Beekeeping in Central London

Monday, 22 September 2014

A few weeks ago I received an email from the company which manages the building where I work in central London, with an invitation to visit the Regent Street beehives.

You may or may not know that city bees are quite a thing these days and Regent Street has been maintaining hives on the rooftops of various buildings since 2009.

Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem, helping to pollinate the crops we eat. They are now at risk due to use of pesticides and climate change. Beehives are therefore an important way to keep the species going and the Regent Street project is part of an ongoing commitment to sustainable working and living in the area.

Although I'm well known amongst friends and family to be rather scared of flying insects ~ oh alright then, I'm downright petrified ~ I've always had a soft spot for bees and for some reason they don't frighten me as much. Having said that, there were a few raised eyebrows when I said what I was going to be doing!

I first became interested in bees years ago on a visit to Lambeth Country Show where a local beekeeper had some of his charges on display and was selling his own honey. For some reason it just grabbed my attention and whenever I see a hive in the countryside I always feel rather excited about all that busy activity going on inside. Plus I love honey ~ who doesn't?!

So when I got the invitation from Regent Street Direct, I knew this was a chance I couldn't miss.

First off, we needed to get togged up in our beekeeping outfits. That caused a stir when we then had to walk a block up Regent Street during a busy Friday lunchtime, I can tell you!

The suits are made from thick cotton with a hat and intergrated veil to protect your face. A lot lighter and easy to move around in than I was imagining actually! Leather elbow-length gloves protected our hands and wellies or polythene overshoes covered our feet.

When we got up to the rooftop, the first thing I noticed was that the hive seemed very quiet. When there are no people around the bees quietly go about their business, entering and leaving the hive individually. There was no cloud of bees or anything like that!

Dale, the beekeeper, set up a smoker which would be used to calm the bees as the hive was opened.

We gathered round and Dale began to dissemble the hive, explaining to us what we could see at each stage.

This hive is divided into two sections. The larger lower section is not used for honey. This is the bees' part and they'll use the honey stored there to see them through the winter. The upper section is smaller and this is where any honey is extracted from.

As we explored the internal sections of the hive, more and more bees appeared and we could see a lot more honey had been produced in that area. First the bees build the wax comb shape, then they fill it with honey. Finally they seal the top with wax. The queen also lays eggs in the honeycomb holes which develop into bee lavae.

Although we didn't see the queen, we learnt that she is about 5 years old, which is rather elderly for a bee. As a result there are only about half the usual number of bees in this hive than would normally be expected. That said, it has produced around 240 jars of honey!

This little guy decided to check me out, but other than that the bees didn't pitch on us, they just flew around feeling confused about why the hive had been opened...


The hive is inspected every week to two weeks to check how the bees are doing and to top up their sugar feed.

Before closing up the hive, Dale topped up the sugar & water syrup solution (2lb sugar to 1 pint water). Half of the bees' honey has already been removed so converting the syrup to honey will ensure that they have enough in their store to get them through the winter. The bees do visit the rooftop flowers of Regent Street, but the syrup provides a good back up for them.

I really enjoyed the visit and learnt so much about bees. It's a little ironic that the first time this Country-Londoner got to look inside a hive was in the middle of a city... Beekeeping is definitely something I would like to explore more ~ watch this space!

If you live in London, you can check here if there are hives and a beekeeper near you.

You may also be interested in the great work actress and author Carol Drinkwater is doing to help the plight of the honey bee.


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