Chris Barnes has gone from graphic design to honey production after catching the bug for beekeeping. Now Black Bee Honey has hives all over London and their very own raw honey on supermarket shelves. Here’s how that honey gets made…
Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?
I currently live in Haggerston in between Queensbridge and Hackney Roads. I’ve lived in London over 20 years on and off and this is by far the most central I’ve ever lived – so that’s pretty handy. I love the fact that there are three parks on my doorstep, the canal and two great weekly markets. It’s a great area for food and I’m in walking distance of some of the best pubs and restaurants in East London. There’s always a new place to try out plus there are old favourites like the Marksman only 5 minutes away.
You’ve gone from graphic design to honey production, what prompted that career change?
About ten years ago Paul and I took a Kiwi friend of ours on a beekeeping course for his birthday. We enjoyed the course even more than our mate and we ended up going on a couple more courses afterwards. That was it for a while until in 2010 I quit my job, went travelling and got a job on a bee farm in Auckland. I worked there for a season installing and inspecting hives all across the city until I returned to London in 2012. It was then I told Paul about what I’d been doing in New Zealand so we bought our own bees and started a beehive rental company. Why not? You can be very creative with food brands and as it’s our own company we set all the briefs.
You have hives all over London – where’s the most unusual place you’ve set one up and how easy is it to do in such a big city?
We’ve had hives on the roof of ITV’s This Morning studios on the South Bank. We got Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby up on the roof in beekeeping suits and produced their “Willowbee Honey”. There are pros and cons to urban beekeeping. The bees do well with the milder climate and with the diverse range of plants and trees for them to feed off but you have to be very careful to avoid swarms in densely populated areas. But space is always the issue in cities, especially in London, so it’s often not possible to have more than a couple of hives in any one location.
How does the London Honey differ in taste to the other honey you produce? And what about raw honey vs processed honey?
Our London honey has very complex and unexpected flavours due to the wide variety of trees and plants the bees forage on. It’s usually quite light with a citrus or elderflower flavour. Someone once described it as tasting like champagne! Raw honey tastes nothing like a processed honey – a lot of the natural taste and goodness is lost through the pasteurising, blending and ultra filtering of processed products. We basically put our honey through a coarse sieve and jar it, just as the bees intended. All the flavour and health benefits are retained and you’re left with something that tastes wildly different.
Describe your perfect day in London.
My perfect day in London would undoubtedly involve eating and drinking out. I’d probably start off by having a pot of tea in bed, then go out for breakfast. I went to Jones & Sons for the first time recently. They do an amazing bottomless brunch with the most attentive service. The food is bottomless too including my favourite, eggs royale. I love the National Portrait Gallery and have visited that many times in the past. Most of the exhibits are free and it’s a great source of inspiration. A visit to the Serpentine Gallery and Pavilion in summer would be on my list too. It’s a great way to combine a walk in a park with some art. Spending the evening in a cosy boozer watching the Six Nations rugby would top off the day. I’m off to The Crown in Islington this Friday to watch a game. Hopefully, they still have the chicken pie on the menu.[easy-image-collage id=102451]
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