Next time you walk down Bermondsey Street, look up and see if you can spot a strangely dressed man carefully navigating the roof of a building. If you’re lucky you might spot Dale (and his curious cats) from Bermondsey Street Bees carefully tending his rooftop hive. Dale was our neighbouring stallholder at the Bermondsey Street Fair last year, and we found plenty to talk about; as well as selling our bee-friendly seed packets at the fair, bees are the focus of one of the current WI campaigns SOS for Honeybees (and the mascot on our lovely new logo) so a subject close to our heart. It was only a matter of time before Dale came to speak to the Belles about his bees. After being welcomed to the meeting with a shot of mead, we settled in to hear Dale talk through the history of beekeeping in Bermondsey – which dates back to the 11th century when monks at Bermondsey Abbey kept bees. He went on to share his experience as a beekeeper and life looking after his four different rooftop hives, from the quiet time in winter, when it’s all about checking and mending equipment while the bees snooze, to the buzz of summer when it’s honey harvesting and bottling time. He also spends time developing a bee friendly neighbourhood with the support of Southwark Council, planting bee friendly flowers in Tanners Park and St Mary Magdalen churchyard. As well as revealing beekeeping secrets like how to con your bees into thinking they’ve swarmed (without letting them do it – or you lose them) and how to chill your bees out with a puff of smoke (so you can harvest honey from the hive without raising the wrath of the bees), Dale talked about how Belles can help the bees. One of the most important things we can do is to plant foliage so local bees have lots of different flowers to forage – so get planting with the seed packets in your BB members’ pack or invest in some of the Top 10 bee-friendly plants Dale recommends.
“Bees forage for up to three miles on a wide variety of urban flowers and trees in parks, allotments, gardens, railway sidings, window-boxes and even wasteland to make a remarkable floral honey, without the insecticides and herbicides which can blight bees in the countryside.”
And it’s not just about the honey – a range of other things are produced by bees which can be used by the canny beekeeper, from wax (for the honeycomb) and bee pollen (pollen packed into balls) to royal jelly (fed to the queen bee) and propolis (made to seal the hive). Some of these can be found in health food shops as supplements and several are used as ingredients in natural skincare products. Sometimes called ‘nectar of the Gods’, honey is also used to brew mead and beer so you can also enjoy a honey tipple (top tip – Hiver Honey Beer is made locally if you fancy a brew).
Honey made by the Bermondsey Street Bees in Abbey, Thames, Shard and White’s cedar hives is harvested in the late spring and early autumn. Dale uses local restaurant Delfina’s kitchen to uncap and spin out the honey. It is then twice-filtered and allowed to settle for two weeks before bottling. Apart from the honey, Dale makes other products including beeswax candles, furniture wax, and body scrub. But how can Belles get their hands on his honey? There is a limited quantity produced every year so it sells out fast; to be in with a chance of buying a jar, sign up to follow his blog so you can be first in line to hear about the next honey harvest!
To finish the meeting we had a fantastic selection of homemade honey treats baked by Belles; if you’d like to share your honey recipes please post them on our Facebook page, and here by popular demand is the recipe for Christy’s cheese and honey scones (simply add 1tbsp honey to the recipe). Bee facts
◦ There are around 20,000 species of bee
◦ Bees range 2-3 miles to collect pollen
◦ Hives produce around 9lbs honey to 1lb of wax
◦ Bees need 20kg of pollen and 50kg nectar to survive
◦ Plant purple and blue flowers for bees as they can’t see red.
Watch the Bermondsey Bees fly HERE What can we do to help?
Support the WI’s #beeactionplan which follows on from the SOS FOR HONEYBEES campaign Plant forage for bees – your member’s pack contains a packet of bee-friendly seeds, and Dale recommends these Top 10 bee-friendly plants Enjoy and respect these wonderful and highly evolved creatures!