Project seeks hives to pollinate trees and produce honey

IT IS a project which looks certain to create a buzz among local residents.

Would-be beekeepers are being sought to become guardians of the new inhabitants of a community orchard in Portobello.

The idea is to use the bees to pollinate the fruit trees in Donkey Field Orchard at the top of Brunstane Road, as well as to produce honey for local sale.

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The Portobello Energy Descent and Land Reform Group (Pedal) is looking for experienced beekeepers or people willing to take a course in beekeeping to enable them to buy up to four hives for the orchard, with each one containing thousands of bees.

Tom Ballantine, member of Pedal and one of the beekeeping volunteers, believes there are several benefits from introducing hives into the orchard, including boosting the declining honey bee population.

He said: "It deals with all sorts of different things at the same time. First of all there's the benefit of pollination. We need bees to pollinate the fruit trees so in that sense it's helpful to the local community.

"There is also a big problem with bees disappearing.

"They obviously also produce honey and the idea would be that as well as having the fruit from the orchard for the community, we would also sell the honey.

"The aim is to show the community that we can provide and produce food locally. We plan to have a monthly market in Portobello."

The community orchard was created last year and currently boasts around 25 apple trees.

Pedal is planning to increase the number of fruit trees to 90, and also wants to produce strawberries and raspberries.

Beekeeping enthusiast, former Marillion frontman Fish, said the project to keep bees within the orchard was an excellent idea.

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The rock star took a beekeeping course at Newbattle Abbey College last year and plans to introduce hives to his own orchard in Haddington within the next few months.

He said: "As a community initiative, this is brilliant. When you look at the cost of honey in the supermarkets, it's phenomenal.

"The course at Newbattle was great. One of the things I learned was that with a lot of bees that are raised in urban areas, their honey is spectacular because the diversity of flowers you get provides a lot of different tastes."

Between the winter of 2007 and summer last year, it is estimated there has been a 30 per cent reduction in the population of domestic honey bees due to the varroa destructor mite. In the UK, honeybees pollinate around 70 per cent of the food we eat and contribute more than 165 million per year to agricultural output.