The threat of the extinction of honey bees is a very real thing. They’re fast becoming an endangered species, with a 53 percent decline in colonies from 1985-2005 in the UK alone. And this number shows no signs of abating. A combination of environmental and socio-political contributing factors are stripping bees out of our gardens and off of our plants – you only need Google Monsanto to begin to see this. The agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation is initiating systemic pesticides which penetrate the entirety of the plant instead of just the leaves. This means that the bees pick up the chemicals in their pollen and nectar and store it in honeycomb. When those reserves are dipped into, those toxins attack their central nervous system and in turn affect their navigational abilities, which makes it difficult for them to find their way back to the hive. This in turn results in depleted colonies, and a reduction in pollinated crops. But why? The company’s acquisition of Beeologics, a small company which has made ground-breaking research into the manipulation of genes within bees, has led many to believe that Monsanto have plans to create their own genetically-modified bees, resistant to the same pesticides tha they peddle. The real tragedy could be our impotence in this whole situation; there’s little we can do to stop Monsanto. But there’s everything we can do to support and foster the plentiful independent, grassroots, agricultural businesses.
Michael Bauer is a gentle and patient man, who made a sharp U-turn five years ago from working in publishing to working full-time as an apiarist. Located by the river Elbe in Hamburg, Atlander Honig is home to 120 hives which Michael personally tends to himself. He staunchly believes in the importance of employing a fully organic maintenance scheme, for the good of the bees, the plants, the honey, and the main perpetrators of this ecological mess – humans. From the wooden hives that the bees are housed in, to the medicine used to fight the parasitic mites that can thrive in the apiaries, natural is always the chosen option for Michael. It’s not just a beekeeping technique, but it’s an attitude that quickly spills over into an entire lifestyle approach. To the uninitiated, bees may seem like nothing, but they are in fact everything. And it’s our duty to understand and sustain this – first and foremost by sampling delicious local honey.
Atlander Honig not only harvest the organic honey from their 120 apiaries but also create a range of wonderful flavours. It’s combined with spices and fruits such as chilli or lemons, and by visiting particular areas it’s possible to create crops of acacia, chesnut, and fennel honey. The latter of which is recognised for its use with various digestive problems. Nature provides us with all we need and yet we continue to destroy and mutate it for our own gratification. Why Atlander Honig is such a success can be attributed to several things, one of which is certainly the importance that Hamburg and it’s residents place on living a healthy, natural lifestyle with consideration for the origins of the food that they consume. Farmer’s markets are rife here, as are bio stores which stock exclusively organic produce. Hamburg is certainly a city that has the luxury of a strong and relatively equal economy that provides its citizens with an income to sustain this lifestyle, but it also provides the liberal attitudes required in order to allow these independent producers to thrive. Many of the supermarket chains have cottoned on to the popularity of regional produce, and have become to stock “regional” products of their own. They’re regional alright, but not from this region. But Hamburgers, (that’s what they’re called), won’t be fooled that easily. There’s something immensely satisfying from cutting out the middle man and buying your food direct from the supplier, meeting them, speaking to them, and that’s something that Michael Bauer is more than happy to facilitate. When you create a personal connection between yourself and a product it begins to become so much more than that.
Maybe we’re not all lucky enough to have access organic, locally farmed honey, but urban beekeeping is certainly on the rise. Even Berlin’s hallowed techno club Tresor has 120,000 bees on its rooftop – which is sold in the basement as “techno honey” – a natural energiser. But we are all lucky enough to be able to educate ourselves on the importance of supporting the vital link in our ecology chain that is the honey bee, and the powers at be that aim to destroy it. Because once you’re educated about something, you can seek out its alternatives.
Groß Hove 82