I was delighted to be introduced to James Gotts, one of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (THCP) Beekeepers (there are four of them).
The Tower Hamlet’s Cemetery opened in 1841 and closed for burials in 1966, it is one of the Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries of London and it is now a designated park. As cemeteries go, it was very popular with people from the East End (a majority of the burials were in public graves) and during the Second World War the cemetery was bombed five times, making it all in all a fascinating and interesting place to have an apiary.
The THCP has 5 hives set within the 31 acres of managed woodland. It is a perfect place for bees (and a natural haven within the city, attracting lots of wildlife). There are several fields of wildflowers as well as lots of poppies, daisies, crocuses, woodland flowers, lyme trees and ivy, all of which contribute to the bees forage (as well as nectar from local gardens and neighbouring parks such as Victoria Park and Mile End Park).
The THCP Beekeepers only started keeping hives 4 years ago. They learned how to keep bees as part an initiative by the Co-op and BBKA called Plan Bee (aimed at encouraging the uptake of beekeeping in city areas). At the end of the course everyone who finished was given a colony, a hive and a suit. Whilst most people took theirs home, James Gotts and his 3 friends arranged a link up with THCP to allow them to keep their hives there.
The flavour and the taste of their honey depends on when they harvest it (they don’t heat it or treat it, they just spin it from the combs). In 2014 they harvested it early and it was lighter and dominated by wildflower flavours, with a citrus hint. In 2015 they harvested it after the ivy flowered and the honey was darker and had more visible sugar crystals (with a creamy texture and flowery taste). James mentioned that last year they froze a few honey combs, which they cut into chunks, making a delicious honey ice pop. I can’t wait to try this!
The THCP Beekeepers have recently set up a small company with all the profits from honey sales going straight into the upkeep of the hives, feed and expanding their apiary. Local honey is very popular in London (and beyond) so I hope their apiary will continue to be a success. They will be running tours of the hives from April. I will post details on here nearer the time to see if anyone would like to sign up for a visit one Sunday.