Born out of passion for bees, urban beekeeping and a trip to New Zealand, Barnes & Webb – a London based beehive rental company – was set up around 2 years ago by Chris Barnes & Paul Webb. With a practical and rather sensible idea, they set about finding a way to share their beekeeping experience (and the honey!) with fellow Londoners and along the way help boost the survival of the honey bee population. Setting up and maintaining hives in outdoor spaces across the city, which they rent to a range of individuals and businesses, they’ve managed to build an urban apiary which gives people access to local raw honey, pollinated plants and the knowledge that everyone involved is doing their bit to help the honey bee. Plus, the added bonus of an up-close insight into the fascinating world of the honey bee.
We had a chat with Chris and Paul and found out how they got into beekeeping, their rental and adoption bee plans, how the flavour of the honey differs in each postcode, and what the difference is between raw, local honey and the mass produced honey you find in the supermarkets…..
ABOUT BEING BEEKEEPERS
Tell us about Barnes & Webb – who you are, what you do…
Barnes & Webb is a London based beehive rental company founded by Chris Barnes and Paul Webb in 2012. We install and maintain beehives on behalf of our customers across the city for a monthly rental fee and share the honey at the end of the season. We sell London Postcode Honey to local shops, delis, and larger stores such as Selfridges.
How did you get into beekeeping and where were your first hives?
We took introductory courses with the London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) and immediately got the bug. Chris then worked on a bee farm in Auckland for a season prior to setting up B&W. Our first hives were in the small back garden of a house we shared at the time.
How many hives do you have now and where are they located?
We currently have 40 hives all over the city, from Greenwich to Putney, on rooftops, and in gardens. Our most recently installed hives are in the beautiful gardens of The Geffrye Museum of the Home in Hoxton, East London.
What does a typical week involve?
We inspect all of our hives on a weekly basis during the Spring and Summer checking for signs of swarming and disease. Trying to ensure our bees are happy, healthy, and storing lots of honey. We’re also frequently delivering honey to shops, and doing interviews like this!
What’s the most enjoyable aspect of beekeeping for you?
Beekeeping could never be dull. There is always something unexpected happening which means you’re always learning. Working with a wild animal is a privilege. We have the utmost respect for the bees.
ABOUT THE BEES
What type of bees do you have?
Most of our bees are Buckfast – chosen for their suitability for urban, backyard beekeeping.
Why are urban areas particularly suitable for beekeeping?
There are two main factors which make urban areas suitable for honey bees. One is the diversity of forage available which blooms earlier and later in the year than the more limited flora available in the countryside. Reduced significantly by modern farming practices. The other is the limited use of harmful pesticides in the city. It is widely accepted that common pesticides used prolifically by farmers is damaging to honey bees as well as other wildlife.
Where do the bees in your hives forage their nectar from and how far afield do they travel to forage?
It’s almost impossible to know the specific sources of nectar of your bees and honey, especially in the city where it’s so diverse. Bee farmers in certain areas of the country will place hives in the center of areas dominated by specific crops or plants such as lavender to guarantee that nectar and flavour of honey. The bees make foraging decisions based upon the flying bees waggle dance which denotes the volume of nectar and the distance from the hive.
What more can we do to encourage a healthy population of bees in urban areas?
Disease control is one of our most important responsibilities as beekeepers. If one of our hives is affected it can spread to other nearby colonies. All beekeepers need to recognise the signs of disease and know the relevant measures to treat the affected colony.
Grow pollinator friendly plants in your garden and encourage your local council to do the same with public green space. Reclamation of vacant wasteland for community growing projects is a great way to support local wildlife too.
Can you tell us about your rent and adoption bee plans?
For a monthly fee we install and maintain beehives on our customers behalf. We have to carry out a site inspection first to check it’s suitable for hives and make an educated guess on the density of existing hives in the area. If there are a lot of hives already there we won’t install as the available forage in the area might not be able to support more bees. Depending on the rental fee you pay, we give the customer 20 or 50% of the honey harvest which can vary greatly year to year.
We also offer adoption plans for those who don’t have suitable space for a hive or who would like to help us create and manage more healthy honey bee colonies. There are multiple options available, starting from £25. You have the possibility of visiting the bees and having your name placed on the hive.
How much time, money, training and space is required to get started and maintain a healthy hive?
The BBKA recommend that after an introductory course you spend at least a year with an existing beekeeping mentor before looking after your own hive. For a single hive it costs us on average £600 for the bees, hive, and equipment within the first year.
Are there any legal restrictions on keeping a hive and do you require a licence?
Currently there are no legal requirements when keeping bees in the UK. This has its positives and negatives. One thing that we’re thinking of pushing for is the obligation to record all of your active hives with bee base the DEFRA bee unit’s record of colonies and for that information to be available to all.
ABOUT THE HONEY
Does the flavour and quality of the honey differ throughout the season depending on the postcode and the different sources that they’re foraging on at a particular time in the year?
We only harvest once a year and the honey from the hive is a combination of all the gathered nectar throughout the Spring and Summer. However, the flavour of honey from the same hive in two subsequent years can be drastically different.
What is the difference between raw, local honey and the mass produced honey you find in the supermarkets that is filtered, diluted and very often blended?
Supermarkets sell pasteurised honey which means it’s heated to a high temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. But if the honey is harvested, extracted, and jarred correctly it won’t contain anything harmful. All that process does destroy ingredients very beneficial to health and impair the complexity of its flavour. Our honey goes straight from the hive to the jar with no processes except for filtering through a sieve to remove any wax.
How can people buy your honey?
Once this years harvest has been jarred and labelled, we’ll be delivering to all the stockists currently listed on our website as well as offering delivery through the online shop. We’re expecting all honey to be ready by the end of August.
What is your favourite way to enjoy honey?
You can’t beat a spoonful straight from the jar, or even better a sneaky finger full from a frame you’ve just pulled out of the hive.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BARNES & WEBB