Author Archives: Karin Sternberg

Gardening for Bee Biodiversity

Bees are a highly evolved and intelligent species, first appearing when the dinosaurs were around, dating back more than 120 million years! Insects generally make up the bulk of life on earth, so as Prof Dave Goulson says, they are biodiversity, with so many creatures depending on insects for food. So far around 25000 bee species have been found, but there are many unnamed species still waiting to be discovered. With habitat loss and the use of pesticides we are losing insects at an alarming rate. Our gardens can become sanctuaries for insects and bee biodiversity. Insects are not only beneficial for pollination but also in controlling unwanted ‘pests’ (there is no such thing as a pest). Imagine if all our gardens were insect-friendly, full of wild flowers and habitat with other flowers and vegetables growing in-between. We can all grow food in a more sustainable way that promotes biodiversity and is far more healthy for us. Weeds are simply wild flowers and are fantastic for bees, not to mention the many health benefits they have for us when used in a tea or added to our ferments and food. We should be far more tolerant of weeds, wherever they want to grow. 

Gardens can become biodiversity hotspots. Encourage your neighbours to do the same and we can easily create bee-friendly corridors of gardens, beneficial to all insects and pollinators! For bee-friendly habitat, leave your dead wood, and piles of sticks and stones, and some bare patches of soil. Minimise tidying up. Don’t use chemicals or poisons of any kind. These are all detrimental to bees and other insects, birds and other creatures, often unknowingly harming those little-seen bees living in the ground, and really all soil micro-organisms. Soil health is vital to a thriving, biodiverse garden. Put your time to much better use by watching insects in the flowers and learning to identify them. You may discover a yet unknown species! Plant a variety of herbs, like fennel, lavender, basil, comfrey, marjoram and mint, and include indigenous flowers in your garden. We can all get involved in looking after bees and all other insects, by simply inviting them into our gardens.

Conservation and Beekeeping and How Conservation Beekeeping is a Misnomer

Conservation is the act of protecting Earth’s natural resources for current and future generations.

It is the protection and preservation of nature and wildlife. In South Africa, unlike in the UK and much of the rest of Europe, we still have wild honeybees. More than 90% of South Africa’s honeybees are wild. They are healthy, thriving and free. So we have a very different situation to that in the UK, in Germany, the Netherlands, and in most of Europe. And most importantly, we have hindsight, thanks to the European and UK examples. We have seen how their indigenous species of honeybees have gone extinct, and this has surprisingly happened under the watch of their nature conservation authorities. The advent of beekeeping, bee-farming, industrial agriculture, deforestation and urbanisation, has all been detrimental to the honeybee. The impact of agriculture, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, miticides (biocidal treatments) in their landscapes and in their hives, has led to a fundamental breakdown of entire ecosystems both within the hive, and outside of the hive. A 2020 survey by the British Beekeepers Association refers to the average loss of bee colonies to beekeepers across all surveys carried out by them as being 18.2%. Eighteen-point-two percent. (In some US States this figure is far higher at an average rate of  colony loss of 40%.) Why are we humans so fooled into thinking that as a species we are superior and more intelligent than all other life forms?

We are determined to not let the same happen to South Africa’s indigenous Apis mellifera capensis colonies, nor the Apis mellifera scutellata wild honeybee species.

Wild honeybee colonies that we have been monitoring over the past 8 years here in the Western Cape in SA simply do not suffer these losses. There is no sign of varroa mite, the size of the colony intimately follows the flow of flowers/forage, the winter rains bring out many more blooms in the fynbos vegetation region, and some thriving wild colonies even have drones through the winter. The nest sizes are small, and only so much excess honey is stored to tide the colony through bad weather, drought, fire and other unforeseen circumstances. There is no glut of honey. There is an intricate balance in their resources. To think that we can take their honey (and pollen and propolis and wax) and give them nougat or sugar water in exchange, and think we are not exploiting bees, is a total disregard and ignorance on our side. Honey is the bee’s food and nourishment. It is a fermented food, full of an incredible diversity of beneficial-to-the-bees microbes and nutrients. It is what they need to thrive and to produce healthy wax which is the substrate on which the colony sustains itself.

In SA, conservation is around the protection of these incredibly intelligent wild creatures. In our natural environments, the relationship between plants and bees has evolved over millions(!) of years. It is so fine-tuned and with regard for all other pollinators and species living in these environments. In SA we do not need to ‘conserve’ bees by exploiting them. Conservation is about safeguarding a species and the environments we still have! “Conservation beekeeping” here in SA is a misnomer when you take bees out of their wild and natural habitats, hive them, and take their honey and other hive products to sell in a market economy. In the UK and European examples, we imagine “conservation beekeepers” to be those who are concerned with reestablishing wild spaces full of natural nesting and forage opportunities. And encouraging honeybees once again to live freely without human intervention, and connected to all other species in an abundance of natural biodiversity.

 

Book preview: Honey Mountain


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In Geoff Tribe’s debut work, the full extent of his intricate knowledge gathered over a life-time of an interest in the natural world, comes to shine. His 40 year career as an entomologist brings groundbreaking insights into a wide range of topics, beautifully captured in stories and images.

This fascinating book “Honey Mountain”, documents the history of the Cape honeybee in the Swartland from ancient times and where the earliest Dutch expeditions traded vast amounts of honey at the Heuningberg. The book traces the survival of the honeybees over the centuries despite the drastic changes in the environment occurring around about. In doing so the original vegetation, fauna and inhabitants are described and rock art depicting honeybees is interpreted. This book delves into many areas of study – archaeology, history, linguistics, anthropology, botany, culture, geography and entomology. Over 200 photos lavishly illustrate the text and contain much new material which will enthral and enlighten the reader. The chapter on the banded bee pirates captures new insights into their predations and is uniquely illustrated. Combined with other new discoveries and penetrating insights into the history and events of the various cultures make it an important addition to the library of anyone for whom these subjects are of more than a passing interest.

Currently “Honey Mountain” is in stock and available within South Africa at a special price of R400 plus shipping of R99 via Postnet to your nearest Postnet. Up to 5 books can be posted for the R99 and so any additional books more than one would be postage free. Bulk orders of 5 are worth it!

For all overseas purchases it will be R400 plus international shipping costs (available on enquiry).

A percentage of the sales price will go directly towards the conservation of wild bees.

For all orders please send an email to ujubeeconservation@gmail.com

“Honey Mountain” preview:

Contents
H'berg p108-111
H'berg p156-159
Bee pirates p184-185
H'berg p194-195

Dr Geoff Tribe, author of “Honey Mountain”

Jenny, Karin and Geoff on the Heuningberg (Honey Mountain)