'I am captivated by bees. I love bees. Bees are fascinating and working with a beehive is an amazing opportunity. You can see the girls coming and going [from the hive] with all this different coloured pollen on their legs, and [you] wonder where they've been. And what started the journey for me really is that bees are in big trouble. All around the world everybody knows about it and [people] are doing things about it. Obama just gave a whole lot of money to looking after bees in America, 20 million I think, to doing something about and [yet] in Australia people aren't really aware of it, or are only just beginning to be aware of it now...'
In the introduction to his book, Backyard Bees - A guide for the beginner beekeeper, Doug Purdie explains that he 'never set out to be a beekeeper'... He says 'the bees found me and my life has been different ever since'. With Italian origins on one side of his family, and a grandmother and aunts who were largely self sufficient, Purdie says he has always had a love of food. He mentions that he had been selling honey on behalf of his local community association at a farmer's market, but had no real interest in keeping bees himself.
Then in 2009, he was reading a book about food trends and it was then that he learned about clandestine rooftop beekeeping in New York and the issues that much of the world's bees are facing due to widespread diseases. The next several books he read were on beekeeping and his first hive followed. It was a gift from his father-in-law and 'a baptism of fire' he says, as it was a 'mostly badly behaved hive with very grumpy bees'!
Joining his local Amateur Beekeepers' Association ignited Purdie's interest further, as he discovered a collective of 'mostly older, mainly male members, presided over by a man with a gavel who was hard of hearing'. It was apparent to him that his beekeeping colleagues had a vast amount of knowledge and experience that needed to be saved and passed on to younger generations.
Five years later, Purdie is a self-described 'beevangelist', managing more than 70 beehives on city rooftops, balconies, backyards and community gardens. He and his partner, Vicky, formed The Urban Beehive, a business dedicated to bringing beehives to urban areas. For this bee fanatic, one of the 'most unbelievable things' he has discovered along his journey is that 'we' (people) are so disconnected from food. 'Many people don't realise that bees pollinate our food and that without them we have a major problem... and a very boring diet of grain.'
Regular readers of this little blog will be aware that I, too, am fascinated by bees. I love the sound of them buzzing around my pots and my garden. I love to spend time watching them and photographing them. I'm very well aware of the difference their presence makes to the harvest reaped from my kitchen garden and, if possible, would very much like to keep a hive or two in my little yard. So, when Doug Purdie's book arrived on my doorstep I was curious and keen to study it from cover to cover.
Across the 100 pages of this book, the beevangelist author answers questions such as 'Why keep bees?' as well as 'Which bees are for you?'. He covers stings and allergies and then launches into 'How to start', with the advice that almost anybody can keep bees. Further chapters cover 'The Life of Bees' including information about workers, drones and the queen. A key piece of advice is 'Where to put your hives' and this is important, as there are guidelines that must be considered before a site is chosen for the hive/s. I read this with particular interest, as I'm certain that I won't be able to keep hives anywhere on my current block, unfortunately. A beekeeper friend has confirmed this for me.
Of course you'll also need beekeeping equipment and will need to know about beekeeping across the four seasons. There's a chapter dedicated to beehive management, and another on bee health and diseases. Purdie also introduces readers to several beekeepers, before taking us to the sweet part. That is, the honey, honey recipes and ideas for using beeswax.
Among the recipes are toasted honey granola; poached rhubarb, ricotta and honeycomb; pancakes with honey butter (pictured below); cornflake crackles; honey Anzac biscuits; French honey loaf; bees knees cocktail; honey lemon iced tea; cappings and cheese; honey mustard and honey salad dressing; and more.
If you love honey, and are curious about the little creatures pollinating the flowers and vegetables in your neighbourhood, buy yourself a copy of this bee-licious little book!
Backyard bees - A guide for the beginner beekeeper by Doug Purdie $35.00. Thank you kindly to Doug Purdie and the publicity team at Murdoch Books for giving the opportunity to review and showcase this informative title.
Tell me dear readers, do you love bees and honey? Have you ever thought of keeping bees in your back yard? Or perhaps you already do? Please share your experiences.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.