before anything. For example, if a particular apiary hasn’t got enough nectar or pollen anymore because of the change in season, we move them to another site where there is still food for them. We always leave them with their own honey to eat over the long British winters, whereas these days in modern bee farming it is common practice to feed bees sugar. But our motto is “happy bees make the best honey”.’
Unfortunately happy bees are not as easy to come by nowadays with populations declining globally due to habitat loss, intensive farming practices, changes in weather patterns and extensive use of chemicals such as pesticides. ‘Over recent years, many dedicated experts have been fighting to highlight the extent of the demise of the honeybee, while media coverage has made the life of these insects more understandable’ explains Callum. ‘However, just as we think that we are beginning to understand their behaviour, we then discover there is more to learn.
‘Honeybees are social insects and one of the very few insects that are able to survive our winter period as a colony – they might have to store enough food to last them an incredible six-month period. We know a beehive consists of many worker bees (girls), not so many drones (boys) and the all-important queen bee. When queeny is in full flow she can lay as many as 3,000 eggs every single day! So what’s the problem? Well in short, the whole world at one point seemed to be against bees and although now we are aware and to some extent trying to help reverse the decline, sadly there are very few wild honeybee colonies left.
‘Modern farming practices have improved in some countries, but in Britain we still use harmful pesticides and fertilisers,’ Callum continues. ‘We’re also still yet to see the full effects of global warming on bees too. There’s evidence now to suggest that pollinators, including bees, are struggling to adapt to the rising temperatures, which isn’t much of a surprise as other species around the world are also struggling with this.
‘The ecosystem is fragile and any slight change to it has a great knock-on effect. But without bees we would struggle to naturally produce a lot of the crops and flowers that we rely on every day for food and other things, and with the planet’s population growing our demand for food will obviously grow too, so this is even more of an issue.’
‘Even if you don’t have a huge garden,
you can always plant some flowers in a
hanging basket and the bees will be grateful’
It is therefore more important than ever to protect our bees and Callum gives us advice on how to do just that. ‘The best thing you can do is to make your garden more bee-friendly. Even if you don’t have a huge garden, you can always plant some flowers in a hanging basket and the bees will be grateful. Just make sure you plant some nectar and/or pollen-rich flowers such as lavender, heathers, catmint, and sunflowers. Putting a water source in your garden is great too, especially in the mid-summer, not only for bees but for birds and hedgehogs too.
‘Avoiding or limiting the use of chemicals in your garden is always helpful as these can kill most insects outright. And if you find a swarm in your garden, shed or outhouse please get in touch with your local beekeeper’s association. It’s likely that a local beekeeper with the right equipment and expertise will gladly come and take them off your hands free of charge. Don't call pest control unless advised.’
Callum adds: ‘Everyone has probably heard of the sugar water trick to help a tired bee, but it really does work. It's a great way to help bees out who are resting. Sometimes in your garden you might find a bee that is alive but hasn't moved much in a while, they're probably exhausted. So mix two teaspoons of white sugar with one teaspoon of water onto a plate and leave it beside her so she can drink it up, she'll appreciate it! It's important that you use white granulated sugar, brown sugar can cause dysentery in bees.’
For those passionate about caring for our bee populations and who would like to take this interest further, The Travelling Bee Co. run practical courses to teach people more about beekeeping. ‘We occasionally do talks at schools in the region explaining the importance of bees and the environment, teaching children that bees do more than produce tasty honey,’ Callum explains. ‘We also run a practical beekeeping day at one of our sites where we offer budding beekeeping hobbyists a chance to see what it’s all about before they commit to getting a colony of their own.
‘We show people the basics of inspecting a hive, what they should be looking for and what actions to take if necessary. We started running the practical days a few years ago and the reaction has been great. It’s fantastic to see how many people really care about bees.’
If you are interested in keeping bees Callum recommends doing some background reading or looking to take an introductory course in beekeeping, as keeping bees isn’t as straightforward as you might think. To give us an idea of just some of what’s involved, Callum tells us about his typical day. ‘No two days are the same really, but during the summer my day usually starts early before the temperature can get to double digits, as that’s when the bees become most active,’ he says. ‘I’ll pack up a truck with various things I’ll need for the day, so things like supers (boxes that bees store honey in) with frames, and spare beehive parts in case any need replacing. I’ll pack my bee suit, grab my smoker and set off.
‘I’ll inspect a few sites every day that are in the same area of the region. I’ll be looking for a healthy laying queen first and foremost, as this is essential to a colony’s survival. I’ll then be looking to see how well they’re producing, and if they need more room for storing honey. If I don’t give them room they will most likely swarm and leave the hive. I basically just try my best to help them do what they do. I don’t like to be in one beehive for too long. I like to just be in and out if I can and let them get on with their job!
‘That’s a very broad take on a typical day for me in the summer, but being out and about in nature is great,’ Callum finishes. ‘I get to see lots of things and go at my own pace, it’s very peaceful. I understand that not many people get that opportunity at the best of times, never mind doing it for a living.’
For more information visit travellingbee.co.uk, or you can have a chat with them in person at their stand at Living North LIVE, Newcastle Racecourse, 19th–21st May.
Callum’s Tips For Buying Honey
1. Buying from your local beekeeper is best and make sure the honey you’re buying is the real deal, otherwise you could be missing out on the benefits. You want to be buying raw and unprocessed honey.
2. Raw honey is simply 100 percent pure honey, no additives, flavourings, or syrups added. Unprocessed honey is a honey that has not been pasteurised. Pasteurisation can destroy the honey’s natural properties.
3. Try to avoid supermarket honey. Unfortunately, a lot of supermarket honey is a mix of several different honeys and is known to be bulked out with cheaper alternatives such as rice and corn syrup. They often overheat their honeys too, killing off all the antioxidants, nutrients, and enzymes. Yes the honey is cheap, but at the cost of cutting a lot of corners.
4. Choose honey with the least steps involved possible. Our honey is spun out of the comb, filtered once to take out any debris, and poured straight into the jar ready to go. No heating, nothing added, with all the nutrients, minerals and natural flavours preserved just as the bees like it.