‘Bees are finding better homes elsewhere’

The pancake is something of an enigmatic food. Breaking out the frying pan for Shrove Tuesday was once a tradition in households up and down the country. These days, shop shelves are stacked full of sorry-looking packs of processed ones and ready-made mixes which instruct you to shake and pour, sales of which are on the rise (and rise), according to market research.

What’s more, the syrup of choice is usually imported maple or cheap, artificial corn from a squeezy container. A decent maple syrup can taste a bit caramel-like and even have notes of vanilla, but, for any connoisseurs reading this, honey is a good substitute. Especially if it’s produced locally.

The ingredients in a bottle of the maple stuff would have probably racked up several hundred, if not thousands, of food miles before it ended up in your shopping basket. 75% of the world’s supply is produced in Quebec. Honey, however, can literally be made on your doorstep. Well, your garden, to be precise. All you need is a beekeeping kit, some knowledge attained from a course, even more commitment and to be unwavering when faced with a angry swarm of the buggers.

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There’s been a buzz about urban beekeeping for the past few years. The concrete jungle may seem an unlikely place for bees to thrive, but the mild climate and the variety of plants and flowers that green city spaces – private, public and abandoned – have to offer means that bees can be active beyond the end of the summer. Cities are a perfect breeding ground. Dwellers have been realising that keeping bees is also an opportunity to escape the daily grind of working in the city and reconnect with nature.

Chris and Paul, of the eponymous Barnes and Webb, that installs and maintains beehives across London, are both graphic designers by trade and met when working for the same agency. Some 15 years later they’re leasing out hives across the city and selling their “ultra-local” raw honey to places including Craved, the self-appointed curators of craft food. Each jar is labelled with the postcode where it’s made. And each postcode can differ in taste, depending on which plants and trees the colonies of bees decide to get their nectar from. The E5 honey is malty with hints of toffee and chestnut.

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“That’s the magical thing about London honey, the surprising nature of the flavours in each hive,” Paul told The Telegraph last year. “Then again, modern farming in the countryside just isn’t that kind to biodiversity, it’s no wonder bees are finding better homes elsewhere.”


It’s not just the bees that are prospering; maintaining hives is creating jobs too. The insects contribute around £650m to the UK economy each year, more than the Royal Family bring in through tourism, according to the University of Reading.

Companies, such as Glasgow-based Plan Bee, are keen to create further economic impact by employing young people to drive the sector towards a sustainable future. The hope is that by educating communities on the benefits of installing and maintaining hives in urban areas, the next generation can be inspired to become beekeepers.

Honey makes the world go round. It’s natural, it’s sweet, it’s good for the environment and society, and it’s no longer a preserve eaten solely by country bumpkins.

About

Katie Roche

Katie Roche

Katie is editor of The Food Assembly blog. She enjoys writing about community, food, sustainability and how it all fits together.

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