Of Bees and Clover Rolling

I may be one of those rare individuals who feels very calm with wasps and bees buzzing around me. Both have only stung me just once. I was a child when this happened, stepping upon a unsuspecting bee while walking barefoot on grass. It upset me that the bee would die once it stung me even as my foot ballooned in reaction. The wasp, which had stung me as an adult smack between the eyes, I treated as some sort of cosmic wake up call. It would live to sting another day; if it had met its mortal end I would not have mourned.

Having attended a course on beekeeping, I was reminding myself this morning to get local honey soon.  Beekeepers swear by taking a spoon of local honey – with its pollen local to where you live  – each day to fend off hay fever later in the summer. Start from February or March – depending on your local weather and see how it helps. I’ve certainly noted that a timely dollop of local honey with its natural antiseptic quality seems to stop sore throats in their tracks.

It’s pricey, but often commercial brands are diluted with syrup so you don’t have the benefit of the pollen count. Also it needs to be from pollen to where you will be breathing it and sneezing from it.

There is another odd bit of anecdotal evidence among Irish Beekeepers.

In a nation where cancer is now the No. 1 health hazard, beekeepers seem to be immune. They don’t know why this is but they sort of keep an informal survey of ‘cause of death’ from the funerals they attend. Beekeepers are very social and funerals are huge social occasions in Ireland. Hence, this odd bit of health surveillance.

Bees are essential for pollination and pollination is essential for creating most of the foods we eat. Without bees we would only have olive oil for cooking. Rapeseed, sunflower, corn, walnut, hazelnut, and sesame oils – all of them would disappear overnight if the honeybee were wiped out. Only the olive tree is not reliant upon the bee for pollination.

But more important – we wouldn’t have spuds without honeybees to pollinate their lovely white flowers. Not only blight can lead to famine. A massive loss of the honeybee could lead to a new era of hunger. In Ireland, this is still an emotive issue more than 150 years after the historic epoch.

We are fortunate to live in an area that has not seen much pesticide use. Yet it’s not just the pesticides that weaken the bees. What is a greater danger, according to Blacklion beekeeper 78-year-old Thomas Frazer, who has tended hives since he was ten years of age, are those gas-powered excavating machines that tear up hedgerows and deprive the bees of a great deal of breakfast, lunch and dinner. The varroa mite virus decimated many colonies of bees and each county in Ireland tracked the slow progress through the countryside. While that virus has largely been halted, beekeepers here now speculate that it could be the cell phone masts that are popping up all over the countryside that are effecting bees to swarm and move off their territories.

I have considered keeping bees for nearly a decade. Slowly, I am gaining more knowledge and networking with the local beekeeping societies.

One way to help them is to create homes for wild bees. If you want to make a home for wild bees in your garden there is a very simple do it yourself project. All you need are logs and a drill. Drill holes into the logs. Then arrange the logs as artistically as you like. My friend Marc recommends nice isosceles triangles if you want a neat and tidy arrangement. But go wild!

What I learned on a one-day course at The Organic Centre is that I could kill them with mishandling or starve them. Rather daunted by this I went back to our acre with the commitment that I may never manage a hive but I sure could feed up the bees on our patch.

Thomas Frazer is right in that clearing hedgerows from fields we deprive bees of essential fodder. In this season the queen needs a lot of feeding up and the colony’s welfare all depends on her welfare. So I made a list of plants that would attract bees to our acre.  With a small apple orchard, we are reliant on their coming to us to pollinate many of our plants.

I started by just observing what I liked in the garden and what attracted them. From very early in spring I note bees hovering around our lavender and catmint plants. We also have two other varieties of mint in the garden that they like.  With the severe frosts this past winter, one of the first seeds that’s going into the propagator is lavender since many of our mature plants have been hard hit over these past two winters.

One plant that we put out for the birds – teasel – is equally welcome to bees so we have a complimentary synergy going between the bees and birds on one corner of the garden.

But what they adore most are the green manures – specifically clover and phacelia.

Green manures are quite wonderful and underused in smaller gardens. We have raised beds that we rest for a season. These we plant over with green manures – tall lupin, the startling beautiful crimson clover, and the lavender blue of phacelia.  Green manures such as lupins, the clovers and vetches are nitrogen fixers. Once they have bloomed you can cut them down, let them dry out on the ground and dig them back into the soil to feed them.  If you have no reliable source of farmyard manures, these are brilliant – and potentially less smelly than a manure heap that you have to mature. The other advantage of green manures is that they suppress weeds.

Attracts bees, suppresses weeds, looks very pretty, feeds the soil – what’s not to like? Makes sense how the phrase ‘rolling in clover’ came into usage.

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.

4 thoughts on “Of Bees and Clover Rolling

  1. We are first time beekeepers this year. We got our bees 2 weeks ago and they are doing great!! So excited to have our own honey hopefully this fall!

  2. I love bees and wasps, even as a kid I wanted a bee hive. I’ve always been fascinated with them. I used to “pet” the bees in the garden. And yes, I’ve been stung a number of times, even once on the boob!!! and I stepped on one too. doesn’t faze me. I love em!!!!!

  3. People are taught to panic ( as opposed to a healthy understanding) and many run and squeal at bugs/insects/rodents/snakes/(cats, if you are my grandmother). Once a person is shown that any of the the above creatures are usually just going about their tasks and only sting/bite if they feel threatened, that person is able to work in harmony with the rest of the buggy world out there. Of course there are exceptions such as Africanized bees that are aggressive. I had a perfect moment to show a group of children how the wasp bumping into the light fixture overhead was not interested in the least with us below.

  4. Even though we have our own hives this year, I let my husband do the actual beekeeping. I am allergic and almost died at age 3 from a yellow jacket sting. I do carry an eppy pin, but I will not let it stop us from having our bees.