Honey, we've got bees!

Beekeeping at Audley Chalfont Dene
Bee hives at Audley Chalfont Dene

Newly installed beehives at our Buckinghamshire village have harvested 200 jars of pure honey

Over the last few weeks new bee hives have been installed in the beautiful grounds of Audley Chalfont Dene. The first crop of honey is ready - 200 jars of home-grown pure honey are available to purchase. 

We find out what makes honey bees, and their honey, so special...

A local honey supplier, Honest Honey has recently installed Beehives in the grounds, to enable us to produce our very own local honey. The beehives have been set up in the far corner of the grounds at Audley Chalfont Dene, beyond the path at the back of the lake, close to the apple trees.

Owners at the village already love this and can enjoy our home-grown honey in the food served at The Lytton restaurant on site as well as being able to purchase a jar to take home.

Pure honey beekeeping at Chalfont Dene

The benefits of local honey

  1. Eating local honey within a 50 mile radius has a proven anti-allergen effect. Eating unfiltered, unheated, pure honey produced within your area, (50-mile radius or less) is like receiving a natural anti-allergy shot! Quercetin, a component of honey, has been found in studies to reduce inflammation and pollen allergy symptoms.
  2. Pure honey contains an array of plant chemicals that act as antioxidants. Some types of honey have as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables.
  3. Pure honey’s nutrition content varies by its origin and other factors. Generally, one tablespoon or 21 grams of pure honey contains around 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar.
  4. Honey also contains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
  5. Honey can have immune-boosting benefits. It also contains beneficial prebiotics, meaning it nourishes the good bacteria that live in the intestines, which are crucial not only for digestion but overall health.
  6. It can soothe a sore throat and cough. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make honey a faithful sore throat remedy that soothes the ache and can help with coughs. Add it to hot tea with lemon when a cold virus hits.

We asked the Buckinghamshire bee experts at Honest Honey, why they do what they do, and we listened intently as Giles shared his knowledge and experience with us.

Can you share with us the process of harvesting honey?

The process of removing honey is fairly straightforward:

  1. The frames of honey (see photo below, taken in the grounds of Chalfont Dene) are removed from the hive
  2. The honey is capped by the bees with wax, to produce an airtight seal
  3. This wax capping is removed with a knife and the frames are spun in a purpose-built "honey extractor", where the honey is removed by centrifugal force (a bit like a washing machine on spin cycle)
  4. The honey gathers at the bottom of the extractor and can be run off via a tap
  5. This honey is then filtered and settled (for air bubbles to rise to the surface), before being jarred
Beekeeping at Audley Chalfont Dene

What's the difference between 'pure' honey and 'raw' honey?

While our honey is pure (100% natural) honey, with nothing added, changed or removed, we don't actually refer to it as 'raw'. This is because there is no legal definition of 'raw honey' and the term can mean different things to different people. I understand from articles I've read in beekeeping journals that some local trading standards organisations take issue with the marketing of 'raw honey' for this reason. The reality is that we do filter the honey, to remove wax deposits and other particles from the hive - we use a 200 micron filter that doesn't remove the pollen, which adds to the flavour and health properties of the honey. Also, we occasionally warm the honey, particularly if it starts to crystallise and to aid with pouring; we ensure the temperature goes no higher than the hive temperature to ensure the beneficial properties are preserved. Some people may consider that any filtering or warming would mean the honey could not be considered as 'raw' and other people would consider this to be fine, so long as there is no 'micro filtering' or 'pasteurisation'.

What inspired you to start harvesting honey in the first place?

I attended a local beekeeping course with my youngest son in 2014. He was a teenager at the time. I was curious about beekeeping and the prospect of producing honey from our garden, but was undecided about whether to actually get our own bees. My son however, felt that if he'd taken the effort to attend the course, then we had to try it out. For the first 18 months, he did all the work and I didn't get involved. He even took a part time job working for a local bee farmer, so gained a lot of experience in handling bees and processing honey. It wasn't until his interest started to wane that I gained hands-on experience.

How much honey can we expect to harvest with each crop? I hear the first crop generated 200 jars.

Typically, I would hope to harvest 75 pounds of honey from each hive, each year. So with 4 hives, I would hope to be able to produce 300lbs (136kg) of honey. This equates to 3 'supers' per hive - supers are the boxes added to a hive in spring and summer, for the bees to store the honey and give them more space when colony sizes are at their largest. A full super can store approximately 25lbs of honey. In practice, some colonies will produce more honey (5 or 6 supers) and others will produce less. Since the new hives were being established during the season, it wasn't possible to harvest this much honey for 2023. We harvested approximately 51kg on 26 July. This is likely to be most of the crop for 2023. 51kg is around 112lb, which has filled 200+ half pound jars.

How did you decide how many hives to build at Chalfont Dene?

Four full-size honey producing hives have been installed at Audley Chalfont Dene. I decided on 4 hives, since it wouldn't be worth time in travelling, lighting the smoker and putting on a bee suit for a single colony. Colonies typically need to be inspected once a week from May to July, when they're expanding rapidly and could swarm if they don't have enough space. It can be challenging to inspect all colonies each week and so anything that can save time is essential.

Also, 4 production hives provide contingency in case one or more colonies experience an issue. It would be feasible from a beekeeping perspective to install more than 4 hives, although it may start to become incongruous if there are too many.

Currently, there is also one temporary nucleus ('nuc' or mini colony) containing a colony that had previously made a nest in a large chestnut tree in Latimer valley; my son and I rescued this colony when the tree was felled. When relocating bees, it's necessary to move them more than 3 miles, to prevent the foraging bees returning to their previous home. The Chalfont Dene apiary was sufficiently far away. This colony can be moved again to one of our other apiaries at the end of the season, as the younger generation of bees will have no memory of their former tree home.

Bee hives at Audley Chalfont Dene
Chalfont Dene honey for sale

Buy local honey

If you're in the area, pop in and purchase a jar of local Buckinghamshire honey, harvested from bee hives here at Audley Chalfont Dene.

Available to buy from Audley Chalfont Dene reception for £7.95 per 227g jar. 

Knitted bees available (knitted by owners here), for £1.00 each.

honey bee photo by the beekeepers association

Fun bee facts from the Beekeepers Association:

The honey bee has five eyes.

Bees can't see the colour red.

Bees do not sleep.

In any hive there are three types of honey bee: a single queen; thousands of female worker bees and, in the summer, hundreds of male drones. The drone bee does no work and in the early autumn they are evicted by the workers and die.

A strong colony combined flies the equivalent distance from Earth to the Moon everyday.

A worker honey bee flies at about 15-20 mph (21-28 km/h) when flying to a food source.

Honey bees are the only bees to maintain a colony over winter. They do not hibernate.

Credit: https://www.bbka.org.uk