My boyfriend’s parents love all things nature, so as a belated birthday present we booked them on an Urban Beekeeping course at St. Ermin’s Hotel near Westminster – London’s first urban bee hotel!
The workshop was run by bee-keeper Camilla Goddard of Capital Bee, and covered everything you’d wish to know about bees. Designed to help you gauge if you’d want to keep bees yourself, Camilla showed us the components of a hive, highlighting the role of the different layers and chambers.
Apparently, bees travel up to three miles in search of pollen, and honey produced in different hives will have different flavours, depending on which local plants or trees the bees have harvested. To prove the point, Camilla invited us to taste a range of honey to experience the different flavours.
Interestingly, I liked the Soho honey the best, which had quite a floral flavour! The only way to know which plants the bees have visited is to get the honey analysed. You can then work out where the bees have been. Soho bees, for example, favour the brambles along London’s train network.
After learning the theory, we donned our beekeeping suits and took a trip to the third floor wildflower roof terrace, where we visited the hotel’s purple hives and saw the bees up-close. The bees were very placid; the key, apparently, is to move slowly, and try not to look like their ancient enemy, the bear!
To stop the bees from taking flight, Camilla showed us how to use a smoker near the entrance of the hive. Dating back to when bees built their hives in trees, the smoke encourages them to eat so that they are ready should they need to flee fire – so it keeps them busy while you do your inspections.
Lifting out the panels, Camilla helped us spot the Queen bee, who is larger and longer than the rest of the colony. We learnt how honey bees do a ‘dance’ to show other bees where to go for nectar, and also how worker bees release pheremones to direct the colony to a new hive if they swarm.
Not knowing a thing about bees, I found the workshop really interesting, and Camilla’s enthusiasm infectious. There is a lot of work involved in bee-keeping – from feeding, insulating, protecting from parasites, and, of course, harvesting the honey, however the results are definitely worth it!
Long live honey bees! Maybe one day I will have my own hive?