Urban Honey Bees

Lb and 1/2 Lb Jars of Balham Garden Honey

As a country boy moving to London, I’m still not used to the business of the big city:  the ever-present roar of traffic; the frantic scurry of endless herds of commuters; the high-rise sky-line under a sky criss crossed with aeroplane trails.

This human activity, however, doesn’t begin to compare to the industrial hotspot at the bottom of my aunt and uncle’s South London garden. During the height of the summer, around fifty-five thousand honey bees buzz in and out of each of the three hives. As I cycle six miles to work, Richard’s bees commute just as far in their search for food. Just as we humans can find pretty much any type of nosh we fancy in London, Richard’s lucky bees have a huge variety of floral delectables to sink their greedy proboscides into. Whereas in the countryside the farmers grow field upon field of single crops, the gardens of the city hold a dense variety of plants and flowers.

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Bee hives at the bottom of the garden

While the life-span of the average worker bee is just six weeks, the queen bee, who doesn’t leave the hive, can live up to five years. This discrepancy gives an impression of just how hard the worker bees work. As the days get shorter and colder, there is less food (nectar and pollen) for the bees and accordingly, the queen lays fewer eggs. By mid winter the colony reduces to around the ten thousand mark as the worker bees die off and are intentionally not replaced until spring.  

The jars in the picture are this year’s first harvest. It is a beautifully light and fragrant honey with a lovely runny consistency. When freshly taken off the hives, the honey is at its best, while the texture is still drizzly. Being a natural product, the honey can become stiffer as it ages, though it retains its excellent taste. If kept in a sealed jar it can last for millennia; Tutankhamun’s tomb contained jars of still-edible honey dating back to 1323 BC. I wonder which brave archaeologist decided that they had to have a taste.