This is the story of a small swarm of bees. They were rescued from the carpark of a hamburger drive-through in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It’s also the story of a group of friends: of beekeepers, of artists, of film makers, of gardeners, musicians, ceramicists, designers; who are all fascinated by the beauty of the honey bee superorganism and the rituals of beekeeping. It’s a story about collective curiosity and explorations into connections between honeybees, humans, urban ecology, art, community, food, and other good things in our place, Melbourne. This is the story of Temple. A place devoted to these activities and interests.
A quick note about
the ethics of Temple
We respect and care for bees and want to assure readers that these bees are well-cared for. It is important to note that these bees actually lived inside a regular Langstroth hive, inside Temple, for 99.9% of the time during the temple project (see an image of the hive below). And the project only ran for three months during the warm season. The frames the bees built on are standard sized frames that fit inside a regular hive. The bees were only suspended for brief periods of time during special events. These special displays occurred on average only once every few weeks – so the bees were opened fewer times than a regular honey-producing hive – and only on warm, calm days. And they were given one month, in the middle of the project, as a rest period – free from any events.
The Temple bees were a colony chosen for their small size. In a honey producing hive, this queen would not be viable and would have been destroyed by the beekeeper and the hive ‘requeened’ with a ‘viable’ queen (that laid many eggs and built up a colony quickly). Instead these bees got to live the season out in their own hive, with no pressure to produce honey. The colony has now been removed from Temple and lives in a → two queen colony, in a sunny and protected position at my home, with plenty of honey to see them through winter. For more information on how we cared for the bees please read on.
Temple is a tribute to honeybees and the humans who care for them. It is a place dedicated to bee cultures: that special culture that exists between bees and humans. We tend to think of bee cultures as being somewhere else – perhaps in traditional beekeeping practices in lands far away, or relegated to history or folk traditions that have, or are, disappearing in the wake of industrial-scale, standardised beekeeping practices. Temple is a little example of how bee cultures can exist in the here and now, in the backyards of today’s cities. It is also a celebration of bees for what they are – Temple was a pollination hive, not a honey producing hive.
It is a place where the many and various people, who are involved in what is loosely referred to as the Honey Fingers Collective, came together to collaborate with, celebrate or investigate the the honeybee superorganism.
Instead of harvesting honey we just wanted to marvel at and enjoy being able to share space with, and observe, the honeybee superorganism and its honeycombed architecture. During Temple events it was obvious that we humans we sharing the space with honeybees, and that we could do this safely and comfortably.
Temple was a controlled experiment that explored how bees could live in such an installation in a domestic space and is a prototype for future investigations in this field.
Beekeeping is all about place. We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we beekep on today – the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present. We also acknowledge our gratitude that we share this land today, our sorrow for some of the costs of that sharing, and our hope and belief that we can move to a place of equality, justice and partnership together.
About the Humans
Temple is a little celebration of, and meeting point for, a variety people involved in beekeeping in Melbourne, Australia. This group of beekeeping creatives is loosely referred to as the → Honey Fingers Collective (HFC).
Everyone involved in the Temple project is intrigued by bees or beekeeping and is a beekeeper, a host of a beehive or connected to urban bees in some meaningful way. No-one involved or represented here is a paid actor, model or random ring-in.
The HFC has developed organically over three seasons. Many of the people who are attracted to and intrigued by bees are creatives: sculptors, ceramicists, film makers, illustrators, photographers, chefs, musicians, deejays, painters, designers, architects, gardeners, poets, writers, curators. And these friendships usually started via a curious email or comment on social media, or introduction via a mutual friend, to the effect of: “Could I please come beekeeping sometime?”. The answer was usually “sure thing, how about today?” and the creative outcomes of these meetings just... seemed to happen.
Temple is a site where these various creative humans can intersect with bees, bee culture and beekeeping in experimental and meaningful ways:
→ by exploring the beauty of the botanicals that bees feed in in our local streets (Temple Flowers)
→ studies of the marks humans made many thousands of years ago on cave walls in Africa and Europe (Temple Drawings)
→ musical collaborations with bees that investigate the sounds bees make inside a colony, and how beekeeping practices (such as smoking the bees) can generate sounds that human musicians can improvise with (Temple Music)
→ we share, eat and socialise in the space space the bees live in, and celebrate the bounty bees provide for human communities living in the city (Temple Food)
→ the documentation of the bees, and humans, has been managed offline: the filming and recording of the projects have been experienced and enjoyed in real life by the community involved in the projects, and deliberately kept off social media and the www until now (Temple Film).
About the Bees
The Temple bees are loved, cared for and treated with a great deal of respect.
The colony was a caught swarm – saved from having cups of soft drink thrown at it – from a hamburger drive-through in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It was selected for this project for its extremely calm temperament and small size. We suspect the queen is quite old and not a viable queen for a hive producing honey: but she is perfect for our little project. As such, this is like a retirement project for her. She will be cared for throughout the coming winter and will never need to work as a honey producer again. Nor will she ever be destroyed and superseded (by humans). This is our commitment to her and a way of saying thank you for being the Temple queen.
These bees are extremely gentle and calm. So calm, in fact, that the plexi-glass was removed when the porthole window was open at events. There have only been three stings / bee deaths: two were accidentally squashed under a dumb finger by the beekeeper (his fault) during inspections, and one bee was accidentally stood on (also by the beekeeper, who should probably wear shoes when working but – you know).
Many events have been held in the shadow of Temple, including a sit-down dinner for 35 people!
No visitors have been stung by the Temple bees and we cite this as a great example of how, with the right design and careful management, bees and humans can live happily alongside each other in tight, urban spaces.
In autumn the bees were removed to a ‘two queen colony’ and in spring will be separated for the start of the 17/18 season.
Temple was located in the courtyard of a former hotel, or pub (built in 1864), that is currently a domestic residence. The suburb of Carlton is a dense, inner-city neighbourhood characterised by streets of low-rise and small-allotment C19th buildings (often terraces), a maze of cobbled laneways, and green, open spaces: extra-wide median strips and parks and gardens that are used and enjoyed by both the humans and bees.
The Temple bee colony actually lived in a regular Langstroth hive inside the Temple structure: the nest is only exposed for brief periods of time during inspections and events (on average, once every two weeks). As such, it is much easier for the colony to regulate its temperature (as opposed to being an exposed-comb nest inside such a large volume. This would not be viable in temperate Melbourne).
The frames the comb hang on are removable and can be inspected, one at a time, for brood, honey and disease checks (although much of this can be done without opening the brood nest as the comb is so easy to get close to inspect).
There are bee-walkways inside the hive, connecting the top entrance, internal hive entrance, and floor of the structure; enabling the bees to walk (as well as fly) inside the structure. And bees love crawling around over short distances (sometimes humans forget this).
Temple is carefully sited and designed to meet the preferences of bee colonies. The facade is oriented to the north (the sunny aspect in Australia) and the top entrance is located 2 metres off the ground, facing east. The top entrance gets morning sun and the bees warm up there before foraging. It is well ventilated, has a thermometer installed (to allow monitoring of minimum and maximum temperatures inside the structure) and on very hot days the triangular facade (which is operable via remote control) is opened a little to allow the hot air to vent out – while also providing cool shade for the Langstroth hive inside.
On sunny days, the round porthole window is opened, without the plexi-glass, to allow the bees to sunbake and come and go directly from the hive entrance. The bees have no issue switching between the entrances: they are clever, adaptable and know how Temple works.
Temple was experienced in real life and offline. We deliberately decided to keep Temple something special that was experienced in real life by dozens of people with a personal connection to the project, before it was shared with anonymous world of the internet and social networks.
About the Website
The temple website was designed by → Alex Margetic and is the documentation of Temple. It became a Temple project in its own right. The approach was simple – to design a print publication for the web ; ) It developed and extended the principles of Temple: a considered approach to simple ideas and pure geometries.