A second blog post on Monday night’s third ever London Honey Show, run by the London Lancaster hotel.
The headline speaker was Dale Gibson, on ‘A year in the life of the Bermondsey Street Bees. Mostly.’ He positively bounced onto the stage, full of energy, humour and a flamboyant way with words. He has been beekeeping for six years.
Rather than giving us a straight account of a year’s beekeeping activities, he told us he wanted to look at beekeeping through the ages at Bermondsey.
In 1082, Bermondsey Abbey was founded. For the monks there, Dale imagined that the bees would have been a source of seeming miracles – for instance clean-burning beeswax candles brought a God-like light to the darkness of Southwark Cathedral. Wax kept parchment documents sealed and secret, and its reliable burning even made candles a time keeping device.
As well as all the benefits of wax, bees also provided sweet honey… but they had one final blessing to confer… alcohol! However Dale feels mead must have been used as chastisement, taken as a penance for unmentionable sins! He much prefers honey beer, such as the new London beer brand Hiver, which he has supplied honey to. There were some free samples of Hiver at the show, and it did taste very good.
So, from 1082-2013, what’s changed for the bees of Bermondsey Street? Dale summed up the bad:
- Intensive agriculture
And the good:
- Bee space discovered – we now have hives with removable frames
- Improved lip balm!
He gave us a quick whip through his beekeeping year. He feeds a anti-nosema thymol emulsion in 2:1 sugar syrup during autumn, which I found interesting. Apparently a emulsion recipe can be found on beekeepingforum.co.uk. Anyone have any opinions or experience in doing this?
Finally Dale showed us a fun video he’d made of him receiving a queen bee and her attendants through the post. His dining table was set up very nicely to receive her.
Dale has a blog at apis.gb.com and Bermondsey Bees have a YouTube channel – BermondseyStreetBeesOnAir, where you can see the video he showed us, ‘The day the queen came to tea‘.
Will do a third blog and final post on the show soon I think, with more of the photos I took. My cold is a little better today, thank you everyone for your anti-cold tips!
To finish this post off, here is a great photo Dale showed us of one of his diligent beekeeping assistants. I managed to find it on the Londonist website.
I know you wrote here thanking for all tips regarding your cold. did anyone mention propolis. One thing we beekeepers often have in excess is propolis. I scrape it off things and scrape it into a brown medicine bottle which has about an eggcup full of alcohol. You can choose something you find palatable but it must be very high alcohol content. Gin, vodka or rum but if not strong enough it will not preserve properly. The propolis dissolves in this and when you feel not so well take a tiny sip of it and most germs will flee in great haste leaving you feeling tons better. Kind regards, Lindy Lou
Hi Lindy, thanks for the recipe though I’m a bit wary of using propolis in drinks as there have been cases where beekeepers with a lot of contact with propolis have developed nasty allergies to it. It seems to be very rare, but as I have eczema and other allergies I’d rather not take any chances!
Propolis is a wonderful natural antibiotic but you are right Emily to warn of allergy. I always have been extremely allergic to propolis and get inflamed and itching wherever it touches my skin, I have to wear plastic gloves when extracting because fine particles in the honey affect my skin.
I have not had a problem taking small pieces orally but..I once treated a spot on my ear with a tincture of propolis and my whole head broke out in a red rash. Natural remedies are not always without embarrassing side effects!…
Sorry to hear you’re allergic to it Jonathan, what a pain.
The reason I’ve become aware of propolis problems is that an American beekeeper contacted me asking if I’d heard anything about propolis allergy. After years of beekeeping he had developed a contact allergy to propolis. He has gone from being able to chew propolis for fun to getting contact blisters on his hands which heal slowly over about 5-7 days.
I asked a doctor at my local beekeeping association about it. She says that indeed it is possible to be allergic to propolis, and there are a number of potential allergens in propolis, which can be tested for individually. As a barrier gloves can be an effective protection; for fine work with queens, she suggests a very thin surgical type.
The chemicals in propolis can apparently cross react with other substances to give a greater reaction; asthma reaction is also possible. For people with a propolis allergy, she says great care should to be taken not to drink anything that contains propolis – some medicines do apparently, and for instance resins used on violins too. Desensitisation is possible, apparently, but doctors can only advise on this if people get tested, so that specific advice based on the test results can be given.
I agree with all you say Emily and get the same blisters as your American contact but have always had the allergy. If I open a jar of propolis and sniff the wonderful smell the skin on my face goes red and prickles! I use surgical gloves all the time now.
.I doubt whether I could be desensitised as to this because I carried on with bare hands for years but it got worse.
If my wife buys liquid soap containing honey my hands react and itch within minutes.
In my twenties I had very bad hayfever and also swelled badly with bee stings but the hay fever was noticeably better when I had bee sting venom in my blood. I hardly react to stings now after nearly 50 years of beekeeping.
Why do I continue? My wife says I am B minded and lucky to be alive!.
Keep learning and sharing.
You really do seem to have a bad case! Haven’t heard of the honey allergy before. At least you don’t react to the stings, that’s something. I understand you continuing, I wouldn’t want to stop seeing the bees either.
One other plus point of modern against past, the beekeeper now no longer has to slaughter bees to obtain the honey.
Yes – huge plus point.
Honey, fresh lime juice, a dash of sea salt and warm water…. works well for me. Feel better.
Sounds refreshing! Thanks for the recipe.
When reading of the monk’s bees, I was thinking about HOW they got the honey and Alex answered it. That truly is an improvement.
Yes, in the past bees were kept in straw skeps which the honey could not easily be harvested from without destroying the bees. From the Wikipedia page on beekeeping:
“Early forms of honey collecting entailed the destruction of the entire colony when the honey was harvested. The wild hive was crudely broken into, using smoke to suppress the bees, the honeycombs were torn out and smashed up — along with the eggs, larvae and honey they contained. The liquid honey from the destroyed brood nest was strained through a sieve or basket. This was destructive and unhygienic, but for hunter-gatherer societies this did not matter, since the honey was generally consumed immediately and there were always more wild colonies to exploit. But in settled societies the destruction of the bee colony meant the loss of a valuable resource; this drawback made beekeeping both inefficient and something of a “stop and start” activity. There could be no continuity of production and no possibility of selective breeding, since each bee colony was destroyed at harvest time, along with its precious queen.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beekeeping
Thank you. Very sad, but I do like learning about bees.
There is a lovely description of honey taking in 19th century rural Dorset in Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree. If you want to read it, go to http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2662/2662-h/2662-h.htm and scroll down to Part the Fourth Autumn, Chapter 2: Honey taking and Afterwards. I have the feeling that Hardy may also be drawing a parallel between the queen bee and Fancy Day, the heroine of the story who is a magnet to three men.
Thanks Philip, I enjoyed reading this. Funnily enough the local beekeepers do not all rush off to fetch me remedies when I get stung! I must not have Fancy Day’s mesmerising charm.
Emily, did you know there are places where honeybees are being eliminated for being non-native? I was really surprised by this. It is not like the bees have enough problems with which to deal. I wanted to leave the link to the blog where I learned this. I have the link in my post tomorrow, but in case you don’t get to see it. http://milliontrees.me/2013/11/01/monarch-butterflies-in-california-need-eucalyptus-trees-for-their-winter-roost/
Hi Donna, thanks for the link. I didn’t know that. To me it makes more sense to increase the nesting habitat and forage available for the native bees, rather than try to eliminate the honey bees. It’s destruction of habitat that’s affecting many bee species the most.
Luckily this won’t be an issue in the UK as the honey bee is a native species here, but I am sad for any honey bee colonies being destroyed in the U.S.
I read your reply on my post also, thank you for your reply. I really am interested in this development. As Million Trees said, they are eradicating anything non-native, so that would be inconsequential to adding foraging flowers is my guess. They will be adding native plants, so I am sure it is to benefit native bees. But how is that going to keep the honeybees from returning? I am with Million Trees that there is too much ‘conservation and rehabilitation’ efforts going on without full thought to the consequence to all living things. Their mission is primarily trees in the San Fransisco Bay area, but they do look into other issues as well.
Fascinating contents, remarkably well written. Thanks.