Yesterday I went to the first ever London Honey Show at the Lancaster London hotel (see www.londonbees.com for the hotel’s bee blog), a celebration of London honey which included a tasting competition, free talks and plenty of honey/bee related stalls to visit. It was a lot of fun! Lovely to see so many beautiful London honeys on display, from pale yellow to deep reds.
My notes from the talks:
Ian Douglas – Telegraph journalist
“Why London is the perfect place to keep bees”
I enjoy reading Ian’s articles on his beekeeping in the Daily Telegraph: www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/beekeeping. So I was pleased to be able to hear him speak in person about why London is such a great place to keep bees.
Ian reminded us of the literary image of beekeeping as a solitary pursuit, conducted in an idyllic rural retreat. This is typified by the W.B.Yates poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree‘:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And Sherlock Holmes himself, too, retired to Sussex to divide his time “between philosophy and agriculture”, watching the gangs of workers as once he watched the criminals of London. There he produced his magnum opus of his latter years, a ‘Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.’
But despite such literary ideas of peaceful countryside buzzing, Ian told us that in reality urban environments are now the best place for bees. Around 14% of London is green – gardens, parks, trees, with 85 square miles given over to gardens. In contrast, the countryside is now often the home of monocrops, relieved only by strips of hedgerow of varying flower foraging quality. Sussex Downs, for instance, is mainly teasel (a kind of thistle) and grass – great for sheep, ok for bees – but not brilliant. London has a longer season for flowers and provides a more varied diet. One of Ian’s friends recently patiently identified 250 different kinds of pollen on his varroa board.
[The day after Ian’s talk, the BBC ran an article on how the believed to be extinct solitary bee, Halictus eurygnathus, has been re-discovered on the Sussex South Downs. The bees enjoy the greater knapweed there, which is one of the special flowers of chalk grassland. So we need grasslands too – but preferably ungrazed ones – grazing sheep present a risk to the bees’ favourite plants].
Other cities in the world are good for bees too, Ian told us, but none quite rival London. In Paris you have to register with a vet and are put on a national beekeepers register which you can be struck off from for bad behaviour! In New York, beekeeping has only recently become a legal activity. Before, there was a $2,000 fine. So the beekeeping community cannot yet have the same camaraderie we do here. Sydney has the advantage of being varroa free, plus enormous parks, but is just too hot! Ian enjoys a beekeeping blog by a beekeeper in Tokyo who talks at length about the advantages of there being no bears in Tokyo… but Tokyo surely does not have the green space we do. And Milan – well, it would be impossible to find the right outfit to wear.
Ian did not get much honey from his two beehives this year (a Dartington and a plastic Omlet Beehaus) – only 80ml. Nonetheless, he loves his bees and finished by asking us to raise a glass to them, and to London beekeeping.
Tim Baker – Head Teacher at Charlton Manor Primary
“Bees in school; overcoming the challenges”
Tim told us the story of how bees came to his school. Usually a beekeeper chooses to keep bees; in Tim’s case, the bees chose him! He had already created a wildlife garden at the school. Then, in July 2008, a swarm settled on the school’s entrance. Tim was fascinated to see the reactions of the children and staff – the children wanted to watch the bees, the staff were worried about getting stung.
Tim decided the school should keep their new arrivals and contacted the local Ruxley Beekeepers club. Creating an observation hive with openable windows in the brood box and supers was a project he thought would cost £200 and ended up costing nearer £2,000! But it has been well worth it for the enjoyment and learning opportunities it has brought the children.
A pupil competition was launched for a design to paint the hive with. A cute ‘Home Sweet Home’ design won, which can be partially seen in the photo below. The pupils also build the frames themselves and take part in weekly inspections. When honey extraction time comes they borrow equipment from Ruxley Beekeepers and get involved in jarring the honey, which enthusiastic parents buy up almost instantly from the school’s ‘Sweet Pickings’ stall.
Tim recently held a workshop day for other schools to see how the beekeeping is done – many schools from around the country attended, so hopefully many more pupils will get the chance to learn from the bees.
See the Capital Growth website for a pdf version of Tim’s presentation and a case study of the project. The Guardian has a Charlton Manor picture gallery at www.guardian.co.uk/education/gallery/2011/aug/30/beekeeping-in-schools.
Chris Beale – Chairman of the Pinner & Ruislip Beekeepers
“Marketing Honey & Wax Products”
To be continued – I’m getting a bit tired out now, so will type up my notes from Chris’s talk some other time soon! [Edit: see London Honey Show: part 2 for the follow-up post]