Words by Fiona Symington. Photos courtesy of Barnes & Webb.
KNOWN for their postcode honey, Barnes & Webb talk about beekeeping, rooftops, and the best views in London.
It’s a quiet time of year for Barnes & Webb. Come April, bee season will have started and any opportunity to talk to Paul Webb and Chris Barnes will be near impossible. With over 40 hives across London and each one receiving a weekly visit, there’ll be little rest for these two urban beekeepers.
Winners at the recent Urban Food Awards for Heavenly Honey, Barnes & Webb has brought a new localism to London food. They rent beehives across the city, selling the honey that they collect, while helping support the local honey bee population and our appreciation of them. Like the index of London’s famous A-Z street directory, their honey is named after the postcode from which it is collected. From EC2 (Shoreditch) to SW15 (Putney), each one varies in flavour, offering a very local taste to those who buy it.
As Paul explains: “Our N16 honey last year was very light and very floral. You could almost taste the flowers in that one. We have had other honeys like the one in Putney, which was very dark, richer and toffee-flavoured in its first year. And we have new colonies down in SW7 (Kensington). We were nominated for a couple of honey awards this year and one of the judges described that honey as tasting of elderflower and champagne.”
At present the bees are hivenating (Barnes & Webb’s term for this dormant period) with little expected activity until March, when the days become warmer. Bees stay in their hives unless it is 10-15 degrees. From April onwards, it’ll be all hands on deck with each hive being visited once a week for routine care such as cleaning, maintenance, disease control, and swarm control. This is the natural phenomenon of the colony breaking off to form a new one. Whereas in the country this is allowed to happened; in the city, 30,000 bees in mid swarm needs to be prevented. In August, they collect the honey, filter and bottle it with each hive producing up anywhere between 20-100 jars depending the season.
With growing interest in hive rental, suitability of location is key to these urban beekeepers. Describing their role, Paul shares: “We advocate sustainable urban food production. As bee farmers we have a responsibility to our colonies to ensure they are healthy and provided with the best opportunity to forage for nectar and pollen.”
So before a hive is installed, there’s a checklist of things that informs their assessment such as thoroughfares, availability of food, proximity to other hives, as well as children, pets and also people with bee allergies. The alternative to hive rentai is their adopt-a-bee scheme, where it is possible to support an existing bee colony.
So do bees have the best views of London? Given their preference for trees, Barnes & Webb say yes. As Chris tells me, “From rooftops, London bees have some great views of the city. The best would probably be the hives that we have in Shoreditch near the Old Street roundabout, and the Geffrye Museum of the Home in Hoxton, where a herb garden is nearby.”
You can buy Barnes & Webb online here or at one of their stockists.
LONDON AS A FOOD CITY
There are now a huge number of new food producers with a very high level of quality and personality in their products.
Brooklyn Grange Farm in New York is a mightily impressive roof top farm that grows a large and diverse range of produce for sale to local residents. They farm sustainably and are a community-based enterprise.
HOW LONDON NEEDS TO EVOLVE AS A FOOD CITY
When I’m on a rooftop looking around I often see places that I think would be great for another hive. As the city gets more and more densely populated and with space at such a premium, rooftops are massively under utilised in London. We need to cultivate more unused space in London for growing. Small businesses also need support finding suitable premises in London that are scarce and expensive.
LONDON FOOD LARDER
We have a lot of respect for our stockists like Lillie O’Brien's London Borough of Jam (LBJ), A.Gold in Spitalfields, and E5 Bakehouse. In terms of produce, some of our favourite London producers include The Roasting Shed coffee, LBJ’s rhubarb and cardamom jam, Fatties Salted Caramels, Fine Cider and Wildes Cheese - Napier. Eat 17 Homerton do a great bacon jam.
COOKBOOK YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
At the moment, Dutch Oven Breads by Mark Hansen.
The Geffrye Museum of the Home
136 Kingsland Road, E2 8EA. Tel: 020 7739 9893
37-18 Northern Blvd in LIC, Queens.
Clinton Ave and Flushing Ave in Brooklyn.
London Borough of Jam
51d Chatsworth Road, Clapton, E5 0LH.
42 Brushfield St, London E1 6AG
Tel: 020 7247 2487
Arch 395, Mentmore Terrace, E8 3PH
Tel. 020 8986 9600
64-66 Brooksby’s Walk, Homerton, E9 6DA
Bookings: 020 8986 6242