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What people can learn from bees

Monday 30th October 2017

"It's a really beautiful thing that humans are supported by these creatures that are so hardworking and matriarchal."

Bee lover Ella Rose Shnapp.
Bee lover Ella Rose Shnapp.

Photo: Levi Brinsdon-Hall


Ella Rose Shnapp was born in the tiny village of Moniaive in the middle of nowhere in Scotland. She grew up planting veggies alongside her mum, playing in the woods and being obsessed with bugs, especially bees.  

Moniaive translates to 'Many Hives', fitting then, that Ella would grow up to become, among other things, a beekeeper.

When she eventually moved into the city, she signed up for a beekeeping course. It turned out to be a bit more on the commercial side of things though, putting the health of the bees second to the economic gain of honey - not exactly the kind of thing that sits well with Ella.

Taking it upon herself to set up hives at her university in Glasgow, she got others involved in beekeeping. But it was after she met a woman who told her about natural beekeeping, that things really started to fall into place. 

Now, on the other side of the world, she's a facilitator of the For the Love of Bees project, providing learning opportunities in everything from gardening to beekeeping and how to grow flowers.

"We're really opening up this massive opportunity for people to engage with and understand the world from a bee’s perspective and look at and understand what's so special," she says.

"It's a beautiful platform to learn and share and work together."

Ella's passion is contagious and it's clear that she's got a special talent for what she does - not everyone can beekeep without a veil and manage not to get stung. 

"For me, beekeeping is a trance that you get in. It's a really slow place and when you're working with bees, you have to be really slow and respect their feelings and their mood, if you're rushing and angry, then the bees are going to get angry and sting you."

She shows me around her garden, the winter vegetables flowering and the seeds beginning to sprout in the newly built greenhouse. 

"Where I grew up, people grew organically a lot and it's quite a creative, forward thinking place. When I moved to the city I just found it really hard to connect to place, so I really enjoy doing things that help people connect to where they're from and where they are."

As the wind whips past us, we sit and chat looking out to the veggie patch, bright yellows and blues signal the beginning of spring. It's the same spot she spends most mornings, taking a moment to reflect just after the sun has risen.

She describes her backyard as a biological bee sanctuary, and it really is a haven.

"I personally see bees as a really big indicator of our environment, our society and what's happening. I think we can learn a lot from them and practice ways of living that allows them to thrive, because ultimately we depend on them and so we should create an environment in which they can flourish."

The wind dies down for a moment and Ella points to the bees going about their daily business, they're not a fan of harsh conditions so a gap in the gusts is the perfect opportunity for them to get to work. They've come for the pak choi, tatsoi and bok choi that Ella has let go to flower.

"I love to grow food and I value it so much, but it's not just about me and what it's giving to me, it's about what I am giving to the environment and what I am giving to other animals. Something as simple as allowing a plant to go to flower rather than chopping it down can completely alter the environment that you provide for other animals."

She says there's a lot of talk at the moment about saving the bees, which is great, but people are not necessarily thinking about this holistically. 
"In order to save the bees we need to create organic environments and create enough food for them." 

Bees need to visit more than four million flowers in order to produce one kilogram of honey and they pollinate one third of our global food supply.

She says pesticides and bad practice are killing off bee populations on mass. "In order for us to eat, we're killing the things that enable us to eat, it makes no sense.

"I actually think it's a really beautiful thing that humans are so supported by these creatures that are so hardworking and matriarchal, I just think they are so cool."

Ella says the fact that beekeeping is becoming so trendy is almost dangerous. "Auckland is basically at peak-bee, there's so many bees in the city that bees are struggling to find enough food.

"My advice for people who want to save the bees is to grow organically and provide flowers, provide food and a safe place for bees. That's what I'm doing in my garden.

"You know, if it's really cold, bees will huddle together and they'll pass food down the line to each other to make sure they stay warm. I think as a society we can learn a lot from how bees work together and care for each other and teach each other."

Ella says recently, as she's sat looking out to her garden in the mornings, she's noticed the bees taking a liking to the seaweed that sits on her garden beds. There's always something new to learn about bees.

Apparently the smell of bananas is pretty similar to the alarm pheromone of bees that causes them to get aggressive. We look across at the neighbours banana tree hanging over the fence, not yet ripe. 


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Sarah is a freelance writer with a soft spot for poetry and prose. When she’s not writing or practicing her Spanish, she can be found riding the streets of Auckland with the Lady Gang.
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