Urban bee keeping – my time at Hen Corner
I think that in life one of the best lessons we can give ourselves is saying 'yes'. As you may know, I'm a massive fan of comedy improvisation. The mantra for improvisors is 'listen, say yes, commit' – and I think that's a mighty fine motto for parenting and life too.
- Listen – really pay attention to the offers life puts in your path
- Say yes – trust that they will turn out okay and just go for them
- Commit – even though you feel foolish, afraid, uncertain; stick with it and see it through.
Now what has this all got to do with bee keeping I hear you ask. Well earlier this summer the lovely Sara from West London's own Hen Corner asked me if I'd like to attend one of her Bee Keeping workshops, as a treat from her.
The only problem? I'm afraid of bees
Not just bees, any insect – flying or crawling. I know. Pathetic really.
So when I looked at the invite my initial thought was 'oh how lovely – but I just can't'. Followed swiftly by 'but what about listen, say yes, commit.. come on you baby'. So I accepted.
The reaction from my friends when I said was going on a bee keeping course was surprising. I never knew how many of my pals harboured secret fantasies as bee keepers. Suddenly, and with no effort of my own, I'd achieved urban cool status.
And I have to admit I enjoyed the attention, as I masqueraded as someone whho was completely comfortable around bees. Despite being one of those complete idiots who stands up wafting their hands and screaming when one hovers around my head in the summer. Yes, resolutely ignoring those people who always call 'Just sit down, it won't bother you if you don't bother it' and 'bees only sting self defence, poor things'.
Chiswick Daddy was the most impressed. He's the sort of man who puts honey on his finger when a bumble bee is bashing against the bedroom window trying to get out. He'll then nurse the bee and chat to it gently while I'm screaming 'get it as far away from the house as you can'.
A surprisingly urban hobby
I'd never even thought of bee keeping as an urban hobby before. Growing up, I lived my later teenage years in the countryside and my boyfriend's little brother kept bees. But then they kept goats too. And spent their weekends dry stone walling. They didn't live within the shadow of the M4 in a built up, albeit leafy, metropolis.
But the London bee keeping association says that there were 1,400 registered bee keepers in London in 2014. That's a lot of honey.
Talking about honey, I should say that Hen Corner has some pretty good honey credentials. At the end of their first season, in 2012, they won the Best Honey in London award from the National Honey Show. I think that's pretty cool!
I'm a bit in love
It's fair to say I'm a little in love with Hen Corner. I first met experienced it when I reviewed their bread and marmalade making course. Sara was also one of the first people to take part in my 'Five minutes with…' series of blog features.
Stepping into Hen Corner's garden is like stepping out of London and into a countryside village. I'm a little bit cooey about it, just because I think Sara's garden is gorgeous. And I've always wanted to keep hens, so I get a bit starry eyed in Sara's garden. It really is an urban oasis.
Sara's passionate about domestic sustainability and sitting in her garden with a cup of freshly made cappuccino, watching the hens scratching about, the cat lazily stretching in the sun, the bees murmuring, and one of her children diving in back from school – it does seem as though Sara has cracked the good life. Without Richad Briers.
Work work work
Right on course
Whether it's making bread, stirring up christmas puddings or bee keeping, Sara's courses are all hands on. And the day courses include a home cooked lunch and unlimited offers of teas and coffees thrown in. Note well: Sarah has a proper coffee machine! Great for cafffeine addicts like me.
In fact what I love about being at Hen Corner is that you feel like you're immersed in its domestic life. Sara will knock up a gorgeous cheese board and salad, while whipping out a loaf from the oven, and all the time giving a knowledgable lecture on bee life cycles.
From lavender to honey from the source
In the morning we all knelt by the blooming lavender bushes to observe some of the bees collecting honey, while Sara began to talk us through some of the rituals and behaviour that the bees show.
Later on, we all got bee-suited up and walked over to the hives to watch – and help – Sara do her normal weekly inspection of the hives. We all got a chance to hold one of the boards from the hives. And to my amazment I found myself holding a board, crammed with bees and heavier than I could have imagined with fresh honey.
Sara pointed out some of the bee activity we'd learnt about earlier – now in real action in front of us. And showed us how to spot the queen bee.
After this fascinating up close experience we got desuited and were shown how to make boards to put in a hive. You can see my attempt above. I'm pretty pleased with it, and although we were invited to take them home I left mine so that Sara could use it in one of her hives.
The highlight of the day for me was tasting some honey fresh from a hive. It was gorgeous and it felt amazing to be taking something that I normally take from a jar, so close to the source.