National Honey Week with The Photographers Table

Hello, I’m Nat from the Photographers Table. National Honey Week holds a significant place in my heart, primarily because I owe my entire existence to the tireless efforts of the dwindling bee population. Aside from needing food to survive, as a Food Photographer, my work relies purely on the bees being able to pollinate crops that I can use for my work. Without them, I would be in a bit of a pickle. Carrying on reading to find out more about honey and how you can support the bee population! It can be as simple as buying a single lavender plant for your garden!

Here’s a fun little fact for you:

Worker honey bees are always female. They do all the work, living only for six weeks before dying usually of exhaustion. They give up their entire lives to support their hives, while the male honey bees, the drones, only task is to fly about looking for Queens to mate with. Does that gender dynamic sound familiar to anyone?

National Honey Week holds a significant place in my heart, primarily because I owe my entire existence to the tireless efforts the dwindling bee population. It’s been fairly discussed in recent years (a quick google of the term ‘bee’ provides loads of information about the bee problem) so I am sure that the rest of this blog is not going to come as a surprise to many people. Aside from needing food to survive, as a food photographer, my work relies purely on the bees being able to keep pollinating crops that I can use in my life. Without them, I would be in a bit of a pickle.

As a whole we would be in a bit of a pickle without bees..

Estimations are varied, but the most cited figure suggests that humanity is approximately 4 years from extinction after a total bee population collapse. Bees are responsible for pollinating around 70 of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world, and yet we are losing them at an alarming rate. Pesticides, disease, increasing temperatures, monocultures (growing tonnes of one specific potato breed for miles and miles and killing off any other type of plant for instance) and loss of habitat to concrete, are all contributing to dwindling bee numbers. Greenpeace have suggested that we have lost 40% of our commercial bees (the ones we specifically breed for honey) since 2006, while the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has found a decline of up to 30% in wild bee populations since 2002. That’s a lot of lost bees.

It is incredibly worrying, and until we can figure out a way to manually pollinate the entire world’s food supply (including all the produce used to create our clothes and feed our livestock), unfortunately we all have to get on board and do what we can to save the humble bumble.

Here are some of my favourite bee facts:

While I don’t believe mere facts are able to save the bee, my good friend Immy adores a fact, and finds they have a way of bringing people together (her words not mine, but she is usually right about these things). So here are a few she prepared earlier:

  • It takes a honey bee their entire life to make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey
  • Bees have a ‘guard duty’ that stops wasps, rogue bees, and drunk members of the hive from entering. The latter the guards will place in some long grass to sober up before letting them re-enter.
  • Each hive has a unique odour that allows bees to recognise when they are home – in fact honey bees live their lives relying predominantly on their sense of smell (although have quite good eyesight).
  • Oh yeah, bees get drunk. And stoned. They love fermented fruit, but are rather partial to beer left out in beer gardens and won’t pass up a joint if offered. I have a great story about a beekeeper friend whose bees found his stash one night, but maybe will save that for another time.

Hilltop Honey, Cut Comb Photographed by The Photographers Table

A few months ago when we had that devastatingly hot heatwave I found an exhausted honey bee stumbling around my bedroom. Having seen the posts on the ‘gram about giving them a teaspoon of glucose to perk them up, I excitedly carried the little buzzer downstairs in my hand and made a thick syrup of sugar and room temperature water. I took it outside into the shade on a piece of plastic coated cardboard, and poured the solution on top. It instantly began slurping up the sugar water with a tiny little pink tongue, darting back and forth, and rubbing it along its little legs. It drank far more than a teaspoon full, and I had to keep going back to make more. I experimented with different solutions, and found this little bee preferred a slightly more watery consistency than the instagram posts suggested (think the icing sugar you used to put on tom and jerry fairy cakes you made with your mum as a kid).

After about an hour, the bee seemed to have had enough of me and the sugar. By this point, however, it seemed completely comfortable in my company, and even allowed me to scoop it up and move it to another part of the garden. It flew off happily, and it was quite an achievement to watch it go.

This is probably a fairly familiar story to many people who have saved a bee, but I am glad I gave it a go. I learned later that in a 2012 study, researchers found that bees are so acutely attuned to their surroundings that they are able to recognise human beings faces and are able to remember them for their 6 week life span. They are also able to use this visual memory to recall whether a location is pleasant or not, and will seek to avoid unpleasant areas- meaning that a simple act of hooking a guy up with some sweet sugar water could actually serve to boost a garden population if the bee makes it back to the hive and tells all it’s pals about the awesome experience they had. That also depends on whether or not the other bees believe it’s story too – man, I was almost dead and a giant came out of nowhere and literally teleported me to a place where it was just pure endless sugar. I am telling you man, I had a spiritual experience…

Being able to attempt to save a bee is incredibly important. Few people know that the amount of energy needed to fly and collect pollen means that honey bees are around 45 minutes away from starvation at any point. If you have a garden (patio’d or not, you can do some groovy stuff with pots), I would recommend getting a few little plants for summer. Lavender is a biggie for bees. Last year I had a pot of lavender on a low brick wall, where it had sat all summer. I had to move it one afternoon so I could stick a ladder up, and spent half an hour watching confused bees flying to the spot where the pot had been, buzz around a bit, and fly off again. I know they do a waggle dance back at the hive, and can only imagine how erratic that must have been – I mean it was there and I saw it this morning but then I went back and it wasn’t and then went back again and it was there… I literally am SO confused….

I do not hold myself as saviour of all bees, and I must admit they do not factor into my thoughts particularly often. However National Honey Week is a time to change that, and give a little bit of time to our buzzy friends. And they are, very much our friends.

If you are super interested (or even mildly interested) in helping the bee cause, here are some of my suggestions:

Read it:

Friends of the earth currently have a campaign to get people interested in the bee cause, and the best way you can do that is to get educated yourself. Raising awareness is the first step in solving a problem

Do it:

If you have a smart phone get recording the bees you see around your garden – community science projects are a brilliant way of supporting research into saving the bees and can help you learn to identify the 270 different species Great Britain have. A friend of mine even ended up finding a super rare bee species last year.

Support it:

If you can, try to support local beekeepers or hobbyists in your area by buying some honey from them. It will ensure that beekeepers can continue to look after our population and may even encourage a new generation of keepers going forward. Hilltop Honey still produce their ever popular, Welsh Blossom honey. Click here to order yours.

Buy it:

The Adopt a Bee scheme is a fantastic initiative that encourages humans to learn about the importance of bees. Complete with many delights, my favourite being a pack of wildflower seeds to encourage bees to visit. Take this simple first step to creating your very own bee friendly garden.

Read it (again): Read Bill Turnbull’s Bad Beekeeping Club just because it is fricking hilarious.

Do it, Support it, Buy it, Read it (again again): I have done quite a bit of work with Hilltop Honey, who are a great organisation and donate 5% of their profits to ensuring that our little bee friends are around for years to come. They have been a fantastic company to work with, and I would really appreciate you having a gander!