The Good Bee – A Celebration of Bees and How To Save Them by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum (Michael O’Mara Books)
The remarkably loud buzzing of a bumble bee in early spring, as it somehow* flies from place to place like a noisy levitating pompom is one of the loveliest sounds, a sign we really have made it through the winter again, and while it may still be pretty cold, our bees will be back to buzz us through the hopefully sun drenched summer to come. At least, we hope they will…but we all know our bees are in trouble. This threat of extinction – to so many species – can feel overwhelming, I think we sometimes feel any changes we make may mean nothing, but this beautiful little book should go some way towards helping us to help the bees – and we need to, because we cannot live without them.
In 2006 Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum started to keep bees in their urban back garden, they say; “all we knew back then was that they needed saving and made honey”. Alison and Brian quickly found out there is a lot more to bees than that! Taking us with them on the bee-learning they’ve amassed “The Good Bee” is an excellent place to start if you know absolutely nothing about bees, or even if you know a little bit (that’s me!) and would like to know where to go next in your bee-journey. It’s very enjoyable journey – a waggledance of words, showing us the ways of these amazing creatures, and how we can help them in their hour of need.
The Good Bee is split into four sections and the amount of information in this book is remarkable given how short it is; this is no huge reference book, it is what it says on the beautiful blue and gold hive patterned cover “a Celebration”. It’s also not a book about beekeeping – honey bees and honey gathering account for a very small part of it – the rest is about the absolutely fascinating, sometimes hidden, world of some of the 25,000 species of wild bees. Solitary bees, bees living in small ‘villages’, bumble bees, carder bees, carpenter bees. Huge bees (the 20mm long Himalayan giant honeybee) and bees so tiny they’re usually mistaken for flies. There are some dystopian sci-fi style scenarios recounted which I’d never have related to bee colonies, and did you know you can use bees as very effective elephant fences?
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout by James Nunn – I loved the little bees buzzing through the pages as much as the scientifically informative drawings of bee anatomy and nectar sources. There text is interspersed with boxes containing fascinating facts – such as the story of the blue honey made by bees foraging from the local M&Ms factory (reminding me of Nancy Kerr’s song “Dark Honey” inspired by urban bees foraging from cola cans!) as well as honey based recipes and plans for bee hotels.
You will find as much bee biology and ecology as you need in here to gain a good understanding of their lives; how they have coexisted for millennia quite happily with humans, providing us not only with their honey and wax but being responsible for the pollination of the majority of our food crops. A coexistence which was first threatened by mass use of pesticides and monoculture in the early 20th Century, and which continues – there are some terrifying statistics in the “Threats to Bees ” chapter, not least that 24% (so a quarter) of the 68 European bumble bee species are threatened with extinction; it makes you stop and think.
The book concludes with “Bees and How We Can Can Help Them”. In our gardens we can plant year round shrubs and trees – many bees forage on trees, I was interested to note – as well as flowers. I’m very happy to find out bees like ‘simple’ flowers as much as I do – i.e. those with a daisy-like face, like child’s drawing for a flower! I’ve also been informed of a bee friendly nursery literally down the road from me in – Rosybee Nurseries (I shall make sure I’m at an open day soon). We can provide bee hotels and not be quite so tidy – I’m one of the least tidy gardeners you’ve ever met – in our gardens, let some logs lie about, create holes for bee nests, do less mowing. Of course it helps that we as individuals can take action, but the real change needs to come around the whole business of agriculture; less pesticide, less monoculture, more flowers and hedgerows, and we as consumers paying a little more for our food.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in bees or ecology generally. It’s a quick and enjoyable read which will spur you on to further research if you’re so inclined. If this is the only bee-book you read you’ll know what you can do to help the bees survive now, which will in turn allow them to continue helping us humans survive as they always have – a long term relationship which is surely worth fighting for.
*See page 27!
About the authors:
Alison Benjamin is the co-founder of Urban Bees. She is a Guardian journalist and co-author of Keeping Bees and Making Honey, A world without Bees and Bees in the City; an urban beekeepers’ handbook. In her spare time, she assists Brian in a voluntary capacity by writing blogs, giving talks and developing partnerships to improve forage and habitat for bees and pollinators in towns and cities. She tweets @alisonurbanbees
Brian McCallum runs Urban Bees. He is a qualified teacher and works part-time as a seasonal bee inspector for the government. He is also a member of the Bee Farmer’s Association and the co-author of three books on bees, Keeping Bees and Making Honey, and A World without Bees and Bees in the City; an urban beekeepers’ handbook.
Brian provides tailored beekeeping training for a number of corporate clients and other organisations. He educates children, young people and adults about bees, writes blogs and tweets @Beesinthecity. He’s part of a team that’s designed a bee trail app to count bees, and raise awareness about bees and forage in King’s Cross.
Thanks to Bethany Carter at Michael O’Mara books for the review copy of the book (and the flowering herb seeds which accompanied it, all now sown in my garden).
Why not go and see what my fellow blog tourers thought of this book? Here they all are: