‘They’re harder work than dogs and cats’: Dalston bee keeper Amanda Hayes on producing Hackney Garden Honey

Amanada Hayes' apiary. Picture: Tony Mott

Amanada Hayes' apiary. Picture: Tony Mott - Credit: Amanada Hayes

​Amanda Hayes tells Emma Bartholomew about the advantages of keeping bees in the city, and how it’s opened her eyes to the consequences of global warming as bees fail to take a break over winter

Bumble bees on a globe thistle. Picture: Tony Mott

Bumble bees on a globe thistle. Picture: Tony Mott - Credit: Amanada Hayes

“When I started out I just thought it would be nice to have bees at the bottom of the garden but they take a huge amount of work and expense,” apiarist Amanda Hayes told the Gazette.

“You have to feed them and check for disease. A lot of time and effort goes into them and they are a lot harder work than having a dog or a cat.”

Amanda began keeping bees for environmental reasons after she retired as vice principal at Kensington and Chelsea College for further education.

The idea was to contribute to local sustainability, and checking up on the bees has opened her eyes to the consequences of global warming.

Honey bees with red pollen. Picture: Tony Mott

Honey bees with red pollen. Picture: Tony Mott - Credit: Amanada Hayes

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Six years on she has four hives in her garden in Mapledene Road, Dalston, and markets her product as Hackney Garden Honey.

“When you work 24/7 you are too busy focusing on management issues and to stop and watch the seasons,” she said. “And when you do stop work and look around you, you think: ‘Goodness me, it’s not like it used to be when I was young.’”

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Amanda, a mother-of-two and a grandmother, grew up in Shropshire. “Bees are supposed to have this rhythm where they have a fallow period over the winter and out and about in the spring,” she said, “but they have been out foraging this week, which means they aren’t getting a rest.

“You aren’t supposed to open the hive up at this time of the year because they will chill and die.” But she added: “If you see them flying from the entrance you know the colonies are OK, at least. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see if they’ve all died until the spring when you open the hive up.”

Last year’s hot summer was also very trying. “The native species stopped producing flowers and nectar,” said Amanda, “which meant the bees were having trouble finding any. But the non-native plant species thought they were back in the tropics again. Acacia was flowering last year because it was so hot, so the beekeepers in the city didn’t do too badly, but the ones in the country struggled.”

Amanda’s bees live in cedar hives in a traditional cottage garden designed to attract and support wildlife, with ponds for toads and frogs and bird boxes. She makes donations from the sale of honey and candles to charities Bees for Development and Bees Abroad, which help people in developing countries establish an income from bees.

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