City dwellers get a buzz from the simple joy of beekeeping
Sunday April 11 2004
Dissilusioned with city life but unable to tear themselves away, young
professionals have found a new way to bring nature to their door: beekeeping
has become the latest fashionable hobby among the urban elite.
After a generation of dwindling membership, beekeeping associations
across Britain are noticing membership steadily rising - and they think
they know why.
'There has been a surge in the numbers of young, urban people wanting
to keep bees, because it's somehow become the cool and trendy thing,'
said Kate Canning of the Twickenham and Thames Valley Bee Association,
who keeps bees on the roof of her east London flat.
'It used to be an old person's hobby, but that's all changed now. In
some of these cliques, appreciation of honey is seen as akin to having
an awareness of good wine, in other groups it is regarded as fashionably
eccentric while being also rather romantic and timeless,' she added.
Geraldine Swayne, a painter and film-maker in her thirties, bought her
first hive two years ago and sells the honey at farmers' fairs across
north London. 'Beekeeping has become deeply cool among my friends, both
artists and professionals alike,' she said.
'What I think is most wild about it is wearing the veil and smoking
out the hives. But there's also the fashionable side of doing something
environmental that revolves around the seasons, while still living in
More than 350 new members have joined the BBA in the past two years,
the first increase in members since 1980 and at least 20 times more
than in the previous three years combined.
'There's been a massive revival in urban beekeeping and most are young
people who have never kept bees before,' said Glyn Davies, the president
of the British Beekeepers Association.
'Our courses in beginners' bee husbandry have never been so popular.'
There is a growing recognition that bees living in cities tend to produce
more and better honey than those kept in the countryside.
'Bees can fly up to five miles for food, but they tend not to stray
more than a mile from the hive,' said Davies.
'Many people think the honey crops in cities are of a higher quality
than those made by bees in the countryside because there's a near-constant
flow of tremendously varied nectar to be harvested in cities from all
the parks, trees, gardens and window boxes,' he added.
'If you compare these multiple harvesting opportunities to those offered
by the countryside, which tends to be grouped into areas dominated by
a single crop which only flowers once a year, it's clear why cities
are such good places to keep bees.'
City bees also tend to be livelier sparks than their country cousins.
'The higher temperature of the city means that bees stay awake for longer
during the day and are more active,' said John Hauxwell, chairman of
the North London Beekeeping Association, who has seen his group's membership
double in the last five years.
It takes two million flowers to make one pound of honey, with the average
rural hive of 45,000 bees producing 30lb a year. City bees can produce
twice that amount.
John Buckoke, a musician who has two hives at his home in London, said:
'I have to climb out of a tiny window to get to the flat roof where
I've put the hives. It's a wonderful hobby, there's no better way for
a city-liver to get back in touch with nature. Every city dweller should
have a hive.'
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited
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