Letters to a Beekeeper
By Alys Fowler and Steve Benbow
A beautifully illustrated story of friendship, passion and useful insects
Publication date: July 2017Buy
1st edition illustrated hardback, and ebook edition.
Signed & personally dedicated 1st edition hardback, ebook edition etc.
1st edition hardback, ebook edition, etc. + 2 tickets to the launch party with homebrew (we might make some mead or elderflower or blackberry champagne.)
1st edition hardback, ebook edition etc + a day gardening with Alys at your garden/community garden/allotment/guerilla patch/ school garden.
1st edition hardback, ebook edition etc + a visit to see Steve's bees on his rooftop or visit BEE HQ and taste honey, a seasonal forage around a bit of London and some lunch.
Bees in gardens day
1st edition hardback, ebook edition etc + a day gardening and beekeeping with both of us: learn how to site your bees, what to plant where, composting or solve any other gardening problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Neither of us fit our particular mould. I am a gardener, but I am quite the laziest, rule-breaking sort: if I can get away with letting nature get on with it so I can go dancing, then I do. I’ve given up digging, straight lines, lawns, weeds (I think of them more as compost ingredients), spraying and squishing. The thing I like about my garden most is eating it.
It’s true Steve is a commercial bee farmer, but his financial gains amount to a leaky roof, a tent so he can sleep next to his bees and the keys to many of London’s rooftops.
So yes, this is a book about gardening and it’s true that the honeybee crawls over every page, but this story is about more than beekeeping or how we fell in love with the bees’ sweet, sticky world.
It’s about the bigger picture, about all our forgotten insects, whether they are predator or prey, pollinator or pest. Of how they not only make our world run, but why you should care to take a closer look.
Over the seasons, our letters, emails, texts, recipes, notes and photos (Steve, in a former life was a travel photographer) explore each other’s world. We hope you’ll be swept along on our journey, with us helping out the pollinators and along the way picking up a wealth of advice, tips and ideas for growing food and keeping the pollinators well fed.
It’s about celebrating the great outdoors, even if that outdoors starts on a windowsill or rooftop.
It’s also a story about friendship and a passion for work that has meaning and respect for the world around it.Why fund the book this way?
OK, so it’s not the obvious publishing route, we could have gone the traditional way, but it would have meant writing a book about garden craft, or a book about bees, but not midges, or a book about rules but as neither of us are particularly good at sticking to those, that didn’t seem like a good idea either. It all felt like a bit of a compromise and some ideas just don’t want to be boxed up like that. This is one of them.
We think it has wings and this seemed like the best way to see if that can happen. Why not let you, our community, decide? If you don’t like the idea, we’ll go back to garden craft and rule creating. But if you think otherwise, we’ll do everything we can to make it the best rule-breaking, wildlife, guerilla, urban gardening (with a little craft), insect-identifying, honey-tasting, wax-dripping, bee-keeping, recipe-including, beautifully photographed, epistolary how-to book you've ever seen. In short, we promise to try and make the world a sweeter, richer place to be.
Steve Benbow (@Londonhoneyman) likes fish and bees. He is a nomadic beekeeper and spends most of the summer moving his bees away from monocultures, citing them on flint beaches or purple moorland. Random House published his first book The Urban Beekeeper last June.
Alys Fowler (@AlysFowler) likes growing food and flowers. Her flowers are a bit too far away for Steve’s bees, so she’s keeping the pollinators of Birmingham happy instead. She has written four books, presents gardening programmes on TV (including her own show The Edible Garden) and writes for the Guardian. She likes wild swimming, riding bikes and cooking.
It is hard to imagine that a poppy flower just recently unfurled with its delicate wrinkled petals swaying in the sun is not there to please us, nor that a rose so heady in scent has not opened just to entice us, but someone much, much smaller.
Any flower that takes your breath away with beauty and complexity has done so to entice an insect, not you to take a closer look. The floral structures, those pretty petals in pleasing colours, the lures of sweet scent, are an evolutionary response to attract a pollinator to cross-fertilise and set seed.
Plants have evolved to lure and attract anyone and everyone who could do this job for them, so some flowers choose hummingbirds, a few choose rats or mice but most have done a deal with insects, preferably flying ones, who can take pollen from one plant and deposit it on another miles away if necessary.
To lure in these pollinators they have created ever more complex and extraordinary floral architecture: flowers with flags, triggers and tubes to attract specific pollinators, with lures such as heady perfume (some males bees use this to create their own unique aftershave) or certain enticing colours and patterns. And finally, to keep the pollinator coming back again and again, a reward: delicate nectars rich in complex sugars or protein-fuelled pollen.
A wildflower meadow is no longer a pretty picture but a market full of stallholders shouting their wares, ‘come here, try this’. The pollinator drops in, drinks up the nectar, steals some pollen and then is off onto the next stall. The plant has done its job satisfactorily only if the pollinator visits another of its kin and directly transfers the pollen. If this happens then the plant has out-crossed increasing its genetic pool and ensuring its future.
Or put another way, only if another party is involved can they get it on. Otherwise they are left self-pollinating, which has its place, but sure isn’t as much fun as sharing.
- 22nd August 2016 August 2016 update
In case anyone missed the update about the book that was sent to all subscribers from John Mitchinson, the book's publisher, on 22nd August 2016, you can read it again here:
I am writing to apologise for the ridiculous length of time we have taken to produce Letters to a Beekeeper.
I can’t think of any other book that I’ve been involved in that has had such a complicated…13th January 2016 A progress update
It’s been a long time since we updated you and we’re sure many of you are keen to know what is happening with Letters to a Beekeeper.
Without going into all the details, various personal and professional commitments mean we’ve fallen a long way behind our schedule in 2015. It’s been really frustrating. More than anything else, we want this book finished and on our shelves. …15th January 2015 The bees are alive
My bees are alive. Each day I wander up to the allotment and nervously glance in their direction. ‘Are you still there?’ I whisper. Sometimes I see a few flying and my heart leaps; other times I peek under the mesh floor and see the dead littered and my heart sinks.
After badgering Steve with tales of dead bees, he appeared between flurries of weather to douse them with medicine to…6th January 2015 Dear Steve,
I took it upon me to make us a
Hope you're having fun writing in Marrakesh,
A20th November 2014 The mower is dead; long live the flowers
Never mow around your beehives in shorts!
In fact never mow around your bee hives at all - they really don't like that noise and the disturbance.
I use an old sickle around the legs and entrances of hives in the summer months to keep the flight path clear. Then again on London rooftops, grass and lawns are not really a problem.
'Gardeners should…4th July 2014 This book is growing
In the beginning, there was Steve and a tractor.
Who brought along Isobel and an idea was hatched.
Shortly after people pledged, ideas became words and then pictures and more ideas
Seed was sown, things grew,
But Alys got lost.
Luck brought Lucy,
Who wanted a garden, but got a book in the bargain.
Lucy brought Ian, who has a lovely…26th February 2014 An update on a blackboard
Since I last wrote I have:
- Consumed 1.5kg of wood sage honey
- Read one book on plant pollinator interactions
- Started two books on British bees
- Re-read three books by Derek Jarman
- Lost six hours to Rightmove looking for my 'Prospect Cottage'
- Planted 1000 pollinator friendly bulbs
- Spotted my first bumblebee queen of the season
- Germinated 11 bee bee tree…29th October 2013 Fully funded
You believed in us and oh boy does that feel great. We’ve been walking so tall from this experience and that is all thanks to you. We’d kind of like to knock on each and every door and say thanks in person, but we have a book to write and meadow to grow. Take this as a great big hug. We still can’t quite believe it happened so fast. It’s been a lovely, life-affirming three weeks.
We wanted to say a little bit more about where your money has gone. The money you raised pays for the photography, the editing, the layout, for some PR once it’s written, and for it to be bound and printed in a marvelous way. If we raise extra money, we’d like to put a bit more into photography, but mostly, the profit gets split between Unbound and us. Thus, if there’s any spare we get to buy cake and biscuits to fuel our writing. What we’re trying to say is that the money raised doesn’t go straight into our bank account; it goes into your book. If you upgrade your pledge, can persuade your friends to buy it and continue to share the …19th October 2013 Some sample page spreads
These people are helping to fund Letters to a Beekeeper.
Suzanne O Riordan