An Interview with Tasnim Pisavadi, a Dawoodi Bohra Beekeeper Based in London

On World Bee Day, the Dawoodi Bohras of the UK took time to speak to a London beekeeper, Tasnim Pisavadi. According to the World Bee Day website, bees are crucial to the environment as they help pollinate nearly 75% of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food. However, despite their vital role in the environment, research has shown that bees are under extreme stress. One of the key factors to keeping bees from going extinct is the maintenance of hives managed by beekeepers. To raise awareness of the importance of bees and beekeeping, we spoke to Tasnim to learn about her experience and knowledge as a beekeeper and why she enjoys her work.

Q: What made you want to become a Beekeeper?

A: It happened quite by accident!  My son suffers from hay fever and I wanted to buy local honey for him as I had heard that it can reduce symptoms.  I discovered that a few minutes from my home was my local beekeeping association.  Not only did they sell honey but they had an apiary where bees produced it.  I was fascinated and decided to learn what this mysterious hobby was all about.  It began with a short course, then led to practical lessons from master beekeepers. 

Q: What does beekeeping involve?

A: Every time I visit the hives, I learn something different. The job of a beekeeper is to maintain beehives in a safe and secure manner.  It’s my responsibility to create an environment that allows the bees to do what they do naturally.  A beekeeper should never be forcing nature; rather nature should be allowed to run its course within the environment created.  This means looking after one’s beehives regularly and working in harmony with the bees.  During the spring and summer months, I visit the beehives once a week to see how I can encourage them to become a stronger and more successful colony. 

Q: How many bees are there in an average hive and don’t you ever get scared when they swarm around you?

A: There are approximately 35-40,000 bees in a hive.  Bigger hives can contain more.  When I open a hive,  it’s like being in the eye of a storm but,I try to ignore the swarming;. I hone in on my bees and what I need to do – regardless of the swarming! One thing I was surprised about was the noise. Nobody tells you that the more agitated they become, the louder the noise! Nonetheless, I don’t get scared.  I have to stay focused and calm.  It’s crucial to move gracefully; any sudden movements and they could charge at you.  If my bees are making a gentle buzzing sound, I know I’m safe and they have accepted me being there.  I’m fully protected in my suit and double mask, which makes me feel safe and comfortable being in the hive.

Q: Do Bees have feelings?

A: I don’t know about feelings, but studies have shown that honey bees are the cleverest insects!  For example, they live in a large social community that requires communication and teamwork.  They can find the shortest route to nectar-producing flowers and they are capable of learning from each other.  That’s quite amazing for an insect whose brain is the size of a sesame seed.  

Q: Have you ever been stung?  

A: Of course I have!  It’s part of the job and the first thing I was told when I started.  Last year, three bees got into my face mask and I was stung very badly.  The left side of my face swelled up and it took me a week to recover.  There is an interesting saying that beekeepers live to old age as bee venom is meant to make you stronger. 

Q: What’s the best part of being a beekeeper?

A: Finding the Queen.  Every time I see her, I’m truly in awe that something so small can control a community, which in turn can affect the environment we live in. 

Q: As a beekeeper, are you more in tune with nature, the weather and the environment? 

A: I have to be in tune with the seasons as they control how I look after my bees. I only open up the hives on warm sunny days, when the bees are more active. On cold, damp days, the hives stay closed for fear of the hive losing temperature. 

Even prior to becoming a beekeeper, I have had a love for nature. I like to have a go at planting flowers and vegetables (with limited success, I might add).  My garden backs onto some woodland with mature trees and a small stream. It’s perfect for my family and me to observe the seasons and the different types of birds and wildlife. This connection with the environment intrinsically makes me a better beekeeper. 

Like many people, I worry about the environment. In my lifetime, we are already witnessing how seasons are changing and how this affects wildlife.  Unfortunately, due to the random cold spell we had in March, one of my colonies died out.  This was definitely due to the drop in temperature, but also the reduced number of flowers and nectar for this time of year.  

Q: Do you feel that you are positively impacting the environment through your work? 

I am happy to have found my connection with nature and I feel very humbled to be protecting the environment and nurturing nature through my work. 

I am grateful for being a beekeeper for many reasons. I get to learn about nature first hand as I see how honey bees work. I see how they respond to temperature fluctuations; how pollen can indicate which flowers and trees are in season; and how similar the way the Queen manages her colony resembles how society functions. The most rewarding aspect has been the love and curiosity I receive when I tell people I’m a beekeeper. Everyone in their own way yearns for a connection with nature, and I’m glad to have found mine. 

We thank Tasnim and her colleagues at the Pinner and Ruislip Beekeeping Association for the role they are playing in helping to protect bees and the positive impact they have on the environment.

Photo credit: Tasnim Pisavadi

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