Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hurn Honey Farm - Dorset


There's a lot of love involved when it comes to bee keeping. Tremendous amounts. I had no idea quite how much back-breaking work was involved until I visited George Mantzikos on his honey farm in Dorset. George is from Greece, a country that has grown synonymous with honey. "Growing up in Greece, honey was everywhere", George explained. "I always knew that it took a lot of work to make honey." Much later, after making a permanent move to the UK and during his career in engineering, George's interest spurred him to begin keeping bees, on a small scale and just as a hobby. His interest grew and subsequently so did his colonies. It wasn't long before he acquired some land and in 1984 he not only built an impressive workshop but also his home, slap bang in the middle of his honey farm. "Beekeeping takes up a lot of your time and I wanted to be close to them". George now has over 300 colonies which equates to hundred's of thousands of bees.

George led us down the path to the hives he had to check on. As we drew nearer the theraputic hum of 150,000 bees lulls me into a calming numbness. I'm so relaxed about it that I don't feel the least bit worried when George tells me I should not have worn deodorant or aftershave, "The bees are going to be very interested in you but try not to panic." My Dad, who has joined me on this visit, looks like he is having second thoughts, especially when George tells us that he doesn't like to use smoke to calm the bees any more. "It's not nice," he says. Dad's eyes widen. Inside each hive is a series of frames which is where the bees construct the honeycomb. The full frames are lifted out and replaced with freshly cleaned empty ones. Each section of the hives is incredibly heavy and after moving a few I realise just how tiresome this can be. The bees start to become very interested in me and it's not long before both my dad and I are edging away from the area and back down the path.

Back in the workshop, the honeycomb has to be cut away from the frames, some is cut into neat rectangles and placed in plastic boxes to be enjoyed simply as the bees have left it whilst others are put to one side to have the honey extracted from the waxy comb. The wax is then melted down and sold off. Emma Dick, Buyer for Lush Cosmetics says, "We have been using Georges beeswax since we first started out making soaps."

After showing us how the honey is made we finally get to tasting some. "Some people don't realise that honey changes with the seasons, right now, the bees are making their honey from bell heather. Later in the year, when it is pure heather honey it sets like jelly, if someone offers you heather honey and it is runny then it isn't the real thing." I chomp down on a chunk of fresh honeycomb and instantly decide, that this is my favourite. All the empty frames then have to be boiled clean, bleached and then tightened up and stacked, ready to be used on the next swap over. "Cleanliness is very, very important. When you see dirty colonies, disease is close behind." I ask if Colony Collapse Disorder has been a problem. "We all have to deal with CCD on occasions. I have been a very lucky man and fortunately it doesn't happen very often here." Although George is telling us vast amounts of information, it is clear we are only scratching the surface and that there is a lot to consider. Each answer is delivered with a concerned pause that leads me to believe that everything is subject to change. That, with bees, you are constantly learning and adapting. George politely excuses himself to return to the mountain of work that lies before him over the summer. His time is very precious and so I leave him to get on with cutting out the honeycomb of what looks like around two hundred frames.

The next morning, I drizzle some of George's honey over my porridge. The amount of care, time, patience and love that goes into producing this honey is phenomenal, and that's before you even begin to consider the work of all those bees. It's so very easy to overlook how much work goes into the sweetening of my porridge and at just under £4 a jar, I think it's the best value for money to be found.

Hurn Honey Farm,
Barrack Road,
West Parley,
Ferndown,
BH22 8UB
01202 593 040

7 comments:

  1. How wonderful?! Thanks for sharing the bee-story

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  2. That picture of the honecomb at the top of the page is making me drool. Honey on toast for me now this morning (but I bet it won't be as good as George's). Did you (or, can you) stay at the farm?

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  3. I attended Abel & Cole's Big Buzz bee awareness event a month or two back and really enjoyed it. I have a fantasy about keeping bees but it isn't practical in our tiny space, and with so many very young kids living nearby.

    Instead I have taken onboard the request to buy British and support British honey farmers and bees. I'm especially looking out for smaller scale producers such as those in London itself.

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  4. Butteredcrumpet - Unfortunately you can't stay at the farm, it is still fairly small. Was fantastic to see how it is all done though.

    Kavey - Recently there has been a lot of publicity in the papers etc on the plight of the honey bee. A great documentary to watch is 'The Vanishing of The Bees' - in the UK by Dogwoof. It's cool companies like Abel & Cole are helping raise awareness. I'm sure I remember reading recently about bee keepers in the city. I know Fortnum & Mason keep theirs on the roof.

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  5. Thank you for this (here via http://foodurchin.blogspot.com/)

    I have a great love for bees, and honey, and to know there are keepers out there with successful colonies lifts the heart. I am half Greek, so a Greek keeper makes it even nicer. :)

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  6. On the comb best honey I've ever tasted by some distance!

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