Beside The Seaside

School House Honey
It’s Suffolking Good!

Hey, Bermondsey Street Bees – have you seen what your Suffolk cousins have been up to ?

“A bright coastal honey, gathered between the woods & the water”!

Top Drop

Hiver Beer
Hiver Beer – A Top Drop!

I’m immodestly proud of my answer to Hannah Rhodes’ (founder of Hiver Beer) question: “What’s your single favourite thing about bees?”

Answer: “They live outside. Generally”.

Take a look at Hiver Beer’s website  – nice feature on Bermondsey Street Bees.

And a great skyscape from my rooftop, whence Hiver sources honey for their delicious beer. A Top Drop indeed !

In The Apiary : Mid-July : Cirque Du SE1

He's Behind You !_edited-1
Roll Up, Roll Up ! Ladies and Gentlemen !

When I click my fingers, the lights go up and I’m standing amongst the hives, in white bee-jacket and veil, brandishing a hive tool in one blue-gloved hand and a frame of bees in the other. Just like a ringmaster under a beekeeping big top.

Roll up, roll up ! It’s as if each hive on my Bermondsey Street rooftop is a circus act. Laugh out loud… at the knock-about clowning of Neckinger Hive’s attempts to raise a new Queen! Prepare to be astonished… by the knotty contortions of Square Hive’s vivid red propolis. Tremble… at the plate-spinning tension of combining White’s and Thames Hives. Be amazed… by the ferocity of Shard Hive’s uncertain temperament. Marvel… at the elephantine majesty of Queen Amber of Abbey Hive as she processes across the brood frames. And all the while, SE1’s flying circus twirls up high, trapeze-less, for your delight and delectation. Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen and Children of all ages – the weekly Bermondsey Street Apiary inspection is about to begin ! 

That’s what passes for entertainment in these parts. Trouble is, keeping track of my troupe can be like a giddying merry-go-round. So my inspection technique is to focus on each hive, one at a time, complete the rigamrole, then move on to the next, rather than trying to juggle all of them in one field of vision.

Queen Grunhilde of Thames Hive
Queen Grunhilde of Thames Hive

The summer season has now pitched its tent in the Bermondsey Street Apiary, with the thermometer nudging 30C. The extended run of decent weather has taken its toll, in time and toil, but the show must go on ! My hive inspections involve heavy lifting of supers replete with honey, before sorting through populous brood frames, looking for disease or swarming intentions: a queen cup here, a drone with deformed wing virus there, honey-block reducing the available brood area everywhere. On the other hand, marking each of this year’s new Bermondsey Street Queens (Jade, Esmeralda, Grunhilde) with a dab of vibrant green paint has been a rare unalloyed pleasure.

Thames Hive - First  Inspection 2014
A Full Frame Of Brood

And I’m still hammering together cedar supers and frames of wax foundation to put onto the busy hives – in the second half of July, for heaven’s sake! Mopping my brow, it’s a relief to know that the Queens will soon reduce their laying rates, as the days ahead gradually shorten. Just another few weeks like this, then we’re into the honey harvest – the finale of the bee-season. So all that is left for me to do is to crack the whip and keep the patter up until the applause from the last extravaganza subsides, then it’s time to doff my hat and take a bow.

Ladies and Gentlemen and Children of all ages, it really is The Greatest Show On Earth !

A Bermondseyshire Farmer

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.

RedcurrantsBlackcurrants photo (4)Whitecurrants

Continue reading “A Bermondseyshire Farmer”


Desk Clutter (1)
Caution: Do Not Attempt This Level Of Untidy Bureaucracy At Home!

There are only so many hours in each day. Even in the bright mid-summer months. With 12 hives in two apiary locations at this peak of beekeeping season, that’s a lot of box-shifting, frame-making, hive-inspection and immersion in clouds of bees.

But don’t let this to-do-list distract you from the fact that each hive has its own individual personality, with all the positives and negatives which that implies. So each time I lift the lid on any one of my dozen bee-hives, I’m not sure what I’m going to find underneath (of course, that’s part of the challenge of the craft of beekeeping!). But it really helps me manage the bees properly if I can recall what that hive was up to last time I inspected.

That’s where the bureaucracy kicks in. Bees ? Bureaucracy ? Pull the other one! Fair enough:  if you had mentioned beekeeping to me 10 years ago, an image of a jolly countryman, unkempt and mildly anarchic, would amble into view. Certainly not today’s reality of a day-job stockbroker qwertying hive data to the Cloud from his wife’s iPad!

Record-keeping is an essential part of successful beekeeping. But it’s about as much fun as completing your Tax Return. Every week, not just once a year. After a couple of hours working my rooftop bees in my white, veiled bee-jacket (brood-box inspections, heavy lifting of supers, the odd manipulation, careful allocation of equipment and even some simple enjoyment) when the door shuts behind me and the bees are all on the outside, the task which awaits me is more book-keeper than beekeeper: my protocol is to go on-line and upload a record of each colony’s characteristics while they are still fresh in my mind. Like an end-of-term school report. For each hive. Every week. But it gives me a starting-point from which to work when I next go into that particular hive.

So it is not surprising that, occasionally, my scribbled notes – each hive abbreviated with the first letter of its name, symbols like Q+ (=queenright) and Q- (=queenless), peppered with acronyms like BIAS (brood in all stages) and throw-aways like “5 frames of sealed worker brood” or trite thumbnails such as “industrious bees” – will be put out to pasture, grazing around my desk for days before I finally sheep-dog them into digital form and hit “Save”. Procrastination may not currently rank as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but its reclassification is overdue, in my view.

Oh yes, one other thing. Writing up my hive notes every week is good. Actually re-reading them before I next go “onto the hives” is an even better idea. Doing so last weekend would have prevented me from twisting off a super, ruining the perfect white honeycomb which I had asked the bees to bees to build in a frame-sized gap left between two supers. I would have cursed myself longer, but it was the end of a long afternoon. Yes, indeed, I must try harder. But there are only so many hours in a day.