Beekeeping may sound strange, but
it is becoming an increasingly popular hobby. Which is great
considering how the numbers of bees has decreased and how important
bees are for pollination of our fruit and vegetables.
You wouldn't expect a guy
boots and worn moleskin pants to saunter past the formally dressed
footmen at London's Fortnum & Mason, the famous Piccadilly food
emporium that's a favorite of the British royals.
But Steve Benbow, 38, is not your
average fancy-food consumer. He is one of many urban
beekeepers, in the
British capital, and although he usually enters Fortnum's by the staff
door and heads to the roof, where he oversees four
beehives, some days
he can't resist stopping on the grand ground floor for the thrill of
seeing his name on one of the store's posh products.
spring, when Benbow's bee hives
to the roof after a yearlong renovation at Fortnum's, hundreds of
thousands of his honeybees will be buzzing over to Buckingham Palace,
specifically its 42-acre (17 hectare) private garden, the source of
pollen and nectar for their very fine honey.
Mason's beekeeper Steve Benbow tends to
his beehives near Tower Bridge in the City of London. Picture by Steve
For the aficionado, city
purer, according to Benbow, because in the country you have oilseed
rape, genetically modified crops, pesticides and fertilizers, whereas
traffic pollution doesn't seem to affect bees.
City bees are more
productive: ample food plus warmer temperatures mean
they yield up to
three times as much honey as their country cousins, according to the
British Beekeepers Association.
"London's a delight for a bee, because
there are so many flowering plants and trees," says Benbow, who
describes the taste of the honey he collects from 17 other hives he has
hidden on London rooftops as similar to floral toffee. While beekeeper
numbers are hard to gauge, Benbow estimates there are several hundred
urban beekeeping sites in inner London.
Cities need bees for
well as honey, but honeybees now particularly need city folk for their
window boxes and gardens. In the country, their numbers are in steep
decline, in part because of intensive farming and the loss of
hedgerows. But what of their sting?
"The worst-tempered bees I know are
those kept on the heather in Wales," says Benbow. "My London honeybees
are a gentler breed." That said, Benbow keeps his hives high, so that
the bees head out from them way above people's heads before dropping
down to forage.
That might be cold comfort if your
knowledge of bees is based more on the 1978 movie The Swarm than on
this season's box-office honeypot Bee Movie. "My job is to make sure
swarming doesn't happen," says Benbow, who monitors his London hives
weekly during the high season.
Keeping city bees safely
is an art that
the French teach right in central Paris in a rucher ecole (hive school)
next to an apiary established in the Luxembourg Gardens in 1856 that
houses about a million bees. Urban beekeeping in Paris is, well, a hive
of activity, with colonies living on private balconies, at an
inner-city nunnery and, famously, atop both the Opera Bastille and the
Palais Garnier, the latter still tended by Jean Paucton, 73.
bees forage in the Tuileries Gardens, the chestnut trees of the
Champs-Elysees and the linden trees of the Palais Royal. The honey they
produce sells at a premium price at Fauchon.
While urban beekeeping is buzzing in
Europe and the U.S.--San Francisco is full of busy bees, and Chicago's
green-roof program provides ideal space for hives--it is illegal in
Manhattan, where honeybees fall under an ordinance that forbids keeping
animals that are "wild, ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally
inclined to do harm."
The solution, it seems, is to put hives
up high, where they will be undetected and give the bees
easy access to
rooftop gardens. David Graves, 57, who has hives on the
Side, in Harlem and on a 12-story hotel in the East Village, says he's
never been bothered by the city, "although if a neighbor didn't like
bees, I'd give them a jar of honey and move to another roof."
Where to find the best urban honey in three cities?
* Fortnum's Bees Superior
Honey at Fortnum and Masons
* Miel recolte sur les
toits de l'Opera de Paris (honey
harvested on the rooftops of the Paris Opera): A limited supply is
available at Fauchon's Place de la Madeleine store
* David Graves' Rooftop
Magic NYC honey Sold at the Berkshire
Berries stand at New York City's Union Square Greenmarket on Monday,
Wednesday and Saturday, or visit Berkshire
Written by: Marion Hume
Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007
So if you live in the
city, why don't
you thing about urban
beekeeping? It is one step closer to living the country life and being
self-sufficient! Honey is extremely good for you and there are lots of benefits
of honey. Keeping bees is
one way of
getting a steady supply of this whole food.
If you do decide to keep bees you should also know what honey
plants you should plant for your bees to make that delicious
Do you Keep Bees in your
Backyards in the Suburbs or in the City? Tell us about your Urban
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