Peter Buckoke is a double bass musician and teacher, as well as an Alexander Technique expert, but his passion is beekeeping – he even has hives on his N4 roof.
Peter Buckoke, 63, has just climbed out of the 2nd floor window of his home and is now sorting out the smoke machine so he can inspect the three hives on his bathroom roof. He’s in full beekeeper’s kit – a tough yellow suit and veil. Puffs from the beekeeper’s friend, a small smoker which helps to keep the bees calm, adds to the etheral effect.
Beekeeping is an ancient art. Done well beekeepers end up with a surfeit of honey and candles, home-brewed mead and curious tales of bees lost to the deadly varroa mite or found thriving thanks to the EU ban of neonicotinoids, an insecticide.
“Beekeeping helps me tune to the rhythm of nature. It’s more than the bees, it’s the plants, the weather and the temperature. But I didn’t plan to become a beekeeper,” explains Peter, “my mother in law had a cousin who died of cancer. He was a beekeeper and his wife couldn’t look after the bees. She asked everyone in the family if they were prepared to take them over. We asked how much work it would involve and were told ‘it’s very little unless you want to get a lot of honey. You put them in the garden and they get on with it’.”
After discussion Peter, his wife Judith and two sons agreed to give beekeeping a go.
That first hive was left at a family cottage in Monmouthshire while Peter started reading up. “It was Ted Hooper’s book Bees and Honey that got me hooked,” he admits. “I defy anyone not to become interested. Some people absolutely love bees, some are more anxious and assume that bees are going to sting them. But bees are very unlikely to sting you, unless you go near their hive. Bees are not aggressive. I feel very negative about wasps though,” adds Peter.
Hive of Activity
Peter may call himself a hobby beekeeper, but he now has three hives at his Plimsoll Road home; two at the Quill Street allotments, two in a friend’s garden near Clissold Park, five at his brother-in-law’s home in Oxfordshire and one in Wales. And he’s really good at getting honey. “Honey crops fluctuate massively; some colonies are productive this year, and others are for next year,” he says. “You’re considered a really good beekeeper if you get 50lbs per hive (or 30lbs in Wales), but a few years back I got a bonanza crop: 500-600lbs. I had to get friends to help! I found they really loved helping, you extract the honey in a nice warm room and soon the honey vapour becomes intoxicating.
Luckily Peter and family are exceedingly fond of honey. “I love it, and eat it every day,” he says serving me delicious rooibos tea with a spoonful of his own, gently melted London honey. Turns out that gently melted honey is quite an art, necessary if the honey crystalises in the comb as it can only be released if warmed to 62 degrees to allow the wax to melt. “I like to sweeten my coffee with it,” he explains. Another unusual product is cappings’ honey, which includes a mix of pollen which is good as a treatment for hayfever.
“Honey and mead are the most lovely presents,” says Peter as this interview concludes, generously giving me a pot of his Finsbury Park honey which is decorated with a picture of the hedge cut into an elephant herd on the corner of Romilly and Ambler Roads. Try Islington honey for yourself – it’s on sale at Bumblebee Natural Foods, 33 Brecknock Road, Holloway, N7 and at Seasons & Blossoms, 92 Highbury Park, N5.
WHY BEES MAKE A BEELINE FOR ISLINGTON
- The parks with mature trees are great for bees. The big crops come from horse chestnut and lime trees because they have loads of flowers.
- Not all trees have suitable blossom but in Islington there are lots of horse chestnut (conker trees), lime, cherry and apple.
- Early in the year comfrey, catmint and mahonia (Oregon grape) are good for bees.
- Loads of people have great gardens in Islington. Apple, pear and cherry trees are all great for bees.