For an exclusive bees' eye view of the store’s sixth floor residents, click the Bee Cam tabs above and watch our wonderful bees at work, collecting nectar to make our exclusive Fortnum’s Bees Honey.
Fortnum’s rooftop palazzi produce very exclusive honey
A plan to put beehives on top of a building in the middle of Piccadilly might seem like a flight of fancy. But ever since four colonies of bees took up residence on Fortnum & Mason’s rooftop in 2008, they have been happily producing a truly delicious honey – so good that these exclusive bees have created a waiting list for their produce.
There are four beehives, at six feet high almost twice the height of a normal beehive, each with a distinct triumphal arch entrance designed in a different architectural style – Roman, Mughal, Chinese and Gothick. Eau de nil paint makes them truly Fortnum’s, along with the copper-clad pagoda roofs, and gilded ‘bee skep’ finials. The bees are spoilt for space: by bee standards these are positively palatial residences.
The honey, called simply Fortnum’s Bees’ Honey, varies from year to year, depending on the flora available to the bees, but is usually a lovely pale, toffee colour with a soft consistency, a light and delicate flavour and a pleasing finish. The very first crop tasted of the Oxfordshire countryside, where the bees had been staying before they were transported to London. The 2009 crop, the result of their forays into London’s parks and gardens, had subtle traces of chestnut and lime, giving it depth and freshness. The bees fly within a radius of around three miles, which encompasses Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, St James’s Palace, St James’s Park, the Green Park and Hyde Park, as well as any number of private gardens. London gardens, often planted with a dazzling array of exotic flowers, add further depth to the honey’s flavour.
The bees produce one crop a year, harvested in September, and the amount of honey made depends upon the weather. In 2010, following a warm summer, a record 850 227g jars were produced; in 2012, after a cool and wet spring, just 430 jars were created. Fortnum’s employs a Beemaster, Steven Benbow, to look after the hives, and he visits them regularly to ensure the bees are in good heart.
Fortnum's online Bee Cams enable customers to watch, in real-time, the lives of the Fortnum’s Bees, and have attracted a considerable world-wide following. One camera is positioned to track the bees as they fly in and out of their hives; the other captures the view from the hive across the City to St Paul’s and the Gherkin, whose shape is remarkably similar to the finials decorating the hive roofs. This particular view rather nicely contrasts the simplicity of hives full of bees, doing what they have always done, with the steel and glass of a new building – a human hive, if you like.
Any potential concerns about our bees can be quickly allayed; the bees are native Welsh Black bees, known for their gentle ways, so they are less likely to sting unsuspecting shoppers and tourists. In fact, in all the time the hives have been in position, no rooftop visitors have ever been stung – not even the bold photographers, poking their lenses in through the hives’ front doors. As for pollution, it is not an issue; nectar sits deep within a plant and is sucked up by the bee’s proboscis, then taken straight to the hive and sealed into the honeycomb, safe from outside influences.
On April 30th the newly refurbished and gilded palazzi welcomed their occupants. Owing to the prolonged cold, wet, weather in the winter and spring at Harrow two of the four colonies died, and had to be replaced. From left to right, the Mughal and Roman hives are now occupied by Carnolean bees, and, as before, the Chinese and Gothick hives by Welsh Blacks.
Honey Harvest 2013
To reserve some honey from the 2013 harvest, which will be on sale from late September 2013 onwards, please email email@example.com
Life of Bees, 2013
Every year, from April to August, we offer rooftop visits to see the hives, followed by a tasting of a selection of our honeys, accompanied by champagne. Tastings are held in The Crypt, 120 feet below the rooftop hives. Tickets at £35 per person can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 08456 025 694.
Life of Bees programme:
Thursday 25 April 2013 - 4pm SOLD OUT
Friday 3 May 2013 - 4pm SOLD OUT
Thursday 6 June 2013 - 4pm SOLD OUT
Friday 14 June 2013 - 4pm SOLD OUT
Friday 5 July 2013 - 4pm SOLD OUT
Friday 26 July 2013 - 4pm SOLD OUT
Friday 9 August 2013 4pm SOLD OUT
Fortnum's Piccadilly Honey Harvest
Click below to watch the video of our recent Honey Harvest...