Bermondsey Street Bees has initiated a planting of bee-friendly fruit bushes and trees supplied by BOST (Bankside Open Spaces Trust) in Leathermarket Gardens SE1 (opposite Bermondsey Village Hall, against the brick walls of the Guinness Trust Buildings) from 10.00am to 12 noon on Friday 21st March 2014. This will provide serious long-term forage for bees – with resilient, hardy, fruiting perennials. Come and join us !
Short notice, I know, but you are cordially invited to pop along and lend a little local support for this project. Just bring yourself – all equipment will be supplied!
Next to opening a supermarket, being invited to plant a tree is clear-cut proof that you have arrived on the celebrity circuit. Pictures of all participants will appear on the Bermondsey Street Bees, thus ensuring that you will become an instant tree-planting celebrity.
One very good reason why beekeepers are fractious, back-biting egotists collaborative, chummy souls is that the maximum distance which a bee can fly in search of forage is 3 miles away from the hive. Why’s that ? Well, any further and the bee would expend more energy on a six-mile round-trip than it could possibly gather. So any bee-related activity outside that 3-mile radius around your apiary might as well be happening on the moon.
Compartmentalisation comes with the territory in beekeeping. Each Queen is an egg-box, each hive is a crateful of bees, each apiary is a single precinct. Paradoxically, that demarcation means that there is no advantage to be gained in withholding knowledge, begrudging another’s success or heaping malicious thoughts on your fellow bee-wranglers. If that beekeeper is outside your parochial, 3-mile balliwick, then whatever they get up to is about as impactful for your bees as the comings and goings of the French President’s moped at the Elysée Palace. So help and advice can be lavishly gifted to your peers. And if, on the other hand, that beekeeper is within your own perimeter, you have every reason to want to encourage their success with a healthy stock of bees and a thriving ecology. Your self-interest is served by helping your closest neighbours.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, disease, bad bee genes, invasive predators, pesticides and self-aggrandising bee-ureaucrats all threaten the well-being of the wider bee nation. But I’m not Einstein – I’m a stockman, so my primary role as a beekeeper is to maintain high-health bees on my own patch. Nail that, and so much else just falls into place.
For that reason, beekeepers are hyper-sensitive about what actually does go on within their 3-mile inclusion zone. Particularly on the subject of forage. So if you would like to scratch the itch of curiosity about the limits of your bees’ 3-mile foraging potential, then look no further than this link (which will take you anywhere in the world). I bet that you’ll be surprised !
It’s tempting, isn’t it, as a keeper of bees, to take a brief look at this comparison between hours of sunshine per year in the UK and California. Executive summary: there are more than twice as many sunlit hours every year on Ventura Highway than on Bermondsey Street. Hard not to star humming: “I wish they all could be California girls”. Imagine – beekeeping in Ray-Bans on roller-skates amongst the almond groves. Stylish!
And why not ? My Bermondsey Street Bees always seen happiest with a dose of SE1 sunshine on their hard-body backs. We could just scarper to Santa Monica, switch the sun on when we got up in the morning and switch it off again every evening. Perhaps it was my recent Bermondsey Bee On The Beach snapshot which set the beach-volley-ball rolling….
Hang on, though. Born, bred and beekeepered in London, my bees and I share a common heritage. We Londoners can take any amount of scudding grey cloud, umbrella-eviscerating wind and, of course, the old slang-rhyming “Duke of Spain”. Add in the distinct variations in the seasons of our urban estuary – bleak winters, grudging-green springs, mercurial summers and untrustworthy autumns – and we have a pretty challenging beekeeping environment all year round.
Second thoughts, I’ll take a rain-check on those turn-left-on-the-airplane tickets to LAX. Let’s keep it edgy on our windy London rooftop. It’ll take more than wringing wet skies and the odd clap of thunder to shift the Bermondey Street Bees off their manor, sunshine!
Here at Bermondsey Street Honey, we scorn food miles. We deal in food furlongs. Last Saturday morning, we pitched the Bermondsey Street Honey barrow on the Bermondsey Square Market for the very first time. That’s just 220 yards, exactly a furlong (for younger readers, that’s one-eighth of a mile) away from the Bermondsey Street Apiary. In that short distance, the honey has undergone a transformation from the honeycomb in my hives. First it’s uncapped and spun out, then cold-filtered (three times), ripened, jarred and labelled and then transported over that single, flat furlong, to the spot where Bermondsey Abbey was founded in 1082. And there it is: a jar of award-winning Bermondsey Street Honey. Slap bang in the middle of the SE1 postcode, urban honey doesn’t get much more local than that !
Big thanks to Fabienne from Galileo Organic Farm for organizing the stall – and also to all the other traders at Bermondsey Square Market, who welcomed us day-trippers as a part of their tribe. We lashed the stalls together against the Bermondsey Square squalls and finished the set-up with a minute to spare…
The star feature, Bermondsey Street Honey, sold out after an hour. Having won Second prize at this year’s National Honey Show in the “Best Honey Inside The M25” category (a bit of a come-down from 2011’s First prize in the same category, but never mind – you get the message!). A word of advice for those who arrived too late at the stall to buy this consistently award-winning local Honey – subscribe to this blog and you will receive a preferential offer to place an order for 2014’s honey harvest – the best way to ensure a taste of Bermondsey Street’s most sought-after spoonful!
And our “pop-up”, 2013-only “Southwark Honey” was tasted on the stall – and it sold and sold and sold. This exquisite local Honey came from hives backing onto Southwark Park which were left to me 2013 by bee-breeders Craig and Leanne Knox, who have relocated to Belize. I used to buy Queens from Craig for the Bermondsey Street Apiary, so the bees which make Bermondsey Street Honey and “Southwark Honey” are part of our close-knit South London family. Wotcha darlin’, alright !
As you can see from the snapshots, the sun shone all day – we really should have been selling sun-tan lotion! Old acquaintances, fellow beekeepers, dog-walkers and new friends made it a fantastic day. It was almost too much excitement for Eddie the Pug….
So there we are. I’m not sure whether to be nostalgic about last Saturday’s extravaganza, or to start making plans for an even bigger and better 2014 Bermondsey Street Honey stall. But there is one last thing left to mention:
This local, intensely floral honey is the perfect Christmas gift. It is the taste of sunshine. There are still a few jars left at our traditional retail outlet, Cave, at 210 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3TQ. And a few shiny bags of Sarah’s authentic Bermondsey Street Roasted Cumin Salt and Rosemary and Chilli Salt can still be found on their shelves, too.
As promised when I started Apis, subscribers to this blog will receive a preferential opportunity to purchase Bermondsey Street Honey. The bad news is that there isn’t much to be had this year, given the poor start to 2013, from which the bees never completely recovered. The good news is that our honey won another gong at this year’s National Honey Show…and that the bees are in great condition as we head into winter!
So if you wish to buy this multiple award-winning Bermondsey Street Honey , it is available in 130 g jars at £7.50 per jar. (Actually, the weights are over 160 g, but that’s a small detail). Please indicate the quantity which you would like to buy to email@example.com (in the event of oversubscription, orders will be pro-rated at my discretion) before midnight on Friday 22nd November.
On Saturday 23rd November 2013 from 10am-2pm, I will be selling my Southwark Honey for £10 per 300 g jar (this year I have been able to make a “second” honey from local Southwark hives) and making pre-ordered Bermondsey Street Honey available for collection from our pop-up stall at Bermondsey Square market .
If you’ve come to read about bees, then you’re welcome to skip to the last 2 paragraphs. But if you don’t mind taking the scenic route, with a detour through the urban landscape of the London pigeon, please read on.
In my childhood, a half-term treat would be a family excursion to the West End of London. We’d start with a visit to the Pathé fim/cartoon cinema in Victoria followed by lunch at a Wimpy bar and then on to Trafalgar Square, at the heart of London, for the highlight of the day: feeding the pigeons. Quick beaks mobbed the birdseed sprinked all the way up the outstretched sleeve of my grey plastic mac, as if the rationing of the 1940s and 1950s were still embedded in their feathery psyches.
But how times have changed: the pigeons have been all but evicted from Trafalgar Square, Wimpy bars are rarer than red telephone boxes and YouTube has atomised the cartoon cinema concept.
For now, let’s focus on the pigeons (wild rock doves or winged rats: take your pick) which were routine walk-on extras in each reel of eastmancolor London. They say that Trafalgar Square is now host to just a couple of hundred feral pigeons, down from the 40,000 post-war peak. Nowadays, spikey anti-roosting strips prevent them perching on ledges and railway arches are festooned with netting to prevent them nesting. Ken Livingstone even deployed a pair of Harris hawks in Trafalgar Square, which were designed to deter the pigeons, but several hundred ended up “deterred to death” by the raptors. Not since the RAF saw off the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain have the skies over London seen such a dramatic change.
It is astonishing, isn’t it, how perceptions can change, too: from top biblical billing as Noah’s olive-branch bearer, revered namesake of St.Columba in the cradle of British Christianity and, in my youth, those spangly pigeons with their jaunty strut were cherished as the archetype of London’s “feathered friends”. Now they are considered to be vermin. (Foxes, cunning beasts, have managed to conjure up precisely the opposite outcome!) Marvel too, at the topsy-turviness of London’s political leadership on winged wildlife: the current Tory mayor has put in place several sustainable bee-friendly, grass-roots campaigns, while the previous Socialist incumbent visited medieval bloodsports on the pigeon populace of Trafalgar Square!
And speaking of medieval: in the Middle Ages, the peasantry had good reason to resent the dovecotes of their overlords. Jealously enclosed behind high walls, these pigeon-hives contained the flocks which not only pillaged their precious seed-corn and crops, but also provisioned their seigneurs’ table with plump paloma breasts and fresh eggs – a glaring iniquity. And yes, my bees harvest nectar, pollen and propolis from the flora provided by my urban neighbours and then deliver it to my rooftop – but in keeping with tradition, this beekeeper ensures that each of his neighbours is “dotted” with a jar of honey in a effort to redistribute the booty.
So we have finally reached our destination on this avian excursion: it is the news that a UCL scientist has developed a downloadable Pigeon Sim which permits you to take to the skies above London, as if you were a pigeon.
Or – why not – a bee ? You see, I love to watch forager bees shooting out of the hive on that determined diagonal, disappearing into the middle distance of the London skyline, zeroing in on a rich nectar source. Yet as the excitement of that blast-off from the beehive fades, it’s replaced by twinge of regret when each bee-dot merges into the horizon – a small pang of abandonment. But, with a little flight of fancy, the Pigeon Sim summons up the spirit of my plastic-macced, fledgling boyhood and sends it soaring skywards.
As Dorothy Parker is reputed to have said (the origin of words, like bees on the wing, is impossible to attribute with absolute certainty): “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity“. Bees re-awaken in me a child-like sense of wonder, criss-crossed with curiosity.
And for that I thank them, from the bottom of my name-tagged, woolly socks.
I’m a beekeeper first and a blogger second. Whistleblowing comes way down my list (somewhere below allotment weeding, but just above buying cat litter and deleting junk e-mails).
Call me old-fashioned, but when I come across wrongdoing in an organisation to which I belong, my hackles rise. Thus I felt duty-bound to blow the whistle on the demonstrably unpalatable activities of two recently-elected top officials of the London Beekeepers’ Association (LBKA) earlier this year. On 20th March 2013, I wrote an Open Letter of Resignation to the Committee of the LBKA, detailing the improper corporate governance by this small clique of senior officers.
I took my complaints about improper communication by the LBKA Secretary, Angela Woods, to the U.K’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). My complaints against the LBKA Secretary and, by association, the LBKA Committee, have been fully upheld by ICO (see page 3). Furthermore, as a result of my complaint, the LBKA has been required by ICO to amend its communication protocols with Members (see page 3) to bring them into Compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. The ICO decision also places the LBKA Secretary in breach of the LBKA Constitution, which clearly stated at the time of her improper communication with me that Members’ private: ”information will be stored on paper and computer records for use by LBKA solely for purposes directly relating to its activities”. This is a shameful outcome for the LBKA, one which diminishes its authority and credibility with its own Members, as well as the world outside the LBKA.
The LBKA Committee has made a mockery of its own democratic processes by not enacting the motion which I proposed and which was passed unanimously by show of hands at the 2012 LBKA AGM, which required disclosure of LBKA’s Officers’ bee-related commercial activities to the Membership. The inaction of the LBKA Committee in implementing this AGM motion does a disservice to its Membership and brings the LBKA into deeper disrepute.
What is more, the LBKA has also embarked on an ugly and unnecessary spat with its historic clubhouse, the Roots and Shoots charity in Lambeth, with the usual bellicose LBKA Officers leading the charge. I fondly recall my introduction to beekeeping at Roots and Shoots, when the LBKA was a beekeeping club, prioritising the communication of shared beekeeping skills between Members, and not a confrontational, headline-chasing hobby-horse for a small group of senior Officers.
Worse yet, a woefully incorrect article (co-authored by the LBKA’s newly-created Forage Officer) in the June edition of the British Beekeepers Association magazine, (pages 28-30), was effectively an advertorial for the other co-author’s FlowerScapes seed business and the LBKA’s branded wildflower-seed packs. The article concluded that hive density in London was equivalent to that required for the commercial pollination of orchards. The problem was that the data was grossly miscalculated – in favour of the commercial conclusion hoped for by the seed-sellers – by a factor of 30 times. That’s shabby science. A letter correcting the calculation by the Harrow BKA was published in the September BBKA magazine(Letters page) and a weaselly apology by the co-authors was submitted in mitigation of their error. This pseudo-science, pushing their product for profit, does no favours for the cause of bees, pollinator-friendly forage and beekeeping in London.
That flawed article also contained a further example of the LBKA’s Secretary’s habit of promoting her personal business interests under the LBKA banner (which was part of what ICO required the LBKA secretary and others to cease in their communications with LBKA Members). The LBKA Secretary runs a Photographer’s Agent business. In the article, there are 3 photos credited to her professional clients. The LBKA Secretary should be promoting LBKA Members’ interests, not her own. (I am sure that many LBKA Members have passable images of a beehive inspection, or of seed packets which they would be delighted to have representing an article with a strong LBKA association – do you expect that any one of the general LBKA membership was invited to submit photos for this article?)
This is precisely the blurring of personal and LBKA business interests which I found, and continue to find, distasteful and unacceptable, from elected LBKA representatives. I urge LBKA Members to consider how the actions of a small number of senior LBKA officers are consistently bringing the LBKA into disrepute.
Ironically, today was the 495th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his letter of dissent to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, which led to the Reformation. In my own small way, I sympathise with Martin Luther’s frustration against a corrupt and oppressive 16th-century Church – my own protest is against a tyrannical Beekeeping Association (!) which is demonstrably more interested in selling over-priced seed-packets under false pretences (modern-day indulgences for the guilt-racked burghers of London!) and in self-promotion than in the craft of beekeeping. So I would like to think that, having nailed this missive to the LBKA’s beehive, a reformation will be set in motion.
Heigh-ho! In the meantime, I’m off to weed the allotment !
The 3rd London Honey Show will be held at the Lancaster London, W2 2TY (Lancaster Gate Tube) on Monday, 7th October 2013. Last year the Bermondsey Street Bees came first in the “Best Roof-Top Honey” and “Best Honey Packaging” categories at the Show, having won the “Best Restaurant Honey” prize in 2011.
This year, I’ve been invited to give a talk about: “A Year In The Life Of The Bermondsey Street Bees. Mostly.” at the Show. (Funny, people usually invite me to “take a walk” rather than “give a talk” when I start droning on about bees). It will also be the premiere of my 4-minute bee-movie: “The Day The Queen Came To Tea“. I fully intend to resume my day job the next day.
Fun for all the family…..and a film premiere for a £1 entrance fee (donation to Bees Abroad). Anyway, it’s no good pretending that you’re too busy to come along – it’s a Monday night in October, for heaven’s sake…what else are you going to be doing ?
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!