At the “Bee-Berlin” Conference, I sat down next to a lady called Christine and we struck up a name-badged conversation, chatting about bee topics. As the Conference drew to a close, I was surpised and delighted that Christine invited Sarah, my wife, and me to visit her Berlin apiary. As it turned out, Christine and her husband Dominik were urban rooftop beekeepers, living in Kreuzberg, a trendy suburb of Berlin with a very active beekeeping group.
On Sunday afternoon, we arrived at their home, a former industrial building featuring a bright and airy open-plan interior, with bedrooms radiating from it. We enjoyed “Kaffee und Kuchen” (beekeeperly English translation: “Tea and biscuits”) at a huge oval table with some prominent members of the Kreuzberg beekeeping association, Nils and Krisztina. Then it was time for the main event: a visit the bees on their roof. We ducked through a hatch, crouching past the tell-tale bee-jackets, up a small ladder and into the milky sunlight of a Spring afternoon.
On the flat fourth-floor roof, the bare branches of a plane tree wrapped around the colourful polystyrene hives. We were lucky – the bees were flying, despite the low temperatures. In particular, they were fetching water from an unusual device – a terracotta dish filled with smooth stones and fed by a medical drip-feed device from a 100-litre blue plastic water butt.
This is Dominik’s own invention: a reliable, long-term water source for his bees. This is important, since bees have to forage for water, too, not just pollen and nectar. Dominik has activated the water system to deliver one drop per second, or 3 litres a day. So a single butt will be guarantee a water-supply for his bees for more than one month.
While this ingenious application of medical technology to the bee-world was impressive, nothing could prepare us for the excitement which awaited us in the basement: a fully equipped, pristine honey room. White-walled, with wide surfaces, large sink and an extendible hose it was an ideal place for uncapping, spinning, filtering, ripening and jarring the honey harvest from the roof.
As every beekeeper knows, when you extract honey, it gets everywhere: on door-knobs, carpets, taps, shoes – even on pets. A honey room restricts this sticky contagion to a single, self-contained, easily cleaned unit. Bliss !
All of which brings us on to the honey fron Dominik and Christine’s apiary: it is simply delicious.
Sarah and I agreed that competing with this sophisticated, tangy, long-flavoured honey would stretch our award-winning Bermondsey Street Honey to the limit. And then some. Best to just enjoy it in the moment and look forward to reciprocating these superlative gifts with some of our own 2015 honey crop.
Dominik had also obtained a laboratory analysis of their Spring and Summer Honeys – and the results contained one major surprise for me. Here are the Water Content and Pollen Anaysis data:
Spring: Water 16.2%; Horse Chestnut 31%, Forget-me-not 25.2%, Maple 16.7%, Willow 12.5%; Plum 9.9%, Hydrangea 3.2%.
Summer: Water 15.5%; Tree of Heaven 45.1%, Lime 23.7%, Forget-me-not 7.3%, Sweet Chestnut 5.9%, Rapeseed 4.7%, Hydrangea 3.8%, Raspberry 3.8%.
I was fascinated that Berlin’s humble Forget-me-not (“Vergissmeinnicht”) had such a major role to play in both Spring (25.2%) and Summer (7.3%) honey.
It has been suggested that Forget-me-not pollen can be over-represented in Pollen Analyses, since it is one of the smaller pollen grains. But I doubt that this was the case here. Pollen of any size can get into honey in the hive and during extraction. Taking pollen out of honey can only be done by filtration. And having seen the wide-gauge metal sieves which Dominik uses as his filters, I can vouch for the fact that any pollen present in his honey before filtration will certainly be there in the jar after filtration!
Christine and Dominik – thank you for your hospitality. I look forward to welcoming you to my Bermondsey Street rooftop before long.
No doubt about it: Berlin beekeepers are very hospitable folk. And they have very cute cats – here’s Christine and Dominik’s cat, Lucy, saying “Auf wiedersehen” and chewing thoughtfully on the Spring bouquet which we had brought them.
So it turns out that Berlin is a city of Forget-me-nots for bees. And for Sarah and I, too. We certainly will not forget our visit to the Kreuzberg rooftops.