Letters to a Beekeeper

By Alys Fowler and Steve Benbow

A beautifully illustrated story of friendship, passion and useful insects

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The bees are alive

Dear All,

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 ease the varroa. He cracked open a few frames and there was snow-capped honey and thousands of them, startled at the interruption. The cold makes them cling to you or your heat and you have to be swift in such weather. It’s silly, I know, to think of the bees embracing you, but it did feel like a hug.

I’m quite sure that you think this book has been slow, that I have spent more time falling in love with winged things that winging words your way. And to some extent this is true, but words take time and learning even more so. I couldn’t rush away the season; I couldn’t make up what had to unfold.

And now my first year as a beekeeper is over and the next one feels just as daunting, but possible, more exciting. The bees and I are better acquainted.

I learnt a dizzying amount in the last year about pollinators, about soils and policies, about myself, about Steve and my garden.

Writing a book this way has been an extraordinary adventure. Would I do it again? Sure, but I’d take greater length to explain that writing takes time, that actions equal words. You can’t write about winter with bees without being there. That and the small fact that I've yet to find a way to write penniless. I had to work to pay bills. One of the strangest jobs I did last year? I was paid not to wash for a week and write about it. I did it, and many others, so I could write this book for you.

I know that some of you wanted this book as a present and boy have I made you wait to give that present. I can only hope, pray and further beaver away at editing so that when you finally give it, it’s well received.

Normally when you write a book, this last push, this mountain of nerves, fear and worry is done, hidden away. There’s always this moment when you let go of the book, allow others to start seeing it that you want to cling on so hard, to bury it where no one can see it. As long as you are alone with the book, only you know your flaws. Readers, they are still a dream away. But crowdfunding means I know its audience, or a part at least. I have a list of your names; I’ve even met some of you. That’s a strange thing for a writer, lovely, but a little unnerving.

Then again, if this book has taught me anything it’s this: relationships rarely come fully formed, you have to work hard at making the right space so that bonds can flourish. This goes as much for love as it does making space for bees in your garden or readers to your page.

Much love


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Katharine Sorensen
 Katharine Sorensen says:

All good things come to those who wait! As a relative newbee (excuse pun) to beekeeping myself (fourth season) I completely identify with the nervous vigil during winter - I've found my ear temporarily stuck to the hoar frosted metal roof of my WBC hive before now as I listened for the reassuring thrum of buzzing bees clustered deep within the frames...Looking forward to the book in due course.

posted 15th January 2015

Sara Ward
 Sara Ward says:

Don't worry Alys,
Anticipation is a good thing, we'll enjoy the book even more when it arrives.

I've just gone full time with Hen Corner and I'm spending more time on the computer than it the garden at the moment. I'm making the most of the cold weather with preparation & admin, then will shoot outside at the next opportunity.

I gave my bees Oxalic Acid a couple of weeks ago and they were all over me too, I thought it was due to the syrup levels in the acid solution which they were desperate to devour... Fortunately, enough of it touched the varroa to destroy a large number of them!

Just wait until March when they are flying well and bringing in pollen, we'll have to work quick to implement our plans for each colony this year, again, it hasn't been too cold a winter (so far!).

All the best and enjoy the journey,


posted 16th January 2015

Meredith Andrew
 Meredith Andrew says:

Hey Alys. Am reading this in Costa Rica where there is so MUCH alive, it's overwhelming. I can't imagine writing a book the way you are... Under the pressure of time, expectations, and the vagaries of bees.
Know that this sponsor, at least, is very happy to wait until all is right. Well done and very brave!

posted 20th January 2015

jo norcup
 jo norcup says:

Hello Alys and Steve,
Nature has, rather fabulously, its own rhythms and pace and reading about the progress of this book coming together is as much apart of the book experience as the final book will be. Keep on keeping on with all the other things that happen in daily life as one writes, the experiences I am sure will enrich the creative thoughts and wordsmithery. Hope the bees are well. Jo

posted 29th January 2015

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