WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: AM
The importance of bees really cannot be underestimated. They are of vital importance to us not least of which for our food chain, so much of the food we eat would not be available but for tireless work of wonderful bees, but also in the harvesting of honey, pollen, wax and propolis which have nutritional, craft, manufacturing and medical applications. Needless to say, they play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystems. Simply put we need bees, we need them and other insects to pollinate our plants in order to increase their yields and quality. From our coffee in the morning, through to our cocoa at bedtime the humble bee makes it happen.
Bees have been around for millions of years, they are so essential in crop pollination that some farmers “rent” them or have them shipped in order to pollinate their crops in the spring. We are tremendously lucky to live in a neighbourhood with several bee keepers, which we are very grateful for as they graciously fly around our orchard pollinating our fruit trees.
A living museum local to us, Frederiksdal in Helsingborg, recently held a bee course and we were lucky enough to be able to participate. There truly is - even in this day and age - a master and apprentice structure to keeping bees, with training and mentorship to guide you through the art to learning the skills of beekeeping. Here in Sweden the simplest way is to join an association, whereby a local mentor will be assigned to you and through which you will learn beekeeping through a master. We all had many questions for our beekeeper, Stefan and we received the answers to all our questions, we learned about why some fruit was uneven, the flower had not been pollinated properly, why some years are bad years for fruit, amongst other things if the weather is bad when the flowers should be pollinated, as bees don't like the rain, the flowers won't be pollinated, leading to a poor harvest. We also learned from Lina, our guide, how important the wildflower meadows are for bees, these meadows are disappearing fast, due to farming and development, these meadows if harvested at the correct time offer the bees a continuous flow of pollen, as opposed to the farmed fields such as rape which offer an enormous amount of pollen for a short space of time and then nothing, feast or famine, however bees like us, need a continuous supply of nutrition, which is on offer in the local flora and fauna, so how about giving up your perfect lawn and turning it into a wild meadow for the bees. Another important aspect to attract bees is to have native early blooming trees and flowers in garden, this is important for their survival as it helps them during the difficult first days of Spring, in short perhaps we should think about the bees when we plant our gardens. At the end of our course we were even allowed to try some of the new honeycomb from the midsummer flowers, simply heavenly, those masterful bees.
I just love honey, so I am forever popping in on our local bee keepers, but every year I make a special effort to pick up some late summer in a jar, late honey dripping with all that summer has to offer, in total contrast to the lightness of the first rape seed honey, next time I will also make sure to get some honeycomb and beeswax. I also find that heather honey is always a particular treat especially mixed into cool creamy yoghurt, a light, highly aromatic honey. Our favourite comes from the heather grown in Lüneburg, a well protected nature reserve southeast of Hamburg and not surprisingly often considered as the king of honey. Another favourite is Waldhonig, forest honey which is made from “honey dew", the bees collect the nectar not from the blossom of flowers, but from the sweet “dew” of aphids, producing a honey which is dark, the Black Forest in southern Germany is a well known source of fantastic honeydew honey. Finally lavender honey from Provence which always perks up my morning porridge like no other, sunshine on a cloudy day.
When we travel I always buy several varieties of honey both mono and poly floral as it immediately connects me to a place, it also is a lovely souvenir to bring home, extending the holiday feeling, with every spoonful delivering the terroir onto my taste buds - loosely translating to “a taste of a place” - normally referred to when talking about wine, but as the term refers to the soil, climate and produce, therefore I feel it is every bit as applicable to honey as well. As certain varieties of honey can only be harvested in certain regions simply because certain plants and flowers can only be found there, it gives the honey its unique terroir - colour, flavour, aroma, influenced by location, season and weather conditions, all this packed neatly in a jar for me to enjoy on my return home.