To celebrate, Head Chef Neil Wager is holding a special tasting menu event at his awesome Dokke restaurant. The twist? All the Asian fusion dishes use honey. And to make it even more unique, he’ll be using nectar that couldn’t be more local – ambrosia from the roof above our offices here in International House.
To whet our taste buds, we asked our beekeeper Camilla Goddard – who’ll be holding a talk at the tasting event – just what attracted her to the job like a bee to, well, honey.
A hive of industry
“I used to work in the arts. But things started when I bought a wood outside London with a friend. The plan was I’d go there when I fancied getting away from it all. Anyway, we started keeping bees there. It’s weird really; I didn’t even like honey. I thought it was too sickly sweet! But I just really got into it.
“Word got around. People started asking whether I’d like to teach them beekeeping, to collect hives that needed moving – and to look after hives for them.”
Today, Camilla has bees all over London. You’ll catch her in all her gear at schools and universities; on top of the Garrick Club, St Ermin’s hotel, the Quakers Friends House in Euston – and International House, of course.
A tale with a sting
It’s clear a lot of people now appreciate bees. But when they’re not wanted, what does a ‘bee collection’ actually involve?
“Most of my collections are made from places like traffic islands or lamp posts – things that look like trees. People do get confused: the bees aren’t there to stay. They’ll have sent scouts out to find somewhere more suitable, like a hollow tree or a chimney.
“The most important thing to remember when you move them – and any time you encounter a bee – is to move in a slow, measured way otherwise they’ll react to you. And don’t put a shadow over them. And don’t ever, ever knock a hive over. They hate vibration.
“Really though, as long as you’re careful and take your time; they’re usually quite relieved to be moved and don’t put up much of a fight.”
“Well yes. If it’s really hot, you often don’t wear all the kit. So during summer I usually get stung around fifteen times a week. I don’t get much of reaction now – just a little warm feeling. It’s probably been two days since I was last stung.”
A home fit for a queen
One of the great things about the hives at St Katharine Docks is the diversity of the pollen available, as Camilla explains.
“The honey here has 50 types of pollen. A lot of comes from sweet chestnut and lime trees. But there are always a lot of imported plants, like palm trees. And privet hedges, so popular in London, are a big contributor too.
“I always say the hive at the Docks is the best bee condo in London. Nothing beats its views of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
A taste for honey
Thankfully Camilla does like honey now. In fact, she’s something of a connoisseur.
“Honey directly off the hive is nothing like what you get in the supermarkets. It’s just like tasting wine: you’ve got all kinds of flavours – dark, barley sugar, molasses-style honey; lighter, citrusy ones; floral ones.
“They’re all different. Two hives sat next to each other will make different decisions about what they like, which means you get so much diversity across London. And at different times of the year.”
If you’ve been inspired to help bees, Camilla suggests planting for them. And not just in summer either.
“Everyone assumes bees just need flowers, but trees are really great for them. If I was recommending something though, plant crocuses and snow drops. They come up in the early spring and give them a real boost when they need it most.”
See Camilla in person and taste Neil creative dishes this Honey Week – get your ticket now.