Back To School !

Orford Primary School
Orford Primary School

Fronted with an instantly-recognisable Victorian school design, Orford Primary School provides a friendly, inclusive learning environment for its pupils. It is set in the beautiful Suffolk coastal town of Orford and has a catchment area of the parishes of Gedgrave, Iken, Butley, Sudbourne and Chillesford. With its own weather station (sponsored by Orford Sailing Club), a dedicated IT annexe and a pioneering array of solar panels on its rear extension roof, the school represents a great asset for the community. And on the last day of Science Week in March 2015, I was preparing to take my bees to school.

Thermometer
Bee-Shed Thermometer At 5C In The Eclipse

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. That time was last September, when Debbie Gayler took over the joint headship of Aldeburgh and Orford Primary Schools and I offered to bring the bees in to show to the children. Now it was mid-March, 5C and in the middle of a solar eclipse, with a clammy, dank light fading perceptibly. And I was decanting Queen Beryl and 5 frames of bees out of Snape Hive and putting them into a glass observation hive to take into the school. Suddenly, it didn’t seem such a good idea, after all.

Orford Hives
Snape, Castle and Iken Hives

But the time had come. I had long thought that, since the pupils can see the hives from their playground, I should satisfy their curiosity, broaden their education and pique their interest in their neighbouring bees. So to introduce them by name, the two cedar hives are called Snape and Iken, named after local villages and the experimental poly-hive in the middle is called Castle. Because it looks a little like Orford Castle.

Obervation Hive Set Up In Hall
Obervation Hive Set Up In Hall

So I introduced the children from Aldeburgh and Orford Schools to their local bees in Assembly. And also to my lovely assistant and wife, Sarah. Just as well for that preamble, since in the nick of time, the School lap-top, my memory-stick and the projector started talking to each other, so that my narration of bees going about their business in all months of the year and could fall into place with the pictures. Things were definitely starting to look up.

Observation Hive
Playing “Find The Queen”

An observation hive has a single-frame of bees with the Queen, bees, eggs, larvae, sealed brood and some honey on it, inside a viewing section with two glass-sides. This is fixed on top of a nucleus (half-size) hive with 4 frames of bees and a frame of food in it, to keep the bees busy inside the hive. It is a secure installation for both bees and spectators, but the precaution of fixing it in place with a ratchet strap, just like all my hives in the apiary, always seems like a wise idea.

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Q&A

It was a pleasure to take questions about honeybees from all ages of this well-disciplined, but bright and cheerful group of children. There was one question which referred to the Queen’s mating flight and which needed delicate handling, but I think Queen Beryl’s blushes were spared.

Lunch At Orford Scool
Lunch At Orford School

At the lunch-break I was given my first School Dinner for 35 years – and my compliments to the chef ! Orford School has worked closely with the Jamie Oliver Foundation to disseminate The Teaching Garden Project to other local schools – and its teaching kitchen adds an invaluable dimension to the educational facilities for the area’s schools.

Foraging Bee2
Bee Foraging On Orford School’s Rosemary

The school has own organic vegetable and herb garden in which all the children work. Which is great for my bees, who gather pollen and nectar from the plants. Pollination helps the plants become more fertile and productive. Thanks for your gardening work, everyone !

Bee Foraging - Note The Yellow Pollen Bag On Its Leg
Bee Foraging – Note The Yellow Pollen Bag On Her Leg

Bees eat lunch, too, you know.

Observation Hive1
Observation Hive In The IT Room

After lunch, we set up the Observation Hive in the centre of the IT room (once again strapping it down securely)

Bee-Jackets
Bee-Jackets For Dressing-Up

and a bee-jacket and blue glove Dressing-Up station at one end of the room

Propolis
Propolis – Gum From Trees

and a touch-zone with real Propolis

Pollen
Pollen

and real Pollen displayed at the other.

Our Suffolk Coastal Honey

And what bee-education day would be complete without a honey tasting ? Here’s a tip which you can try yourself. Take a spoonful of local honey, pop it in your mouth, close your eyes and just hold it on your tongue for a count of five. Just taking this little extra time will reward you with a real release of flavours…

Dressing Up1
A Budding Beekeeper

Then we divided up each class into three groups, so that they could rotate around the room and ask questions about each exhibit in turn.

Dressing Up
Sarah Telling The Children About The Bees

Yes. Looking through a bee-veil does slightly change your view of the world. It makes seeing things a little harder, but it gives you protection. It is important that adults and children should never consider approach bee-hives without proper protective clothing and only while accompanied by an experienced beekeeper.

Back Home_edited-1
Observation Hive Back Home

The sun was shining, after the glum, clouded solar eclipse, as we took the Observation hive back to the apiary and replaced its frames in Snape Hive. The way to think of a bee-hive is as a single organism, with its own personality, habits and even its very own smell, which comes from the particular odour of each hive’s Queen. The bees reunited bees soon settled back into Snape hive.

Snape Hive - 22 March 2015_edited-1
Snape Hive, Settling Down After A Day Out

In many ways, a happy, healthy bee-hive is just like a bustling, buzzing school. Everyone gets on well together and works hard to get the day’s tasks done.

The Goal At Orford
The Goal At Orford

At the end of the day, our goal had been achieved: a spoonful of education about Orford’s bees. And a little entertainment along the way. Sarah and I really enjoyed being “school-side” for a day. Thank you, Debbie Gayler – and your wonderful staff. And of course, thank you, Orford Primary School children for your hospitality to our bees in your school kitchen garden. I can only repeat the words of Orford resident and writer, Anthony Horowitz, who remarked about Orford School, its staff and its pupils: “What a great place. The sort of school everyone would wish they’d been to.” Quite.

Honey Tasting

Honey Tasting_edited-2
Our Very Yellow Spring Breakfast Table

To celebrate the arrival of Spring, we held a breakfast honey tasting in Suffolk last Sunday. Amidst a vibrant outbreak of yellow daffodils and a dish of butter, we decanted 4 of our favourite honeys: one rural summer honey, one borage honey, one Italian acacia honey and, of course, Bermondsey Street Honey. It was a solemn ceremony. To begin with, anyway.

Honey Contenders
The Honey-Tasting Contenders

Four triangular dishes were labelled A, B, C, D on their underside and the honey decanted into each one. All were tasted, noted and scored blind, with 4 points for 1st and 1 point for 4th . Take it from me that each of these top-flight honeys was delicious.

The final scores were: Bermondsey Street Honey 11; Rural summer honey 9; Italian acacia 6; borage honey 4. Tasting Notes for Bermondsey Street Honey: “luscious”, “concentrated”, “lingering”, “slight pepper”, “buzzy”, “enrobing”, “tangy”.

Bermonsey-Street-Honey-248x300[1]
Pride Of Place In Our Spring Tasting

I was particularly pleased that the Bermondsey Street Honey prevailed, even though we tasted it fourth and last, since by then our palates were getting jaded. Let’s face it, if Bermondsey Street Honey, “Best Honey in London” at the National Honey Show in 2011 and Second Best in 2013, had come in stone last, there would have been one very red face around the table! Mine.

But as it was, yellow set the tone for a glorious Spring day. And it’s time to look forward to this year’s bees, rather than tasting last year’s honey.

Changeling Varroa

Newly-Emerged Bee With Varroa Mites (The Brown Discs)
Newly-Emerged Bee With Varroa Mites (Brown Discs)

At the Leiston and District Beekeepers’ Association AGM, some exciting new research into varroa mites was disclosed. (The L&DBKA partly sponsors an Eastern Area Research Student (EARS) project and that student is associated with this research).

These new insights into the fiendish cunning of these deadly bee parasites showed that varroa mites employ chemical camouflage to move, undetected, from the bee, on which they feed, into the brood cells, where they reproduce. Since the odour of a bee is very distinct from the odour in the brood cell, this is quite a transition.

Essentially, a varroa mite can change its chemical profile in between 3 and 9 hours when switching between bee or brood cell hosts and thus remain undetected by the bees. Even a dead varroa mite is capable of mimicking its host’s odour.

Here is the Abstract from The Journal of Chemical Ecology: Social insect colonies provide a stable and safe environment for their members. Despite colonies being heavily guarded, parasites have evolved numerous strategies to invade and inhabit these hostile places. Two such strategies are (true) chemical mimicry via biosynthesis of host odor, and chemical camouflage, in which compounds are acquired from the host. The ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor feeds on hemolymph of its honey bee host, Apis mellifera. The mite’s odor closely resembles that of its host, which allows V. destructor to remain undetected as it lives on the adult host during its phoretic phase and while reproducing on the honeybee brood. During the mite life cycle, it switches between host adults and brood, which requires it to adjust its profile to mimic the very different odors of honey bee brood and adults. In a series of transfer experiments, using bee adults and pupae, we tested whether V. destructor changes its profile by synthesizing compounds or by using chemical camouflage. We show that V. destructor required direct access to host cuticle to mimic its odor, and that it was unable to synthesize host-specific compounds itself. The mite was able to mimic host odor, even when dead, indicating a passive physico-chemical mechanism of the parasite cuticle. The chemical profile of V. destructor was adjusted within 3 to 9 h after switching hosts, demonstrating that passive camouflage is a highly efficient, fast and flexible way for the mite to adapt to a new host profile when moving between different host life stages or colonies.

That’s just not cricket !

The Poly Hive

This is a little experiment. Penny Robertson, Secretary of my local Leiston and District Beekeeping Association in Suffolk, told me in 2014 that she was not aware of any of the LDBKA’s  >100 members using, or ever having used, a poly hive. So I installed this one last summer and this is what I saw last weekend – with the thermometer showing a chilly 4C !

With the bees flying at these low temperatures (note that 10C is generally viewed as the lowest safe temperature for bees to fly) it is possible to offer both positive and negative interpretations about Castle hive’s unusual excursions. Here’s how:

An Optimist might rejoice that the bees are so well insulated in their poly-hive that they are able to fly in unusually low temperatures. A Pessimist might respond that this could equally be a function of their breeding line, rather than their lodgings, a classic case of nature, rather than nurture. Furthermore, he might add, there is no obvious advantage to be flying in dangerously low temperatures, so perhaps something about their the poly hive is forcing them to fly. Perhaps they need water to dilute their honey stores, or the fondant and pollen feed which I can see them eating on top of the frames. Ah-ha, replies the Optimist – that suggests that they are benefitting from an early build-up of brood, which will position them well for the Spring – unlike the draughty Snape and Iken cedar hives. Then again, perhaps the bees in the traditional wooden hives are regulating their hives so that some natural condensation is retained inside for diluting their stores to make them edible for brood-raising, so they do not have to fly, counters the Pessimist. Hmmm.

So will I be enthusiastically recommending the use of polystyrene hives to the good beekeepers of the Suffolk coast in 2015 ? Too early to tell.

But while the jury’s out, here are some other considerations about using the poly hive. The Pessimist would note that, as configured, it has bottom bee-space, so the semi-rigid transparent plastic sheet supplied as the roof to seal the hive, makes it fussy to close up the hive, jiggling the sheet around to avoid squashing bees between the plastic roof and the frames. Also, the walls of the hive are too wide to attach a frame holder, which are very useful to keep a couple of frames pressed up close to the outer wall of the hive at inspection time, rather than putting them on the ground, leaning against the hive. The Optimist would strike a more positive note, pointing out that the hive floor has a nice sloped landing board, that the polystyrene body makes the hive lightweight to handle, and that all the poly infrastructure can be intermixed with wooden brood and super boxes, if required. And finally, it is easy to strap down to a paving slab to keep it from blowing away in the wild coastal winds.

So it will be a while before I can assess the outcome the first year of my Suffolk poly hive. And when I’ve made my mind up, I’ll take the Optimist and the Pessimist down to the Jolly Sailor to buy them both a pint of Adnams bitter.

Eye Of The Storm

Eye of the Storm
Eye of the Storm

Each winter, there’s a patch of weather which furrows the beekeeper’s brow. The BBC’s weather forecast suggest that the high winds, sharp showers and zero degree temperatures forecast for the next 10 days look like being 2015’s pinch-point.

My beekeeping concerns are two-fold:

  • My London hives are sitting on a fourth-storey roof parapet, fully exposed to the elements. They are heavy with stores, insulated with 100mm Celotex in their roofs, their brood boxes are wrapped in bubble-wrap, to keep the wet out and to offer a degree of insulation, they are lashed to metal D-rings with industrial-strength straps and they also have their varroa-boards in, to prevent gusts of wind ripping up through the open mesh floor to chill the brood box. For my urban hives, temperature loss in the winter cluster of bees through wind action is my main concern.

 

  • On the Suffolk Coast, the hives have the same insulation and bubble-wrap epidermis. They sit on hive stands just 9 inches above the ground, strapped over heavy paving slabs in a sheltered spot in my garden. My main concern here is that the wind off the North Sea could be so savage that it will catch the hive walls like sails. My consternation for the rural hives is that they will “capsize”, or be blown over.

Now, let me take a step back into the world of probabilities. I haven’t suffered any hive upsets in any winter weather event in any previous year. But in this period of extended separation from the bees, the natural inclination of the beekeeper is to fret.

You can be sure that trepidation will be my constant companion until the end of this month.

 

Pump Street

Pump Street  Cocoa Bean
From Bean (Well, Let’s Start With A Pod……)

I’ve always been lucky. But never luckier than when invited by Joanna Brennan to tour Pump Street Chocolate’s factory with her father Chris Brennan, family owners of foodie icon Pump Street Bakery.

Under a clear blue sky, we congregated on Sunday morning, small groups converging on Pump Street’s Orford Chocolate factory as 11 o’clock drew closer. In the middle distance, the bells of St. Bartholomew chimed the appointed hour and Chris Brennan appeared in his immaculate whites, to usher us though the porch and into his spick-span shrine of chocolate. With reverential hush, we foregathered in the “chocolate room”, where the introduction slide of an AV presentation was playing against the wall.

With the BBC’s “Best Food Producer of 2012” award under Pump Street Bakery’s belt, Chris wears his pre-eminence lightly. And his first utterance was a master-stroke: reminding the foregathering that we were in a working food-production environment, he bade us all wash our hands. The message was powerful: so, guys, pay attention : this isn’t a cinema or leisure centre – it’s the hygienic core of the chocolate-making universe and here we do things the right way. Our ritual cleansing completed, we turned our shriven attention to our host.

Pump Street - Chris Brennan - High Priest Of Chocolate
Chris Brennan

His native Jamaican accent syncopated with Canadian vowels, Chris commanded our attention with the simple revelation that bakery and chocolate shared a common trait – that they both require expert fermentation to make a perfect product. The width and breadth of my ignorance was evident from the outset – and I was determined not to miss even a nuance of the words from the pulpit.

Indeed, Chris then delivered an eloquent homily on the evils of the bulk cocoa-trade. Purchases at exploitative prices through a chain of intermediaries meant that the (now largely African) independent producers of cocoa beans receive such rock-bottom prices that they are compelled to use the cheapest available form of labour – children. A swift admonition for those sinners amongst his flock (complicit with the big UK chocolate brands, most of which, ironically, were descended from Quaker families – Terry, Cadbury etc – who sought to offer the masses a temperate pleasure to displace alcohol) and Chris moved nimbly on to the sweet brown stuff. “Bean-To-Bar” is the nub of Pump Street Chocolate’s proposition. In practice, this means that Chris deals directly with the cocoa bean growers, deliberately paying 4-5 times the buyers’ cartel prices and 2 ½ times “Fairtrade” prices, to ensure a high-quality, ethical (no child-labour) and traceable supply of raw material.

So we started with a cocoa pod: big as a veined brown skittle, this was where it all began. Inside would be a white pulp, the fruit wrapped around 20-40 seeds – the precious cocoa beans. These are fermented, then sun-dried before being shipped directly to Pump Street Chocolate. That’s the whole supply-chain. We left the “chocolate room” and went out into the sunshine to peek inside the container with its hessian-sacked bean-bags, each variety and vintage neatly labelled.

Pump Street - Container

Next, we stepped inside again and observed saw the custom-built ( by a local engineer with long F1 driving experience) winnowing machine for separating the cocoa bean husks from the chocolatey “nibs” and sampled a shaped, lightly-roasted cocoa bean.

Pump Street Nibs

A question was asked about how Chris ensured the consistency of his product for the marketplace. The answer was candid: “I don’t. Once you get to the realisation that no two batches will ever be the same, it won’t bother you.” The message is iconoclastic for modern food shibboleths : forget the mediocrity of equal outcomes, instead embrace inconsistent excellence. As I listened to Chris, it was slowly dawning on me that his fervour for excellence in his chocolate production had multiple parallels with my own beekeeping principles!

We processed back into the chocolate room, where the machines were devotionally whirring and churning, as we had left them. The chocolate/sugar grinders, paddling chocolate as smooth and dark and as a wet mink’s coat, were disclosed to be modified Indian spice-grinding drums, massively pimped with an American engine, rebranded and supplied to smaller-scale chocolate producers.

Pump Street - Grinding Chocolate, Sugar and Cocoa Butrter

Summoned forward, communion-like, we look our turn to the glossy torrent, reverentially dipping our wooden spatulas into the spate, withdrawing it taking a step back, while obeying Chris’s injunction to: “Raise it to the vertical”. The sight of a dozen people in procession, raising their chocolate-wands heavenwards on instruction could have been mistaken for a cabbalistic gesture. But it was simply Chris’s technique to prevent the rivulet of chocolate dripping off the spatula as we stepped down from the high altar of the cocoa bean.

One particular heresy was exposed by our celebrant of the true chocolate. Chris uses milk powder when making milk chocolate. I recalled the assertion of a “glass and a half of full cream milk” in every half pound of chocolate with which one English chocolate company used to market its mass-produced, purple-wrapped product. This is now inaccurate – milk solids are described by the mass-manufacturer as 28% of the ingredients and indeed, the EU intervened in 2010 to insist that each pack should read: “The equivalent of 426ml of fresh liquid milk in every 227g of milk chocolate”. Serves the whole damned lot of them right, if you ask me !

Precision of temperature and time were evident in all of the processes. There were trials, Chris pointed out, as he roasted each new bean under different conditions until his tasting team had agreed on the correct treatment of the beans. After looking at the tempering machine for Pump Street Chocolate’s new breadcrumb/chocolate hybrid “Sourdough and Sea-Salt Chocolate” confection, we were convinced of the science-lab accuracy of the art of making fine chocolate.

Pump Street - Conching Sourdough & Sea-Salt Chocolate

We could sense that we were approaching the final stages of the “bean to bar” process when Chris, a man with a mission – and a strong sense of the theatrical, urged me to take down from the shelf next to the person-sized fridge  a monstrous slab of chocolate, the result of 70 hours of warm metal caresses, now cooled and rested.

Pump Street  - Chocolate Slab

The next short step is to reheat the chocolate and put it into the bar-making machine for a final melt and hold at a precise temperature. A simple plastic tray received the exact fill of chocolate and the bean had finally become a bar !

Pump Street - Bar Machine

It was almost an anti-climax when Chris asked us to sample his chocolate. The door of the fridge swung open to reveal racked shelves, closely spaced, and a wonkaesque panoply of chocolate bars – and three plates with a different chocolate style on each. But the tasting soon overcame any lingering reserve amongst the disciples of Chris’s chocolate. I can confirm that I am now a convert, as autumn takes hold, to the colour brown. The rich, deep, sleek textures of the Pump Street Chocolate which we sampled (Madagascar – Milk 58%Sourdough and Sea Salt ; Grenada – Crayfish Bay Estate) won us all over. Never has “brown food” been so appealing !

Pump Street Chocolate
….To Bar

His Sunday service concluded, Chris was even more generous with his answers to the questions which were put to him, shaking hands as we departed, chatty as a country parson. I can wholeheartedly recommend a pilgrimage to Pump Street Chocolate, to celebrate the dedication, devotion and ingenuity of Chris and Joanna Brennan’s enterprise.

But there’s more….. Pump Street also won a 2014 Wallpaper Design award for the simple (and resealable!) packaging. Its website has won accolades and Cédric The Van is a charming accessory to spread the Pump Street gospel over the immediate neighbourhood. So let’s add effortlessly cool design to great bread and extraordinary chocolate. Almost impudent excellence!

Pump Street - Cedric the Van1
Cédric The Van

Tempted ? Well, the last Chocolate Tour scheduled as part of the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival is on Sunday 12th October – please book, as instructed below:

The last of our chocolate room tours as part of Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival Fringe are running this weekend – still some places left for Sunday, if you’d like to come please book here: http://www.pumpstreetbakery.com/bookings/aldeburgh-fringe-chocolate-room-tour-9

In fact, it turned out that my tour was even luckier than I had first thought. As I listened to the messianic Chris Brennan describe his chocolate making as “bean-to-bar”, the words “bee-to-jar” sprang on to the tip of my tongue – the perfect encapsulation of my one-man, beginning-to-end honey production. Thanks for the inspiration, Chris ! “Bee-to-jar” it is, then!

In The Apiary : Late September : Mishaps

Snape Hive - Anatomy Of A Bee-Hive
Snape Hive – Anatomy Of A Bee-Hive

I’m going to call last weekend’s events “mishaps”. Not misadventures and not disasters. Not yet.

Here’s a heavily edited version of what transpired at my Suffolk apiary. That’s because when I wrote down what actually happened on Saturday afternoon, the catalogue of woe was bigger and wider than Argos’s Christmas edition. So I binned it and started again.

Executive summary: 3 out of 4 hives turned out to be Queenless. Ness Hive was as conspicuously Queenless as a radical, regicidal republic. Castle Hive reverberated with an unmistakeable “queenless roar” as soon as I flipped the lid off. And Snape Hive, the pride of the apiary this year, had its brood frames ravaged by a drone-laying-Queen (DLQ) depositing drone eggs haphazardly in the brood box and, incredibly, sleighting through a metal queen excluder, ovipositing in the super. I ask you !

Ghastly Brood Pattern
Spotty Brood Pattern – And All Drone, Too!

The first thing a beekeeper wants to see when a beehive is opened is clear evidence of Queen activity. If a perusal of “the Court circular” draws a blank for Her Majesty’s recent engagements, anxiety levels begin to rise. But there is one time of year when an AWOL monarch really sets the nerves jangling. And this is it. Autumn. The reason is that there is n0 breeding window left to replace her. Quite simply, no Queen means no new bees in a hive, assuring a long, dwindling death as the workers die of old age, unreplaced. A DLQ means a quicker annihilation, as drones gobble up precious resources both before and after emerging from their wax cells on a one-way ticket to oblivion.

I needed a plan. What I got instead was a confection of intuition and bee-knowledge, bow-tied with a ribbon of guesswork. I would dismantle Snape Hive and merge it with Ness Hive, feed and medicate the merged bees, then add a spare Queen next week. Readers of a sensitive disposition should feel free to skip the next two paragraphs, which contain explicit references to bee-husbandry. Some may find this offensive. And too technical by half.

Here goes: I restored 4 frames of foundation to the recently dummied-down Ness Hive and moved it to Snape Hive’s stand, adding lemongrass to the entrance to mask the distinct odours of Ness and Snape Hives as they united. (The flying bees from Ness Hive would return to an empty space, but would drift to neighbouring queenright Iken Hive). I moved Snape Hive 20 metres away and smoked it heavily, so that the bees would be crammed with honey to pay the price of admission to a foreign hive. Then I disassembled Snape Hive, shaking the bees frame by frame into the air and brushing off any stragglers onto the lawn. Finally a sharp bang on the brood box, for good measure, to dislodge any recalcitrant bees.

Smoked And Shaken Bees
Smoked And Shaken Bees

The evicted workers flew off to the newly-positioned Ness Hive – now renamed Snape Hive and crowned with Snape’s trademark roof, a sinuous white ‘S’. Initially, there was plenty of congestion on the threshold of the hive, since I have drawing-pinned a Queen excluder across the  the entrance, to keep out any DLQ or drones. Half-an-hour later, I checked that there was no DLQ craving admission, then took off the QE and replaced the entrance block. I fed the uniting hive with 2 ½ gallons of thymolated syrup (to combat nosema), which will I hope the bees will use, unseasonably, to draw out the brood comb on the four new frames, ready to accept a new laying Queen.

Well, that’s the trailer. No doubt it is one of those trailers which is better than the actual movie. This could be a devastating setback to my Suffolk apiary as autumn sets in. Thank goodness I have spare queens in London (the adage about smooth succession being assured by “an heir and a spare” works just as well for bee dynasties as for human ones).

All is not yet lost, but I’m up against it in my first full year as a rural Suffolk beekeeper – and no mistake.

Fair Exchange

A Beekeeper

At last week’s Bermondsey Street Festival, I was asked to describe my relationship with my bees. It’s a fair question.

Consider: we belong to different species, our lifespans are mis-matched and our unit sizes are dramatically divergent. The matter is complicated by the fact that I am one and they are many. The complexity intensifies further when you consider that each individual hive has its own quirks and character traits.

In summary, I”m entangled with hundreds of thousands of individual insects, segregated into independent colonies which perform as autonomous super-organisms – and all this at one location on a London rooftop and at another a hundred miles away in a rural Suffolk garden. Only a on-line dating agency running on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum afflicted by a serious malware dysfunction would try to fix up a relationship between those two parties.

Yet my answer to the relationship question is surprisingly simple: “The bees are my clients”.

I think of it in day-job terms. As a stockbroker, I provide advice and consultancy services to a diverse list of professional asset-gatherers (what could better resemble a “professional asset-gatherer” in nature than a honeybee?). Our interests are aligned: if my clientele prospers from my inputs, their assets under management will grow and my reward will increase proportionately. It is an outcomes-based exchange. So if my interventions allow the bees to thrive and be productive, they will reward me with money honey.

For example, I have made two major local planting initiatives: the installation of pollinator-friendly flowerbeds in St Mary Magdalen Churchyard in 2012 and the planting of a fruiting wildlife corner of Leathermarket Gardens in 2014. If I put forage in the ground for the bees, they will have abundant natural food – and increase their chances of good health and high honey yields, to our mutual benefit.

In 3 decades working in the City, client relationships have been the key to my career. In a knowledge-based business, tasked with creating long-term value, I have a duty of care. Allied to that ethic, the practical reality is that a high knowledge base means a low frequency of interventions – another notable correlation with beekeeping.

A Stockbroker

As they say, fair exchange is no robbery.

Inventure

As friends return, breathless with tales of exotic derring-do, from summer adventures, my gills may have taken on just the slightest tinge of green. Hmmm, I grouched, all I have to show for this summer is a fortnight on the a Suffolk Coast. With my head stuck in a beehive, mostly.

Seeking solace, I stumbled into the word “inventure”. And why not ? A prefix is the pivot of meaning. “Inventure” has all the makings of adventure, but without the outbound element. It’s a vivid, heart-quickening invitation to delve deep into the unknown. “Inventure”. Yes, indeed.

Continue reading “Inventure”