Last week, I became a food producer. An unexpected development, I admit, for an inner-city dweller with no garden. But it must be true, because the editor of my College magazine said so. Optima published a two-page spread on Fitz alumni who had become food producers (page 14), with my rooftop Bermondsey Street Bees in pole position. So after a long career as a food consumer, I felt that I had finally passed over to the sunny side of the street.
While I was trying on my new, righteous and right-on persona for size, it occured to me that the planting days which I co-ordinated this spring with Bankside Open Spaces Trust in my local Leathermarket Gardens have started to bear fruit – literally. These bee-friendly plantings included a mini-orchard of red, black and white currants, as well as apples – all for picking and consumption by Bermondsey residents. So that’s food production on two levels: the bees foraged on the spring blossoms, which started the ball rolling for these summery pickings for south Londoners.
And how about my Alscot Road allotment ? That’s my arable: the bees can scoop up pollen and nectar from my broad beans, french beans, peas, damson, asparagus, mint, garlic, saffron crocus, courgettes and squashes (but not from tomatoes) to feed their siblings. The fertilization which the Bermondsey Street Bees perform as they rummage on this pasturage, half a mile away from their hives, provides fresh produce for my family (and, in times of glut, for ambient friends on my trek home from the allotment).
So the bees are my livestock: I plant the seed, which then flowers and feeds the bees. The bees pollinate the plants, providing fruit and vegetables which I harvest, putting fresh food on the table. The bees also take nectar back to the hive and store the surplus in wax combs which I extract for the honey crop. The journey starts with a packet of seeds and ends up with enough produce to fill a greengrocer’s stall and hundreds of jars of award-winning honey. In the middle of this busy, two-way throughfare are the Bermondsey Street Bees.
Keeping my feet firmly on the ground, I do realise that sawing up boughs gathered from urban windfalls for next winter’s logs doesn’t make me a lumberjack (even if I did wear a check shirt and cursed more than occasionally!), but I’m beginning to believe that my Bermondsey plantings, allotment and honey crops really do qualify me as a Bermondseyshire farmer. Ooo-arr, me old cocker.