Honey has a feel-good factor. Not surprising, really: it enjoys a pretty good press. But nothing is more undermining of the common sense of human beings than being exposed to an overwhelmingly positive consensus. Bees, honey and beekeeping now luxuriate in the inner sanctum of unanimous approval. So let’s start by sharpening our critical faculties with a little exercise.
Take one of those squeezy plastic honey-jars on a supermarket shelf. Then contemplate the rubric on the label which describes the honey’s provenance as: “A blend of EU and non-EU honeys“. You don’t have to have a degree in English Literature to figure out that this means: “Honey from anywhere on earth“. Perhaps we ought to be grateful that it is at least terrestrial honey (or else the label would have to say “A blend of honeys from EU and non-EU planets“, wouldn’t it ?). One heck of a good reason to buy local honey, I’d say.
And if you enjoyed the sting in the tail of that little exposition, you will surely appreciate this tale of a sting by U.S. Homeland Security, known as “Project Honeygate“. This link to Susan Berfield’s extensive article The Honey Launderers forensically exposes the largest food fraud in U.S. history – and it’s all about honey. And money, of course…..
ps: Groeb Farms, the organisation at the centre of this story, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. A reorganization plan in the works which will see $27 million of debt being forgiven and a Texas private equity firm assuming control. That’s all right, then.
Tests showed that exhaust degraded some floral scent chemicals the bees “home in on” when they are foraging. The study, published in Scientific Reports, also revealed that a specific group of chemicals found in diesel exhaust, known as NOx, diminished the insects’ response to floral scents.
Tanner Street Park is a particular favourite of mine. It is just 20 yards away from my front door. Tanner Street Park is also the epicentre of next weekend’s Bermondsey Street Festival (“The only London Street Festival where the sun ALWAYS shines“). And although it is modest by London park standards (2 1/2 acres, I guess, with 3 hard tennis courts in the middle), it occupies the site of the infamous St Olave’s Union Bermondsey workhouse (built in 1791) but is now full of Christmas roses, crocus, cherry and horse chestnut, allium, honeysuckle, clover, snowberries, ivy and, still ablaze in patches, red hot pokers (plant name: Kniphofia).
Forgive me this aside, but wherever I go I am sure to hear the remark: “There can’t be much for your bees to eat in London“. Hmmm. For the record, I only ever get irritated by that tiny minority who refer to our fine capital city as “that London“.
Back on topic – here is a delightful video from my younger son, Maff, featuring bees on Red Hot Pokers in Tanner Street Park. The colours, noise and mood are redolent of summer – and the video also provides visual evidence that Bermondsey Street Bees can walk backwards!
An awful lot of poppycock has been written about urban bees by people who should know better (or, more reprehensibly, abuse their positions by promoting their own seed mixes, agency photographers or honey sales without disclosing those personal commercial interests).
As an antidote to the twaddling classes, here is the British Beekeepers Association’s sane, simple, one-page commentary on “Bees In The City“.
I hope that you enjoyed my spoof “flier” for a new restaurant opening in Bermondsey Street. We are fortunate to be well provided with great restaurants here (have you tried the fabulous Restaurant Story yet?)… but as a beekeeper, I am concerned about what can be done to ensure that there is sufficient food out there for London’s local bees to eat. Hence this focus on “Forage“.
The scale of the potential problem in London can be illustrated by this chilling statistic from the government’s BeeBase. Around my London apiary, Bermondsey Street Bees, there are 581 registered Apiaries within a 10-kilometre radius (although bees are widely held to fly a maximum of 5 kilometres for forage). In the lush Suffolk countryside, the apiary at School House Bees has just 29 registered Apiaries within a 10-kilometre radius. The density of registered apiaries in grey old London is 20 times greater than in rural Suffolk ! And if you assume (a) some 20% of apiaries are unregistered (b) there is an average of 4 beehives per apiary, then the Bermondsey Street Bees could be sharing their lunch with bees from as many as 2,750 competing bee-hives !
Since 2010, when the tide of beekeeping popularity was rising fast, enlightened beekeepers in London, such as former London Beekeepers Association Chairman, John Chapple, have warned of the danger of lack of sufficient forage for London’s bees. My strategy has been to approach the authorities responsible for urban plantings – mostly Borough Councils – and to work with key officers in those organisations to intervene directly and permanently on the provision of forage for pollinators.
Since July 2011, I have been advising Southwark Council on the promotion of sustainable forage and best-practice rooftop beekeeping. I am currently working with Southwark’s Environmental Officers towards the specification of a minimum 50% Pollinator-Friendly Planting in all of Southwark Council’s plant procurement protocols: “what’s one more Council quota between friends?” Even simple, cost-saving recommendations, such as setting longer summer grass-mowing schedules for the huge existing acreage of Southwark’s parks and verges (even lengthening cutting schedules by a single week provides vastly more full-flower daisy, dandelion and clover forage for bees) have proved to be a great leap forward in bee-friendly municipal thinking. Not rocket science!
While some see the current fad for sprinkling London with expensively-packaged, designer, “meadow” seeds by commercially-interested parties as toe-curling tokenism, it can only be a positive that the publicity machines of London Beekeeping Associations have finally trundled into action to raise the forage issue in the general consciousness. The “London wildflower-meadow” idyll which they are selling certainly makes a pretty picture – see the front page of the June BBKA newsletter – and so features, with only the merest hint of irony, as the background to my spoof “flier”.
“Slick Willie” Sutton said that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is“. Similarly, my forage-focussed energies are spent working with my local Council, since its direct influence on the outcome of long-term provision of forage for bees is far greater, for example, than any London Beekeeping Association. For that reason, in late 2011 I applied to Southwark Council for a “Cleaner, Greener, Safer” grant for Pollinator-Friendly Planting in a local park. A sizeable grant was awarded, which resulted, in October 2012, in the setting-out of new beds and the planting by local volunteers of 11 each of 32 bee-friendly varieties from the Royal Horticultural Society’s List in St. Mary Magdalen Churchyard, SE1 3UW.
The good news is that the first splashes of colour on the planting beds began to appear earlier this month……and the flowering of that patch of bee-forage is what I wanted to celebrate in my new restaurant “flier”……all we need now is a little sunshine and the Bermondsey Street Bees will need no further invitation to the grand opening of “Forage”!
No sign of our London rooftop bees yet, as for weeks now the 10-day weather forecast has shown the prospect of Spring weather forever receding onto the horizon.
Maybe this will prove to be a pivot-point in this year’s weather, just like drought warnings and expensive media campaigns on that theme early last year (even the sides of London buses trumpeted this message!) heralded the beginning of a 12-month rainy season.
So while we’re waiting for the real thing – here is Apis, taking wing for the first time!