Sitting on the roof of the Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel are some very special guests. Now home to two beehives that each holds around 60,000 bees, the hotel has launched a brand new honey-themed afternoon tea, aptly titled Afternoon Bee. Executive Chef Ben Kelliher has created an array of delectable sweet treats like honey macaroons with rosemary, chocolate mousse flowerpots, and cupcakes decorated with pollen and edible flowers.
We caught up with Red Carnation’s resident beekeeper Sara Ricks to talk about the new afternoon tea event and why bees are such fascinating creatures.
Why is it so important for the hotel to keep bees? How does beekeeping help the natural environment?
It is important to do as much as possible. So many people reuse and recycle but it is also about improving the environment that we live in. We’re very lucky that we’re so close to Green Park, St. James’ Park and Hyde Park. When you walk down the street you notice all the little window boxes, people can grow plants in the smallest space, and even this makes a difference to the quality of our environment and our bees. The more bees there are, the more pollination takes place and the plants and flowers will thrive, which means we can support more bees. It also introduces the people who work here to this cycle. We are not just hoteliers now; we’re also farmers.
Did you have an interest in beekeeping before the hotel planned on installing a beehive?
Seven years ago I moved house and one of our neighbours kept bees. I’d be sitting in the garden and the buzzing of the bees became a part of that and so I thought if my neighbour is doing it, it must be easy to do. Why not? I then took a course in beekeeping and have kept bees in my back garden since 2009.
Do you think bees are a little misunderstood? A lot of people consider them pest?
Because people associate them with wasps and because they sting… Bees are fascinating creatures, the wonderful thing about beekeeping is that you’re not herding them, you’re simply getting out of their way and allowing them to collect as much honey as possible, and then at the end of the summer collecting it all up.
What’s the normal honey making process and cycle for bees?
Bees forage from the first flowers, so from about late February until September, October when the Ivy is flowering, and that’s all they do. The Queen lives for five years and is the only one who lays eggs; apart from this she does no work at all. The workers are the female bees that live for about six weeks during the summer. In the winter the Queen will have workers who will live for slightly longer, so three or four months, they will feed her and keep her safe through the cold months. The drone male bees only live for a summer, come September when food is growing short the worker bees will kick them out of the hive and they die.
How often do you check on the hive?
We only open the hive during the summer, normally once a week for an hour. We opened up the hive at the end of March and we’ll close it up at the end of September. That’s the only time we see into the hive, in winter it’s a closed world.
How much honey do you think you’ll collect this year?
We’ll have to see how good the foraging is around here. Even though we have the three parks nearby and various gardens, as the bees are on the fifth floor it takes a lot of work for them to go out foraging and get back up to the hive. We are coming up to peak flow from mid-June when the bees go crazy and collect so much honey. We have a container that will hold about 40lbs of honey and they will fill one within two weeks during this busy time.
Apart from Executive Chef Ben Kelliher and his team, who was involved in coming up with ideas for the afternoon tea?
We all had input, it’s a very creative hotel and we like to involve everybody. We had a competition for ideas. Letitia who works in reception painted the background for our menus and our reservation staff contributed ideas for the drinks and pastries. The one thing we wanted to do with the tea is not just focus on the honey, but also the fact that we have the bees here, so that’s why we have included things like the rosemary and edible flowers in the cakes with fresh rose teas and elderflower infusions. It’s about tying it all into the environment.