Greater Honeyguide

Greater Honeyguide (image courtesy of Roland Seitre /

A fantastical insight from the BBC R4’s “Tweet Of The Day” about the Greater Honeyguide, a sub-Saharan bird which colludes with humans to obtain its food.

Click on the link to hear the loud repetitive “it’s – here” – “it’s -here“, the sound which the Greater Honeyguide only makes to humans in an extraordinary co-operative act between humans and bird.  

Relatives of woodpeckers, they are one of the few birds which can digest wax and also feed on the eggs, grubs and pupae of bees. A Greater Honeyguide knows the location of the bee colonies in its territory and is able to lead honey-hunters to them.  

Once it has successfully guided its helpers to a nest, it waits while the honey-hunters remove the comb. Then it moves in to snap up the grubs and wax from the opened nest.

 So reliable are Greater Honeyguides that the Boran people of East Africa save up to two thirds of their honey-searching time by using the bird’s services and use a special loud whistle (called a fuulido) to summon their guide before a hunt.

Charmingly, the latin name for the Greater Honeyguide is “Indicator indicator“.



Bees In Africa

Kenya Bees
Prof Suresh Kumar Inspecting A Beehive At Icipe HQ

Kenyan newspaper The Star reports that Africa’s largest bee laboratory has opened in Nairobi. I’d never heard of “Colonial Lapse Syndrome” before!

A Sh1.44 billion state-of-the-art bee health reference laboratory has been launched to help study disease and pests in a bid to enhance food security through pollination.

The laboratory is located at the African Insect Science for Food and Health (Icipe) headquarters in Nairobi. It is one of the largest in Africa and will help in investigating bee diseases, sterilisation of bees, genetics, study pesticides that are harmful to bees, GIS mapping, pollination and breeding of bees.

Prof Suresh Kumar Raina, the principal research scientist and team leader of the European Union Bee Health Project in Icipe said management of bee disease and pests is very essential for food security in Africa.
“Pests and diseases are attacking bees more in developed countries than Africa, especially the devastating Varroa mite that is viral and many other fungal and bacterial diseases which affect bees. There is also the Colonial Lapse Disorder where bees have been mysteriously disappearing.

“The exact cause of this disorder is not known as adult worker bees from a honeybee colony on foraging flights simply do not return to the hive. These are some of the research issues we will be investigating in the bee reference laboratory,” said Prof Suresh, adding that the impact of climate change on bee diseases and pests and how substantial the diseases and pests problem in Africa will also be determined.

Bees supply food and are also required for pollination of food plants such as pumpkins, cocoa, coffee, papaya, oranges and passion fruits.
They are crucial for the functioning of our environment as they pollinate 250,000 species of agricultural, medicinal, fibre and other flowering plants, some of which provide food for other organisms. Suresh said the state-of-the-art facility has very expensive equipment in the laboratory, the best ever in the African continent.

“Our research will help farmers improve on their markets quality assurance too, this laboratory is just what many farmers needed,” said Prof Kumar.”


The First Exhibit At @piary

The Bermondsey Street Bees share their patch of SE1 with some pretty elevated company. Their greying cedar hives survey the street from a perch four floors high, a great vantage point, so they don’t miss a trick about the comings and goings on the Street.

In recent years, the proliferation of art venues had caught their attention. Not to be outdone, the bees of Shard Hive have offered their crownboard for your delight and delectation. (Curator’s note : Media : wax on perspex. Runic maze or a devotional QR barcode ?)

At the White Cube Gallery on Bermondsey Street, Gilbert and George have just taken a bow with their in-your-face, factional “Scapegoating” show (You’ve got to admire their brio: “We don’t want to offend. We just want to get away with it”. Brilliant !). And at the Eames Fine Art Gallery, we’ve enjoyed a great sequence of shows, most memorable of which was local hero Norman Ackroyd’s Sea Changes summer display, not to omit Marc Chagall’s The Bible Lithographs, which opens next week.

Stepping up now at White Cube is Tracey Emin, whose exhibition is entitled “The Last Great Adventure is you”, which is etched in orange neon at the entrance. (Why Tracey, George and Gilbert, all of whom live at addresses in Fournier Street E1, think it best to ford the river to exhibit their works in Bermondsey Street SE1 , I can not say). As usual from her Eminence, great draughting, picasso-esque lines, but the greeting-card philosophy is too trite.

The Last Great Adventure Is You
The Last Great Adventure Is You

So how about a new, al fresco, roof-top, female collective atelier on Bermondsey Street ? Cool ! We’ll call it @piary.

Bermondsey Saffron

Saffron Crocus
Crocus sativus in SE1 – Hand-Picked, Mouth-Eaten.

A final flourish on my SE1 allotment for 2014 – a fantastic harvest of Bermondsey saffron. Each crocus flower has three thin red stigmas, each of which dries to a strand of fragrant saffron. Not to forget the yellow stamens, powdered deep with pollen. They’re for the Bermondsey bees !

Autumn Bouquet

Autumn Bouquet1
An Autumn Bouquet

I sowed some locally scavenged wildflower seeds in opened ground at our Leathermarket Gardens Community Planting to provide good early multi-floral forage in 2015, amidst the apple trees and currant bushes planted last Spring.

And on my way home I came across this scandalously gorgeous autumn bouquet, in a single leaf.  New seeds and fallen leaves: completing the cycle. Apt.

Honey Wall

Honey Wall
Honey Wall

Alongside our proud National and London Honey Show awards, we thought that the great British public deserved its own say on our Bermondsey Street Honey So here is our “Honey Wall”. With some recently received (unsolicited and unedited!) honeyed words:

Dale, your @BermondseyBees honey is extraordinary. Intense and flowery, best I’ve ever tasted.” SU

I bought some of your honey at the bermondsey street festival, and it’s really rather lovely. I’d like to take some home to my mum and dad in Cornwall and wonder where I could buy some more? ” GH

Today’s breakfast consisted of @osheasbutchers Irish breakfast sausages and @BermondseyBees Honey on toast. Life, I love you, all is groovy.” BB

Beautiful honey – it is indeed liquid sunshine. SH

enjoying the most fantastic honey. from now on our favourite. thank you Dale” HD

Please feel free to add your own comments to our Wall using the “Comments” Box below…..

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:

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!

“From Bee To Jar”.

From Bee To Jar
From Bee To Jar”. Those four short words describe the continuum of care in my beekeeping.

I rear healthy bees, oversee the colony build-up and harvest exquisite, raw honey, which is then cold-filtered and packaged to the highest standards. It’s that simple.

From Bee To Jar” Honey in a jar with a bee on it, naturally !

Luxury Goods

 “A Jug of Wine,

a Loaf of Bread

– and Thou”

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam

As I fiddled with my iPhone, dappled with autumn sunshine and impatient for a hit of designer coffee, I was reflecting on the simple things in life. The beauty of vacancy. And congratulating myself that I don’t wear a watch. I don’t wear a ring. I just don’t do accessories. And laughing at my own shallow smugness.

How can we reconcile, I mused, our own primal harmonies, the sane imperatives of the Rubáiyát, with the fleeting, tweeting, expleting merry-go-round of our own life-styled existences?

Continue reading “Luxury Goods”