Bees at Babylonstoren

My time with these beautiful insects was not long enough, and after five days with them I spent a quiet few moments alone saying farewell.

As an integral part of both the gardens and restaurant at the Western Cape hotel, the bees are housed in a walled bee garden and also in an apiary tucked away amongst the orchards and fynbos covered mountainsides.

I was there to work with head gardener Liesl and her gardening team, running workshops on bee friendly Beekeeping and educating hotel guests & day visitors about the life cycle of the honeybee, raise awareness about how and why they’re under threat.

The highlight of each workshop was the honey tasting! I was delighted when, following the bee awareness workshops, many had now fully appreciated the true value of honey and were then feeling a little guilty tasting the selection of 10 South African honeys I had sourced.

I love American bee guardian Jacqueline Freeman’s description of honey being a taste map of the area the Bees making each honey live in. We had honey from Peels ( the oldest honey farmers in South Africa) and The Naked Nosi, a small passionate Beekeeping family from Pretoria.

Babylonstoren also have honey from the various blossoms on the farm including the orange blossom which was just bursting into flower and scent during my visit.

When on the honey sensory analysis course in Bologna last year, one of the descriptives for orange blossom honey was that it tasted exactly like an orchard full of blossom smelt. That was an experience I’d not had, that was until Babylonstoren!

We had such exciting flavours, few of which I’d previously experienced, from sunflower & bean blossom to macadamia and the overall favourite, fynbos. I found it very interesting that the local floral source produced the honey that each group favoured, stirring up memories of ‘grandpa’s honey from his garden hive’, or walks amongst the fynbos covered mountains and bush so familiar in the Cape region.

We also spent time in the walled garden apiary in small groups of 6, not opening up the hives, disturbing their productivity and peace. Instead we observed.

Before entering the apiary we all remembered that we were entering ‘the Bee world’, so it was crucial that we weren’t checking our phones, chatting to each other, or standing in the way of any flight paths.

Each group stood in the centre of the apiary, watching each hive, one by one, seeing the Bees enter and leave carrying pollen in and easily taking off again after unloading the last shipment of brightly coloured floral pollens.

The wild basil around the apiary was in full bloom and full buzz, grateful at not having to travel far for this nectar rich forage, the Bees were all around us, happy that we were aware of them and mindful of not interrupting their busy schedule.

Propolis at the hive entrance

I’d observed earlier the extensive propolised entrances the Bees had made, and so crouching down to get a clearer view, we all found a hive we could get closer to and watch how the Bees used their own smaller entrances. I’d only seen such extensive propolis production in Oman, also during their winter. Similar to South Africa, the winter months rarely get cold enough to completely stop the bees from flying, but maybe the lower temperatures ( 18-25 degrees centigrade) demanded more draught exclusion, or was it protection from predators? Large wasps perhaps, or hornets?

Like my own apiary, Liesl had a collection of various hives to house the Bees, from rustic horizontal, and vertical log hives, Langstroff boxes, ornamental Cape style farm houses and even the controversial Flowhives.

Bees had been brought in as swarms or ‘nuc’s from a local bee farmer, which always has risks of disease or Bees not accustomed to their new new climate or location. There are enough healthy colonies now to expand into the new delivery of Golden hives from English maker Matt Somerville.

Matt also makes Freedom hives and Warre hives and I smiled thinking how he would have been astonished at how these hives were happily balanced on Old logs, certainly not balanced using spirit levels!

Due to the lower temperatures no hives were opened up during my visit so I couldn’t say how the comb was affected by hanging at various angles.

Liesl takes small quantities of honey from the Bees for the hotel guests, a capped honey comb being displayed at breakfast for guests to cut off a portion or scoop up the liquid honey captured below in a large dish.

By taking one frame at a time not only is the honey fresh and raw, but it’s the least upsetting for the Bees, enabling them to replenish their stores without Liesl having to resort to feeding her Bees sugar which is no where near as beneficial for their health and immunity as their mineral and vitamin rich honey.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Bees, their carers, and all the visitors so eager to learn about how they can help protect this sadly endangered species.

Here are the three main ways to help them:

  1. Plant bee friendly native plants. ( this means pesticide and gm free seeds and plants)
  2. Plant in large groups of 5 or more to attract Bees
  3. Buy organic food to reduce the demand for chemically grown crops

In addition, if you choose to buy honey, source local small honey farmers who don’t treat their Bees with chemicals or feed them sugar.

Babylonstoren is a haven for Bees and visitors and I highly recommend a visit or better still an overnight stay! A day visit costs only R10 (50pence) and delicious full meals at the Bakery or restaurant around R350 (£20)

Babylonstoren also has a garden lovers app called ‘Candide‘ where posts about gardens, Bees and plants from South Africa and the UK are shared.

You can find me on Candide where I share my bee and plant images.

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