We crossed the Atlantic to visit Artie Rollins at his New York City Parks Department’s 30,000 square foot rooftop on Randall’s Island.
An unusual assignment. And an unglamorous location. Even the taxi driver we flagged down in Harlem after the M35 bus we were on broke down had no idea where it was. Or did, but didn’t like the idea of going there. But we were on a mission.
At 5.31pm precisely the doorbell rang. It was the Seasonal Bee Inspector for South London, Brian McCallum, sent from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on a routine visit to the Bermondsey Street Bees. In the 8 years in which I have been keeping bees, this was my first visit from an inspector. Or, as I like to look at it, the first time I have been offered a free beekeeping lesson from an expert, paid for by Her Majesty’s Government. Hey, Brian, great to see you! But what kept you so long? Suiting-up on the roof terrace, I noticed that Brian’s bee-suit’s breast pocket has a badge with the insignias of “Fera” and “National Bee Unit” sewn into it. Now, there used to be a government department called Fera, which was formed in 2009. But Fera is now a limited company, owned 75% by Capita plc and 25% by DEFRA (Department of Food and Agriculture). Of course, DEFRA was created to absorb the splendidly-titled Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in 2002. And the Bee Inspectorate was transferred from Fera to APHA late last year. Can anyone out there explain why government departments change their name-tags as freqently as those of the baristas at your local Costa Coffee? Dizzying, isn’t it? Anyway, smoker lit, we set straight to work. Brian was soon performing the slow ballet of beekeeping on our precarious fourth storey rooftop. Standing in a narrow gully between the pitched slate roof and the brick parapet on which the hives stand, we danced a pas-de-deux, as elegantly as possible in our veiled bee-suits, visiting Abbey Hive, Square Hive, Swarm Hive, Neckinger Hive, Leathermarket Hive, Shard Hive and Thames Hive.
The Bermondsey Street Bees have enrolled in the COLOSS CSI Pollen study, which covers 18 European countries, working with Norman Carreck of the University of Sussex. This is an important adjunct to our own work on forage (watch this space!).
The protocol involves taking a representative 20g sample of pollen from three Bermondsey Street hives, dividing the pollen loads into different colours and then classifying the number of each different hue (Abundant, Rare and Very Rare are the categories). The number of days taken to provide the sample is also noted. Results are classified according to the protocol and e-mailed to Norman Carreck. The pollen sample is then frozen, so that a microscopic analysis could establish the exact number of pollen types (botanical diversity), if required.
In some quarters, local pollen is said to be a palliative for hay fever sufferers. So if any Apis readers in the Bermondsey Street zone would like some fresh local pollen, there are 3 small jars of Bermondsey Street pollen available.
If you’d like one, please give me a shout on email@example.com , with “Pollen” in the message box. They’ll be allocated on a strictly “first come, first served” basis for collection next week.
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:
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.
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…
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.
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!
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 !
Open the 4th April show and advance to 44 minutes and 20 seconds into the programme. That’s the start of my slot.
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.
OMG! Those rather stylish people at Rockett St.George have featured Bermondsey Street Honey’s bee-forage campaign on their April “Hot List“.
OK, so you have to scroll down through all their other happening, elegant, desireable stuff to get to beekeeping, but it was ever thus. Take a little look and consider – why not brighten up your own surroundings with some forage-friendly flowers ?