Thanks to Kate Ringrose’s endeavours a few of us were able to spend an hour or two at our community garden with Michael Leung from HK Honey, an organisation which we previously knew nothing about. We were interested to know if we had a suitable site for a beehive, how much it would cost, how difficult it is to look after bees and how much support HK Honey could give us. We had an eventful start to the afternoon because no sooner had Michael arrived when a neighbouring farmer decided to light a fire, despite the fact that we’ve had a very prolonged dry spell resulting in the grass being bone dry, and we had a nice stiff breeze blowing. Doh! We were soon rushing over with our watering cans to help put out the flames, and thanks to the hose pipes that Mabel uses on her farm we were able to get it under control before the fire engine toddled into view.
Back at the garden we sat in the shade of some trees and listened to Michael telling us about how a hive works and what the dangers might be. It seems there has not been much of a problem here with colony collapse as there has been in the West, probably because Chinese beekeepers do not use chemicals to the extent that Western, especially US beekeepers do. That in itself is astonishing considering the profligate use of chemicals used by farmers over here. Furthermore, the Chinese bees seem to be more resilient than the other type of bee used by some beekeepers here, namely the Italian bee. Michael prefers Chinese bees because he wants to use native species which are adapted to the environment rather than using introduced species – at least, that was my interpretation of what he said. They produce slightly less honey and are slightly more aggressive, but the dreaded aggressiveness of bees seems to have been overstated. We were particularly impressed to learn that Michael never uses any protection when he’s handling bees or extracting the honey, partly because this makes him much more careful and repectful of the bees, but also because he wants to establish a kind of natural closeness to them rather than bundling himself up in protective clothing. He was very positive about our site, and said that we should be able to extract honey throughout the year, perhaps every week, as there is no real winter in HK. The hive plus the bees and an introductory session to familiarise ourselves with the bees and how to handle them would cost $3500 plus travelling expenses.
I think it’s fair to say that we were all really excited at the prospect of getting a hive set up, although this will take some time as HK Honey is a very small company and they’re getting a lot of interest from a lot of people. Another thing that was particularly appealing was the desire to stay small rather than try to expand their enterprise into a big money-spinner. We seem to have come across an organisation that has a heart and a soul. I passed on a couple of my Permaculture magazines to Michael as they dealt with making your own beehives, and I think what they are doing is every inch a permaculture undertaking although they don’t refer to themselves as that. Perhaps it would be closer to say that there was a feeling of zen about it all, and I think you might get a feel of that yourself if you watch this delightful video about HK Honey:
Shortly after Michael left, it was extraordinary to then see a local beekeeper rugged up in thick gloves and facial netting collecting a swarm of bees from a small tree nearby – something I’ve never seen before – and then to run into Jacqueline Hampshire of the HK Gardening Society, who told me she has just established her own beehive from a swarm of bees at her house. It was as if somebody up there was trying to tell us that beekeeping was definitely the right way for us to go. So bee it.