Bees love chives - the small clump in our back garden has been alive with them all weekend, despite competition from columbines, poppies and other more obviously attractive flowers in the border. The ornamental alliums have also seen lots of action, sometimes with two or three bees on each flowerhead; and, to my surprise, the unremarkable flowers on the raspberry canes.
In our garden and on the allotment, it's hard to credit that the UK bee population is in decline, but then the urban bees, it seems, have it easier than those in troubled rural areas. With a thriving variety of garden plants to feed on at this time of year, without needing to traverse vast areas of chemically treated single crops, their immune systems must be more able to cope with the new viruses and varroa mite which appear to have been encouraged by intensive beekeeping practices developed over the past few decades.
In a TV documentary programme a couple of weeks ago I was shocked to see vast pantechnicons, loaded with beehives, being transported across the United States to pollinate crops in different regions. It seems extraordinary that the different areas do not sustain their own indigenous populations of bees to carry out this essential work.
It may also be stressful for the bees to be carted about in this manner. A friend was telling me about a local apiarist who had to collect a hive of bees from some distance away and was advised to stop halfway and let them out for a break. Apparently they flew out and came back in again after about ten minutes, then settled back and were safely and happily transported to their destination!
I wonder also about the role of refined sugar in creating the problem. Richard Smith, the late biodynamic farmer from Sharpham Barton in South Devon, suggested that this particular aspect of intensive farming practice was causing problems in China a few years ago. Where farmers were taking too much honey from the hives to sell and feeding the bees manufactured sugar instead, entire communities of beehives died off within weeks. No wonder - there are all kinds of minerals and trace elements in honey which would be absent from the denatured, processed product.
It makes it all the more important, I think, that we grow as diverse and as much food and flowers as we can in our gardens and allotments in order to keep local bee populations happy and healthy. And we should support local, traditional beekeepers in their sustainable, small scale practices.