St. Ermin’s Hotel
The idea of keeping bees had never really occurred to me until I was invited to attend an introduction to beekeeping lesson at St. Ermin’s Hotel. St. Ermin’s have bees on their roof, thousands of them. Producing the most delectable honey from bees that use the gardens and parks of London as their foraging grounds. Chefs in the kitchen create cakes and sweets for the cream teas using the honey; they also sell it in small precious jars.
Camilla Goddard who runs Capital Bee is a bee expert, an apiarist in fact. She has been keeping bees all over London for years and trains new-bees (Sorry!) like me how to look after them. I was there to learn how to get the most from this fascinating hobby. I was completely ignorant about bees, I now have learned to like and understand them. They are complex and clever creatures. These courses are intended to give a bit of background to the keeping of bees and a practical guide to setting up your own hives. So, let’s bust the first myth, they are quite safe to keep in your garden, in fact you can arrange the position of the hive such that they will never use your garden on their foraging trips. So as long as children respect them there is no reason why you shouldn’t be an apiarist at all. Second myth to bust is that you need acres of meadowland, you don’t even need a garden, a balcony would suffice.
So as you can see it really is simpler that it might seem. Looking after them is (once you have got used to getting dressed up in beekeeping costume and veil) is relatively straightforward. I was curious why keepers always have those smokers with them when they tend hives. The smoke pacifies the bees when you open up the hive. They have a primeval reaction that makes them think there is a fire so they go down into the hive to eat some honey, simple. They don’t like being moved about quickly, so you have to be gentle and slow. This is all part of the rhythm of their life.
Bees, it turns out are an ordered society with queen at the top. She is fed royal jelly to make her big and strong (she will also be to big to leave the hive) so she can lays eggs, sometimes up to 1000 a day. These eggs then hatch in the honeycomb structure the worker bees make and become workers or drones, the males.
So having covered the basics we went on to the roof of St. Ermin’s covered in protective clothing to meet our new friends. The top of the hive was gently snapped open, the bees make their own glue to seal the joins in the wood to keep out the drafts. I told you they were clever. A little puff of smoke and we can have a look at the frames, this is where they make their honey. They were busy happily going about their business. The afternoon was a fascinating insight into the esoteric world of beekeeping. It isn’t expensive and you can easily recoup your costs with the production of honey, one hive can produce 40 + pounds of honey in a season. Bees are low maintenance, requiring little tending in the winter. The whole process is not only rewarding but educational as well.
These Tuesday sessions are for all members of the family, starting at £15 pp, which includes a honey cocktail on the terrace. It offers a window into a world that few would not be curious about. I thoroughly recommend learning about bees Camilla is full of enthusiasm, a wonderful communicator and has a passion for these magnificent little creatures.