Recipe For An Apiary

Here’s my recipe for making an Apiary:

Setting Off 2
A Bermondsey Street Beekeeper

First take a beekeeper.

And A Location
The Cotswolds Are Glorious In Springtime

Then select a location.

Add These Ingredients
Ingredients For An Apiary

Prepare your ingredients

It Should Start Looking Like This
Halfway Through The Mix

Mix well

And a Pinch Of Bees
A Pinch Of Bees

Then add a pinch of bees

Season Well
Season Well

And sprinkle in some seasoning

Et Voila !
Et Voilà – An Apiary !

Then just leave until August – et voilà

Service !
Service !

 

Beekeeping Made Simple

Just follow these simple steps to become a Master Beekeeper:

After all these years, I’m just happy to learn something new every day…

Meet Betty

Betty
Betty

Betty is our beautiful new honeybee emblem. We commissioned her from one of Britain’s most celebrated illustrators, Chris Wormell – renowned for his wood and linocuts of natural subjects.

We gave Chris a tough brief: we wanted a linocut in the English Folk Art tradition, to underline the artisan nature of our honey. However it also had to be scientifically accurate…. on top of which we muttered something about the image having ‘personality’ …

So, all in all, quite a big ask for quite a small picture. But here she is, just as we wanted. Thank you Chris for responding so brilliantly !

Fans of Southwold-based Adnams Brewery will recognize Chris Wormell’s work from the evocative series of Suffolk scenes it commissioned from him.

Adnams

Thanks also to our always-inspiring graphic designer Lydia Thornley who has been hard at work on our new identity and website (all will be revealed later this year) and who first recommended Chris to us.

Box Of Tricks

Box Of Tricks
Box Of Tricks

When you walk through the doors of Hamley’s toy store on Regent Street, you’ll find small crowds around several stand-alone “magic made easy” sales booths. The cards, cups and conjuring tricks are performed by slick professionals and the appeal is spell-binding. The engaging showmanship and nonchalant skills of the demonstrators seduce the punters into make an impulse purchase of a box of tricks at an affordable price.

In the beekeeping world, there is an equivalent. It is called the Flow™ hive. And it has just raised USD12.2 million / >£8 million, from over 36,530 supporters on crowd-funding site indiegogo, against an initial subscription target of USD70,000. Flow™ hive has been as busy online as Hamley’s on Christmas Eve.

Check out the Flow™ hive’s great video. In a nod to the magician’s art, it is titled the “Full Reveal”: an attractive visual narrative to get the punters’ attention, an appeal to instant gratification which linked through to a “Contribute Now” button on indiegogo. A complete, full Flow™ hive will cost you USD600 / £400 (excluding bees and the USD116 / £77.50 cost of shipping a flat-pack hive to the U.K.).

But I wonder how many of those bright-eyed purchasers of magic kits in Hamleys have subsequently become members of the Magic Circle? Not many, I’m guessing. And how many only-three-times-used conjuring kits are there out there, gathering dust in the attic? The mind boggles. Now on to “Hey Presto Honey“…

The Flow™ hive’s proposition is a short-cut to honey, breaking down the barriers to  beekeeping with technological innovation: basically, when you crank the handle, moving frame parts rupture the honey cells’ cappings, allowing the honey to flow out of the cell to the core of the plastic super frame and then out of the hive through a plastic pipe, straight into a jar. There’s no need to enter the hive to get to the honey. Interestingly, there are several old U.S patents on hives which operated on similar mechanical lines. Here’s one from 1940. Essentially, though, the Flow™ hive’s appeal is that it is being promoted as providing honey on tap. Literally.

Don’t get me wrong. It is constructive to challenge the conventions of the craft of beekeeping. And I can’t help but be impressed with the easy charm of the Andersons, the Australian inventors of the Flow™ hive and their powers of persuasion.

So it is worth recording that opinion is divided between enthusiasts for the crowd-funded Flow™ hive and adherants to the traditional craft of beekeeping. I am not a fan of the Flow™ hive. I dislike the soft-sell insouciance of their marketing message. Putting the science and engineering in the front window, their crowd-funding video moves swiftly towards an idealised vision of the product. Sure, I get it – that’s what media promotions are supposed to do. But the Flow™ hive’s advertorial projects a stylised slant on the product’s positive feature – honey -, while distracting attention from its more problematic aspect – keeping bees (let’s call this little sleight of hand the “Faux™ hive”). I foresee problems with this approach: as an experienced beekeeper, I suspect that Flow™ hive will lead to an epic increase in swarming, as a high proportion of Flow™ hive owners will have signed up simply because Flow™ hive has magically made beekeeping accessible, without learning the beekeeping basics. Swarms are inevitable in these circumstances, (so let’s call this version the “Flown™ hive”). I also mistrust the notion of taking something simple and “improving” it by making it more complicated. The more complex a mechanism, the more there is to go wrong. Combining moveable plastic parts, gloopy honey and inexpert handling with a hive of flying insects of uncertain temperament sounds like trouble to me (let’s call this version “The Flaw™ Hive”).

My objections to the Flow™ hive are based on my own moral compass and my practical beekeeping concerns and are set out below. But, essentially, I believe that the Flow™ hive promotional video exploits credulous would-be beekeepers. Here’s why:

 

  • The snappily-titled Flow™ hive’s marketing campaign is fundamentally misleading. Broadly, it portrays bees as a life-style accessory which can deliver honey at the turn of a tap through the novelty Flow™ hive. This is beyond responsible marketing and way beyond responsible beekeeping.

 

  • Flow™ hive positions itself as a technological advance in beekeeping. Innovation is both important and inevitable, but the basic rules of bee-husbandry still need to be observed. In extolling the Flow™ hive’s ease of use, the narrator proposes that most beeekeepers only inspect their brood box “a couple of times a year“. In reality, 10 days is the maximum gap between inspections during the Spring / Summer to forestall swarming. Furthermore, any suggestion that Flow™ hive will diminish regular inspections which also detect disease, brood type, varroa, nosema, brood condition, Queen well-being and adequate food stores strikes me as highly disingenuous.

 

  • The Flow™ hive video carefully seperates Honey, Bees and People. Honey is mostly depicted without bees, just as people and bees are portrayed seperately. Young children are pictured eating honey dripping out of a hive-tap. With not a bee in sight. And when there are bees to be seen, there are no children. Open-topped honey jars glint in the sun and honey flows from the hive on the screen, but there are no bees excitedly exploring this free gift. It just doesn’t work the way.

 

  • The sales pitch has been carefully crafted: Sure, the price of a  Flow™ hive is less than the price of an ordinary hive AND the honey extracting equipment. Yes, an extractor is expensive, but it is like the handle of a razor blade – you buy it once and constantly re-use it for all of your hives, every year. On the other hand, The Flow™ hive system is not scaleable – you need at least one for each hive.

 

  • The Flow™ hive marketing video silkily distracts the viewer from the important questions. No consideration is given to what your bees are going to use to make the honey from. This is a key factor. Not every location is bee-forage-rich. Indeed, in London, forage is thinly stretched. Bees are livestock and need sufficient food to live – and even more to make a honey harvest. And where are these bees going to come from? How do you know if they are healthy? And how are you going to get them attached to your Flow™ hive?

 

  • The Flow™ hive video demonstrates the viewing window which allows a sideways-on sight of the supers. Very pitcuresque. The problem is that there is no reliable way of discovering whether the honey is ripe (ie capped) all the way along the super, without opening it up. Harvesting ripe and unripe honey will degrade the ripe honey and ultimately will lead to fermentation of the honey.

 

  • The promotors also say that this window allows you to “easily check that the hive is healthy and that the colony is strong”. Not so – only an inspection of the brood box can do this, which entails removing the Flow™ hive  (with its heavier plastic comb and with pipes). Cumbersome – and not exactly “no more lifting” as a key attraction of the pitch.

 

  • The inventors of the Flow™ hive claim that their system spares bees from the being “disturbed“, as they would be when supers are removed during inspections of the brood box below. In my experience, it is rare that an inspection bothers bees in the supers. And it is hard to imagine that the grating movement of the Flow™ hive’s own honeycomb-splitting aparatus is not, like a minor earth tremor, somewhat “disturbing” for the bees.

 

  • Worker honeybees have six glands dedicated to producing wax. The plastic cells of the Flow™ hive  reduce the need for wax production. While this is a good thing for honey yields (the ratio is 9 pounds of honey to produce 1 pound of wax), the lack of wax production to build wax cells may be interfering with the bees’ natural processes. Problematic.

 

  • In my experience, intricate plastic parts are hard to clean. I am concerned that bee parts, pollen, propolis, debris, wax will lead to clogging of the Flow™ hive’s moving parts and possible mechanical failure. Doubts have also been voiced about the ability of British honeys to flow through a narrow plastic tube (Ling, Heather, Oil-Seed Rape, Ivy: honey derived from these are prone to crystallise in U.K. temperatures).

 

  • Bees know better than any of us how much work goes into producing honey. That is why a strong hive will rob honey from a weak hive – they know that it is easier to steal it than to make it. The video portrayal of the Flow™ hive’s exposed honey would make it an irrestistable target for robbing – which not only involves, bad-tempered, fighting bees, but is also the primary method of disease transmission between honeybee colonies.

 

Roll Up, Roll Up ! I suspect that the Flow™ hive will go down in history as a classic extraction system – extraction of money from credulous people who want plug ‘n’ play honey on tap – and that the outcomes will generally disappoint its eager new punters.

That incomparable showman, P.T. Barnum, found that his American Museum entralled visitors to such an extent that they lingered there. And the queue to get in was soon stretching around the block. Ever the businessman, Barnum quickly erected a sign over the Exit which urged the Museum throng to visit “The Great Egress”.  The crowds obeyed. And then they found themselves, blinking, on the street, realising too late that “Egress” meant “Exit“, while Barnum eagerly funnelled the waiting punters through his entrance turnstiles.

As a ruse, it worked. But it had the advantage of being incredibly simple.

In The Apiary – April 2015 – First Inspections

Bees With Altitude !
First Inspections

Spring has been a long time coming, but finally, I’ve been able to crack open my hives and inspect the Bermondsey Street Bees, checking up on their health, development and well-being – and especially on each hive’s Queen.

Let’s take a closer look at these Green Queens. Green was the Queen marking colour for 2014, when these Majesties were born. This year’s dab of fast-drying marker pen on a new Queen’s thorax will be Blue. But more of that another time. Let’s focus on the Queens in each hive as the business end of 2015’s season gets underway:

Queen Of Abbey Hive
Jade, Queen Of Abbey Hive

Abbey Hive is my breeding hive. It has consistently produced excellent, well-tempered and productive Queens for my Apiary. Queen Jade is no exception: victorious, happy and glorious, indeed. Right now, Abbey Hive is the most populous of all my Bermondsey Street hives and it has a smattering of drones already, with a few more to come, but the look of the cells on the bottom of a couple of the frames and some empty “play cups“. Taking my cue from the bees I have just put a Snelgrove board in, with the intention of raising some more model Queens from this genetic dynasty.

Queen Of Shard Hive
Esmeralda, Queen Of Shard Hive

Shard’s Queen Esmeralda was introduced to this queenless hive 10 days ago and she is going great guns. Amazingly, she seems to have physically grown in stature since I moved from a small mating hive into the more capacious Shard hive. Just goes to show…

Queen Of Thames Hive
Myrtle, Queen Of Thames Hive

It looks as if Myrtle, Queen of Thames hive, has been bustling around vigorously, too, given the faded patch of paint on her thorax. Not to worry. I’ll get her a makeover soon.

Grunhilde, Queen Of  Hive
Grunhilde, Queen Of Neckinger Hive

Finally, a glimpse of Grunhilde, Queen of Neckinger hive – she starred in my rooftop video (“Extreme Beekeeping“) earlier this week – so I don’t want to all this media exposure going to her head!

So there we are: an introduction to the Bermondsey Street Bees and their anointed Queens. And there’s more: there’ll be updates “In The Apiary”  updates every month throughout the summer!

Extreme Beekeeping

On The Roof
Top Left – Extreme Beekeeping (Thanks To Florence Rowland)

Life’s never perfect, is it? Yes, the sun was shining. And indeed, the temperature was balmy. But it was blowing a storm on the Bermondsey Street Bees’ rooftop when I transplanted Neckinger Hive from a 5-frame nucleus into a full-size hive, having waited all weekend for better weather. Welcome to Extreme Beekeeping !

 

 

 

BBC R4 “Saturday Live” Interview

Radio 4 Bee-Recording Kit
Radio 4 Bee-Recording Kit

Last Saturday, 4th April, BBC Radio 4 joined me on my rooftop to meet the Bermondsey Street Bees. In case you missed it, here is the BBC podcast of the show.

Open the 4th April show and advance to 44 minutes and 20 seconds into the programme. That’s the start of my slot.

R4 Pete Ross1
All You Have To Do Is Add One Pete Ross…..

It was all great fun and R4’s Pete Ross was rock-steady up on the roof with the bees – a consummate professional.

My one regret was that the impassioned words on my Forage Campaign were left on the cutting room floor. So here’s are the “stab-points”: “Bees can’t eat kind words“. “Bees won’t thrive on good intentions“. “It is the moral responsibility of every beekeeper to ensure sufficient forage for their bees“. Rant over!

So I am resigned to going down in posterity as the guy who ended up under Helena Bonham-Carter (in the show’s interviewed guest list, that is), rather than as the Martin Luther of modern beekeeping.

Next time, I’m shooting for Desert Island Discs. I bet no-one’s ever asked Kirsty for: “Ted Hooper’s “Guide To Bees and Honey”, please.

I like radio. I’m told I have the perfect face for it.

Honeycomb Box

Minton Solano Honeycomb Box 1
The Bee On Top Of A Minton Solano Honeycomb Box

Lucky me! My Easter present from Sarah was a gleaming art deco Minton Solano honeycomb box. It’s so vintage that it makes me feel young.

Minton Solano Honeycomb Box 2
So Vintage That It Makes Me Feel Young!

And our Bermondsey Street honeycomb fits perfectly inside.

Minton Solano Honeycomb Box 3
A Wonderful Easter Yellow !

Yellow is the colour of Easter. Daffodils, chicks, Easter Sunday sunshine…and honeycomb boxes, of course. As I said, lucky me !

10 Out Of 10

Orford School Bee
Orford School Bee

Sarah and I were delighted to receive a collection of wonderful bee-drawings made by the pupils of Orford CEVA Primary School, following our bee-education day in March.

Orford School Bees 21
A Catalogue Of Bees

 

Here are some random samples of the art-work.

Orford School Bees 31
And Some Bee-Themed “Thank You”s

 

In particular, we loved the vibrant colours and the many different interpretations of a bee’s anatomy.

Orford School 1234
Happy Memories !

We marked them all 10 out of 10! Full marks!

How Long Do Bees Live ?

Bee Foraging On An Easter Hyacinth
Bee Foraging on Hyacinth At Easter

“How long do bees live ?” It all depends. A typical beekeeperly answer. But everything really does depend on which month a bee is born in.

A summer bee will have a short life-span, sometimes just six sun-kissed weeks. A winter bee, on the other hand, can live for six whole months ! Why the big difference ?

When a Queen lays an winter bee egg in early September, for example, that bee will hatch in October and only graduate to exhausting forage activities in November. By then there is very little forage to be had: a smattering of ivy, perhaps, as the bees settle down for winter. So a winter bee will live longer as a result of having less wear and tear on her system from foraging. This sedentary life-style is reinforced by a sprinkling of  “fat bodies” (which are protein fat parcels stored in the bees’ head and abdomen to help them overwinter successfully) to bolster energy reserves.

A summer bee is relatively stream-lined: a bee hatched today will be set to work on a sequence of tasks, mundane hive chores including brood comb cleaning, egg & larval feeding, receiving food from other bees by trophallaxis and storing it in the honeycomb, making Royal Jelly to feed the eggs of Queen, worker and drone bee alike, fanning the honey to make its moisture content fall below the 20% level needed to prevent fermentation, wax manufacturing and – it’s a long list – on to foraging.

So today’s summer bee will probably expire, gloriously aloft on a clear blue sky with bulging saddle-bags of pollen, in May’s splendour.

As an insight into the sheer determination of a bee at work, take a look at this valiant forager, which I found taking a bit of a breather on the grass on Easter Sunday before climbing up a dead-nettle to scramble into the sky again, hiveward bound. Attagirl !

We’re all mortal. But if you could chose, which bee-lifestyle would you prefer ? A winter bee’s cosy, clannish existence, lasting from one calendar year into the next, or the summer bee’s relentless scramble into the sky, with a life expectancy as short and glorious as a WWII Spitfire pilot ?