“You are all mad!”, one of our apiary visitors declared, shaking his head in wonder. He had just listened to John and Andy talking about how to painstakingly prepare honey entries for the National Honey Show, including the best ways to air-dry jars so that no pesky water marks remain.
Plenty of non-beekeepers probably think the same thing, but for a different reason – the famous bee sting. Who knows what they would make of the Ealing member who is highly allergic to stings, yet continues beekeeping due to her love of the bees. Or the sight of Ealing members gathered outside at the apiary to drink tea and talk bees with drifts of snow around us.
But I am going to make a different argument – that beekeeping and similar hobbies could actually be good for your mental and physical health.
This Christmas I was able to do some reading and one of the books I found in my local library was ‘Crow Country‘ by Mark Cocker (2008). It’s all about his love of corvids and rooks in particular, which thrive around his home near Norwich.
Towards the end of the book, Mark talks about how birders and others with a single obsession are often viewed as ‘sad’ by the general public.
“why is it that people who are absorbed by something are seen as sad? I can’t explain it. But for me it reverses the true state of affairs. To be engaged is to be a part, to be absorbed and fulfilled. To be cool, to be detached from things and to have no passionate feeling is the real sadness. At the heart of depression, that quintessentially modern malaise, is a deep sense of separation from the rest of life.
At its fullest, studying the life of another living creature is a way of engaging all of your faculties. In short, it’s a way of being intensely alive, and recognising that you are so. At the same way it is a form of valuing life and of appreciating the fundamental tenet of all ecology: that every thing is connected to everything else.”
(Mark Cocker, Crow Country, p.186-187).
As Mark puts it, “enquiring becomes a way of loving”. So I shall continue loving my bees by watching them, talking about them, reading about them and learning more about life through them.
Beekeeping, or indeed any other hobby or obsession, is a chance to become connected to others and the world around us. I have met so many fascinating people both at the apiary and online through the bees. And there is something physically satisfying about being outside with the bees, taking in rain, wind, sunshine and fresh air, being surrounded by nature.
Beekeeping can inspire creativity too, perhaps in the form of a beautiful piece of carpentry, a delicious honey cake, melliferous mead, or stunning wax creations like those made by Judy Earl. These acts of creation can bring us a sense of achievement, of having made something real and tangible, that can often be shared with others to bring them joy also. That can only be good for our mental wellbeing.
We are truly lucky to have access to so many wonderful products produced by the bees and so many potential crafts and skills that naturally spin off from beekeeping. Skep making, microscopy, photography, baking, cosmetics, candle making….the list is long and vibrant. To paraphrase a comment I made in an earlier post, we need the bees much more than they need us.
What do you think – is beekeeping good for your health? Even when you’re sweating buckets in your beesuit and hopping around in pain after the bees found some particularly delicate spots? I hope so!