Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Benbow the Bee Man; Meet Bee Master Steve Benbow, Custodian of Hives on Landmark Rooftops Right across the Capital

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Benbow the Bee Man; Meet Bee Master Steve Benbow, Custodian of Hives on Landmark Rooftops Right across the Capital

Article excerpt

Byline: Pattie Barron

HONEY BEES are the pin-ups of the pollinating world, proclaims Steve Benbow, London's visionary bee master -- but then, he's clearly biased. Benbow spends seven days a week caretaking 30 beehive sites across the city. One is on a barge moored by Tower Bridge, another is in a patch of woodland in Harrow, others are on landmark rooftops, including Tates Modern and Britain, the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery and Fortnum & Mason, where the beehives, of course, are painted an exquisite duckegg blue.

small beginnings Fascinated by bees since childhood -- his paternal grandparents tended bees on their smallholding in Shropshire -- Benbow thought he'd bring a touch of the country to his Bermondsey flat 17 years ago and installed a hive full of Gloucestershire bees behind the lift shaft on his roof. To his delight, the bees thrived, producing dark, thick honey in their first year. After researching urban beekeeping in Paris, Rio and New York, Benbow jacked in his career as a travel photographer to fully indulge his passion.

Now, Benbow's London Honey Company, based in a Bermondsey warehouse, supplies the tearooms at The Savoy and Harvey Nichols, delis and farmers' markets across the city, and his bees busily forage in parks, cemeteries, gardens and the capital's other green spaces, flying up to three miles from their base camp. "In London, the diversity of plants makes for really good honey that varies enormously from borough to borough," says Benbow.

"Bermondsey tends to be dark and aromatic, while Westminster is more citrussy. Harrow has lots of chestnut avenues, so its honey has that distinctive rich, slightly bitter note.

"Mature city trees are big nectar and pollen providers. With the right conditions, bees produce a dark honey from hawthorns, and later blackthorns, as well as chestnuts and sycamores. Tree of heaven produces a lovely honey."

More specifically, the acacias at Tate Britain give the honey a caramel tang and butterscotch colour, whereas Tate Modern has a lively, elderflower-type note due to the sticky honeydew that drips from the prevalent lime trees. And the bees at Fortnum's, because of the hives' proximity to the Royal Parks, produce honey with a complex, full flavour, reflecting the parks' diverse and pollen-rich planting.

what you will need If you fancy installing a hive in your back garden or allotment, read Benbow's lively bible, The Urban Beekeeper, and never mind the commitment, the equipment alone could put you off: aside from the hive, that includes a bee smoker with leather bellows, a goose wing to brush the bees off the honeycombs, a honey extractor, pollen traps and miles of gaffer tape.

You will need to wear, of course, full battledress -- overalls, gauntlets, veil, hood -- so the bees can't find a teeny entry point to sting you, which they will do at some point, warns Benbow. …

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