Our latest At the Bar speaker (a regular event in our Amsterdam Studio where we invite people from a variety of creative and inspiring backgrounds to share their stories with us) created a real buzz in the Studio! Geert van Kerckhove is a natural beekeeper, sustainability advocate, educator and director of WellBeeing, a non-profit organisation that looks to help restore the health and vitality of the honeybee.
Geert introduced a fascinated audience to the world of biodynamic beekeeping; an approach he champions, that’s based on respecting the natural lifestyles of bees and the integrity of the colony, rather than prioritising the production and harvesting of honey.
We were shown how industrial agricultural practices have put bees in high demand, with truck-loads of bees being transported across the United States to pollinate seasonal crops, such as almonds and pears. Whilst farmers profit, these practices mean that the bees themselves are exposed to strong pesticides and infections whilst their natural honey-making cycle is reduced from one year to just a few weeks, month after month after month.
It’s no wonder then, Geert told us, that reports of “colony collapse” (a phenomenon that occurs when a hive of bees either dies or disappears) are widely increasing across North America and Europe. And without bees to pollinate crops, our markets and supermarket shelves will start to look pretty empty: no strawberries, avocados, almonds, apples, pears, melons, cucumbers, pumpkins… the list goes on and on.
In light of this, Geert is on a mission to let bees develop in accordance with their true nature: letting them collect nectar from a diverse source of flowers to make their honey, letting them feed off the honey during the winter months (rather than stealing it to eat and replacing it with nutrient-poor sugar syrup), allowing them to ‘swarm’ when they want to (the natural way that a new colony is formed) and not interfering with the Queens or killing off male bees (practices often employed by commercial bee keepers).
By promoting a more empathetic approach to apiculture Geert hopes that global bee health can be restored. However, with current beekeeping practices firmly entrenched with industrial and hobby beekeepers alike, this is no easy task. Geert estimates that in Amsterdam alone, 95% of beekeeping uses methods that damage bee health.
Luckily, all is not lost! Geert was on hand to offer practical advice on how we can do our bit – as brands, companies and individuals – to improve bee well being:
The easiest (and most beneficial) thing we can do for the bees is to plant flowers and trees to supply them with a diverse selection of blooms throughout the year. From mid-July to the beginning of September there currently isn’t enough healthy pollen and nectar for our bees to collect, whilst early spring and late autumn are also dry periods. You can find a list of bee-friendly plants and trees that you might want to plant in your garden here.
How would you like it if you spent the year filling your store-cupboard with a delicious smorgasbord of organic food, only for all of it to be stolen and replaced with a three month supply of Lucozade energy tablets? Yeah, bees don’t like it either.
Look for brands that protect bees. Buying organic is a good step (less pesticides = happier bees), but when it comes to honey it only refers to the plants the bees feed from, and not to how the bees are raised. Geert recommends looking for products with the ‘Demeter’ biodynamic certification.
Of course, it’s delicious, but sometimes you might as well leave the honey for the bees themselves. For instance, the heat of boiling water breaks down the proteins in honey, taking away all its nutrient value. So, next time you want to sweeten your tea, try agave or maple syrup.
With the biodynamic beekeeping movement gaining momentum, you’ll probably be able to find somewhere local where you can learn how it’s done (some of the team are students on Geert’s course). Then all you need is a flat space (roof, balcony, garden) for your hive. And don’t worry, the bees are either busy inside or off hunting for some sweet, sweet nectar; they’re far too busy to sting you.
No space to have your own bees? WellBeeing offer you the chance to adopt you own bee(s). They look after them, you pay for the upkeep. Starting at just €0.15 for one bee, €20 for a patch of bee-friendly flowers or €70 for a bee-hotel, that’s basically your Christmas presents sorted.
No space to have your own bees? There are still lots of opportunities to volunteer with Geert and other organisations to help city hives to thrive.
With the latest scientific literature supporting the methods that Geert and his colleagues promote, the drive to shift towards the biodynamic approach is growing. Help the trend by letting people know about the issues and what they can do.
There are also plenty of opportunities for companies and brands to get involved – find out more about how your company can adopt an entire colony of bees here.
Special thanks as always to Richard for the amazing photos, plus Richard/Gali for the lead image.