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Hear About Castlemaine Bee Sanctuary’s journey with the bees…

Hear About Castlemaine Bee Sanctuary’s journey with the bees…

Posted by Daniel on 18 September 2016

Hello. This is a synthesised voice speaking on behalf of Dani yell BeeShepherd and the Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary.

Thank you for being here and for taking an interest in our journey with the bees.

As the world wakes up to the importance of Apis Mellifera, all bees and all pollinators in general, we become more interested in their welfare and treatment. A great wave of interest seems to have risen in response to the threat that our pollinators are facing. It’s starting to become more and more obvious that the mistreatment of our environment is having serious effects and the problems we see with bees trapped in the industrial aggro-business system are a strong indicator of this.

This situation with the european honeybees as been described as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The bees are sending a strong message. The people are certainly listening, and want to take action in response to what they hear.

Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary is our way of making our world a better place, as well as our invitation for you to do the same.

I have a young daughter and all that I do, is with her, inheriting a happy and healthy world in mind. This is all a work in progress and I’m at the beginning of a long path of learning, trying ideas and deciding which way to go by following my head and heart in a balanced way.

My family, the bees and I, are based in a small country town called Casslemaine, which is in the Goldfields region of Central Victoria, Australia, about 120 kilometres northwest by road from Melbourne and roughly 40 kilometres from the major provincial centre of Bendigo.

Approximately 10,000 people live in the area and it has a rich and long history, especially with beekeeping. I am happy to be continuing this history and taking it into the next era.

We are a car-free family and very keen on basic, human powered, and public transport. We usually get around using bycicles, including when we service the bees.

Permaculture has been a massive influencing factor for us and we  try to incorporate its principles into every aspect of our lives.

This path we’ve chosen can at times feel lonely and it’s a real breath of fresh inspirational air to know there are others who may be on a similar path, and who have chosen to listen to our words, here and now.

There are lots of stories – and also aspects to these stories – that we could tell you with regard to our work with the bees. In fact there are so many things to talk about that it sometimes feels difficult to know just where to begin.

Here’s a list of dot points describing some of the main projects we are currently working on, and then following this, there will be a brief summary of each.

1. BeeShepherding
2. Adopt-a-Hive
3. The Bee Sanctuary Project
4. An Introduction To Bee-Centred Beekeeping Course
5. The Bee Sanctuary Online Community
6. The Connecting Country Nest Box Bee Removal Project

7. Swarm Prevention, Swarm Collection, Lyeve Bee Removal And Swarm Catching Services

And lastly, A Project in the making: An Educational Program Sharing Information About Pollinators

Although I am a beekeeper, or as I would prefer to be called a BeeShepherd ( and what I mean by this is a natural / bee-centred / sustainable / holistic / permaculture inspired / hyper-local guardian of the bee), all of our activities have a much bigger picture in mind than just money honey focused beekeeping. Our greater aim is to raise awareness, particularly around ecological issues. So far, we have found that European honeybees are the most effective way available for us to do this. We have found that European honeybees are a very powerful way of reaching out to the community and sparking interest, concern, discussion and – most importantly – action, around the topic of ecology.

Here in Australia, wild Apis mellifera bees are seen by many as an invasive species that must be destroyed… even many of the beekeepers themselves think this! European honeybees living in the wild are referred 2 as ferals and are often erroneously described as a different species to the bees used for honey production and pollination. Wild bees living outside of this aggro-business system have, what Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary considers to be, an unfair and inaccurate reputation for exhibiting traits that are not appealing to beekeepers. It is generally regarded that these bees are aggressive, non-productive, disease-ridden and likely to swarm. These alleged characteristics of the wild European honeybees mean that from a commercial beekeeping perspective, these bees are worthless. As a result, wild European honeybees are almost never encouraged and often destroyed.

I have been an avid bee lover all of my life and the idea that these fascinating and valuable creatures were being poisoned was absolutely abhorrent to me.  When I found out about this happening I started doing all I could to prevent it. I immediately began providing homes for wild European honeybees and encouraged everyone I knew to do the same. Along side saving and homing European honeybees, we started furiously researching everything we could find out about the most sustainable permaculture friendly ways to become guardians of these bees.

This is now our fourth season of collecting and catching wild swarms and removing unwanted wild colonies of European honeybees and our experience certainly does not match the reputation that we keep hearing about the bees. In our opinion and experience, Apis mellifera are NEVER aggressive, only defensive. It is said that the wild bees are more defensive, but it is our understanding that defensiveness is DIRECTLY linked to honey productivity, so to say that the bees are both aggressive and non-productive makes no sense at all. We’ve never seen a disease in any of the approximately 40 wild colonies we’ve had the honour of working with so far. And as for the wild bees being likely to swarm… well, we are not experts in the matter, but to consider the natural reproductive method of any L I’ve stock animal faulty, seems like a ridiculous folly. The main problem with bees seems to be the same as as with all aspects of nature that are out of balance, and that reason is, over intervention, and mismanagement, by people.

Casslmaine, the town we live in, is relatively small. There are about 10,000 people that live in and around Casslemaine, and it is, in many ways, a close-knit community. Casslemaine could also be described as a fairly progressive community. David Holmgren, co-founder of the Permaculture movement is based close by in Hepburn Springs. David and his permaculture practices seem to have a big influence on the spirit of this land, as well as the people living on it. The Casslemaine community has a distinct people care, earth care and fair share feeling about it. When word got out that we would catch and responsibly re-home swarms, we found it challenging to keep up with the number of calls we received reporting swarms and requesting our assistance.

1. BeeShepherding

It was around this time that the term BeeShepherd arose. Perhaps you are familiar with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society? They are a marine conservation group that uses direct action to protect marine wildlife. We love their concept and consider it, in many ways, very similar to our own. We’d like to think we are the bee’s guardians rather than keepers, and the term BeeShepherd seems to reflect this. So I began using BeeShepherd as the name of my online presence, but soon it also became the name that people started calling me in real life too. So I embraced it and I have been known as Danni yell BeeShepherd ever since.

2. Adopt-a-Hive

Not long after the people of the town we live in caught wind of the fact that we were providing safe homes for bees who were otherwise being destroyed, we found that we had more colonies than could be kept on one property. There are regulations in this area dictating the number of colonies allowed according to the size of the property, and ours is small. If we wanted to stay in accordance with the regulations we had no choice but to find other homes for the bees, so, we started giving them away. It didn’t take us long to realise however, that the people we gave the bees to, often had very different philosophies to our own in terms of how to manage the bees… some of the people were keeping the bees purely as a means of production and had no real interest in forming a relationship with the bees other than to exploit them. Others were managing the bees  in ways that we do not consider best practice and we found it difficult to feel okay about this.

So we started thinking of better approaches. We soon worked out that by finding homes for the bees on other people’s properties, but continuing to manage the bees ourselves, we would not be giving away  so called ownership. Instead we could remain the guardians of these bees and ensure they were managed in a way that we felt comfortable with. And so the Adopt-a-Hive program began.

Under Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Hive program, we place existing colonies of European honeybees on other people’s properties throughout the town of Casslemaine, Central Victoria, Australia. We also cover thee technically separate towns of Chew ton and Campbell’s Creek. We fully manage all aspects of those hives so the host doesn’t need to know anything about how to manage them. But, on the other hand, if these hosts are interested in becoming a bee guardian themselves, Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Hive is an excellent way to learn first hand what is involved.

3. The Bee Sanctuary Project

The Adopt-a-Hive program allows the bees to live in homes that’re spread out amongst our community and remain largely undisturbed by being moved around. The Adopt-a-Hive program has also created a network of interested, interesting and concerned people which gave rise to The Bee Sanctuary Project.
The Bee Sanctuary Project is about everyone playing a role in the survival of our pollinating insects and our ecosystem as a whole.

Our aim is to find solutions through conversation and grass roots local action, to promote the reduction of pesticide, herbicide and fungicide use and change over to non-harmful alternatives particularly in our public spaces but also in private gardens and properties as soon as possible.

4.  An Introduction To Bee-Centred Beekeeping Course

Our family is car-free and we try to travel everywhere either on public transport or preferably using basic human powered transport such as walking and cycling. When we deliver a colony of honeybees to a new host we use human powered transport to do it. With this in mind we almost always limit participation in the Adopt-a-Hive program to those within a comfortable cycling range of our base in Casslemaine. Interestingly, this covers just about the same area that the bees are willing to fly. However, we had many requests from people interested in learning about our work with the bees who lived beyond that range, so we decided to offer workshops to talk about the things we do with the bees.

The first workshops were offered from our home in our living room, garden and shed. They soon evolved into the popular Introduction To Bee-Centred (Natural) Beekeeping courses that we offer on a regular and volunteer basis through our local registered training provider, Casslemaine Continuing Education.

Using a combination of different delivery methods, participants in our course are presented with everything they need to begin their journey with these fascinating creatures, and if they want to, become a registered beekeeper themselves.

We will discuss exactly what Bee-Centred Beekeeping is, and how it differs from the conventional/commercial style. We will show you how to catch and hive a swarm of bees (which means free bees!) and the best ways, from the bee’s perspective, of how to look after them throughout the year ensuring their vibrancy and health.

We will talk about the importance of natural comb and how to harvest pure natural raw honey from your own garden without the need for expensive equipment. Learners will have an opportunity to look at, in real life, the main three different styles of hives used in bee-centred beekeeping (Natural-Cell Langstroth, Warray, and Kenyan) so you can easily decide which suits you best. There will be opportunities outside of the classroom to look within a working hive and handle the bees. We usually process honey from the comb, if available, and learners usually get to take a jar home with them. We will discuss simple methods of making mead, also called honey wine, and learners may get an opportunity, if available, to sample some mead, as well as a wide selection of other hyper-local honeys, from our hives around Casslemaine.

We always have at least one guest speaker talk to us about their way of beekeeping either in person or using video conference technology.

Ongoing support is crucial in ensuring happy success as a new beekeeper and we do all we can to provide it.

As part of the investment involved in this course, we include, what is in our opinion, the most comprehensive, how-to, bee-centred beekeeping guide book. This book is yours to keep and take home with you as a clear written guide to usher you through your beekeeping journey.

Ongoing on-line support will be made available directly from me, Danni yell BeeShepherd. Private one on one mentoring and consultancy can also be arranged.

Support will also be made available via an invitation to join The Bee Sanctuary internet group. Please continue listening for more information regarding this online group.

If the property where your colony will be located is situated within a comfortable cycling range of our home base, Castlemaine Bee Sacntuary’s Adopt-a-Hive program, in conjunction with this course, is by far the best way to develop a happy relationship with the bees.

This course is available at a relatively low cost with an extremely affordable concession rate, offered to anyone, that needs it.

You will find more information and be able to register for this course by google searching Casslemaine Continuing Education and looking at their sustainable living courses section.

5. The Bee Sanctuary Online Community

One aspect of the Introduction To Bee-Centred Beekeeping classes,which seems very different to other classes being offered locally – apart from the apee-centric approach – is that we feature, at least one guest speaker. These speakers talk to the class either lyeve  in person or live via video conferencing, to discuss their own experiences, with the bees, including a question and answer session. We find this adds a real level of richness for the learners and is a valuable insight, into how bees are being managed in other places around the world. We find the use of communication technology very helpful in sharing knowledge about bees, but also in creating networks that share information with one another. The bee-centred beekeeping courses have also had the welcomed the side effect of sparking an international network of apee centric beekeepers who share their opinions and experiences in an online community group called The Bee Sanctuary.

The Bee Sanctuary Online Community is a friendly, interactive sanctuary for like minded bee guardians who have the bees welfare and best interests at the core of all that they do. Our members are extremely supportive, and helpful and the utmost courtesy and respect is strongly encouraged in all communications taking place in this group.

6. The Connecting Country Nest Box Bee Re home ing Project

In the Central Victorian region of Australia, a not-for-profit community-based organisation called Connecting Country is dedicated to enhancing and restoring biodiversity. They have installed over 450 nest boxes on public and private land. These nest boxes are designed specifically for use by threatened species such as the Brush-tailed Phasco gale. The nest boxes also provide homes for other native animals such as the Sugar Glider.

But, these nest boxes are also inviting homes for wild European honeybees,which have taken up residence, in quite a few of them. Unfortunately, the boxes can’t house both bees and the other animals; the boxes are designed specifically for the phasco gales and sugar gliders – so the bees must be removed.

In the past, bees removed from the nest boxes have been, destroyed. When we found out about what was happening, we approached Connecting Country and suggested that instead, Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary remove these bees, and re-home them in responsibly managed hives as part of our Adopt-a-Hive program. It took a bit of negotiation including assurances that Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary would do all it could to avoid the bees under its stewardship, from swarming back out into the wild. We were eventually able find an agreement that allowed all the people involved to be happy. And so that’s what we’re doing now. We are about halfway through the process of moving bees in the nest boxes to an apiary in Casslemaine.

If you would like to find out more about this project, or contribute towards purchasing homes for these bees, please google search “Save 15 Honeybee Colonies” and find the chuffed dot org crowdfunding campaign.

7. Swarm Prevention, Swarm Collection, L’eye’ve Bee Removal And Swarm Trapping Services

As part of our commitment to relieving pressure on native animals, Castlemaine Bee Sanctuary does all it can, to ensure that the European honeybees under our management are not casting swarms back out into the wild. In this way, the bees under the stewardship of Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary are prevented from taking over more tree hollows and other homes of native animals.

Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary is happy to collect swarms of bees from the immediate Casslemaine area and would also like to hear about swarms all across Australia. If the swarm is outside of our collection area, we will do our best to circulate details throughout our network of bee guardians to find someone close by, who will rescue the swarm of bees.

Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary is happy to discuss lyeve humane bee removal of wild European honeybee established colonies from places they are not wanted. We carefully remove the bees and re-home them in responsibly managed hives. We never use poisons or pesticides.

In a further attempt to limit the number of swarms being cast into the wild, Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary has also installed over 20 swarm catch boxes throughout the towns of Casslemaine, Chew ton and Campbell’s Creek. These are empty boxes with a pheromone inside that attracts swarms of European honeybees. The hope is that these swarms of bees will take up residence inside the swarm catch box instead of a tree hollow or other inconvenient cavity such as a chimney, wall, or compost bin. The swarm is then re-homed in a responsibly managed hive and integrated into Casslemaine Bee Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Hive program.

And finally, A Project in the making: An Educational Program Sharing Information About Pollinaters and Plants That Benefit Them

We are being contacted regularly, particularly by those educating the next generation, with requests for presentations and learning workshops. This is something we’d love to do,  but at this time we feel it might be stretching our limits of capacity. However, we’d love to hear from anyone that thinks they might be able to help us push this incredibly worthwhile aspect of the whole project forward.

I think that’s enough about us, at least, for now.

In closing we’d like to thank you all reading or listening to this, for giving us this opportunity to consolidate our thoughts, and form a concise description of so many of our wonderful activities in one place in this way. It’s been a very helpful exercise for us, so thank you.

And now, it’s time to hear, from you. We would love to hear your thoughts, around how you think, we might be able to contribute to your passions; we would also love to hear how you think you might contribute towards ours.

Please feel free to contact us through our website which is www dot beesanctuary dot com dot a u

We hope you have been moved and inspired in some way by our words and that we have the pleasure, of hearing from you soon.

Love and truth,Danni L, BeeShepherd