KAAT BYRD: How did your story with the bees begin?
JOHN VENDY: My family had a friend who kept bees. When I was around eight years old I had a mouth ulcer that wouldn’t heal with the “normal” treatment. Hugh, the beekeeper, said he had just the cure and took me outside, put a veil over my head and took me to his apiary. The hive he opened was my first view into the magical world of the honeybee. I was instantly fascinated with these beautiful, busy creatures who seemed to move with such self-assured purpose. Hugh gathered a small ball of propolis and, all too soon for me, closed the hive. He told me to put the propolis on the sore area of my mouth and explained how it was made by the bees. Although it stung a bit, the ulcer had healed within a few days and I was hooked on bees (although it took another 40 years before life allowed me to take the plunge into beekeeping).
KB: What is your focus and goal as a bee guardian?
JV: The reason that I do talks about bees and offer training courses in Natural Beekeeping (see http://topbarbeehive.co.uk/) is to encourage others to make the first step into the world of the honeybee. I’d love to see beekeeping back where it was about 400 years ago – hives easily made from local, sustainably sourced materials, bees living naturally in the environment and local knowledge passed freely between beekeepers enabling them to maintain the local population and sustainably harvest hive products without harm to the bees. I feel that the modern top-bar hive fills this requirement.
KB: How does the local environment shape your work?
JV: I live in a fairly rural area of North-West England, on top of a hill exposed to winds.
Local fields are a desert for bees, just grass or “improved pasture” as the farmers describe it. Hedgerows are often cut before they have finished flowering. Working with a friend, we propagated hundreds of “bee-friendly” plants and gave them away to anyone local who was willing to plant them. The result is a reasonable amount of forage in the gardens in the village and an interest generated in bee-welfare. We still have a stall at local fairs offering information about bees of all sorts and beekeeping.
The local high wind speeds means that hive roofs are always strapped down and prevailing winds must always be checked when positioning a hive. I also try to locate hives in the lee of a hedgerow.
KB: What threatens your (work with the) bees and how do you work with these threats?
JV: Climate change and pesticides. I try to live as “green” a life as possible myself and attempt to persuade others to do likewise whenever I can. I write an occasional article for a local magazine about either bees or environmental issues.
KB: What do you believe is the key element for a healthy and strong apiary?
JV: Plenty of forage that has not been contaminated with pesticide/fungicides.
KB: What are you working on right now?
JV: I’m about to start preparing for talks at The Bee Centre (http://www.thebeecentre.org/), a new initiative by some new friends to promote bees, located in North-West England.
KB: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
JV: Prof. Tom Seeley is always an inspiration. His work with swarms and description of bait-hives has made my life so much easier!
I also have great admiration for Prof. Dave Goulson founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. I believe bumblebees and solitary bees (along with other pollinating insects) are at far greater risk than honeybees as no-one manages them.
KB: Can you share one of your favorite bee stories?
JV: Having placed bait-hives for a couple of years with no success, I was tempted not to bother putting them out after a particularly bad winter when all local beekeepers had lost their bees. Despite having convinced myself there was no chance of a swarm, I put just one bait-hive on my shed roof. A week later I was amazed to hear and then see a swarm moving in – what a fantastic experience! I promptly moved the beEs into a full-sized top-bar hive and replaced the bait-hive on the roof. Two weeks later, another prime swarm arrived, and from a different direction! Moral of the story, NEVER assume there are no bees in your neighbourhood.
KB: A piece of advice for rookie bee guardians?
JV: Listen to as many experienced beekeepers as you can find, read bee-books, then start to really learn from the bees themselves!