In this post we’ve tried to answer some questions you might have about LSE Honey. If your question is not answered here, leave a comment and we’ll add it in!
Where does the honey come from?
LSE Honey 2016 comes wholly from our three hives on the roof of Connaught House in Central London (the fourth colony is still young, so we do not harvest from it yet). Here’s a photo of our hives:
What does the honey taste like?
Some commercially available honey is monofloral, i.e. predominantly from the nectar of one plant species. Most varieties of supermarket honey are also ‘blended’, i.e. comes from hives all over the world. We have nothing against ethically-produced monofloral honey (in fact there are some varieties we like a lot!) but our own bees are free to fly around London and pick what flowers they want to forage on. Having said that, due to the abundance of lime trees in Central London, our honey has a lovely, light, citrusy flavour.
Where do the bees forage?
The typical foraging distance for European honey bees is believed to be around 3 km, though Beekman and Ratnieks (2000) found bees routinely flying over 6 km and sometimes over 10 km from their hives. But even with a conservative 3 km estimate, as you can see from the map below, our bees can collect nectar from as far afield as St James’s Park, Green Park, Regent’s Park and even Hyde Park.
Is the honey ethically produced?
Absolutely. This is what our professional beekeeper, Dr Luke Dixon, has to say:
We don’t keep bees to be producers of honey, though we do harvest a sustainable amount from strong colonies. Primarily the purpose of our beekeeping is to support the declining pollinator population and the richness of biodiversity in the city. At all times we follow current best practice and advice from the National Bee Unit.
Do pollution and traffic fumes affect the quality of urban honey?
On the contrary, it is likely that urban bees make better honey! The European Environment Agency confirms that ‘city traffic fumes and pollution do not harm the bees or their honey’ because in the process of converting nectar to honey, the bees filter out heavy metals and other pollutants. A study by a French beekeepers’ association found that bees reared in cities are healthier and more productive than their country cousins, largely due to the use of pesticides and monoculture which are both more prevalent in the countryside. However, this does not mean that there are no downsides to urban beekeeping: a 2013 study found that traffic fumes can affect bees ability to find food.
My honey has crystallised, what should I do?!
Don’t worry, crystallisation is entirely normal and does not mean the honey has gone bad. Decrystallising it is very simple; we have a detailed post (with pics) which shows you what to do.
I have purchased a jar of honey. Where can I collect it?
If you have already paid for your jar online, you should soon receive an email confirming the date and time when you can collect it. If you’re unable to collect on that day, you can send a friend, or send us an email and we’ll try to arrange an alternate collection date.
Once you’ve harvested and extracted your honey, what’s the next step? Tasting it of course!
But first, there’s the little matter of labelling and hand-numbering 80 jars…
The honey tasting session, as always, was a great success, with over 30 people joining in to compare LSE Honey 2016 with the 2015 and 2014 vintages, as well as a couple of supermarket varieties (orange blossom and tropical forest honey).
The tasting session was followed by a movie screening – the movie having been picked by a democratic vote. The choices were Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation (a thriller about a dystopian future where real bees have died out and robotic drone bees are used for pollination); Bee Movie (an animated comedy about a rebel bee who wants to stop humans from exploiting bees); and More than Honey (an award-winning documentary about the age-old relationship between bees and humans, and why bees are dying out).
In the end, Black Mirror narrowly won out over More than Honey (which we might end up screening next term), and a small (we prefer the phrase ‘exclusive and intimate’) group of students watched a dystopian nightmare unfold on the big screen while munching on free popcorn.
We just took delivery of this year’s honey harvest! 80 jars of bottled sunshine to get us through the winter months. (We’re yet to stick the labels on though.)
Remember, only society members can buy the honey (we’re a small outfit, so we – or rather our bees – don’t produce enough to cater to the whole of LSE). Members also get to try the honey for free at our tasting sessions. So if you’re not a member yet, this is a good time to sign up. We will soon publish info on how you can order a jar – watch this space!
How does honey go from hive to bottle? A while back we wrote about the process of harvesting, basically the process of taking frames with excess honey out of the hive. The next step is extraction. In the past we’ve done that at the Bee Collective in Victoria, but this year we did it as a joint event with City University. Here are some pics from ‘extraction day’ with explanatory captions.
Yesterday LSE hosted the Charles Booth Centenary Lectures. Booth’s seminal “poverty maps” of London had a profound influence on late 19th-century welfare reforms, and on the disciplines of sociology and social statistics.
Here is an extract from one of Booth’s maps dated 1898-99, with a yellow circle in the centre (which we added). Does the location seem familiar?
The yellow circle marks the present-day location of Connaught House, where we have our rooftop hives. Booth coded the area with dark blue, which denotes “Very poor, casual. Chronic want.” (This is the second-lowest tier of poverty in Booth’s scheme, the lowest being “Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.”)
And here is a recent satellite image of the same area. Again we’ve added a yellow circle, which encloses two white boxes. Can you guess what they are?
Weather permitting, we will have a hive visit this Thursday (3 November); as usual, we’ll send our members an email to confirm. We’re departing from our usual Wednesday schedule just for this week because Luke has other commitments.
In October we have not been meeting every week as we do in the warmer months. As the weather gets colder, we visit the hives less often (once a fortnight or once a month, depending on necessity). It’s because bees like to keep the interior of the hive at a toasty 27°C, and every time we open a hive, it brings the temperature down.
We had two hive visits this month (October 5 and 12). In addition, Luke and Dan (from the Sustainability Team) went up to the roof a couple of times for routine hive maintenance. In case you missed the hive visits, here’s a quick summary of what we did this month, much of which can be filed under preparing for winter:
To reduce the size of the hives and make it easier for bees to keep them heated in winter, we removed and stored some empty supers and frames.
The white hive had Varroa mites (a bee parasite), so we gave the hive some Varroa treatment. At the next visit we saw lots of dead Varroa, which is a good sign. Unfortunately it now seems like the cedar hive might have developed a Varroa problem as well.
We replaced the liquid food in all our hives with fondant (bee candy), an emergency winter ration.
We painted the roofs of the white and the yellow hives as protection against rain.
The roof of the yellow hive has some bad rot which we cut out and filled but we will need to replace it shortly.
Hopefully all these measures will make life a bit easier for the bees, and we will find them happy and healthy when we visit them again this week!