Bees are as intelligent as dogs
In the summer, a colony can consist of around 50,000 bees: “A queen, tens of thousands of workers and, at certain times of the year, hundreds of drones,” says Brückner. “The queen can live for four years or even longer.” Summer bees hatch from May to June and work so hard that they only live for around six weeks. Winter bees are considerable less busy and can live for six months. Bees prefer dry and sunny conditions, and one of their survival strategies is to avoid downpours. “A large rain drop can kill a bee. They are extraordinary beings – bees are social insects,” says Brückner. In her eyes, a bee colony is a superorganism, as the various structures work together. August-Wilhelm Schinkel, chairman of Bremer Imkerverein von 1875, the local beekeeping society, adds: “A bee colony can match any dog for intelligence.”
The number of bee colonies and beekeepers is on the rise
Schinkel is excited by the growing interest in beekeeping. According to Deutscher Imkerbund, the German Beekeepers Association, there were around 880,000 bee colonies in Germany in 2017. A year later, that figure was 915,000. “There’s certainly a buzz in the air,” says a delighted Schinkel. “Beekeeping is evolving, and our membership is becoming younger and more female.” Over the last four years, Bremer Imkerverein has seen its membership double to 310, and it claims to be the largest society in northern Germany.
The society runs a small museum and provides education on bees at the idyllic Lür-Kropp-Hof farm in Bremen-Oberneuland. The beekeepers welcome around 30 to 40 school groups every year. Volunteers also take show hives on visits to schools so that children can learn about the allocation of roles in the bee colony in a fun way and discover the secrets of the waggle dance. “When the children go home after school, they’re no longer afraid of bees,” Schinkel is happy to report.
Patience is the key for young beekeepers
It is not just school children who can learn from the experienced beekeepers, but also novice beekeepers. “Our tried-and-tested approach is to assign a coach to novice beekeepers. The lessons are spread across the year so that the novices can familiarise themselves with the various jobs,” says Schinkel. But there is always plenty more to learn, even after completing the beekeeping course. “There are so many things to know and do that it can take around five years to become reasonably competent,” he adds.
Bremer Imkerverein has 310 active members. The beekeepers are preserving tradition by using old-style beehives alongside the more modern ones.
© WFB/Berit Böhme