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Bee and Pollination Festival Was Buzzing

Standing in the marquee at the Bee and Pollination Festival felt as close to being in a hive as one could imagine as it was absolutely buzzing with activity! As I weaved my way between the stalls I caught little pieces of conversations going on –“...beekeeping is not easy...first thing you need to do is take a course...”, “...which shutter speed should you use if you’re trying to get the wings of a bee in flight...” and “...have you heard of colony collapse disorder...” . My 5-year old was busy making a giant paper bee, while my husband spoke to the folks at the allotment display and I was admittedly taste testing some of the amazing local varieties of honey. There was something for everyone.

The University of Bristol Botanic Garden hosted the 4th annual Bee and Pollination Festival on the 7th and 8th of September, and as usual, people came out by the hundreds to celebrate bees and other pollinators that perform an essential ecosystem service. We do love our bees!

Nawbash helps a young bee enthusiast spot the queen.

Becoming a beekeeper

I happened to be looking at the display frame set up by the Bristol Beekeepers Association when a gentleman sidled up to Sue Jones, one of the beekeepers on hand to chat with the public, to ask about how one gets into beekeeping.

Sue quickly lays it on the line for him by saying “beekeeping is not easy”, but she quickly adds that some courses and hands-on experience are the first steps one needs to take to get into beekeeping. She’s not trying to discourage anyone from beekeeping, she, like anyone who has kept bees, knows that it is not something you enter into lightly.

Morgan (left) and Zippy (right) making a giant paper bee.
Nawbash Mohammed is another beekeeper on hand and so I begin to speak with her about being a beekeeper. The Bristol Beekeepers Association runs beginner beekeeping courses during the winter to cover the theory about beekeeping. The courses run over three Saturdays. Then, over the spring and summer, the Association offers practical education to cover all the hands-on aspects of beekeeping from opening a hive to handling the frames.

Nawbash has been a beekeeper since 1997, first in Iraq and then when she moved to Bristol in 2011. I ask her about beekeeping in Iraq and how it differs from keeping bees here in the UK. “The principles are all the same,” she says, “but it’s just very different weather and the honey has a very different taste”.  Nawbash describes for me the extremely unique taste of a premium honey in Iraq, made from the nectar collected from mountain flowers. I have to admit to her that this serene image of bees moving from flower to flower in mountain meadows is not the image that comes to mind when I think of Iraq – but I suppose it is the evening news that I have to thank for that. She admits there were additional challenges associated with being in a country fraught with war and political strife, but for the most part the challenges were the same facing beekeepers around the world – disease, mite infestation and colony collapse disorder.
Some of the honey on display and for sale at the festival.

Feeling thoroughly enlightened, I head over to buy a jar of Henleaze honey as I live in the neighbouring community – can’t get more local than that! “That’s my honey!” Nawbash laughs as she sees the jar I pick! Local, and I've met the beekeeper...brilliant!

The full experience

After speaking with Nawbash, I found my son and husband floating about the delicious cakes on display at the Bramble Farm table. Bramble Farm is a small landshare farm in Bristol. They keep sheep, pigs and turkeys and grow lots of veg, most of which goes to support the families that share in the upkeep in the farm, but any extra is sold at events such as this.

At the foot of the table lies a basket of some of the largest courgettes I’ve ever seen! However, it is some decadent chocolate cake that has caught the attention of my family! A little hint of fresh mint in the chocolate – delicious!
The apple press that kids took turns operating.

I stop briefly to look at the schedule of activities for the day as I don’t want to miss the demonstration hive talk. In doing so, I start to chat to a woman who is one of nearly one hundred volunteers that are there helping make the weekend’s events run smoothly. Jen Ellington is a committee member of Friends of the Garden as well as one of the Welcome Lodge Volunteers. She’s also opening up her garden next month as part of the Friends’ Open Gardens Programme - each year the Friends open their gardens, large or small, to raise funds for the Botanic Garden. Last year, Jen’s Gardyn raised over £400. Not bad considering her garden is only 15’ x 31’! However, don’t judge the garden by its size as it sounds as though there is plenty to see in this space. “We can’t go out anymore,” said Jen, “so we’re going up – I’m claiming my airspace!”  Within two minutes of listening to Jen’s description of her little garden haven, I'm hooked - so stay tuned to hear more as I will definitely be attending the open garden! The tour is Sunday, 6th October from 2-5pm and you don't have to be a Friend of the Garden to attend. The address is 4 Wroxham Drive, Little Stoke.
People gather around the demonstration hive.

Next we join the crowd outside the tent that is watching some children work a small apple press to make fresh apple juice. My son obviously has to have a go...after all, we need to wash down the chocolate cake!

We quickly make our way over to the display hive where the beekeeper is taking apart the hive to show the crowd the combs and what it’s like to work a hive.  As the smoke from his smoker rises up through the crowd, the beekeeper explains that “everything runs on pheromones in the hive. As soon as I open the hive, alarm pheromones will be released saying there’s an intruder. The smoke masks those pheromones. So you don’t ever let your smoker go out” - sage advice to any budding beekeepers in the audience.

Always something new to see

Ethel standing proud in a temporary position for the festival.
Of course, we can’t leave without touring the rest of the garden and I must say that the warm days of summer have made things all rather lush.  As my son stares into the pond outside, looking at what seems to be hundreds of dragonfly larvae, I admire the grape vines laden with fruit.

I also notice that Ethel, the giant willow moa bird sculpture, is finished and is on display!

There is a potted orchard, which is new – apples, blueberries, pears, figs, olives, plums and other edible delights line one of the pathways – another reminder of why we should celebrate pollinators!

Down near the glasshouses, Writhlington School has an extraordinary orchid display and inside the glasshouses the lotus plants are in bloom.

A pollinator at work in the garden.

I've said it before, but there really is always something new to see in the garden with every season. This weekend marked my second Bee and Pollination Festival and the anniversary of this blog. Having written the blog for the Garden for a year now, I also get to have some insight into some of the plans for the garden and new displays that are on the horizon. I have to say that I have been impressed to no end at how quickly things seem to turn from idea to reality in this garden. Of course, the staff and volunteers that are there every day doing the grunt work behind it all, may feel differently, but for someone who is there every few weeks, things seem to move at an incredible pace. It’s been a wonderful year and I look forward to sharing more about the people, plants, events and research that goes on in this beautiful garden.


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