Sunday, 28 February 2010


Before I proposed the Bee Project I contacted a friend in Lancaster that I knew had kept bees in the past. I emailed her and asked her to describe the best and worst parts of beekeeping. Here is her reply:

Hi Rebecca,

Answer to your honey question:

1st. This is an (unfair to bees) exchange. Beekeeper steals the bees' stores of honey and gives back sugar and water mixture so bees will (hopefully) survive the winter on it.

The worst parts were :

1. Getting stung. This is inevitable and worse at the beginning of one's learning curve.
2. Heaving the heavy crates of full combs around in the heat of summer when carefully togged up in a white boiler suit, gloves, boots and headgear - all necessary because of 1. Rather like space woman's gear.
3. Complaints from near neighbours if bees' flight- path happens to be directly across their garden, washing line or whatever and wherever you set up hives.
4. Not knowing what the bees are doing. It is a bit like playing chess with a keen opponent whilst oneself is blindfold, because you do not know the stage that the bees are up to inside the hive, until you are a few years into the job and have developed some nouse..
5. Loosing a swarm (or two if you are not on the ball) because of 4 and the bees have developed some extra queen cells inside the nursery. Then the original queen takes off with most of the bees and most of the honey as, when preparing to swarm, the bees take their stores with them in their stomachs.
6. Having the kitchen in an awful sticky mess while it is warm weather and one cannot open any windows because if you do any local bees will enter to reclaim honey. One has an extractor rather like a spin dryer. The frames of wax combs go into this after beekeeper slicing off the surface lids from the honey combs with extra -sharp special knife and the honey is then spun out of the combs. This honey trickles down to a tap and is bottled into honey jars. You hope.

Equipment: I suggest you join a local beekeepers' association and ask if you can go along with one of the beekeepers to help him/ her or observe, so you watch and understand how the whole process goes on. I wish I had - it’s a bit like an apprenticeship. I took my bees on because some one was giving up. I would suggest that you do this for one season - which starts late spring. Firstly you will get to know if you are allergic to bee stings - a very dangerous condition specially if stung on the neck/ throat (and just to worry you - this can come on later in bee keeping even if at first you are not allergic. Also neck stings are dangerous even if not allergic). By being a member of a beekeeping assoc. you will be able to buy hives 2nd hand if available and get all sorts of useful tips, go to classes and beekeeping weekends, make new friends etc. We used to visit each other's gardens to see how the bees were doing.
Think before you dive in, most work is done in summer / autumn.

ps the government are into environmental issues at pres. and pushing bee keeping. Maybe Mr B does not know about 1 to 6.

Best of luck
It is a long term venture,

Hmm - she seems to have forgotten to mention the best bits of beekeeping...

The image here is from Adventures into Nature by Kate Harvey M.Sc., and E.J.S. Lay, published in 1944.

Flat Pack

The beehives have arrived - in flat packs.

Let's hope the instructions for putting them together are clear... otherwise there might be two wonky looking beehives sited by the boathouse housing some grumbling bees.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Research So Far

Over the winter I've been cramming on all things bees - looking at loads of websites; reading a number of books and emailing / talking to various people.

The first book to arrive after a frenzied afternoon on Amazon was:

Bee by Claire Preston - a brilliant book about the history, folklore, myths, facts and information about honeybees and honey.

Then came Guide to Bees and Honey by Ted Hooper MBE - I've read the first few chapters, but not the whole thing as i think it'll become more useful when we start bee keeping on site.

My friend Helen gave me a beautiful little book Beekeeping published by the National Trust - which seems to be a good basic guide.

Then I switched to bumblebees - The Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland by Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner. This is a great book on the life cycle, distribution, conservation and guide to identifying all the British bumblebees - I'm hoping the identification charts will really help me in the summer...

Then I read The Queen Must Die And Other Affairs of Bees and Men by William Longgood - although some practical observations of keeping bees are quite interesting, I absolutely hated this book with a passion - in the preface the author admits he will probably be accused of anthropomorphism and that's why i really hate this book. I only finished it because i parted with money for it.

I've also used The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore by Hilda M Ransome - and this has been an invaluable resource.

At present I am nearly half way through The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Public Benefits by Bernard Mandeville. This was recommended by my friend Neil and although it's not the easiest of reads I'm really enjoying it. The version I have has an introduction by Phillip Harth which I found very helpful before tackling the book.

I think I should also add that last year I read (or should i say wrestled my way through) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. In the chapter on instinct Darwin uses bees to demonstrate his theories and this definitely influenced my decision to propose a project about bees.

Boathouse Development

During a visit to YSP in late January I went to see how the development of the boathouse was getting on.

A beautiful, large window has been put in at one end to overlook where the beehives are going to be; plus all the old desks and benches have been removed; the walls stripped; and all the brambles and weeds cleared around the site. There is still much to do, but it is looking really great already.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Project Base

I visited YSP in early November 2009 to talk about and organise the Bee Project.

The area around the lake at YSP is a nature reserve and there is no public access - it has always been the intention that the Bee Project will be conducted from that area and the beehives will be sited there too.
But we also needed to identify a base for the project to operate from.

There is an old boathouse by the lake and when we visited in November it was considered as a possibility - but as you can see from the photos, it was in need of some repair.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

All Things Are Connected

Where do I start?

I've been thinking about bees for a long time - other art projects I've worked on in the past have generally been about nature in urban and rural landscapes; how we perceive nature; how environments are changing and the effects of human activity on our surroundings.
I love looking at plants (they don't move) and a few projects in the past have resulted in me conducting plant surveys on various plots of land. During these surveys I also get to see butterflies, dragonflies, moths, birds, mammals, bugs and bees etc

Bees have had a lot of press in the last couple of years: the decline in numbers and the effect that could have on our environment.
But my interest also extends to the history of the bee and the symbolism, stories and folklore surrounding bees and honey.

So, during the Bee Project at Yorkshire Sculpture Park I will be surveying all the native bumblebee and solitary bee species on the Bretton Estate, plus we are going to set up two beehives to observe honeybees at close range. I will also look at all the plant species around the estate and collect and press specimens.

The image here is 'dead bee. again and again' 2008 (from a series of 5 drawings)