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Almost every kitchen will have a jar of honey in it, and the Bella’s kitchen is no exception; from breakfast service through until the last dessert has left the pass at dinner service, having honey at hand to naturally sweeten some dishes or serve as a condiment is essential. The benefits of eating local honey are well documented, particularly for those who suffer from asthma and hay fever (bees collect nectar and pollen from within a two mile radius, so eating honey from the local area can help sufferers to build up an immunity to the pollen of the local area's plants), and “single origin” style honeys that carry the flavour of a predominant flower have also grown in popularity recently.
To find out more about the jar of honey on the shelf in our kitchen, we spent an afternoon with local beekeepers Jane Rix and Mike Hadley.
The bees that produce honey here are black bees, which were originally native to Guernsey but are now supplemented by Italian bees which have a more yellow colour. Because of the limited range of the bee population it is isolated and it is illegal to import bees (no supplier within or outside the EU can meet the insect health requirements required to obtain the necessary licence from the States of Guernsey). Therefore Guernsey bee keepers, by being vigilant, have been lucky so far in not being infected by American or European foul-brood which is a very serious disease which would result in the bees being destroyed and hives having to be burnt. With no bees being imported to Guernsey the the only way for a new beekeeper to acquire a colony of bees is to wait for a swarm to be collected by the Guernsey Beekeepers Association who hold a waiting list and distribute colonies to new beekeepers as required.
Jane is a very experienced apiarist, while Mike is fairly new to beekeeping. Jane’s bees were previously sited in her steep terraced garden on the cliff land of St. Martins however access became an issue so the bees were re-homed. Now Jane helps Mike to care for the 8 hive colony established just up the lane in the orchard below his home.
As a relatively small island with no single area of land use (heather land or micro cropping of oil seed rape for example) that would specifically flavour the honey, all the honey produced by Guernsey bees is from a mixture of trees and flowers which gives it a unique flavour. Individual beekeepers produce honey and most either goes directly to friends and family, or is sold on hedgeveg stalls.
The Guernsey beekeeping season starts in late summer (when the honey has been harvested) to prepare the bees for winter they are fed on sugar syrup which gives them the best chance of winter survival. In spring, when the Queen starts to lay again, the bee keepers help the colony to build up and during the early summer when they are collecting lots of pollen they add super frames onto the brood box to give the colony room to make and store honey. Spring honey can be collected in mid summer before the main harvest at the end of summer or in the early autumn. Mike and Jane split their harvest of honey, and much of it is snapped up by family and friends – but every now and then we’re lucky enough to get hold of a few jars here at the Bella – and some even made it into Mr Wheadon’s special Christmas gin infusion last year!