I didn’t realise when we posed for this picture that Marie Laure Legroux and I were making an impromptu version of the French tricolore: Blue, White and Red. There’s selfie solidarity for you!
In the last week of November, with the bees all safely tucked up for winter, I had two speaking engagements. One was in rural Suffolk and the other in gritty Hackney. Each addressed a very different topic. The first was to an audience of fellow beekeepers, the second to a bevy of young food and drink entrepreneurs. The theme of the initial talk was a genteel one: “Preparing Honey For Show”, while the next was the fire-branding: “Bees Can’t Eat Kind Words”.
We crossed the Atlantic to visit Artie Rollins at his New York City Parks Department’s 30,000 square foot rooftop on Randall’s Island.
An unusual assignment. And an unglamorous location. Even the taxi driver we flagged down in Harlem after the M35 bus we were on broke down had no idea where it was. Or did, but didn’t like the idea of going there. But we were on a mission.
It is rare for me to receive an invitation to a Palace. As a beekeeper, I usually visit my queens uninvited. But I was flattered when John Chapple suggested that I might like to stand in for him at a Parliamentary away day at Lambeth Palace. John is simply the best beekeeper I know. So to be invited to open his hives and inspect them with a group of absolute novices was a feather in my cap.
In deepest Oxfordshire, between two days of torrential downpours, Phil Spillane, the Seasonal Bee Inspector, came to inspect our Soho Farmhouse apiary.
At 5.31pm precisely the doorbell rang. It was the Seasonal Bee Inspector for South London, Brian McCallum, sent from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on a routine visit to the Bermondsey Street Bees. In the 8 years in which I have been keeping bees, this was my first visit from an inspector. Or, as I like to look at it, the first time I have been offered a free beekeeping lesson from an expert, paid for by Her Majesty’s Government. Hey, Brian, great to see you! But what kept you so long? Suiting-up on the roof terrace, I noticed that Brian’s bee-suit’s breast pocket has a badge with the insignias of “Fera” and “National Bee Unit” sewn into it. Now, there used to be a government department called Fera, which was formed in 2009. But Fera is now a limited company, owned 75% by Capita plc and 25% by DEFRA (Department of Food and Agriculture). Of course, DEFRA was created to absorb the splendidly-titled Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in 2002. And the Bee Inspectorate was transferred from Fera to APHA late last year. Can anyone out there explain why government departments change their name-tags as freqently as those of the baristas at your local Costa Coffee? Dizzying, isn’t it? Anyway, smoker lit, we set straight to work. Brian was soon performing the slow ballet of beekeeping on our precarious fourth storey rooftop. Standing in a narrow gully between the pitched slate roof and the brick parapet on which the hives stand, we danced a pas-de-deux, as elegantly as possible in our veiled bee-suits, visiting Abbey Hive, Square Hive, Swarm Hive, Neckinger Hive, Leathermarket Hive, Shard Hive and Thames Hive.
The Bermondsey Street Bees have enrolled in the COLOSS CSI Pollen study, which covers 18 European countries, working with Norman Carreck of the University of Sussex. This is an important adjunct to our own work on forage (watch this space!).
The protocol involves taking a representative 20g sample of pollen from three Bermondsey Street hives, dividing the pollen loads into different colours and then classifying the number of each different hue (Abundant, Rare and Very Rare are the categories). The number of days taken to provide the sample is also noted. Results are classified according to the protocol and e-mailed to Norman Carreck. The pollen sample is then frozen, so that a microscopic analysis could establish the exact number of pollen types (botanical diversity), if required.
In some quarters, local pollen is said to be a palliative for hay fever sufferers. So if any Apis readers in the Bermondsey Street zone would like some fresh local pollen, there are 3 small jars of Bermondsey Street pollen available.
If you’d like one, please give me a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org , with “Pollen” in the message box. They’ll be allocated on a strictly “first come, first served” basis for collection next week.
Just follow these simple steps to become a Master Beekeeper:
After all these years, I’m just happy to learn something new every day…
Sarah and I were delighted to receive a collection of wonderful bee-drawings made by the pupils of Orford CEVA Primary School, following our bee-education day in March.
Here are some random samples of the art-work.
In particular, we loved the vibrant colours and the many different interpretations of a bee’s anatomy.
We marked them all 10 out of 10! Full marks!