Meet the Professionals

An interview with… Alys Fowler, friend of the bees

TV gardener and author Alys Fowler has teemed up with beekeeper Steve Benbow to produce a book about their love of bees and bugs. We caught up with her to find out a little bit more about the project…

You’re currently working on a new book, ‘Letters to a Beekeeper’ with ‘nomadic beekeeper’ Steve Benbow. How did the book idea come about?
We met at the Edinburgh book festival. Initially a Steve wanted to drive his 1950s Massey Ferguson tractor from Shropshire to London to make a wild flower meadow for pollinators and I was supposed to follow behind on my bike! After a year and a lot of bartering Steve agreed to let me have some bees – in return I’d give him a garden.

What impressed you about Steve’s beekeeping methods?
I didn’t, still don’t, know that much about beekeeping. I just fell in love with his honeycomb and after one chunk I wanted more so basically he’s a honey pimp because I’m only here on the promise of more sticky stuff.

You’re funding the book through the crowdsourcing website ‘unbound’. Why choose this route rather than the standard publisher model?
I like that the reader is king and that it involves truly participating with your community / audience. Book writing can feel strangely passive, this is a full on experience and like that you really have to get to grips with all elements of publishing. Plus the Unbound folks are pretty cool.

Bees have received a lot of publicity recently due to their dramatic decline. Do you have any tips for gardeners and allotment holders to help protect them?
Be messy! Really, don’t tidy up too much, all those piles of leaves, rotting twigs, they are the interesting bits for the ecosystem. Whether its beetles or bees, gardening is not like housekeeping, you don’t newscaster to clear everything away. I think once you understand that you are part of a whole rather than a keeper of a space, it becomes far easier to join the dots. Plant more green manure, it’s often great for pollinators and insects in general. Plus nothing acts like a balm to the soil than a living blanket over winter.

The book isn’t all about bees. What other interesting and unusual bugs have you been recently introduced to?
I’m really into beetles and a little obsessed with beetle banks (a mound with short plant growth/grass that acts as a beetle refuge). Beetles eat lots of slugs. So it’s pretty easy to fall for them. The ‘Devil’s coach corse’ has to be one of the coolest. I like ‘violet beetles’ a lot too. Great dress sense

Like us, you’re a keen “digger and swigger” so we assume you’ve put some of that honey to good use making the odd mead, metheglin or melomel. If so, how did they turn out?
I’ve been following Sandor Katz’s recipe for Ethiopian mead, tej. You can make it as mild or as alcoholic as you wish. It’s pretty fast to make too.

Please help support Alys and Steve’s book by making a pledge here. Go on. For the bees…

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