Meet the men reviving the ancient craft of tree beekeeping
Categories: On The Farm
We think of bees and flowers as inextricably linked, and the flowers we typically picture as the most “bee-friendly” are garden stalwarts such as sunflowers and lavender. However, ask a bee’s opinion and they will most likely name a tree – cherry plum, alder, hazel – as the best value for pollen and nectar gathering. It is no coincidence that in nature wild bees’ nests are found in hollowed-out trees in woodland, right next to the best source of forage.
Trees offer thousands of flowers in one place, making gathering nectar and pollen more efficient for the bee colony. They also provide safe nesting sites in the form of hollow cavities, and sometimes resin which bees use to make propolis (an antimicrobial glue for sealing gaps and lining the cavity). In return, the bees pollinate the tree flowers.
Although many trees flower in spring it is easy, with half a dozen carefully chosen trees in the garden, to provide pollen and nectar for bees all year round, with no herbaceous border in sight. Alder, willow and hazel provide early pollen when food is scarce.
Apple, quince (cydonia), almond, plum and single-flowered cherry provide later sustenance. Even the ivy that clambers up the trees provides essential autumn bee food. For a good month-by-month guide to trees in flower, visit urbanbees.co.uk.
This article explores the ancient practice of tree beekeeping – a low intervention form of beekeeping using a living tree. Research of wild bees has shown that they prefer nests that are located high above the ground and well-spaced from other hives. This protects the hive from predators, the cold and humidity of the ground, and reduces the spread of diseases between colonies.
The preference of honey bees for high locations is not a newly discovered wisdom. In eastern Europe, there is an ancient tradition based on this knowledge. Tree hive beekeeping is a 1,000 year old practice of keeping bees in slots, cut high above the ground into living pine, lime and oak trees, akin to the natural homes of bees.