Harvesting Honey From London’s Designer Beehives

Bees represent the femininity of our brand; they’re beautiful, soft and delicate, but they’re determined hard workers. If you get in their way they carry a powerful sting.

So says jewellery designer, Alex Monroe, of the humble honeybee which hangs in precious metal form from many of his necklace creations. Alex admits that he owes a great deal to the bees, which is why he has collaborated with Hilton Bankside to design and paint four of their beehives.

Our interest piqued by this meeting of honey and design on an urban rooftop, House of Coco’s Rachael Lindsay went along for the hives’ very first honey harvest to find out more.

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For me, a honey harvest conjures up images of bucolic countryside life, of children nibbling secretly on fresh honeycomb in the garden whilst their parents call them in for dinner. It also reminds me of luxurious hotel breakfasts in tropical locations, where freshly harvested and deeply flavoursome honey seems to abound. So I was slightly surprised to be invited to a honey harvest in London.

But I quickly learn that urban beekeeping has become very much in vogue in the capital over recent years, with many rooftops becoming home to colonies of the important and endangered honeybee. Even Kew Gardens has created an exhibition in honour of the secret life of bees in their multi-sensory installation, The Hive.

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With the number of honeybees in the UK rapidly declining, Hilton Bankside is only one of a number of iconic locations in London which has installed hives on their rooftop. The Bankside hives are gorgeously designed by big bee fan, Alex Monroe, in their rooftop meadow.

Each hive has been painted by Monroe to represent the British seasons, in calming pastels that are complimented by the wildflowers that have now sprung up around them, framed by the backdrop of the Shard and St Pauls.

Donning my beesuit nervously like an astronaut readying for lift-off, I am led to the hives by stockbroker-cum-beekeeper, Dale Gibson. The man behind artisan honey producer, Bermondsey Street Bees, Dale is a champion of responsible beekeeping and cares for many a London bee colony.

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I learn about the fascinating life inside the hives which, I conclude, is a woman’s world. Female worker bees bite their good-for-nothing brothers’ wings off, the healthy queen proudly emits pheromones to reassure her 30,000 strong family that all is well and even the male drone who mates with the queen dies in the mating process once his use is over.

But, as Alex Monroe says, these bees also work incredibly hard with the queen laying 2,000 eggs every day and the workers producing honey, feeding the larvae and guarding the hive from dawn til dusk.

It makes every drop of honey seem precious when you realise that each worker bee makes just a twelfth of a teaspoon of honeymoon in her lifetime. So Dale, who extracts the very first harvest of honey from the Bankside hives since their installation, is incredibly careful to ensure that he does not waste a single drop.

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After meeting the bees in their pretty hives and learning a little about their feminine-oriented way of life, I go down into the kitchens to watch the age-old process of raw honey extraction. Dale simply spins, cold filters and jars his honey, meaning that it tastes seriously good.

Tasting the freshly extracted honey is a dream. It is bursting with fruity and floral flavours, a world away from the shop-bought honey that I am used to.

With honey so delicious being produced right on our doorstep, it is exciting to think that beekeeping is becoming so popular. But Dale warns that London’s open spaces are diminishing and that the increase in the number of hives in the capital is putting pressure on the bees as they all compete for the same bee-friendly plants. Many of London’s beekeepers, like Dale, are campaigning to increase the number of bee-friendly plants around London and to promote the safe and careful keeping of bees in the right conditions.

Impressed by the fun design of the hives and of course the heavenly taste of that honey, I leave dreaming of creating my own rooftop bee garden and of a future where London’s green spaces continue to provide for our feminist friends, the bees.

The hives can be found at Hilton Bankside in London and you can try the honey at the hotel’s restaurant, the OXBO Bankside.

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