The Sacred Life Of Bees

Text by Charlene Chan
Photography by Jovian Lim

“Don’t stand directly in front of the hive. If you block their flight path, the bees feel threatened and may attack,” says Xavier as we approach a cluster of beehives he’s relocated from around the city. We’re at The Ashram, a halfway house in Sembawang where he’s set up base for his bee garden. He carefully lifts a wooden frame, revealing bulbs of rich golden honey, molten and delicious. He points out smaller, brighter spots of yellow—eggs that will soon hatch into hundreds, possibly thousands of bees. He reminds us to move slowly around the hives, beckoning us closer to touch the bees and observe minuscule flecks of pollen attached to their hind legs—the bees’ knees, indeed.

In flight, the tiny creatures are mesmerising, producing none of the buzz or drone that prompt instant dread. We stay for a while, then follow as Xavier leads us past plots of herbs and vegetables toward a different sort of hive. This one belongs to the stingless bee, and consists of a comparatively messy web of brown combs. Nestled within is a honey pot, a natural store of of the sweet liquid built by its inhabitants. He invites us to taste it, and we do, dipping our fingers in and relishing the experience of consuming food straight from nature.

Xavier, please tell us about the bee garden you manage, and the people you work with.

The garden is taken care of by inmates, who are towards the end of their terms and are in a halfway house because they behave well. They have a higher chance of merging back into society. We’re trying to nurture them so they’re more updated with what’s going on outside, and are able to adapt better.

I helped the halfway house design the garden and decide what to place in each section. We employ a polycultural* system in the garden. We don’t just keep bees, we make compost, have a chicken coop, a fish pond, and all kinds of plants.

So it’s an entire ecosystem.

It’s a whole ecosystem with a complete food cycle. Our chickens are free-range; if you come to our garden, you’ll see not only plants, but chickens walking around, and bees flying around. It’s a place we created to let Singaporeans experience how a system in nature works.

Organic waste from the gardens and our kitchens are tossed back into the compost for decomposition—there’s zero food waste. We harvest worms from the compost and feed them to the chickens and fish. Their waste, together with the compost, are returned to the soil as fertilisers for plants. And when the plants flower, bees come to pollinate and we get fruits that go back to the kitchen. We also try to collect rainwater to water the plants. We get everything from nature, and return them to nature.

*Polyculture is an agricultural practice that involves growing multiple varieties of crops in the same space. It mimics the diversity found in natural ecosystems and can increase yields while promoting water efficiency.

Read more in The X Press N˚3.