Welcome to the Apis blog. Apis is the latin word for Bee, so when you explore this space, be prepared to step into another world: an insect culture far older than our own, humming in the darkness. It’s not just a leap of imagination, it’s a real gangplank into prehistory, into a dense, six-legged matriarchy, into a breathing, breeding super-organism. And all inside a wooden box. Tread lightly, open your mind and enter…
THE TWO NEW BERMONDSEY STREET HONEYS
As fans of our award-winning Bermondsey Street Honey and our Suffolk Coastal Honey know, we sell out very quickly every year. Now, alongside the honey we make, we’re launching two curated labels, Union & Metro. They offer our personal selection of glorious urban and country honeys from small producers who share our passion for sustainable beekeeping, healthy bees and raw honey. Released in limited editions, every jar comes from a single source and is marked with its individual provenance.
BERMONDSEY STREET HONEY WINS TWO ‘GREAT TASTE’ AWARDS
Our award-winning Bermondsey Street Honey has won another two accolades – in the 2015 Great Taste Awards. The liquid honey came in for special praise from the judges who said “This is a wonderful honey” noting its tastes of “Caramel, citrus notes and herbal hints.” Our jars will be proudly bearing the Great Taste stickers!
SETTING UP BEES FOR SOHO HOUSE
Michelin–starred chef Tom Aikens asked our Consultancy arm, Apis, to set up an apiary for him at the new Soho Farmhouse and to mentor his chefs and gardeners as trainee beekeepers. The entire Farmhouse project started from a green field site and the six hive installation had to worked around massive building and landscaping works. This idyllic Oxfordshire retreat is now open for business, as is the apiary. The bees play a major role in Soho Farmhouse’s carefully designed eco-system, pollinating the orchards and kitchen gardens and putting home-produced honey on the breakfast table.
ORGANISING BAJAN HONEY TASTING – AT SANDY LANE, BARBADOS
Everywhere we travel, we connect with local beekeepers and visiting Barbados we’ve discovered that bees there are a well-kept secret. So much so that even the Executive Chefs at the world-famous Sandy Lane resort had never had the opportunity to taste Bajan honeys. We took a selection of hard-won samples to meet Executive Chef Brian Porteus at Sandy’s Lane kitchen for a taste tour of the island‘s robustly spicy honeys. more >
RADIO 4 ‘SATURDAY LIVE’ INTERVIEW
BBC Radio 4 Producer Pete Ross visited our Bermondsey Street hives recently to record a rooftop interview with Dale for the Saturday Live show. Fitting Pete’s recording equipment inside a bee suit was an unexpected challenge. more >
CSI INTERNATIONAL POLLEN PROJECT
Bermondsey Street Bees is participating in “CSI pollen”, the Europe wide study of the diversity of pollen sources collected by honeybees. We’ve fitted pollen traps to our hives and will be analysing and submitting data to this important bee health research programme. more >
FORAGE CONFERENCE AT BERLIN PARLIAMENT
As active campaigners for London forage, we were delighted to be invited to attend a meeting of Berlin’s beekeepers at the State Parliament. It was a fascinating insight into both shared concerns and challenges unique to Berlin’s beekeeping community . more >
NEW GREENWOOD THEATRE POCKET PARK
Designed by top garden designer Joe Swift, King’s College new Greenwood Theatre ‘pocket park’ had many local contributors including London Bridge BID. An oasis for people, it’s also a lush new resource for our Bermondsey Street bees. more >
I’m an optimist. It goes with the beekeeper territory. For me, each New Year is an onrushing utopia. And late December is when that optimism goes into overdrive and I shift into construction mode to accomodate an expanding bee-population. If the innkeeper in Bethlehem, 2014 years ago, had been a beekeeper with similar impulses, then the entire Nativity story could have been different and we would be singing carols like: “Away In Brood-Box”, “O Come All Ye Foragers” and “O Little Hive Of Bermondsey“.
Anyway, last weekend’s build was designed to shelter a single mother and her 50,000 offspring (from up to 20 different, all mysteriously deceased, fathers) from the mean streets of SE1. That’s a tall order. The material for this 14” x 12” brood box was cedar, a light and durable wood. Hand-crafted construction, a modicum of low-impact nailing, a dab of wood glue – et voila! – the perfect four-wall habitat for raising a large family in central London.
Measure twice, cut once, is the carpenter’s motto. And the measurement at the root of all beehive construction is an improbable fraction: 5/16 of an inch. That’s the magical “beespace”,which is the gap between two surfaces which will allow two bees to pass, back to back. Any bigger than 5/16 inch and the bees would span my serried, removable brood frames with wax “brace” comb. Any smaller than 5/16 inch and they would gum up the gap with propolis. In both cases, the frames would become as rigid as a toast-rack. To get the right results, precision is key.
It’s a funny old thing, beespace. At 5/16 of an inch, it shares its awkward mathematics with other constants like pi, attractively packaged at 3.14159, or the speed of light, which clocks on at precisely 299,792,458 metres/second. In a parallel universe, in which Douglas Adams wrote the Beekeeper’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything would be 5/16 of an inch (rather than the correct answer of 42 for our own universe, of course). So my cheery Advent optimism was severely challenged by a visit to one of the last functioning limbs of the necrotic Heygate Estate last week. Yes: the discovery of an eternal formula for harmonious human habitation would be a good thing. I half-thought that I was onto something when I saw that the red bus which served the Estate was numbered “42”. But even that happy integer could not lift my hopes that human beings might be able to mimic the Extremely Social Housing of the beehive anytime soon.
That said, it’s hardly surprising that the same sort of things which diminish human quality of life in social housing are very similar to the things which will really upset bees in their boxes, too. Take this article from the Guardian on the Housing Associations Charitable Trust’s seven top negatives for social housing, in descending order of degrading the quality of human life…..
- Noise: If you want to see angry bees, try pushing a two-stroke-engine lawn-mower past a moody hive.
- Damp: Moisture is more fatal for bees than cold: it promotes mould and can block breathing tubes.
- Poor Lighting: Obvious when you think about it, but the inside of a hive is dark ! The exception.
- No Garden: Yep, I can see how that works for bees and humans alike.
- Condensation: See “Damp”. Another problem is that the varroa mite loves high humidity.
- Rot: Another product of high humidity. Ever picked up a rotten hive and the bottom fell out? I have!
- Vandalism: Bees are happy to pilfer each other’s stores, but averse to wantonly damaging property.
(If you are feeling like delving deeper into the human aspect of Social Housing, take a peek at Chris Brown’s excellent regeneration blog)
As for the build, take it from me that the Bermondsey Street Bees will be delighted with their brand new hive….and that, without the faintest shadow of a hint of a doubt, 2014 will be a much better bee-year than 2013 !